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

Why I Love Baseball

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

                                                                                                                                                                                       Tom Cuggino

 

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

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

 

Baseball memories from Tom Cuggino

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

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

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

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

Some of my favorite stadium memories include:

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

 

 

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Clark Griffith – Tracing Minnesota’s Major League Baseball Heritage

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Jesse James and Clark Griffith

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

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

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

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

The Old Fox Outfoxes the Competition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Calvin Griffith and My Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

I tweet baseball @#DavidBBRT

Chuck Connors – He Lived The Dream(s)

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

In his lifetime, Connors would take to:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- 17 more multi-sport achievers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few Connors’ tidbits:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teddy Ballgame always did have a good eye.

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Baseball Hall of Fame “95 Percent” Club

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

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

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

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

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

1936-45           3

1946-55           0

1956-65           0

1966-75           0

1976-85           1

1986-95           3

1996-2005       3

2006-15           4

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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Baseball Bloggers Alliance Announces Its HOF Recommendations

BaseballBloggersAlliance-thumb-200x155-12545As a member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance (BBA), I am pleased to share the BBA’s announcement that seven players from this year’s Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) Hall of Fame ballot were recommended for enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame by the BBA membership – with Randy Johnson the only unanimous recommendation. (The BBA is an organization of more than 200 baseball bloggers.)

In the official release regarding the BBA balloting, it is noted that –  given the backlog of quality players on the ballot – the BBA adopted the “binary ballot” process suggested by St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Derrick Goold. Each player on the ballot was given a “yes” or “no” vote by BBA voters and those receiving over 75 percent were then recommended for induction. (There was no ten-vote maximum as in the official BBWAA balloting.) Using this method, only 13 percent of BBA members turned in a ballot with less than ten names selected, while 40 percent turned in a ballot with 15 or more names selected.  Note:  BBRT is highly supportive of the adoption of binary balloting by the BBWAA.)

Within this format, the following player received the necessary support from Baseball Bloggers Alliance members:

Randy Johnson (LHP, 1988-2009) – Unanimous BBA support

The Big Unit should be headed for the Hall of Fame.

The Big Unit – BBA’s unanimous HOF recommendation.

Randy Johnson notched 303 wins (166 losses) and 4,875 strikeouts (second all-time) in 4,135 innings pitched.  Johnson’s 10.61 strikeouts per nine innings ranks number-one among qualifying starting pitchers.  Johnson, who held hitters to a .221 average (eighth lowest all-time), was a ten-time All-Star and five-time Cy Young Award winner (second only to Roger Clemens). He led his league in strikeouts nine times, ERA four times, complete games four times, winning percentage four times and victories once.  He earned four straight NL Cy Young Awards (1999-2002) and threw two no-hitters (one a perfect game.) He was also the 2001 World Series MVP – going 3-0. 1.04 in three starts (striking out 19 in 17 1/3 innings).

Johnson itched for the Montreal Expos (1988-89); Seattle Mariners (1989-98); Houston Astros (1998); Arizona Diamondbacks (1999-2004, 2007-08); New York Yankees (2005-2006); and San Francisco Giants (2009).

Pedro Martinez (RHP, 1992-2009) – 95 percent

Pedro Martnez brought an arsenal of "plus" pitches and elite control to the mound.

Pedro Martnez brought an arsenal of “plus” pitches and elite control to the mound.

Martinez ran up a 219-100 record, a 2.93 ERA and 3,154 strikeouts in 18 seasons.  Among qualifying starting pitchers, only Randy Johnson recorded more strikeouts per nine innings than Martinez’ 10.04. He captured three Cy Young Awards (1997, 1999, 2000) and was an eight-time All Star.  He notched a league-low ERA in five seasons, and a league-high in strikeouts three times.  Martinez is one of only four pitchers to log 3,000+ strikeouts with fewer than 1,000 walks. His .687 winning percentage is the third-highest all-time; second-highest in the modern era (behind Whitey Ford’s .690; 238-106).

Martinez pitched for the Los Angeles Dodgers (1992-93); Montreal Expos (1994-97); Boston Red Sox (1998-2004); New York Mets (2005-08); and Philadelphia Phillies (2009).

Craig Biggio (2B/C/OF, 1988-2007) – 90 percent

Craig Biggio getting his bat on the ball for 3,000+ hits should be his ticket to the Hall of Fame.

Craig Biggio getting his bat on the ball for 3,000+ hits should be his ticket to the Hall of Fame.

Biggio recorded 3,060 base hits (20th all time), 1,884 runs (154h all time), hit 291 home runs and stole 414 bases.  He was a seven-time All Star and a four-time Gold Glove winner. He led the NL in runs twice, doubles three times, stolen bases once and hit-by-pitch five times.  His 668 doubles are the most ever by a right-handed hitter (and fifth all time). He holds the NL record for home runs to lead off a game (53) and for hit-by-pitch (285).

Biggio played his entire 18-year MLB career with the Houston Astros.

 

John Smoltz (RHP, 1988-2009) – 89 percent

Smoltz delivered as a starter and reliever.

Smoltz delivered as a starter and reliever.

Smoltz is the only MLB hurler to notch 200+ wins (213) and 150+ saves (154) in his career – and one of only two pitchers to have a 20-win season and a 50-save season.  In 1996, he went 24-8 as a starter for the Braves, leading the NL in wins, winning percentage (24-6, .750), strikeouts( 276)  and innings pitched (253 2/3). Five seasons later, after Tommy John surgery, Smoltz led the NL in saves with 55. Smoltz was an eight-time All Star, who won the NL Cy Young Award in 1996 and was the Rolaids Relief Man of the Year in 2005. He led the NL in wins twice, winning percentage twice, strikeouts twice, innings pitched twice and saves once.  He finished his career at 213-155, 3.33, with 154 saves and 3,084 strikeouts in 3,473 innings pitched.

Smoltz pitched for the Atlanta Braves (19988-99, 2001-08); St. Louis Cardinals (2009); and Boston Red Sox (2009).

Mike Piazza (C, 1992-2007) – 85 percent

Mike Piazza - above the HOF bubble in BBA voting.

Mike Piazza – above the HOF bubble in BBA voting.

Mike Piazza’s achieved a .308 career average, 427 home runs (a MLB-record 396 as a catcher), a Rookie of the Year Award, 12 All Star Selections and ten Silver Slugger Awards as the best hitter at his position. He collected 2,127 hits, 1,335 RBI and scored 1,048 runs. Piazza played for the Los Angeles Dodgers (1992-98); Florida Marlins (1998); New York Mets (1998-2005); San Diego Padres (2006); and Oakland A’s 2007.

 

 

Jeff Bagwell (1B, 1991-2005) – 77 percent

Jeff Bagwell’s 15-year career MLB-career included 2,314 hits, 449 home runs, 202 stolen bases and a .297 average – along with a Rookie of the Year Award, a Most Valuable Player Award, one Gold Glove and four All Star selections.  He also twice recorded seasons of 40 or more homers and 30 or more steals. Bagwell played his entire MLB career with the Houston Astros,

Tim Raines (OF, 1979-2001) – 77 percent

Tim Raines hit .294 over his 23-season MLB career, collecting 2,605 hits, 1,571 runs scored, 170 home runs, 980 RBI and 808 stolen bases (#5 all time).  Raines was successful on 83.5 percent of his career steal attempts. He was a seven-time All Star, led the NL in stolen bases four consecutive years (1981-84), had a streak of six seasons with at least 70 steals, won the NL batting title in 1986 with a .334 average, led the league in runs scored twice and doubles once. Raines played for the Montreal Expos (1979-90, 2001)); Chicago White Sox (1991-95); New York Yankees (1996-98); Oakland A’s (1999); Baltimore Orioles (2001); and Florida Marlins (2002).

All seven of these players received BBRT’s HOF support – as did Lee Smith, Jeff Kent and Mike Mussina.  For more details on the BBA recommended candidates and BBRT’s ballot, click here to go to my December 3, 2014 Hall of Fame Post.

The rest of the BBA voting was as follows:

Edgar Martinez  71%

Curt Schilling 68%

Mike Mussina 67%

Barry Bonds 65%

Roger Clemens 63%

Alan Trammell 53%

Jeff Kent 44%

Gary Sheffield 38%

Larry Walker 37%

Fred McGriff 33%

Mark McGwire 33%

Don Mattingly 31%

Lee Smith 31%

Sammy Sosa 23%

Carlos Delgado 19%

Nomar Garciaparra 13%

Cliff Floyd 4%

Brian Giles 4%

Rich Aurilia 3%

Darin Erstad 3%

Troy Percival 3%

Aaron Boone 1%

Jason Schmidt 1%

Jermaine Dye 0%

Tom Gordon 0%

Eddie Guardado 0%

The official website of the BBA is located at baseballbloggersalliance.wordpress.com. The BBA can be found on Twitter by the handle @baseballblogs and by the hashmark #bbba. For more information, contact Niko Goutakolis at baseballbloggersalliance@gmail.com.

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

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Baseball Book Reviews – For the Baseball Fan on Your Holiday Gift List

Looking for a gift for the baseball fan on your holiday gift list – or some entertaining reading for yourself.  Here are links to several past Baseball Roundtable book reviews (Or baseball volumes old and new, non-fiction and fiction) that may help.  

Just click on the book’s image to find the review.  

 

Last BestThe Last Best League – One Summer, One Season One Dream (Tenth Anniversary Edition),

by Jim Collins

 

 

summer of beerThe Summer of Beer and Whiskey – How Brewers, Barkeeps, Rowdies, Immigrants and a Wild Pennant Fight Made Baseball America’s Game,

by Edward Achorn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

veeck 13Bill Veeck:  Baseball’s Greatest Maverick,

by Paul Dickson

 

 

 

stanSTAN MUSIAL – An American Life,

by George Vecsey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

summer of 68Summer of ’68: The Season that Changed Baseball, and America, Forever,

by Tim Wendel

 

 

down_to_last_pitchDown To The Last Pitch – How the 1991 Minnesota Twins and the Atlanta Braves Gave Us the Best World Series of All Time,

by Tim Wendel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

19541954 – The Year Willie Mays and the First Generation of Black Superstars Changed Baseball Forever,

by Bill Madden

 

yogiDriving Mr. Yogi:  Yogi Berra, Ron Guidry and Baseballs’ Greatest Gift,

by Harvey Araton

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

59Fifty-nine in ’84,

by Edward Achorn

 

 

ganThe Great American Novel,

by Philip Roth

 

one sjhot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Shot At Forever … A Small Town, An Unlikely Coach, And A Magical Baseball Season,

by Chris Ballard

 

killerHarmon Killebrew – Ultimate Slugger,

by Steve Aschburner

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cracker JackThe Cracker Jack® Collection … Baseball’s Prized Players,

by Tom Zappala and Ellen Zappala

/

 

BBRT presents a guest post from journalist/author Larry LaRue.

.

 

Major League Encounters,

by Larry LaRue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

calicopotoCalico Joe,

by John Grisham

 

 

Chin1Chin Music,

by Lee Edelstein

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Baseball Hall of Fame – Golden Era Voting – BBRT’s Take

baseball_hall_of_fame-300x225We are just days away (Monday, December 8) from the announcement of the Golden Era candidates (if any) who will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2015.  In this post, I will share how BBRT’s ballot would look (if I had one), as well as my predictions as to who the committee will chose to send on to the Hall of Fame.

Selecting from among the Golden Era candidates proved more challenging then working my way through BBRT’s predictions and preferences for the regular Baseball Writers Association of American Hall of Fame voting.  (For BBRT’s regular Hall of Fame Ballot predictions, click here.) There were several reasons for that:

  • Since the Golden Era candidates were prescreened by an Historical Overview Committee, they all had some very deserving achievements and attributes;
  • Since I grew up in the Golden Era, I was able to see all the nominated players on the field – and find my choices mixing emotion with reason;
  • You can only vote for five of ten candidates, no matter how deserving you feel six or seven may be; and
  • Predicting how the Committee will vote is complicated by the fact that its membership changes so much from election to election (only four of the 16 members of the previous Golden Era Committee are back this year).

 

By way of background, the Hall of Fame Eras Committees consider candidates passed over for election to the HOF in the annual Baseball Writers Association of America – BBWAA –  balloting. The committees, which meet on a rotating basis (each committee meeting once every three years), are the: Pre-Integration ERA (prior to 1946); Golden Era (1947-72); and Expansion Era (1973 forward). Players to appear on each year’s ballot are selected by an Historical Overview Committee and candidates must receive 75 percent support from Era Committee members to achieve election.  Era Committee members may vote for or up to five candidates.   Candidates whose careers overlap eras are considered on the basis of the time frame in which they made their most significant contributions to the national pastime.

There are ten candidates on this year’s Golden Era ballot and, unlike the regular Hall of Fame election, their fate is not in the hands of the members of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Instead, their election depends on garnering 75 percent of the votes from a16-member panel that, this election cycle, includes:

  • Already enshrined Hall of Famers: Jim Bunning, Rod Carew, Pat Gillick (executive), Ferguson Jenkins, Al Kaline, Joe Morgan, Ozzie Smith and Don Sutton
  • Baseball executives: Jim Frey, David Glass, Roland Hemond and Bob Watson
  • Historian: Steve Hirdt
  • Media representatives: Dick Kaegel, Phil Pepe and Tracy Ringolsby

The returning members from 2011 are Gillick, Kaline, Hemond and Kaegel.

Note:  The last time the Golden Era Committee convened (2011), only former Cubs’ third baseman Ron Santo received the required 75 percent of the vote.

2014 Golden Era Baseball Hall of Fame Voting (for 2015 induction)

Candidates – Those returning from the 2011 voting are in bold face, with voting percentages for the top vote-getters noted.

Dick Allen, Ken Boyer, Gil Hodges (56.3%), Bob Howsam (executive),  Jim Kaat (62.5%), Minnie Minoso (56.3%), Tony Oliva (50.0%), Billy Pierce, Luis Tiant and Maury Wills.

 

How BBRT would use its five votes – if I had a ballot.

When considering players, it’s difficult to put sentiment aside.  Being born in the initial year of the Golden Era, I grew up watching all of these players.  I can find a reasons – beyond basic statistics – to vote for every one.

Beyond overall statistics (more on those later), here are just a few of the candidates’ unique achievements:

  • Maury Wills, Ken Boyer and Dick Allen have all won league MVP Awards
  • Jim Kaat shares the MLB record for consecutive Gold Gloves won (16) with Brooks Robinson
  • Gil Hodges is one of only 16 MLB players to hit four home runs in one game
  • Tony Oliva is the only player to win his league batting title in his rookie and sophomore seasons
  • Maury Wills, in 1962, not only became the first player to steal 100 bases in a season (104), he topped the next highest player’s total by 72 – and the Dodger shortstop actually stole more bases than every other MLB team
  • Minnie Minoso led the AL in hit by pitch an MLB record 10 times
  • In 1962, Billy Pierce (traded to the San Francisco Giants in the off season), proved to really like home cooking – going 11-0 in eleven Candlestick starts, with  his overall 15-6 record helping the Giants tie the rival Dodgers for the pennant. Pierce started Game One of the three-game playoff and ran his 1962 home record to 12-0 (beating Sandy Koufax, tossing a three-hit shutout in an 8-0 win).
  • Dick Allen is one of only 39 players since 1900 to hit two inside-the-park homers in a one game. Since Allen hit his two inside-the-park HRs on May 31, 1972, the feat has been equaled only once in MLB – by the Twins’ Greg Gagne in 1986. (Three inside-the-park homers in a game has been achieved only once, by Tom McCreery of Louisville of the NL in 1897.)

The uniqueness of this class of candidates goes beyond the numbers. Consider:

  • Tony Oliva’s knees bent-in stance – and ability to hit pretty much any pitch (in or out of the strike zone)
  • Luis Tiant’s twisting (and deceptive) delivery
  • Minnie Minoso’s groundbreaking efforts on behalf of Latin American players
  • Dick Allen’s fierce presence and personality on and off the field

I could go on and on, but the point is – each of these players offers up good (and diverse) reasons to secure the votes of the Golden Era Committee (and BBRT).  Still, the Committee members are limited to five votes, so I decided to follow the same rules for BBRT’s “ballot.”   I did my best to focus on exceptional performance in relation to their Golden Era peers – league leadership in key categories, All Star selections, individual awards (Rookie of the Year, Cy Young, MVP, etc.)  I recognize that my selections, which I will present in priority order, may make me look like a bit of a “homer.” (I’m from Minnesota and two of my selections are former Twins.) I do, however, think my reasoning will stand up to evaluation.

 

1. Minnie Minoso (OF/3B, 1949-1964*)

*Minoso also made brief publicity-focused appearances for the White Sox in 1976 and 1980 – which allowed him to appear in MLB in five different decades.

GEMinosoIn his first full MLB season (split between the Indians and the White Sox), Minoso hit .326, leading the AL in triples (14), stolen bases (31) and hit by pitch (16) – finishing second to Yankees’ infielder  Gil McDougald in the Rookie of the Year balloting.

BBRT note: Minoso’s statistics for the year – 146 games, 530 at bats, 173 hits, 34 doubles, 14 triples, 10 home runs, 76 RBI, 31 steals and a .326 average – topped McDougald in every category except home runs.

Minoso went on to a 17-season MLB career in which he made seven All Star squads, earned three Gold Gloves, led the AL in hits once, doubles once, triples three times, stolen bases three times, total bases once and hit by pitch an MLB-record ten times. He finished with 1,963 hits and a .298 average (topping .300 eight times), 186 home runs (hitting 20+ in a season four times), 1,136 runs (scoring more than 100 runs in a season four times), 1,023 RBI (besting 100 four times) and 205 stolen bases. In addition to those offensive marks, Minoso also led AL leftfielders in assists six times, putouts four times and double plays four times.  Minoso was well into his career when the Rawlings Gold Glove Awards were established in 1957; yet he still earned a Gold Glove in left field in 1957, 1959 and 1960.

Adding to Minoso’s Hall of Fame resume is the fact that he was a groundbreaking “Black Latino” in major league baseball.  He was the first player of color for the Chicago White Sox, the first Black Cuban to play in the major leagues and the first Cuban to play in the major league All Star game.  His baseball legacy is further enhanced by the fact that he played (and starred) not only in the major leagues, but in the Negro Leagues (where he played in the East West All Star Games of 1947 and 1948) and Cuban League – and is a member of the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame, the Latino Baseball Hall of Fame and the Hispanic Heritage Hall of Fame.

All of this puts Minoso at the top of the BBRT Golden Era ballot – plus I’d like to see his full name Saturnino Orestes Armas (Arrieta) Minoso on that HOF plaque.

Minnie Minoso played for: Cleveland Indians (1949, 1951, 1958-59); Chicago White Sox (1951-57, 1961, 1964, 1976, 1980); Saint Louis Cardinals (1962); Washington Senators (1963).

Minnie Minoso’s best season:  1954 Chicago White Sox … 153 games, .320 average, 182 hits, 29 doubles, 18 triples (league-leading), 19 home runs, 119 runs scored, 116 RBI, 18 stolen bases.

 

2. Jim Kaat (LHP, 1959-83)

GEKaatJim Kaat – 283 wins, 3oth all-time.  That might say enough right there.  Kaat, however, also is among MLB’s top 35 hurlers in games started (625, 17th), innings pitched (4,530 1/3, 25th) and strikeouts (2,461, 34th). One of the criticisms of Kaat raised during regular BBWAA balloting was that he his win total was inflated by the length of his career (Kaat average 11.3 wins per season over 25 seasons).  From a different perspective, BBRT believes the fact the Kaat had the skills and determination to compete on the major league level from age 20 to age 44 contributes to his Hall of Fame credentials.

Overall, Kaat went 283-237, 3.45.  He was a three-time All Star, and won 20 or more games three times. He led his league in games started twice and wins, complete games and shutouts once each. Then, of course, there are those sixteen (consecutive) Gold Gloves.  Kaat finished second (with 62.5 percent of the vote) in the previous Golden Era balloting.  This should be his year.

Jim Kaat played for the: Washington Senators/Minnesota Twins (1959-73); Chicago White Sox (1973-75); Philadelphia Phillies (1976-79); New York Yankees (1979-1980); Saint Louis Cardinals (1980-83).

Jim Kaat’s best season: 1966 Twins … A league-leading 25 wins (13 losses), with a 2.75 ERA. That season, Kaat also led the AL in starts (41) and complete games (19). Kaat might have that all-important Cy Young Award on his HOF resume, except for the fact that MLB gave out only one CYA in 1966 (the move to a CYA for each league came the following year) and it went to National Leaguer Sandy Koufax (27-9, 1.73 for the Dodgers).

 

3. (Tie) Tony Oliva (OF-DH, 1962)

GEOlivaOkay, having two former Twins on my ballot may make me look like a “homer,” but hear me out.  First, it’s ironic that Jim Kaat’s HOF qualifications have been criticized in the past because his career was too long (283 wins over 25 seasons), while Oliva’s HOF credentials have been criticized because – due to injury – his productive career was too short (only 11 seasons in which he played at least 125 games, only seven of 140 games or more).

Oliva gets BBRT’s vote because when he played he was simply one of the best. In his first eight seasons full seasons (1964-71), he made the All Star team every year.  During that span he produced an annual average of 182 hits (.313 batting average), 22 home runs, 89 runs scored, 90 RBI and ten stolen bases.

Oliva won three batting titles (and the 1964  Rookie of the Year Award) – and is the only player to win the batting crown in both his rookie and sophomore seasons.  He also led the AL in base hits five times, doubles four times, and topped the AL one time each in runs scored, slugging percentage, total bases and intentional walks.   Tony-O also showed speed on the bases, finishing in double-digit in steals six times, with a high of 19 in 1965.

Oliva also was a “’plus” defender with a rifle arm in right field, capturing a Gold Glove in 1966. Even after knee issues forced to serve primarily as a DH (1972-76), he continued to be a feared hitter.  Oliva played in 15 major league seasons, retiring with a .304 career average, 1,917 hits, 220 home runs, 870 runs scored and 947 RBI.

Tony Oliva played for:  Minnesota Twins (1962-76)

Tony Oliva’s best season:  1964 Twins … In his rookie year, Oliva led the AL in batting average (.232), hits (217), doubles (43), total bases (374) and runs scored (109). He threw in 32 home runs, 94 RBI and 12 stolen bases for good measure.  Oliva did not fall prey to the “sophomore jinx.” The following season, he again led the AL in hits and batting average.

 3. (Tie) Dick Allen (1B/3B, 1963-77)

GEAllenDick Allen’s traditional HOF candidacy suffered from a combination of career-shortening injuries and career-complicating (often racially motivated) controversy.  The fact is Allen had a fierce presence both on and off the field.  It is on-the-field performance – specifically his at-the-plate performance – that earns Allen BBRT’s Golden Era vote.  It is generally agreed that none of his peers hit the ball as consistently hard (and far) as Allen did in the pitching-dominated 1960s.

Allen came on with a bang in his first full season, leading the NL in runs scored (125), triples (13) and total bases (352), while hitting .318 with 29 home runs and 91 RBI.  His performance earned him the Rookie of the Year Award.  He went on to a 15-year career during which he was a seven-time All Star and collected 1,848 hits, 351 home runs and 1,119 RBI.  His career batting average was .292, and he topped .300 seven times.  He led the NL in home runs twice (hitting 30+ HRs six times), RBI once (besting 100 three times), walks once, on base percentage twice, slugging percentage three times and total bases once.

Dick Allen played for: Philadelphia Phillies (1963-1969; 1975-76); Los Angeles Dodgers (1971); Chicago White Sox (1972-74); Oakland A’s (1977).

Dick Allen’ best season:  1972 Chicago White Sox … Played in 148 games, hitting .308, while leading the AL in home runs (37), RBI (113), walks (99), on base percentage (.420) and slugging percentage (.603).  Won the AL MVP Award.

 

5. Gil Hodges (1B, 1943-63 – military service 1944-45)

GEHodgesGil Hodges was a slick-fielding first baseman. (Rawlings launched the Gold Glove Award in 1957 and Hodges, already in his 12th MLB season at age 33, began a streak of three consecutive Gold Gloves at first base.) Hodges was also a potent offensive force – an RBI machine.  For the seven seasons from 1949 to 1955, he topped 100 RBI every year – averaging 112 runs driven in per campaign.   He also logged 11 consecutive seasons of 20+ home runs (1949-59), with a high of 42 in 1954.

In 18 MLB seasons, Hodges was selected for eight All-Star teams, and helped his Dodgers capture seven NL pennants and two World Series championships.  In post season play, he is best remembered his 21 hitless at bats in 1952, but in his other six World Series he hit .318, with five home runs and 21 RBI in 32 games.

Hodges’ put up a career average of .273, with 370 home runs, 1,274 RBI and 1,105 runs scored.  Without losing those two years to military service, he may well have exceeded the 400 home run, 1,500 RBI marks. After his playing days, he also managed the Washington Senators (1963-67) and New York Mets (1968-71), leading the “Miracle Mets” to the World Championship in 1969.

Gil Hodges played for: Brooklyn/LosAngeles Dodgers (1943-61); the New York Mets (1962-63).

Gil Hodges’ best season:  1954 Dodgers … Hodges played in all 154 games that season, providing sparkling defense along with a .304 average, 42 home runs, 130 RBI and 106 runs scored.

Note: Hodges finished third in the previous Golden Era voting, with 56.5 percent.

 

So, there’s the BBRT Golden Era ballot.  But I can’t resist taking just a little liberty.  If I only had one more vote, it would go to:

 

Ken Boyer (3B/1B/CF … 1955-69)

GEBoyerKen Boyer was a Gold Glove fielder at third base.  In fact, he won five Gold Gloves in a six-season span (1958 to 1963).  He led all NL third baseman in assists twice, putouts once and double plays five times. And I guess he was able to console himself for losing the 1964 Gold Glove to the Cubs’ Ron Santo with the fact that Boyer was voted the NL MVP that season.

You may have heard about (or witnessed) Boyer’s defensive skills at the hot corner, but did you know his MLB career also included time in centerfield (111 games), as well as at first base (65 games) and shortstop (31 games)? In fact, in 1957 – with the Cardinals wanting to develop infield prospect Eddie Kasko and facing a gap in centerfield – Boyer agreed to move to the center of the outfield. In 105 games there, he made just one error and led NL outfielders with a .993 fielding average.

Note: A combination of an injury to Kasko and the Cardinals acquisition of outfielder Curt Flood sent Boyer back to third base in 1958 (and he began a streak of four consecutive Gold Gloves).

In his fifteen-year MLB career, Boyer became known not just as a fine defensive player, but also as a consistent, quality hitter. He retired with 2,143 hits, a .287 average, 282 home runs, 1,104 runs scored and 1,141 RBI – topping .300 five times (with a high of .329 in 1961), hitting 20 or more home runs eight times (with a high of 32 in 1960), driving in 90 or more runs eight times (with a league-leading high of 119 in 1964) and scoring 90 or more runs five times (with a high of 109 in 1961).  The quality of Boyer’s play – in the field and at the plate – earned him seven All Star selections.

 

WHAT WILL THE GOLDEN ERA COMMITTEE DO?

With only four of the sixteen members from the previous Golden Era Committee (which elected on Ron Santo) returning, this becomes a tough call. Given the make-up of the 2014 committee, I expect they will be a little more generous in the balloting.

Likely to be elected:  I expect Jim Kaat (who came so close in 2011) and Minnie Minoso to receive the necessary support.

Dark horse candidates:  I also think Tony Oliva (thanks to Rod Carew’s presence on the panel) and Gil Hodges (who got 56.3 percent last time around) have a chance – but I am less confident they will garner three-quarters of the votes.

So, in order of likelihood, Kaat, Minoso, Oliva, Hodges.

 

BBRT invites your comments on the Golden Era ballot.

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

2015 Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot – BBRT’s Take

Cooperstown - home to 1987 Salt Lake City Trappers memorabilia.

The Baseball Hall of Fame.

The 2015 Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot is now in the hands of the members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, with the results to be reported January 7, 2015.  As in 2014, there are some strong newcomers and, also like last year (when first-timers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine headed the ballot), this year’s most likely first-ballot electees are pitchers – Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez. Other big names making their first appearance on the ballot include: Nomar Garciaparra, Gary Sheffield, John Smoltz, Carlos Delgado and Troy Percival.

In this post, I’ll take a look at how BBRT would vote (if I had a ballot), as well as BBRT’s predictions for the actual BBWAA results. By way of review, each BBWAA member can vote for up to ten players, and a player must receive 75 percent support to earn election. In an upcoming post, BBRT will look at the Golden Era Hall of Fame voting.

If recent balloting is any indication, we can expect a significant number of writers will decline to vote for players suspected of (or having admitted to) PED use, which seems a legitimate reason.  Others will hold back votes from first-timers to make a statement on “what it takes to be a first-ballot inductee” (a less legitimate reason than the PED issue) and still others may send in blank ballots (for no apparent reason). So, let’s start with a quick list of what BBRT’s ballot would look like.  Then we’ll move on to my predictions for the actual BBWAA results and, finally, take a more detailed look at the players who would garner BBRT’s votes.

BBRT’s Hall of Fame Selections – if I had a vote – In Priority Order

First a quick list, later a more detailed look at BBRT’s selections.

Group One – Should Be No Doubt

1. Randy Johnson– 303 wins, 4,875 strikeouts (second all-time), five Cy Young Awards (including four consecutive 1999-2002)

2. Pedro Martinez– 219 wins, three Cy Young Awards, five-time ERA leader

3. Craig Biggio– 3,060 hits, 1,884 runs scored, 291 HRs, 414 steals

Group Two – Debatable, But Clearly Deserving Support

4.  John Smoltz – Only pitcher in MLB history to top both 200 wins and 150 saves, led NL in wins as a starter (24 in 1966) and saves as a reliever (55 in 2002), compiled a 15-4 post-season record (with four saves for good measure)

5. Lee Smith– 478 saves (third all- time), three times league saves leader

6. Mike Piazza – .308 career average, most home runs by a catcher, 12-time All Star

7. Jeff Kent – Most home runs by any second baseman, nine more RBI than Mickey Mantle, 2000 NL MVP

Group Threee – More Debatable, But Would Get BBRT’s Vote

8.  Jeff Bagwell – 449 HRs, 202 steals, 1,529 RBI, 1991 NL Rookie of the Year, 1994 NL MVP, twice recorded seasons of 40 or more HRs and 30 or more steals

9.  Mike Mussina – 270 wins, five-time All Star, seven-time Gold Glove winner, six times finished in top five in Cy Young voting

10.  Tim Raines– 808 stolen bases (fifth all time), 2,605 hits (.294 career average), 1,571 runs scored.

 

BBRT Predictions as to Whom the Baseball Writers Will Vote In

BBRT projects that the BBWAA, being  stingier than BBRT with their votes, will elect:

  • Randy Johnson,
  • Pedro Martinez
  • Craig Biggio

I also see two dark horse candidates for 2015, in this order of likelihood:

  • John Smoltz’ post-season record may give him just the push he needs to become a “first-ballot” inductee, but BBRT expects it to be very close
  • Mike Piazza, with 62.2 percent of the vote one year ago, is a potential dark horse candidate to make the jump to 75 percent – but will more likely move up to about 66-68 percent  

Big names associated with the PED issue – they will not be named here, but the vote totals will tell you – are likely to remain on the sidelines, as emotions related to PED-use continue to run high. (In BBRT’s line of thinking, there is a difference between proven and suspected PED use – and between solid evidence and rumors.)   In addition,  players like Nomar Garciaparra (1997 Rookie of the Year, six-time All Star, two-time batting champion), Carlos Delgado (473 home runs, 1,512 RBI)  and Troy Percival (358 saves, ninth all-time) are likely fall victim to the higher standards some voters require of first-ballot inductees.

I expect a handful of players to move closer to the 75-percent mark, including Mike Mussina, Mike Piazza (if he doesn’t get in), Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Jeff Kent.   Note:  All five of these players would get BBRT’s vote this year.

 

A More Detailed Look at BBRT’s Selections from This Year’s HOF Ballot

Should Be Elected Easily

BBRT believes this first group of players should be locks for 2015 Hall of Fame induction.

 

 

Randy Johnson (LHP, 1988-2009 – first time on ballot)

The Big Unit should be headed for the Hall of Fame.

The Big Unit should be headed for the Hall of Fame.

Maybe a good nickname helps (especially if you notch 300 wins on the mound). Last year’s HOF ballot was headed by Greg “The Professor” Maddux and his 355 career victories.  This year’s ballot features Hall of Fame shoo-in Randy “The Big Unit” Johnson, who notched 303 wins (versus 166 losses) and 4,875 strikeouts (second all-time) in 4,135 innings pitched.  The 6’ 10”, 225-pound Johnson was an intimidating specter and force on the mound. He was known for a blazing fastball and hard slider, and his 10.61 strikeouts per nine innings ranks number-one among qualifying starting pitchers.  Johnson, who held hitters to a .221 average (eighth all-time), was a ten-time All-Star and five-time Cy Young Award winner (second only to Roger Clemens). He led his league in strikeouts nine times (topping 300 in a season six times), ERA four times, complete games four times, winning percentage four times and victories once.  He ran off four straight NL Cy Young Awards (1999-2002) and, over those four seasons, went 81-27, 2.48 with 1,417 strikeouts in 1,030 innings pitched.  Johnson threw two no-hitters (one – on May 18, 2004 – a perfect game.) He was also the 2001 World Series MVP – going 3-0. 1.04 in three starts (striking out 19 in 17 1/3 innings).

Johnson pitched for the  Montreal Expos (1988-89); the Seattle Mariners (1989-98); Houston Astros (1998); Arizona Diamondbacks (1999-2004 and 2007-08); the New York Yankees (2005-06); and the San Francisco Giants (2009).

Randy Johnson’s  best season: 2002 Arizona Diamondbacks … Johnson earned his fourth consecutive Cy Young Award while leading the NL in wins (24 – versus just five losses),  winning percentage (.828), ERA (2.32), complete games (eight), innings pitched (260) and strikeouts (334). It was also his fourth consecutive season of 300+ strikeouts.

Randy Johnson’s most unusual season: In 1998, Johnson started the season with the Seattle Mariners (for whom he had won 20 games the year before – not to mention the Cy Young Award in 1995). There had been some conflict over his contract and both Seattle and Johnson got off to a slow start.  On July 31, the Mariners traded Johnson to Houston for three talented minor leaguers (Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen and John Halama), who went on to put together a combined 38 major league seasons.  At the time, the Mariners were at the bottom of the AL West with a 48-60 record, while the Astros led the NL Central at 65-44.  Johnson ended July with a 9-10, 4.33 ERA record in 23 starts.  He turned his season around with the Astros, going 10-1, 1.28 in 11 starts – helping Houston to a 102-60 record and the Division title.

Pedro Martinez (RHP, 1992-2009 – first time on ballot)

Pedro Martnez brought an arsenal of "plus" pitches and elite control to the mound.

Pedro Martnez brought an arsenal of “plus” pitches and elite control to the mound.

Pedro Martinez, like Randy Johnson, was known as a power pitcher – twice topping 300 strikeouts in a season.  He brought his power from a different platform, generously listed at 5’11’, 170-pounds.  Martinez mowed hitters down by coupling excellent control with a “plus” fastball, cutter, curveball and circle change.   Early in his career, Martinez’ fastball was clocked in the mid-to-high 90s, while later he used his combination of pitch selection and control to continue to win with a fastball in the high 80s.

Martinez ran up a 219-100 record, a 2.93 ERA and 3,154 strikeouts in 18 seasons.  Among qualifying starting pitchers, only Randy Johnson recorded more strikeouts per nine innings than Martinez’ 10.04. He captured three Cy Young Awards (1997, 1999, 2000) and was an eight-time All Star.  His HOF resume also includes a league-low ERA in five seasons, and a league-high in strikeouts three times.  Martinez, with 760 career bases on balls, is one of only four pitchers to log 3,000+ strikeouts with fewer than 1,000 walks (Curt Schilling – 3,116 Ks/ 711 BBs; Fergie Jenkins – 3,192/997; Greg Maddux – 3,371/999). Martinez held opposing hitters to a .214 average over his career – the fourth-lowest in MLB history.  His .687 winning percentage is the third-highest all-time and second-highest in the modern era (behind Whitey Ford’s .690; 238-106). Martinez logged a 6-4 post-season record, with a 3.46 ERA and 96 strikeouts in 96 1/3 innings.

Martinez pitched for the Los Angeles Dodgers (1992-93); Montreal Expos (1994-97); Boston Red Sox (1998-2004); New York Mets (2005-08); and Philadelphia Phillies (2009).

Pedro Martinez’ best season: 1999 Boston Red Sox … Martinez led the AL in wins (23), winning percentage (23-4, .852), ERA (2.07) and strikeouts (313 in just 213 1/3 innings), while winning his second Cy Young Award.

Pedro Martinez’ remarkable run:  After going 17-8 with an NL-best 1.90 ERA for Montreal in 1997, Martinez was traded to the Boston Red Sox for pitcher Carlos Pavano and a Player to Be Named Later (Tony Armas, Jr.). In his time with the Red Sox, Martinez went 117-37, with a 2.52 ERA and 1,683 strikeouts in 1,383 1/3 innings.

 

Craig Biggio (2B/C/OF, 1988-2007 – third time on the ballot)

Craig Biggio getting his bat on the ball for 3,000+ hits should be his ticket to the Hall of Fame.

Craig Biggio getting his bat on the ball for 3,000+ hits should be his ticket to the Hall of Fame.

It takes 75 percent of the vote to enter the “Hall” and, last year, Biggio just missed at 74.8 percent (two votes shy).  This should be his year.  In 20 seasons, Biggio recorded 3,060 base hits (20th all time), 1,884 runs (154h all time), hit 291 home runs and stole 414 bases.  He was a seven-time All Star and a four-time Gold Glove winner, who spent notable time at second base, catcher and in the outfield.  He led the NL in runs twice, doubles three times, stolen bases once and hit-by-pitch five times.  His 668 doubles are the most ever by a right-handed hitter (and fifth all time). He holds the NL record for home runs to lead off a game (53) and for hit-by-pitch (285).  Biggio played his entire 18-year MLB career with the Houston Astros.

Craig Biggio’s best year:  1998 Houston Astros … 160 games,  .325 average , 210 hits, 123 runs, 20 HRs, 88 RBI, league-leading 51 doubles, 50 stolen bases.

Craig Biggio fact:  Biggio is one of only two players to hit 50 doubles and steal 50 bases in the same season.

 

Deserving Candidates Who Also Would Get BBRT’s Vote (If I had one)

This next group of candidates consists of players whose entrance into the Hall of Fame might prompt some discussion and debate – but when the discussion is done, BBRT is confident they should be seen as deserving of election.

John Smoltz (RHP, 1988-2009 – 1st time on ballot)

Smoltz is the only MLB hurler to notch 200+ wins (213) and 150+ saves (154) in his career – as well as one of only two pitchers to have a 20-win season and a 50-save season.  In 1996, he went 24-8 as a starter for the Braves, leading the NL in wins, winning percentage (24-6, .750), strikeouts( 276)  and innings pitched (253 2/3). Five seasons later, after Tommy John surgery, Smoltz led the NL in saves with 55, while going 3-2, 3.25 with 85 strikeouts in 80 1/3 innings as the Braves’ closer.   The eight-time All Star won the NL Cy Young Award in 1996 and was the Rolaids Relief Man of the Year in 2005. He led the NL in wins twice, winning percentage twice, strikeouts twice, innings pitched twice and saves once.  He finished his career at 213-155, 3.33, with 154 saves and 3,084 strikeouts in 3,473 innings pitched.  Smoltz was a beast in the post season, appearing in 41 games and recording 15 wins (versus just four losses), four saves, 199 strikeouts (in 209 innings pitched) and a 2.67 ERA.

Might be a little shy of support from those who place heavy emphasis on first-ballot selection, but has a chance to make it in this year.

Smoltz’ best year:  1996 Braves … League-leading wins (24), winning percentage (24-6 .750), and strikeouts (276). Won the Cy Young Award.  Followed up by going 4-1, 0.95 in the post season – striking out 33 in 38 innings.

Smoltz’ fact:  Smoltz was pretty much equally effective at home and on the road.  In 363 home appearances, he went 108-77, 3.29.  In 360 road appearances, he went 105-78, 3.37.

 

Lee Smith (RHP, 1980-97 – 13th time on the ballot)

I’d love for this to be lucky number thirteen for Lee Smith.  However, last year Smith got only 29.9 percent of the vote, and that’s a lot of ground to make up.  Smith’s  478 saves put him third on the all-time list (he was number-one when he retired after the 1997 season).  He recorded 13 consecutive seasons (in an 18-year career) of 25 or more saves, a 3.03 lifetime ERA and 1,251 strikeouts in 1,289 innings pitched; led his league in saves four times; made seven All Star teams; and was the Rolaids Relief Man of the Year in three seasons.  Smith pitched for the Chicago Cubs (1980-87); Boston Red Sox (1988-90); St. Louis Cardinals (1990-93); New York Yankees (1993); Baltimore Orioles (1994); California Angels (1995-96); Cincinnati Reds (1996); Montreal Expos (1997).

With the third most saves all time, Smith gets BBRT’s vote.

Lee Smith’s best season:  1991, Cardinals … 6-3, 2.34 ERA, 47 saves, 73 innings pitched, 67 strikeouts.

Lee Smith fact: Smith is one of only 16 pitchers to appear in 1,000 or more games.

 

Mike Piazza (C, 1992-2007 – Third year on the ballot)

Mike Piazza’s stat sheet includes a .308 career average, 427 home runs (a MLB-record 396 as a catcher), a Rookie of the Year Award, 12 All Star Selections and ten Silver Slugger Awards as the best hitter at his position. Over his career, he collected 2,127 hits, 1,335 RBI and scored 1,048 runs. He hit .242, with six home runs and 15 RBI in 32 post season games.  Piazza got 62.2 percent of the vote last year and should improve this year – maybe even to the required 75 percent.

Piazza’s best year: 1997, Dodgers – .362 avg., 201 hits, 104 runs, 40 HR, 124 RBI.

Piazza fact: Piazza’s career defied expectations:  He was the 1,390th player selected in the 1988 MLB draft (62nd round). Five years later, he was a major league All Star, NL Rookie of the Year and a Silver Slugger winner.

 

Jeff Kent (2B/3B/1B, 1992-2008 – second year on the ballot)

Despite the fact that only 15.2 percent of the writers voted for Kent last year (his first on the ballot), BBRT believes Kent is a deserving candidate.  Kent holds the all-time MLB record for home runs by a second baseman (351 of his 377 career round trippers were hit while playing second base). He has a healthy .290 career batting average and his 1,518 RBI are 51st  all time (for perspective, Kent drove in nine more runs than Mickey Mantle). Kent was a five-time All Star, four-time Silver Slugger winner and 2000 NL MVP.  He hit .276, with nine home runs and 23 RBI in 49 post-season games.

Kent has the credentials, but BBRT has a hunch the writers will make keep him waiting – a couple of Gold Gloves, at this traditionally defense-oriented position, would have really helped his case.

Jeff Kent’s best season: SF Giants, 2000:  159 games, 196 hits, .334 average, 33 home runs, 125 RBI, 114 runs, 12 steals. NL MVP.

Jeff Kent fact: Kent hit .276, with nine home runs and 23 RBI in 49 post-season games.

 

More Debatable, But Would Still Get BBRT’s Vote

More debate is likely to swirl around this group.  They may be on the cusp when it comes to election (some for this year, some overall); but BBRT would use all ten votes.

Jeff Bagwell (1B, 1991-2005 – fifth year on the ballot)

Jeff Bagwell earned Hall of Fame consideration with a 15-year career that included 2,314 hits, 449 home runs, 202 stolen bases and a .297 average – along with a Rookie of the Year Award, a Most Valuable Player Award, one Gold Glove and four All Star selections.  He also twice recorded seasons of 40 or more homers and 30 or more steals. Bagwell’s chances are hurt a bit by the fact that first base has been manned by so many power hitters over time.  Bagwell played his entire career with the Houston Astros.

BBRT would vote for Bagwell, who picked up 54.3 percent of the vote last year and should improve this season.

Bagwell’s best season:  Bagwell really gives us two good choices here.  1994 Astros …  Baggy hit .368, with 39 homers and 15 stolen bases, while leading the NL in runs (104) and RBI (116) and earning a Gold Glove.  Bagwell also won the NL MVP Award despite playing just 110 of the Astros’ 144 games in the strike-shortened season.   2000 Astros …  .310 average, 183 hits, 152 runs, 132 RBI, 47 home runs.

Bagwell’s durability: Jeff Bagwell played all 162 of the Astros’ regular season games in four of his fifteen seasons – and topped 155 games ten times.

 

Mike Mussina (RHP, 1991-2008 – second year on the ballot)

It’s another tough year on the ballot for Mike Mussina.  In his first year (2014), he was overshadowed by fellow first-timers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine  (both 300-game winners). This year, Mussina must contend with the first HOF ballot appearances of Randy Johnson (another 300-game winner) and Pedro Martinez.  The writers are likely to ask Mussina to wait, but BBRT would cast a vote for “Moose.”  Last year,  Mussina garnered just 20.3 percent of the vote.  Expect improvement this year.

Mussina built a 270-153 record, a career 3.68 ERA and 2,813 strikeouts over 18 seasons. While only a 20-game winner once (in his final season, at age 39), Mussina won 18 or 19 games five times, leading the AL with 19 wins in 1995. He was a five-time All Star and a seven-time Gold Glove winner. While the lack of a Cy Young Award on his resume may hurt him, he finished his career 117 games over .500 – and history says 100 or more wins than losses is good for a ticket to the HOF.

Mike Mussina’s best season:  2008 New York Yankees … Mussina may have saved his best for last.  In his final season, at age 39, he recorded his first twenty-win campaign.  That year, Mussina went 20-9, 3.37 – and proved his durability by leading the AL in starts with 34.

Mussina fact: In his first three full seasons  in the major leagues (1992-94) Mussina put up a .700 or better winning percentage each year (.783, .700, .762). His record over that span – for the Orioles – was 48-16.

 

Tim Raines (OF, 1979-2001 –  eighth year on the ballot.)

Tim Raines hit .294 over his 23-season MLB career, collecting 2,605 hits, 1,571 runs scored, 170 home runs, 980 RBI and 808 stolen bases (#5 all time).  Raines was successful on 83.5 percent of his career steal attempts. He was a seven-time All Star, led the NL in stolen bases four consecutive years (1981-84), had a streak of six seasons with at least 70 steals, won the NL batting title in 1986 with a .334 average, led the league in runs scored twice and doubles once. In 34 post-season games, he hit .270 with one home run, six RBI, 18 runs scored and three steals.

More debatable than Piazza or Bagwell, but Raines would get BBRT’s vote.

Raines’ best season: BBRT did not select Raines’ 1986 batting title year, but rather his 1983 season with the Expos … 156 games, 179 hits, .298 average, league-leading 133 runs scored, 11 homers, 71 RBI, league-leading 90 steals.

Raines was always running:  Over 23 seasons, Raines average 35 steals a year (and that included six seasons in which he played in less than half his team’s games).  Over his MLB career – from age 19 to 42 – Raines averaged 52 stolen bases for every 162 games played.

So, there’s  BBRT’s regular Hall of Fame “selections.” Again, coming soon, a look at the Golden Era HOF election.

BBRT invites your comments on the 2015 Hall of Fame election.

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

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The Babe Ruth of the Minors – Buzz Arlett

Buzz Arlett - the minor league's greatest player - during his time with the Minneapolis Millers.

Buzz Arlett – the minor league’s greatest player – during his time with the Minneapolis Millers.

Russell Loris “Buzz” Arlett made his major league debut (for the Phillies) on Opening Day (April 14) 1931 – and he made the most of it.  A 32-year-old rookie, with 13 minor league seasons (the first five as a pitcher) under his belt, Arlett started in right field, batting sixth.  He went two-for-four, with a double and a run scored.  He went on to play in 121 games (RF/1B) that season, hitting .313, with 18 home runs (fourth in the NL) and 72 RBI.  Despite showing this promise, Arlett was back in the minor leagues in 1932, where he remained for six more seasons before leaving the professional ranks.

So, why did I choose to dedicate this BBRT post to Buzz Arlett? The decision was based on his minor league accomplishments, but also influenced by my current geography.

First, his minor league accomplishments.  While Arlett made a pretty good “splash” in his lone MLB season, he was a big fish in a small pond in the minor leagues – as a pitcher and a hitter. In fact, baseball pundits (including sabermetrics guru Bill James) have labeled Arlett the Babe Ruth of the minor leagues.

As a pitcher, Buzz Arlett picked up 106 minor league wins – and, while at the top of his game (1919-1922), he went 95-71 for the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League. His best PCL season on the mound was 1920, when he pitched a league-leading 427 1/3 innings, won a league-high 29 games (17 losses), and notched a 2.86 ERA. When Arlett’s strong right arm succumbed to overwork, he switched to the outfield/first base. In his first season as primarily an OF/1B, Arlett hit .330, with 19 home runs and 101 RBI. He went on to hit .341, with 432 home runs and 1,786 RBIs in his minor league career. His 432 home runs are still the U.S. minor league record (second only in the minors to Hector Espino, who hit 484 home runs in the Mexican leagues).

In 1984, the Society for American Baseball Research named Arlett (already a member of the Pacific Coast League Hall of Fame) the “All-Time Greatest Minor League Player.” 

Then, there is the influence of geography. BBRT calls Minnesota home and Arlett’s Minnesota-ties piqued my interest.  Arlett spent three seasons at the end of his playing career with the American Association’s Minneapolis Millers – hitting .334, with 81 home runs and 285 RBI in 312 games. Arlett joined the Millers in late May of 1934, coming over from the Birmingham Barons of the Southern Association, yet still managed to league the American Association in home runs with 41, while hitting .319 with 132 RBI in 166 games. The following season, at the age of 36, he hit .360, with 25 home runs and 101 RBI in 122 games for the Minneapolis squad.

After retiring from professional baseball,  Arlett (who served as a minor league manager and major league scout after his playing days) settled in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis/Saint Paul) and operated a successful restaurant and bar (Arlett’s Place, near Nicolett Park, where he had played for the Millers.) His final resting place is Lakewood Cemetery (Minneapolis) about 45 miles from my hometown of Cannon Falls.

And the impact of geography goes further. As I noted in my most recent post, I am on a family road trip from Cannon Falls to Davis, California.  As I write this I am in Davis – about 2,000 miles from home, but just 18 miles from Arlett’s Elmhurst, California birthplace and 70 miles from Oakland, where Arlett played most of his minor league career.  Seems like serendipity to me.

So, here’s a look at Buzz Arlett’s baseball story.

Russell Loris Arlett was born January 3, 1989 in Elmhurst, California – a Sacramento suburb, which also happened to be about 85 miles from the home of the Oakland Oaks Pacific Coast League (PCL) baseball team.    Russell had three brothers and the boys were known to be avid and talented baseball players.  His oldest brother Al – eight years Russell’s senior – began playing professionally in 1911, primarily in the Pacific Coast League. In 1918, Al “Pop” Arlett, was playing for the Oakland Oaks and the Arlett family, including 18-year-old Russell, decided to make a family trip and join Al at Spring Training.  By this time, the youngest of the Arlett brothers had grown to a strapping (for the times) 6’3”, 185-pounds – and had shown some amateur pitching prowess (his nickname “Buzz” came from his ability to cut through opposing lineups like a buzz saw).

During spring training that year, the Oaks were hit hard by injuries and found themselves short of players for an intra-squad game. Buzz Arlett boldly offered to fill the gap and  Oaks” manager Del Howard decided to give the youngster an unplanned chance to pitch. The kid showed good stuff – earning a few more opportunities spring training and, eventually, a spot on the team.

With Arlett’s signing a PCL legend was about to be born, but it didn’t look that way at first, as Arlett won four and lost nine that first season.  In 1919, however, Arlett mastered a devastating spitball (to complement a solid fastball and curve) and came into his own as a pitcher. His record over those four seasons was 95-71, 3.20.  Here’s a look at Arlett’s four best seasons as a hurler:

  • 1919 … 22-17, 3.00 ERA
  • 1920 … 29-17, 2.89
  • 1921 … 19-18, 4.37
  • 25-19, 2.77

More important, Arlett tossed 1,468 1/3 innings in 212 games over those four seasons – an average of 367 innings per year.  By 1923, his right arm was pretty much worn out, and that season he took the mound in only 28 games, duplicating the 4-9 record of his rookie campaign. Not content to sit on the bench and wait for his arm to recover, Arlett, who had been used as a pinch hitter over the previous five seasons, begged his way into the everyday lineup as an outfielder. Still favoring his lame right arm, the natural right-handed hitter also spent hours in the batting cage developing left-handed hitting skills.  (Arlett is considered to be one of – if not the first – power-hitting switch hitters.) In his first primarily  “offensive” season, Arlett hit .330, with 19 homers and 101 RBI.  That was just the beginning. Consider these offensive stats.  As a minor leaguer (19 seasons), Buzz Arlett:

  • Hit over .300 twelve times, with a high of .382 for the Pacific Coast League Oakland Oaks in 1926.
  • Topped 30 home runs eight times (including two seasons of forty-plus homers and a high of 54 for Baltimore of the International League in 1932).
  • Drove in more than 100 runs in a season twelve times, with a high of 189 for the PCL Oakland Oaks in 1929.
  • Recorded a 1929 Oakland Oaks’ season of 200 games played, 270 hits, a .374 average, 39 home runs, 189 RBI, 146 runs, 70 doubles and 22 stolen bases.
  • Playing for the International League Baltimore Orioles in 1932, Arlett hit four home runs in a single game twice in one season (June 1, July 4). Each game featured three left-handed and one right-handed blast from Arlett’s 44-ounce bat.
  • In a July 4, 1932 double header, Arlett hit home runs in the last four at bats of game one (see above bullet) and another in his first plate appearance of game two – giving him home runs in five consecutive at bats.

So, why did a player with all this talent spend so little time in the major leagues?

Arlett was unfortunate enough to play at time when there was no draft and minor league teams controlled their own players.  Further, the Pacific Coast League (PCL) was considered one of the top – if not the top – regional minor leagues.  Quality players, solid attendance figures and a weather-aided long season (sometimes more than 200 games) enabled the PCL to pay major league-level salaries and offer major league playing conditions.  Teams demanded high compensation for top players (who not only won games, but put fans in the seats) and the Oaks were reportedly asking the princely sum (at the time) of $100,000 for Arlett.  While Arlett garnered some interest as a pitcher, the fact that he relied heavily on the spitball (banned at the ML level in 1920) diminished his value.  Further, as interest from ML teams began to rise, Arlett’s arm problems were also on the rise.  Later, Oakland’s high asking price kept the power-hitting Arlett in the minors until – facing a changing major league draft policy,  and an aging (and now up to a conservatively estimated 230 pounds) and somewhat injury prone Arlett – the Oaks sold Arlett to the Phillies before the 1931 season.

Why did Arlett last only one year in the big leagues?

Again, age and injury were taking their toll.  That, coupled with the now “larger” Arlett’s reputation (correct or not) as a less than adequate fielder, resulted in his release by the Phillies.  The fact that, after being released, Arlett played six more minor league seasons (actually five, in his final season – for Syracuse of the International League – he logged just four at bats) and hit .337, with 177 home runs and 598 RBI (in 657 games) indicates MLB gave up on Arlett when there was still plenty of lightening left in his bat.

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Ten Reasons Why I Love Baseball

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


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

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

 2.  The pace of the game invites contemplation.

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

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

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

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

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

 5. The scorecard.

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

6.  The long season.

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

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

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

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

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

 8.  The box score. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo by: jbrownell