Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Most Lop-Sided Trades in Baseball History

At this early point in the season it must be becoming obvious to a number of GMs that they don’t have the horses to challenge for post season play. What about dealing one or two prospects for an established player that could help you?

They say some of the best trades are the ones you didn't make. Here are some of the trades GMs wish they hadn’t.

1910 – The Cleveland Naps trade outfielder Bris Lord to the Philadelphia Athletics for outfielder Joe Jackson. The Athletics played Jackson for a total of 10 games before they gave up on him. Lord was fine for a season and a half before he fell apart. As for Jackson, he became arguably the greatest pure hitter in baseball history...before tragedy would destroy his career in 1920.

1949 – The Philadelphia Athletics traded Nellie Fox to the Chicago White Sox for outfielder Joe Tipton. Bad stuff for the A’s, future HOFer for a total scrub.

December 11, 1959 – The Kansas City Athletics trade outfielder Roger Maris, first baseman Kent Hadley, and infielder Joe DeMaestri to the New York Yankees for pitcher Don Larsen, outfielder Hank Bauer, first baseman/outfielder Norm Siebern, and utilityman Marv Throneberry.

For much of the ’50s and ’60s, the Athletics might as well have been a farm system team for the Yankees. However, the A’s thought they were making a good deal here. They were trading a young player who had put up some nice numbers, but wasn't projected to be a star, and would package him with a pair of busts. However, Maris would blossom into a star – winning the MVP Award in ’60 and ’61. As for what the A’s got, almost all were busts or aging players, only Siebern would do well.

1964 – The Chicago Cubs trade outfielder Lou Brock, pitchers Jack Spring and Paul Toth to the St. Louis Cardinals for pitchers Ernie Broglio, Bobby Shantz and outfielder Doug Clemens. Five of the players exchanged never amounted to anything, while Brock became one of the all time greats. He finished the last 16 years of his career with the Cards, winning two World Series, and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

1965 – The Cincinnati Reds traded Frank Robinson to the Baltimore Orioles for Jack Baldschun, Milt Pappas, and Dick Simpson. This was a case of a great player getting traded, he was great before the trade, great after it. He helped the O’s win a World Series in his first season with the team, and another in ’70. The Reds may not have gotten equal value, but the ’70s were pretty good to them, so they probably didn't lose too much sleep over this one.

1966 – The Chicago Cubs trade pitchers Larry Jackson and Bob Buhl to the Philadelphia Phillies for pitcher Fergie Jenkins, and outfielders John Herrnstein and Adolfo Phillips. Jenkins was a talented young player who would be dominant for years, eventually winding up in the Hall of Fame. In return, the Phillies got two starters that were 35 and 37 years old and were clearly on the downsides of their careers. Jackson would be decent for three years in Philly rotation but Buhl would last just 137.1 innings and win 6 games in slightly over one year with the Phils. After Leo Durocher converted Fergie to a starter, he would win twenty games in six straight seasons.

1971 – The Houston Astros trade Joe Morgan, Ed Armbrister, Jack Billingham, Cesar Geronimo, and Denis Menke to the Cincinnati Reds for Tommy Helms, Lee May, and Jimmy Stewart. Judging by the stats, Morgan was a solid 2nd baseman for the Astros, but nothing out of this world. Then the season he got traded to the Reds he became one of the best players in baseball.

1971 – The San Francisco Giants trade George Foster for pitcher Vern Geishert and shortstop Frank Duffy. Geishert pitched in three games for the Angels in 1969 and never pitched in the Major Leagues again, and Duffy who was traded to the Indians later the same year. Foster went on to play 18 seasons with the Giants, Reds, Mets and White Sox. He hit 348 home runs with a .274 batting average. He played in 5 All-Star Games and was the 1976 All-Star Game MVP. He won one Silver Slugger Award, and was the 1977 National League Most Valuable Player and home run champion with 52. He also finished in the top 10 in MVP voting 3 other times.

1971 – The New York Mets trade pitchers Nolan Ryan, Don Rose, catcher Frank Estrada, and outfielder Leroy Stanton to the California Angels for shortstop Jim Fregosi. The Mets thought that Fregosi would be their answer to upgrade their infield. And they probably thought that they got away with a steal, including Ryan, a wild, but talented player, and a bunch of busts in the deal.

1982 – The Chicago Cubs trade Ivan DeJesus to the Philadelphia Phillies for Larry Bowa and second baseman Ryne Sandberg. Brought into replace the aging Larry Bowa, DeJesus lasted just three mediocre seasons in Philly before flaming out with the Cardinals. Bowa did nicely in Chicago until he finished his career in New York. The real steal for the Cubs here was Sandberg, the future Hall of Famer.

1982 – In a six player deal, the San Diego Padres trade shortstop Ozzie Smith to the St. Louis Cardinals for shortstop Garry Templeton. Seeking an offensive upgrade at short, the Padres swapped Smith, who remained the quality player that he had been and would be throughout his career, for Templeton.

1987 – The Detroit Tigers trade pitcher John Smoltz to the Atlanta Braves for pitcher Doyle Alexander. Alexander was brought in to help the Tigers make a run at the American League Pennant. (They would fall short by one game.) Alexander would have one more good year before he tanked. Smoltz, a Detroit native who wished he could stay and play for the home team, would make the majors the next year and would begin his Hall of Fame worthy career.

1989 – The Montreal Expos trade pitchers Randy Johnson, Gene Harris, and Brian Holman to the Seattle Mariners for pitchers Mark Langston and Mike Campbell. The Expos got robbed. This deal wouldn't have been a good one even if Langston, who was a pretty good pitcher, had remained in Montreal. Campbell, he would never play for the Expos. And in return, they gave up on a control-plagued Randy Johnson, who would blossom into a Hall of Fame pitcher, and on Holman, who was a good pitcher in his short time in baseball. Had the Expos kept Johnson, they would have had one of the best one-two punches with Johnson and Pedro Martinez.

1990 – The Red Sox deal hometown third-base prospect Jeff Bagwell to Houston in exchange for Larry Andersen, a veteran reliever who they felt would shore up a sagging bullpen as they stretched for the playoffs. The Sox did make the playoffs, with Andersen pitching well in September, but they were swept out of the ALCS by Oakland. Andersen swiftly moved on to San Diego in the offseason as a free agent, having pitched a total of 15 games and 22 innings for the Sox. Bagwell won the NL Rookie of the Year in ’91, and went on to become one of the finest all-around players of his generation. After a switch to first base, Bagwell wins an MVP in ’94. A career .305 hitter, he drove in 100 or more runs six times, won two Gold Gloves, played four different seasons without missing a game and was a 30 homer-30 steal man twice.

1993 – The Los Angeles Dodgers trade pitcher Pedro Martinez to the Montreal Expos for Delino DeShields. A trade brought on by necessity. Pedro would dominate the National League and was a part of that magical 1994 Expos team that would have won the World Series before he became a part of the Red Sox. DeShields wasn’t even a top second baseman, and Pedro was already on the winning track after his rookie year. Dumb.

1997 – The Oakland Athletics trade first baseman Mark McGwire to the St. Louis Cardinals for pitchers T.J. Matthews, Blake Stein, and Eric Ludwick. This was highway robbery. Oakland, seeking to get McGwire’s deal off the books while at the same time obtaining young starting pitching, saw this deal as a way to help improve their rotation dramatically. Oh how wrong they were. Of the three, only Matthews would work out, and even he was mediocre, his best season coming in 1999 (9-5 with a 3.81 ERA). McGwire would energize the Cardinals, giving them a force in the lineup to go along with Jim Edmonds and Edgar Renteria.

1998 – The Houston Astros trade pitchers Freddy Garcia, John Halama and infielder Carlos Guillen to the Seattle Mariners for pitcher Randy Johnson. Halama and Guillen were average players, but Garcia became an ace for the Mariners for many years, before he got sent to the White Sox. As for Johnson, Johnson became the ace of the greatest Astros team in history, but he would leave for a big money contract with the Diamondbacks.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Great baseball commercials

You may or may not have seen the recent clip where Evan Longoria catches a ball that’s about to bean a reporter interviewing him. It’s really quite amazing – jaw-dropping even. Too bad it’s all a set-up with some Hollywood movie trickery involved and it’s all for a commercial for Gillette. Here it is:

Pretty cool, huh?

Here’s one of my favourites from a bit longer ago:

“Hey! We got Cy Young winners over here!” Great line.

Another one for the pitching fans out there:

"It’s not what you think!" A good one from ESPN:

Hit it here, Junior:

For Will and all the other Yankee fans:

And you thought George Steinbrenner didn’t have a sense of humour!

As a good example of a simple, straight-forward and short – not to mention really funny – commercial, this one wins the award:

We’ll finish off with this current one that I happen to like a lot, because of the nod to Shoeless Joe, one of my favourite novels:

And now, back to the broadcast of tonight’s game...

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Jose Bautista – Legend?

That was a lead story in The Star the other day. I think it is a little too early in the year and in Bautista’s career to be making such a claim. Now don’t get me wrong, I’d love to have Bautista right in there with the all-time greats.

Jose Bautista is in the second year of his slugging career. How does he compare to other sluggers over the years? His current OPS is a whopping 1.314 and he is on pace for 60 HRs. He is seeing the ball as well as anyone. He is picking his pitches and squaring off on the ball and making quality at bats. So will this last? Can the team support him? Will he be shut down by opposing managers and pitchers because of a lack of production from the team?

The year, so far, has been spectacular in every regard but one. Bautista leads the league in all batting categories but one: RBI. How has this happened? Too many singleton homers. Nobody is on base before him. Also, the lineup without Adam Lind or some batter with a high average is not always in place behind him. It is now the year after the 54 HRs and Bautista is finding that opposing managers are starting to pitch around him. He has 5 intentional base on balls (IBB) now. If the Jays cannot get the line up stronger, Bautista will receive even more walks. I am surprised he hasn’t been walked more already.

Barry Bonds got intentionally walked more than anyone else in 2004. Why? Because he had hit more HRs than anybody else. Since the 73 in 2001, his IBB had gone up. Bonds went the next 3 years with 46,45 and 45 HRs and had 61, 68 and 120 IBB. He would end up with a league-leading 754 for his career. It was a managing strategy that caused the walks. He was just too strong a hitter and the Giants did not have enough bats in the line up to protect him. They only had Marquis Grissom to take any heat off that blistering bat in 2004. In 2001, Jeff Kent and Rick Aurilia helped take the heat off Bonds by producing 22 and 37 HRs on their own.

What of other home run record players? When Mark McGwire broke the HR record with 70 in 1998 he had Ron Gant, Brian Jordon and Ray Lankford to keep him in the batter’s box. In 1999, he hit 65 and there was only Fernando Tatis as the only other offense. He had 21 IBB.

Roger Maris hit 61 in ’61. He had some help in the Yankee lineup to keep him from the IBB, in the names of Mickey Mantle (54), Elston Howard, Bill Skowron and Tom Tresh. A pretty heady lineup. In 1962 Maris led the team again with 33 HRs with the same cast of hitters to help keep him batting. The Yankees won the WS in 1961 and 1962.

The Babe, in 1927, hit the famous 60 long balls. For twelve years he led the majors in HRs. He had such notables as Earle Combs, Bob Meusel and one Lou Gerhig in the lineup assuring he got the chance to hit. Gehrig hit 47 HRs but beat Ruth in the RBI department with 175 to 164. Their OPS was also high with Ruth leading the way with 1.258 to 1.240 for Gehrig. Ruth’s strike out to ball ratio in those years was 1.57:1.

So, there is some of the history of the past leaders in Home Runs. Bautista is in great company. To continue with his success (and the Jays) he needs better bats around him. With Lind out, there seems to be no one that can step up to protect the Bautista. Lind had a .313 BA and 7 HRs and is still second on the team with 27 RBI even though on the DL. As a team, the Jays have (including Bautista’s work) a BA of .254. They have a ratio of nearly 1:2 base in balls to strike outs, which is truly awful. Bautista has 36% of the teams home runs. It seems that he is in basketball and is the franchise player. Everything revolving around one player. This idea does not work so well for baseball. All the great hitters in the past have had great hitters around them. All the positions need to function to produce a winning team. The Jays need more production or different pieces to support the efforts of Bautista. If that does not happen, he will not be as successful as he could be. He might not become the legend we would all wish for.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Original and Flakiest Lefty

Charles Waddell was born in a small farming community in Pennsylvania in 1876. Little is known of his youth, though he was “given to wild pranks and hijinks”. He had no formal education and claimed to have developed his pitching skills throwing rocks at birds. When he starred for the Butler, Pennsylvania nine he built a reputation as a good-natured hick, earning the nickname ‘Hayseed’ and then ‘Rube’.

Rube would go on to become baseball greatest strikeout artist – but he got off to a poor start. Fined $50 for excessive drunkenness two days after joining Louisville, an infuriated Waddell quit the team and headed to Detroit of the Western League. He lasted nine days there – again fined $5o – this time for playing a sandlot game with kids on his day off. He again jumped the team and apparently finished the season playing for a semi-pro ball club in Canada.

Acquired by the Pittsburgh Pirates who were led by player-manager Fred Clarke and Honus Wagner, two future Hall of Famers, Waddell became an instant star. Eventually Clarke suspended him though, probably because of his excessive drinking, though others claimed it was Rube’s habit of packing pistols and threatening to shoot his boss full of holes.

Waddell spent the majority of the 1901 season with the Chicago Orphans, until he was suspended for erratic behavior. He would usually arrive in street clothes just in time for the game. Then he would go into the crowd and ask for beer, ‘red hots’ and bags of peanuts – which he would throw to kids. Then he would cross the field changing into his uniform as he went – an interesting show as Rube never wore underwear. If he heard a fire truck pass the stadium while he was pitching Rube would throw down his glove and run out of the park after it.

Rube was often late for games because he was playing marbles with kids in the street. He often showed up drunk on days he was to pitch, though he was generally allowed to start anyway. He would pitch brilliantly – and field miserably.

After being fined $100 by one of his many distraught managers, Waddell asked him why. He said it was for “that disgraceful hotel episode in Detroit,” to which Rube responded: “You’re a liar! There ain’t no Hotel Episode in Detroit!”

Connie Mack, realizing that he was the only man capable of controlling Waddell, bought what was left of his Chicago contract, and tried his best to put “The Rube” under virtual house arrest. Mack forbade his star pitcher from returning to Florida and his off-season career as an alligator wrestler. Waddell flourished. He entered into a period of stability that saw him lead the league in strikeouts every year from 1902 to 1907.

1904 was a banner year, Rube set baseball’s all-time strikeout record of 349, a remarkable number in a day when no one swung for the fences. The record stood until Sandy Koufax broke it 61 years later. Rube’s only competition was his immortal contemporary Cy Young, whom Waddell bested in 1905 in an epic 20-inning duel.

The citizens of Philadelphia loved him. They delighted in a star who would show up at saloons and work the bar. The fact that he played almost as much ball with worshipful local kids as with his teammates only endeared him to the city more. Mack tried to be the father Rube needed. In his best season Waddell made just $2,500 – which Connie doled out to him in ten dollar payments. Of his remarkably talented star Connie said, “Rube has a two million dollar body and a two cent head.” Waddell sometimes just disappeared, for days or even weeks. At the height of the 1905 pennant race he vanished. He finally reappeared with large offerings of catfish for the managers and coaches.

After saving two drowning men on a duck hunting trip, stories of Waddell’s penchant for lifesaving began to circulate. Though totally unverifiable, reports are that “The Rube” may have saved as many as thirteen lives. One account documents the hayseed enjoying himself on a houseboat cocktail party, where he responded to a frantic cry for help. Waddell dove into the frigid waters and succeeded in rescuing a passing log.

Waddell’s personal life began to mirror his previously unstable professional life. Within one three day period, “The Rube” was cited as a hero for carrying a blazing oil stove from a crowded department store and preventing a serious, fled town to avoid charges for attacking and badly injuring his father-in-law, saved the life of teammate who had been hit in the head by a wild pitch, and was arrested on bigamy charges (“The Rube” forgot to divorce his first wife).

Rube’s drinking continued to escalate and culminated in a 1909 game against New York in which he passed out on the mound after giving up a home run. In 1910 Waddell was pitching in the Eastern League. In 1912 a nearby dike broke and Waddell helped stack sandbags. Standing armpit-deep in freezing waters for 13 hours, he contracted pneumonia from which he never quite fully recovered. Constant illness was exacerbated by his incessant drinking. He was sent to a tuberculosis sanitarium where, on April Fools Day 1914, “Rube” Waddell died penniless just 38 years old.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Former GM, exec Bergesch passes away at 89

I had the pleasure of growing up in Mamaroneck, a really great little town just north of New York City. There were a lot of important people who lived in the area. Jonathan Winters’ son went to the same high school I did, for instance. Some traded on their parent’s fame, others didn’t. One those who didn’t was a beautiful young lady named Susan Bergesch. You’d never know from speaking to her that her dad was a pretty big deal in major league baseball. Her dad was just her dad. That dad went on to be, among other things, the Yankees Assistant GM and eventually the Reds GM, then he was back with the Yankees for a number of years in an advisory position. They don’t ask people to come back if the person doesn’t know what he’s doing, especially if the person doing the asking was George Steinbrenner. You can also look up Bergesch’s “baseball executive stats” at Baseball-Reference Bullpen It’s pretty interesting what his impact was on the game.

Bill Bergesch died last week and he’ll be missed by a lot of people. “Mr. Bergesch” got me in to a Yankees game in 1965 where I got to meet Whitey Ford and Ralph Houk (still have that autographed ball) before the game and sat in the owner’s box. He was a real gentleman and I remember him fondly. Look up the word “gentleman” in the dictionary and you’ll likely see his face there.

Here’s his obit from the mlb.com website.

Front-office fixture of Yankees also spent time as Reds GM Former Reds general manager Bill Bergesch, who also spent time over four decades as an executive in the Yankees’ front office, died on Tuesday at the age of 89 in Stamford, Conn.

Bergesch was the GM of the Reds from November 1984 until October 1987. Several of the players he acquired in his tenure went on to help Cincinnati win the World Series in 1990.

Bergesch was born in St. Louis in 1921, and graduated from Washington University in 1946, after serving three years in the U.S. Army from 1942-44 and receiving a Purple Heart.

In 1947, Bergesch began working in the Cardinals’ organization as GM for farm teams in Albany, Ga., Winston-Salem, N.C., Columbus, Ga., and Omaha, Neb. In 1959 and ’60, he served as the Cardinals’ scouting coordinator in St. Louis.

Bergesch served as the assistant GM of the Kansas City Athletics in 1961. After the season, he was hired as farm director for the Mets, and was responsible for setting up the farm system and hiring scouts prior to the club’s inaugural season in 1962.
After spending two years with the Mets, Bergesch joined the Yankees organization as the club's traveling secretary and stadium manager from 1964 through ’67.

Bergesch then went on to become a soccer GM, with the New York Generals of the National Professional Soccer League from 1967-68, before returning to the Yankees in 1978 as director of scouting.

In 1980, he was named Yankees vice president of baseball operations and remained at the post until resigning after the 1984 season. From 1991-92, he was the club’s assistant GM under Gene Michael before becoming a senior advisor in the Yankees baseball operations department from 1993-94. Since then, Bergesch became a fixture at Yankees Spring Training and an advisor to the organization.

Bergesch was a resident of Mamaroneck, N.Y., for more than 30 years, before moving to Rye, N.Y. He moved to Stamford in 2005 after the death of his wife, Virginia.

Bergesch is survived by his son, Robert, daughter, Susan Shanks and five grandchildren.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Inter-league play

No, you're not dreaming. It's Friday not Saturday.

I'm writing a quick post today because I just read a really compelling piece on why Major League Baseball should drop inter-league play. Since we're just starting into that, I thought it would be timely to share it with all of you.

And I will be back tomorrow with my usual Saturday post.

— Rick "The Professor" Blechta

Click here for Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star on Inter-league play.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

First Pick in the Draft

It is nearing the time for the baseball draft. The team with the number one choice in 2011 is the Pirates. They have a chance to make a pick to improve their team. When I heard this I recalled many times over the last 18 years about how bad the Jays have been. I thought I would compare the Pirates and the Jays since 1992. Both teams have some connections to each other: like father and son, Doug and Kyle Drabek.

In 1992 the Jays and the Pirates ended the season with the same record, .593 a 96/66 record. The pitching staff for the Pirates was Randy Tomlin 14-9, Bob Walk 10-6, Tim Wakefield 8-1 and Doug Drabek 15-11, a 1990 CY Young winner. The Jays had “Black Jack” Morris 21-6, Jimmy Key 13-13, and Juan Guzman 10-5. The closer was Tom Henke at 34 saves and the set up men Duane Ward and David Wells. Pretty impressive! The Pirates lost to the Braves in seven games. This set up the Jays as they went on to beat the Braves for the WS championship.

Over the next twenty seasons the Jays added another World Series Championship. The Pirates did not. The Pirates have not had a winning season in that whole stretch. The Jays have, in fact, had 8 winning seasons since the WS but, of course, no further post season play.

Gone are the heady days of 1979 when football and baseball were coupled together with success in the steel town’s psyche (both won the championships). The Pirate pitching staff had Bert Blyleven 12-5, John Candelaria 14-9, Bruce Kison 13-7 and the famous side arm of Kent Tekulve, 31 saves. The bats were good too: Willie Stargell, Tim Foli, Bill Madlock, Omar Mareno and last but not least, Dave Parker.

As Will, Rick and everyone else have agreed, pitching beats hitting. The Pirates have not had more than maybe one pitcher in any given year that has had a winning record. The starting staffs have few if any complete games and have relied on the bullpen to pick up the pieces for wins of their own. This, combined with weak closers, has left the franchise in the sand lot of major league teams for twenty years.

2010 was the worst year in the last twenty for the Pirates. No starter again had a winning record. Even Garrett Jones with 21 home runs could not improve their dismal record of 57 and 105 for a .352 season. Some other recent worst team records are: the ’94 Padres 47/71, ’03 Tigers 43/119, and the ’96 Tigers, 53/109.

The Pirates have, in the last twenty years, finished dead last 9 times and finished 3rd only twice. The Jays on the other hand have eight seasons over .500 and 9 times have finished 3rd. I am still not happy with that, but it is better than I thought it would be.

In years past, the Pirate heavy hitters have been Don Slaught , Andy van Slyke, Kevin Young Jose Guillen, Jason Kendal and Brian Giles. All this lumber went for naught with pitching staffs that did not perform. Recently the most impressive bat has been Jason Bay when he was the franchise player hitting over 20 home runs in 2004-2008 with 35 in ’05 and ’06. A couple of newer players were with him on those teams; Jose Bautista (16 HR) and Rajai Davis, future Jays.

Another coincidence is that Bert Blyleven is inducted into the HOF along with the first Blue Jay, Roberto Alomar, and the architect of the grand design for the Jays, Pat Gillick.

This season the Jays have a similar problem to the Pirates, which is a weak rotation and heavy reliance on the bullpen. I have talked about this in a previous blog. The main difference is the heavy lumber that is saving the day. Bautista is leading the league in most areas. Maybe, Will, the 2011 Jays will be more like the Big Red Machine and make it with the bat. Ok, I’ll settle for a winning record for 2011. But next year...

A couple of big names have been in the first year draft: Stephen Strasburg and Joe Mauer to mention just two. The Pirates should go for pitching in the draft and maybe the best of this year’s class is Gerrit Cole. There are many good choices this year, however, you cannot win without pitching and the Pirate fans must be screaming for pitching after all this time. RRRRRR!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Fearsome Foursomes

Inspired by my former teammate Rick, I would like to conjure up some teams with pretty awesome starters. The current MLB team with the best starters would have to be the Phillies, with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels.

In recent years teams that have had great starting foursomes would include the '85 Dodgers, who featured Orel Hershiser, Fernando Valenzuela, Bob Welch, and Jerry Reuss (all with ERA's under 3.00); the '98 Mets, with David Cone, Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, and Sid Fernandez; the 2004 Red Sox, with Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe, and Tim Wakefield; and of course the Braves of 1998, with Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, and Kevin Millwood.

Going back a few years you had the Oakland A's of '72 with Catfish Hunter, Vida Blue, Ken Holtzman, and Blue Moon Odom, and the 1981 Orioles, who rolled out Mike Cuellar, Dave McNally, Jim Palmer, and Pat Dobson. The Indians of the '50s may have had the best foursome of all time, namely Bob Feller, Early Wynn, Mike Garcia, and Bob Lemon. Amazingly, they had a great bullpen too (long before that was common) with Don Mossi, Ray Narleski, and aging Hal Newhowser. The Yankees of that era could throw at you Vic Raschi, Ed Lopat, Johnny Sain and Whitey Ford. Not bad. The Gas House Gang (the '30s Cardinals) boasted Dizzy and Daffy Dean, Tex Carleton, and Bill Hallahan, with Dazzy Vance for the late innings.

Top threesomes ... among others, in the same season – 1912 – the Pirates (103 wins) had Jack Chesbro, Deacon Phillipe, and Jesse Tannehill and the Giants had Christy Matthewson, Rube Marquade and Jeff Tesreau. I'm sure readers will come up with others.

For top pairs of pitchers how about Randy Johnston and Curt Schilling of the Diamondbacks, Spahn and Sain of the Braves (whom Rick mentioned); Koufax and Drysdale of the Dodgers - with Ron Perranoski out of the bullpen; Lefty Gomez and Red Ruffing of the Yankees; or Robin Roberts and Curt Simmons of the 1950 Phillies, with Jim Konstanty to clean up.

The one great starter wonders of all time may have been the 1906-08 Cubs, who really had only Moredcai Three-Finger Brown. The old Washington Senators had fireballing Walter Johnson. (Ty Cobb always crowded the plate knowing that Johnson, the ultimate gentleman, was afraid of hitting batters.) Their next best starters were Jim Shaw and Bob Groom. Who? The mid-1970s Big Red Machine had great hitting but only top-notch starter – Don Gullett. I'm sure readers will come up with other examples though. Not Denny McLain, he had Mickey Lolich to follow him.

The Brooklyn Dodgers of the '50s had great hitters, but their only great starter was Don Newcombe - okay Carl Erskine was pretty good too. All their pitchers had high ERA's though.

And some teams have had both amazing pitching AND hitting. How about the '29 to '31 Athletics with Lefty Grove, George Earnshaw, and Rube Walberg with Eddie Rommel in relief and Jimmie Foxx, Jimmie Dykes, Al Simmons, and Mickey Cochrane to swat the ball around for them? No wonder the '26 to '28 Yankees gave way to them.

Best starter-reliever story. In 1961 Whitey Ford won 25 games but was teased a lot because Luis Arroya finished and saved a lot of those for him. It was still a bit unmanly not to finish what you started. When he received the Cy Young Award, Ford stopped during his acceptance speech and Arroya came out to finish it for him.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

What’s the single most important ingredient to having a winning team?

First off, let me say if I actually did know this, I wouldn’t be here writing a blog, I’d be off travelling first class in Europe!

Having been part of a hugely successful franchise with my years spent playing for the Hogtown Bombers, I do have some insight into this that I’d like to share. After all, the team was a softball juggernaut during the time it existed.

Based on many years of watching baseball, I’ve come to some conclusions, and I think they make sense. By all means, please disagree with me, because I’m sure all the other long-time fans reading the blog probably have their own strong opinions and can support their conclusions. Let’s make this post the start of a very lively discussion.

It’s often stated that good pitching beats good hitting, and looking at the records of winning teams, this is born out over the years. A winning team needs two solid starters and two pretty good starters, or failing that, you need two huge aces and a bunch of other starters who can sort of get the job done most of the time. There was truth in the old Braves’ doggerel, “Spahn and Sain and pray for rain.”*

As pitching has gotten more specialized over the years, the bullpen has also gained in importance. A successful team needs at least three very reliable pitchers and a good closer at the very least. This number goes up as the stats of the starting rotation deteriorate. I’ll bet Bill James even has a formula for this.

So basically, if you have a killer pitching staff, you’re most of the way to the playoffs.

What? Did he actually say that?!

I did – and here’s why: behind that great pitching staff you need great defense, unless you have terrific hitting.

These days, outside of a few teams with really deep pockets, no one can afford to have an amazing pitching staff and great hitting. It’s just too unaffordable. So teams make decisions and cut corners here and there, putting together a roster that should have enough pitching and enough hitting. That means a couple of elite pitchers, maybe an elite closer and two or three good boppers for the middle of the line-up. Get about another half-dozen players having surprisingly good years (every team has a few of those guys) and you just might get to the playoffs.

But would it be possible to get to the playoffs if had the best pitching staff in the league, backed up by a defense of guys who can really flash the leather, but who don’t necessarily hit really well? How good would that offense need to be?

On the other hand, what if a team built a fearsome hitting lineup, and tried to make it with a less-than-ideal pitching staff? Hmmm... Somehow, I don’t think it would work because teams with some good pitching of their own would win too often (remember: good pitching beats good hitting) and even a weak pitcher can have a good day. I haven’t researched any numbers to back up my assumption, but I’m feel pretty certain I’m right.

Lastly, there’s the one thing no team has control over: injuries. A team can have the best line-up of all times and if there are enough key injuries, they’re screwed. Even though they’re not play-off material yet, the Jays are really suffering from the injury bug at the moment. They haven’t had their ideal starting line-up on the field for more than a handful of games to this point in the season.

So please weigh in all you armchair managers. Would a team with a truly great pitching staff, good defense and adequate hitting wind up getting to the World Series?

*Sports editor Gerald V. Hern’s poem in the Boston Post which was eventually shortened to the epigram, “Spahn and Sain and pray for rain.” According to the Baseball Almanac, the original doggerel appeared in Hern’s column on September 14, 1948:

First we’ll use Spahn

then we’ll use Sain

Then an off day

followed by rain

Back will come Spahn

followed by Sain

And followed
 we hope

by two days of rain.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Starting Five

It is Wednesday night and I just got back from the Jays vs. BoSox. The Jays took both games in this shortened series. It was a wonderful game of small ball and long ball. Jesse Litsch is now 4 and 2 on the season. He was not as sharp as his last outing but did well thru four innings and got pulled in the sixth. He lost speed and shortened his stretch and served it up. So we go again to the bullpen. On the offensive side, Johnny Mac did the improbable by hitting his second home run and, even better, hit a double for three RBI. The small ball and steals were effective tonight especially from Rajai Davis with four hits. Fun to watch and be there to see the “Big Papi” shift which you cannot see on TV because they focus only on the pitcher-batter combination. I don’t think you can see it on radio either but I am sure it is mentioned.But I digress, back to the season so far.

The Blue Jays pitching staff has been beaten up this year both physically and mentally. Too many injuries and then poor pitch calls and lack of “location”. When the bats go cold, as they did against the Tigers, the shortcomings of the five starters is glaring. The starters, all together, have won only 9 games this season. The Jays record today is 17/20 and still 5.0 behind the Yanks. They have had no complete games and a few times have gotten beyond the sixth inning. These five have an average of 6 innings per start. JoJo Reyes has of course no wins in seven games. As of May 10, the batting average against for the five is .256 with Morrow being the lowest at .222. The base on balls to strike out percentage is 25% for Romero and Morrow, 30% for Reyes and Litsch and 52% for Drabek. The lowest ERA is 4.04 from Romero and 5.00 for Reyes. All in all, it’s a pretty weak starting rotation.

Is this too young a staff? They are all 26 or under. They have had their minor league assignments, but they do not have amongst them the seasoned anchoring veteran as of course Halliday was or even Shawn Marcum could have become. Romero is the veteran on the staff now that Marcum is with the Brewers. In the AL East, inexperienced pitching is not going to get you to the postseason. I don’t think it’s the coaches that are to blame. With so few veterans of any kind on the club, opposing batters can make faster adjustments taking advantage of all the miss cues. Jose Bautista is now the leader of the team but he cannot be the guy for the pitching staff.

In order to be declared the winner of a game you must have led the game when you left. The Red Sox starters have won 14 of the 17 wins. The Tigers have won 17 of 20. The Yankees went 14 of 20. The Jays starters only have 9 of 17 wins to show for the season and have left the game in losing situations. This record is the worst in the major leagues.

The bullpen has to clean up the mess. They have been called upon for every game. Some have been on the DL but I am only taking their body of work to date as comparison. Mark Rzepczynski and Carlos Villanueva have 2 wins each to lead the bullpen. And the tandem closers, Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch, have combined for seven saves and one blown save. As of May 11, the bullpen has more innings served than any other team at more than 124 innings. That is the most in the league. So the starters have not lived up to the expectations held for them this spring.

If this trend continues the bullpen will blow itself up and be in no shape at all by the end of the season. It almost blew up on Tuesday night against the Red Sox when handed a lead, several opportunities to end the game were blown. The starters must make adjustments for themselves and begin to handle the pressure of the AL East. It is now time.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

How Many Would He Have Hit?

In all of the talk about steroids and legitimate home run records one fact is clear. Babe Ruth stood head and shoulders above anyone who has played the game.

The only players who come close, Harmon Killebrew, Frank Howard, Mark McGwuire, Barry Bonds, etc. do not approach the Babe for pure power.

When a modern player hits a 400 foot homer – even in a Home Run Derby – the telecasters oh and ah. In the enormous parks of the ’20s Ruth hit a huge number of 475 to 490-foot outs! When Tris Speaker or Ty Cobb hauled in a ball just inside the 490 foot wall in center field all the Babe had to show for it was an F8.

And while Killebrew and Dick Allen and others hit some long ones there was no one like Ruth – even Mickey Mantle hit only a handful of home runs more than 500 feet in his career.

In spite of being a right-handed hitting power hitter who played half his games at Yankee Stadium Joe Dimaggio NEVER hit a home run to left center. If Barry Bonds had played his best season in ‘the Stadium’ he would not have hit one out either, in fact in his best year he would have hit only half as many homers there.

Here are the lengths of some of Ruth’s consecutive home runs in various years ... May of 1921 - 460 feet, 450, 490, 520, 460; June of ’21 - 490, 500, 510; July ’25 - 470, 450, 575, 440, 560, 435, 465; August ’24 - 475, 460, 425, 355, 500, 510; May ’26 - 475, 515, 365, 545.

I could go on, but you get the idea. Wherever Ruth went, playing against college kids or Satchel Paige, he hit the ball farther than anyone had hit one in that park. He hit several into train yards, or across streets, several in the high 500s and one almost 650 feet!

Was it easier for him then? There was no relief pitching. Oh, but there was for Ruth, managers like Connie Mack often brought in specialist pitchers, like a screwballer or a normal starter like Lefty Grove.

There was no slider or split-finger fastball. Ya, but there were spitballs.

The ball was livelier. It was for part of his career but when it was normalized it didn't slow him down. And he was hitting a ball that had been in play for a few innings and it had had tobacco juice, licorice, paraffin wax, etc. applied to it. If Mike Schmidt saw a piece of dust on a ball he got it thrown out. By the late afternoon it must have been very hard to pick up – especially on days when the bleachers were filled with fans in white shirts.

Ruth didn't have a helmet or protective armour like Barry Bonds when he stood in there.

Ruth wore flannel uniforms in afternoon games, not cotton ones in cool evening games. There was no air-conditioned dugout to cool off in between innings. (Ruth often wore a piece of lettuce under his cap.) And there was no relief in St. Louis or Washington at night either. Players often slept in nearby parks or the hotel roof.

Players today travel farther. Sure, they fly no more than five hours first class or on a chartered jet. Try 25 hours on a train without air conditioning.

He played fewer games (154). On top of Ruth’s yearly barn-storming tours, every day the Yankees had off they scheduled an exhibition game out of town at which the Babe was mobbed. And he continually did public appearances and fund-raisers before and after them. (I’m sure Bonds and McGwire did those all the time.)

But he didn’t play against African Americans or Latin players. In 45 games against the best Negro League pitchers Ruth exceeded his regular season batting, home run, and slugging average.

Besides the astronomical distance to center and the power alleys in days of yore, while Ruth hit a handful down the 296 line in Yankee Stadium he lost 50 home runs to one rule! In his day the ball – even if it landed in a nearby restaurant had to be judged to have landed fair – if it was fair inside the foul pole and ended up foul in the 65th row of the seats it was foul.

Technology? We now know that if Ruth had used a modern, lighter, hollowed-out barrel, thinner handled bat he'd have gotten the bat through the strike zone even faster and had far more home runs. He once picked up Aaron Ward’s 32-ounce toothpick and ripped a double, a 485-foot homer and a 535 shot but returned to his more manly 54-ounce bat the next day.

How about conditioning and knowledge of trainers? Ruth had no college physical training the way modern players do. Toward the end of his career Manager Miller Higgins prescribed constant exposure to sunlight!

How about relative skill of pitching? Sure the pitchers today are big and strong but with 6 teams the big leagues needed only 48 starters in the ’20s and ’30s. Now 30 teams need 150. And almost all of the best athletes in the ’20s became ball players, like Gehrig who would have surely been a football player today.

And finally, the strike zone in his day was higher. Imagine trying to hit Walter Johnson or Lefty Grove pitches if they were well above the belt? Of course, most managers would not allow their pitchers to throw Ruth a strike.

This has been a fairly long article. I may write more about Ruth another time but I hope you can see that, when it comes to raw power, the best pitcher in the American League in 1912, ’13, and ’14 was the greatest slugger of them all.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The mysterious lengthening of the seventh inning stretch or what’s happened to the old ballgame?

Anyone who’s been to a ball game knows about the spot between the top and bottom of the seventh inning when everyone at the ball park is supposed to get up and stretch. It also involves singing some sort of song. During the past number of years, it’s been extended to include two songs.

Now, whether you believe the tradition was invented by Brother Jasper of Manhattan College or Harry Wright of the Cincinnati Red Stockings or even President W.L. Taft whose butt was sore, one thing is for certain: it’s been part of the game for a long time.

Regardless of who came up with the idea, it is a good one, especially if you’ve been parking your posterior on an un-cushioned bench in the outfield for a few hours. Teams have tried to make it more fun by having the crowd sing (usually “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”, a song, interestingly enough, composed by someone who’d never attended a ballgame). Now we have a second song that the audience might also sing along with or add sound effects to.

But what if you’ve never been to a ball game? Yes, you might have heard mentions of the practice, but you’ve probably never seen or heard much of it. Why? Because you’ve been subjected to more commercials.

I believe the extension of the seventh inning stretch by including a second song was heavily supported by the corporate side of teams because it’s a chance to sell more advertising. I hate to be cynical but baseball seems to be more and more about maximizing advertising. At the ball park you're subjected to a veritable blinding sound and light show of advertising to the point where it gets hard to concentrate on the game being played.

There was a time where you didn’t see advertising on virtually every surface at the old ball yard. Now they have pixel boards, rotating signs and huge TV screens, all to increase the amount of advertising. Pitching changes are sponsored, opening pitches, cleaning up the infield in the 5th inning, opening lineups. You name it, there’s something being advertised. I’m surprised they don’t have sponsors for each individual base, home plate and pitcher’s mound. Maybe that's coming next season.

To my mind it’s getting a bit ridiculous. When the Late Innings crew attended a Jays game last month, Will opined that replacement pitchers coming out and going through a rather long warmup might be another case where the game is allowed to be delayed so that more advertising can be crammed down our throats. He has a good point. If a pitcher has already warmed up in the bullpen, why does he need another dozen or so pitches out on the diamond? I suppose it could be argued that he has to get the feel of the mound, but in the past, this wasn’t allowed. Why now?

Games are getting longer, no doubt and younger fans are complaining that baseball is boring. A lot of the slowdown could be laid at the feet of the advertising gods.

And I don’t think they’re a good thing. When does advertising get to the overkill level? I think we’ve passed it and it’s not slowing down.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

To Steal or Not

At this time of year teams are beginning to show their true colours. The end of May will really tell the tale. Some teams go for the bomb and others will rely on the fact that good pitching beats good hitting. Let’s leave the bat and the ball out of this for a moment. What about small ball, the type of ball where runs are manufactured by creating chaos for the defensive side? Stolen bases, hit and run and double steals can put runners in scoring position and keep you out of the double play. I know that the home run is all you see on TV replays on the sports news. Now I like the long bomb too. Too bad you can’t see stolen bases on the on radio, Rick. (As you know I watch TV with the radio on. During the summer I’m on the radio and if lucky, on the dock.) The steal can be a game changer and so much fun to watch.

Are the Jays stealing too much or not enough? They lead the league right now with 30-plus steals. It would seem that to steal is good for any team. Have they gone crazy by stealing twice as much as at this time last year? What are the consequences?

Over the years some pretty big names have been great base stealers. Ricky Henderson has, of course, the most with 1406, followed by a distant Lou Brock at 938. Ty Cobb had 897 and Joe Morgan 689. Stealing a base has been around since Ned Cuthbert stole the first one in 1865 for the Philadelphia Keystones. In a very neat play, Jackie Robinson stole home in the first game of the 1955 World Series. Going back 111 years the most steals in a season is 130 in 1982 by Ricky Henderson again and the fewest by Bob Dillinger, 20 in 1949. Henderson led the league several years in a row and so did Louis Aparicio for the St Louis Cardinals.

The real test of the successful bagman is how many times he does not get caught. Of all the attempts, what percentage is good enough to be successful and actually not hurt your team? Baseball uses percentages for everything. So the relationship of stolen bases to times caught stealing is a good statistic. According to statistics guru, Bill James, creator of sabermetrics (SABER), 67-70% is required for one to be a good thief. Here are some stats for Henderson- 80%, Brock- 75%, Aparicio- 78%, Robbie Alomar- 80%. For current players the best of the lot is Carlos Beltran- 88%, Jacob Ellsbury- 84% and Carl Crawford 82% (he has not stolen a base this year). One must not forget A-Rod at 80%. Beltran is tied for the single season record of 96.9%. Incredible!

As I have said, the current Jays, under John Farrell, have stolen a lot. So how is their success rate? For their careers: Rajai Davis- 79%, Aaron Hill- 70%, Nix- 78%, Corey Patterson- 79%, and Bautista- 71%. This year Davis is 6/2, Hill is 6/0, Nix 3/0, and Bautista 4/0. Patterson is at 3/3 or 0% for the year. Aaron Hill, has not run at this pace before in his career. He has a pulled hamstring and is on the 15 day DL because of it. Escobar at 51% should probably not be allowed to steal. He has one successful steal this year out of a career 33.

So should the Jays steal with their record? Absolutely, according to sabermetrics. When the timing is right they have more than a good chance to be successful, advance a runner into scoring position and stay out of the double play. With this young team there have been running mistakes. For example at the Yankees game the Late Innings boys attended. Arencibia ran full into Encarnacion at third. He did not see the hold up call from Butterfield and notice that the base was occupied. This ended a potential rally and the Jay’s lost to the Yankees.

Are the risks of injury worth it? Players get hurt all the time. You do not want that but it happens. Remember Hills concussion? Injuries are a fact of life in sports. So, yes, I think that this style of old time ball combined with the new athleticism of the team and daring managerial style of Farrell is just what the fans ordered. The Jay’s will be more able to confound the opposition at any time with more choices and not rely on just the long bomb.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

What A Character

King Kelly was the most flamboyant player of his time and probably the most famous and popular until Babe Ruth came along. A larger-than-life character, off the field he was quite a site, wearing patent leather shoes and an ascot with a huge jewel in the middle and twirling a cane. He was sometimes accompanied by a black monkey and a Japanese valet. When asked if he drank while playing baseball Kelly replied, "It depends on the length of the game."

On the diamond his contributions to the game include the hit-and-run play and the double steal. He and his manager Cap Anson devised a number of other strategies, such as having the first and third basemen play off the bag, moving fielders according to the hitter's tendencies, and having the catcher cover throws to first.

He hit .384 with 12 home runs in 1884, his best season, and led the Chicago Nationals to five pennants. But his greatest skill was sliding - he mastered the hook slide, the fadeaway, and the fallaway. His slides were so impressive that they actually inspired a popular song of the day called "Slide Kelly Slide". After its release by Edison Studios the song became America's first 'pop hit' - until then recordings (cylinders) were opera, religious, or patriotic songs or recitals. It also inspired a 1927 movie of the same name.

After one particularly impressive slide Kelly was ruled out by umpire 'Honest John' Kelly (no relation - and, yes, even the umpires had nicknames in those days). But King reached under himself, picked up the ball and asked, "John, if I'm out, what's this?"

Kelly was just as cunning as he was talented. Sometimes when the lone umpire had his back turned Kelly would take a short cut home from second base, which inspired a unusual rule that doesn't seem to make sense to us today, namely that a runner must touch all bases in order. When he caught, he tried everything to distract the batter and would trip up runners with his mask. Late one afternoon, while playing right field (he played all nine positions over the course of his career) he leapt high into the air as the dusk gathered in the twelfth inning and grabbed the ball and immediately ran into the dugout. The game was called due to darkness and declared a tie. When his teammates asked him how he'd caught the ball Kelly answered, "How the hell should I know? It went a mile over my head!"

Probably his most celebrated stunt occurred when Kelly was managing and a foul popup drifted near his bench, out of the reach of his catcher, Charlie Ganzel. As the substitution rules were somewhat liberal in those days Kelly yelled out, "Kelly now catching for Ganzel," and caught the ball himself.

When Albert Spalding sold Kelly to Boston in 1887 for the unheard sum of $10,000 Chicagoans were so crushed that many, including Clarence Darrow and poet Eugene Field, wrote irate letters to the city's newspapers. The giddy Bostonians gave their new hero and horse and carriage and a house!

As his skills were fading King was purchased by New York - on the provision that he take a Turkish bath before each game to purge the spirits from the night before. When he skipped a game to go to the racetrack he was released.

Perhaps inevitably, Kelly took to performing in vaudeville, reciting the popular poem of the day "Casey at the Bat." He may actually have been the inspiration for the 1888 classic - its author, Ernest Lawrence Thayer, had seen Kelly play the year before while a reporter for the San Francisco Examiner. Kelly also produced baseball's first autobiography imaginatively titled"Play Ball." On his death bed King whispered, "This is my last slide."