Saturday, July 30, 2011

What is it with MLB and umpires?

If you’re a ball fan (and I assume you are if you’re reading this), I’m sure you’re well aware of the horrendous 19th inning end to a game between the Pirates and the Braves this past week. In case you aren’t up to speed, here it is:

So what do you think? Worst call of the season so far? Worst call ever? How do you think it compares to Jim Joyce’s call that ruined the Armando Galarraga’s perfect game last year in Detroit?

Okay, everyone is human. We all make mistakes, but we expect our umpires to be impossibly perfect. If you take into account the number of calls made by a crew of umpires during a ball game, the vast majority are called correctly.

But what happens when they’re not? What happens when they’re blatantly wrong? In Joyce’s defense with last year’s debacle, at least that play was pretty darn close. Also, the next day he publicly acknowledged that he’d blown the call.

What really bugs me, though, is that while the game of baseball assumes that umpires are perfect, most of us know they’re not. Most of us. The ones who turn a blind eye to this little fact are Bug Selig and his Merry Band of Idiots at MLB Central. This week, though, even they admitted that Jerry Meals (the home plate umpire for the Braves/Pirates game) made a bum call. Then they followed this admission by more or less saying, “But we’re not going to do anything about it.” Huh? It’s okay to have a game with a team trying to make the playoffs go down because an umpire couldn’t see what was right in front of him? Check out the video again. Meals was in perfect position on top of the play. How could he have missed it?

Here’s what he said by way of explanation, “I saw the tag, but he looked like he oléd him and I called him safe for that. I looked at the replays and it appeared he might have got him on the shin area. I’m guessing he might have got him, but when I was out there when it happened I didn’t see a tag. ...I just saw the glove sweep up. I didn’t see the glove hit his leg.”

Even from a TV screen it looks to me as if the catcher’s glove hit the baserunner about three times going along his body. Meals said that he looked at replays and changed his mind. Why couldn't he have been allowed to review the call before the game was ended and the Pirates lost?

Okay. So the call was blown. Joyce’s call last year was blown. Everyone admits it, even Bug.

Here’s where the situation really gets up my nose (and a lot of other people’s judging by what I’ve heard): MLB has the technology to correct this, but they refuse to use it. I’ve heard these bozos say by way of reasoning that it would hurt “the integrity of the game”. What? It’s okay to have a game completely turned around because an umpire screws up?

Let’s look at it another way. When these things happen the fans have to sit there and watch what is generally a long field-level debacle as everyone starts arguing. This can last for several minutes, people generally get tossed and nothing good happens. How long would it take for the umpiring crew to duck in and watch a replay to possibly get the ruling right? Two minutes? Think anyone would argue with their call after this? I doubt it. Also, if it’s allowable to review home runs in this manner, why not a play like the one we’re discussing?

Of course they can’t allow every call to be argued. That would be nuts. Why not leave it up to the umpiring crew to make the decision to review a play? I am assuming that umpires are the first people who want every call to be correct. They already on occasion confer as a crew on calls during games. Why not give them the option of a video review?

This is nuts and it’s hurting the game. Why are Bug and the Boys sticking their heads in the sand yet again? The players deserve better, the umpires deserve better and the fans deserve better.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Canadian HOF

Sunday was a great day at Cooperstown with two, count them, two notable Jays taking the spotlight. "Stand Pat" Gillick and Robbie Alomar were given the highest tribute in baseball by being inducted to the Hall Of fame. The speeches were great and the reception by the assembled crowd was loud and satisfying. I was working with Rick during the time that Pat Gillick made the biggest trade in baseball history (I think so anyway).

But Cooperstown is not what I want to share with you today. There is another baseball Hall of Fame, the Canadian one in St Mary’s, Ontario. On June 18 three new members were inducted: Tom Henke, Allan Simpson and George Wood. Their stories are interesting and make one very proud to have a Hall of Fame Canada.

Allan Simpson is originally from Kelowna. He was founder and editor of the now famous Baseball America magazine, which has in depth information about baseball at all levels including collegiate ball. For now over thirty years it has been a leader and source for fans players and scouts. Simpson started as a manager of pioneer leagues, the Lethbridge Expos and the Alaska Goldpanners. “I had the good fortune to watch Dave Winfield break in as a full-time position player in Fairbanks in 1972, and Andre Dawson make his professional debut in Lethbridge three years later,” recalled Simpson from his home in Durham, North Carolina. He realized that The Sporting News was reducing coverage of the minor winter and summer leagues. He decided, without the proper financing and publishing expertise, to start and baseball magazine from Canada no less. Lots of guts there.

The magazine was sent through the state of Washington so that it appeared to come from the US. American fans probably would not have paid attention to a Canadian telling the baseball story to the US. Baseball America started with a subscription of 1500 and now has over 250,000. It is very big success which. Congratulations to Allan Simpson.

George "Dandy" Wood is and old era player. He was born in 1858 in Pownal, PEI. and died in 1924. He played outfield, batted left and threw right and was active from 1880 through 1892. In his pro years he played for Detroit, Philadelphia (both the Quakers and the Athletics), Baltimore and Cincinnati. He was home run leader in 1882 with a lifetime BA of .273, 1,467 hits and 228 doubles, 138 triples, 601 RBI and 113 stolen bases. He is famous for having (in his first week in the majors) initiated the 11th triple play in history. Even more interesting is that he played left field for the major leagues first perfect game on June 12, 1880, pitched by Lee Richmond of the Worcester Ruby Legs.

Tom Henke is not Canadian, however he played for the Jays from 1982-1992. He was a thrill to watch especially with his usual offering of a first pitch down the pipe for a home run for the opposition. But then they could hit nothing at all.

Henke was an imposing man on the mound being 6'5" and wearing large glasses. During his time with the Jays he had 217 saves, most of any Jay to date. Henke collected 311 career saves, a 2.48 earned run average and struck out an average of 9.8 hitters per nine innings over his career. In 1992, he took a pair of saves and pitched in three of the Blue Jays four one-run victories over the Atlanta Braves during the World Series. Thanks again Tom.

I am very glad the Canadian Hall of Fame has honored these players and publisher. They had impressive careers. As with Cooperstown, St Mary’s is the spot for Canadian baseball lore and legend. The player’s records speak for themselves but the recognition of Allan Simpson is especially important because of his vision and huge impact on the game for both countries through his magazine. Again a good year in baseball.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Top Infield Ever?

Could the current Yankees have the most talented infield of all time? It's possible. Rarely has a team boasted stars at every one of the four infield positions. Teixeira, Cano, and Rodriguez are excellent defensively and all three hit for power. If Derek Jeter were still in his prime offensively and defensively the argument for them would be even stronger than it is.

What current infield would rank second? Perhaps the Phillies' Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Wilson Valdez. The Bosox have a claim as well with Adrian Gonzales, Dustin Pedroia, Marco Scutaro, and Kevin Youkilis.

The most famous infield in history was the 1906 to 1909 Cubs double play combination of "Tinkers to Evers to Chance" (Harry Steinfeldt was the not so famous 3rd baseman). In reality, in addition to not liking each other very much, Tinkers, Evers, and Chance didn't actually turn that many double plays and the four certainly weren't all that great with the bat. Only Evers hit .300.

The next most famous were the Philadelphia Athletics' '$100,000 infield' and they were extremely talented. Between 1910 and 1914
Stuffy McInnis, Eddie Collins, Jack Berry, and Frank Home Run Baker led the A's to four pennants and three World Championships. McInnis was among the league leaders in several offensive categories (he hit .321 over those four years) and could reach almost any ball thrown near him. Eddie Collins and Frank Baker, who was among the top ten in MVP votes each of those years, are in the Hall of Fame. Barry's contribution was with his soft pair of hands, great arm, and extensive range.

Incidentally, the $100,000 (about $2.5 million in today's money) was what reporters figured A's owner-manager Connie Mack could get for the four stars if he sold them. Forget their possible value on the market, the current Yankee infield makes $80 million just in salaries!

The 1934 Tigers are right up there for offensive production. First basemen Hank Greenberg (26, 139, .339) and second basemen Charlie Gehringer (11, 127, .356) - both Hall of Famers - tore the cover off the ball. But shortstop Billy Rogell (3, 100, .296), and third basemen Marv Owen (8, 96, .317) had pretty fair years too.

The 1983 Brewers with Cecil Cooper (30, 126, .308), Jim Gantner (11. 74, .282), Robin Yount (17, 80, .308), and Paul Molitor (15, 47, .270) would rank as one of the best hitting infields of all time. The '86 Tiger infielders - Darrell Evans, Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammel, and Darnell Coles - each hit 20 or more home runs and Whitaker and Trammell were a great DP combination, turning 99 double plays while the Tinkers and Evans combo averaged fewer than 50.

For a great combination of offense and defense how about the '76 Reds? Tony Perez had lots of power, Joe Morgan had a great glove and was one of the top hitters of all time (especially among second basemen), Dave Concepcion was an outstanding shortstop, and third baseman Pete Rose could hit a bit.

And the 1999 Met infielders were no slouches either. John Olerud (19, 96, .303), Edgardo Alfonzo (327, 108, .304), and Robin Ventura (32, 120, .301) had great years. Only Rey Ordonez (1, 60, .258) struggled at the plate.

Maybe you can think of another awesome infield. These are the ones I came up with and they'll be tough to beat.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The slow death of the two-hour ballgame

I was in a bar the other night (yeah, I know. Imagine me being in a bar) and started chatting with a guy at the next table. The ball game was on and I was watching while he was trying to ignore it.

“I hate baseball. It’s so damn boring and the games take forever to play.”

Now this was a pretty damn good game (the first in the series in which the Jays just swept the Mariners and it was a wild affair). How could he not think this one was interesting to watch? So I asked him.

“Watch how long it takes the pitcher to throw the ball. When he’s finally ready, the batter steps out on him. Then they start the whole bloody thing all over again. It’s dumb.”

“What about all the commercials?” I asked.

“What about them? They’re the same as the ones on all the sporting events.”

“No, I meant about the number of them? We just saw three at the end of the last inning.”


“There are at least 17 changes of at-bats in a 9-inning ballgame. Let’s say the break between each of these lasts three minutes. That means the dead space in between at-bats adds 51 minutes to every game. If you add in pitching changes and extra innings, a huge amount of time is taken up by pretty useless things – and they could do away with most of it.”

His eyes had glazed over and he nodded and turned away.

Okay, so this baseball hater didn’t mind that the game was stretched beyond sensibility by what have become, basically, opportunities for the broadcasters of the games to sell advertising space.

Ever notice how teams don’t charge out onto the field between innings? Does a pitcher really need all those pitches to warm up – especially if he’s just finished warming up in the bullpen? Those are just two of the things that have evolved in baseball during the modern era that have slowed the game down.

Let’s take a look at two specific areas comparing old-time and modern baseball.

Back in the day, pitchers were expected to finish what they started. Teams’ rosters didn’t include all the specialty pitchers they carry today. It is not unusual for each team to use 4 pitchers during a regular game. The starter goes 6 innings, begins to tire and a reliever is brought in. Maybe he gets the team through the 7th inning. Then the set-up guy is brought in. He pitches the 8th, possibly with the help of the other set-up guy who pitches to batters hitting from the opposite side. Finally, the closer is brought in.

All those pitching changes take a hell of a lot of time. The other ball players are standing around, the fans are sitting around, and the only people happy about the dead air are the people selling the ad time. I’ll bet a minimum of 30 minutes gets eaten up during every game by these shenanigans. Will MLB do anything about this? No. They all love the extra money they’re making.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t find anything interesting about a pitcher leaning forward, ball behind his back while he squints at the catcher who’s supposed to be flashing signs. Finally, the pitcher figures it all out, gets into his set position, looks left, looks right, looks up, looks down, maybe looks left again, sighs and starts his wind-up. By this time the batter has decided that his batting gloves need some adjusting so he backs out. Then the whole silly thing starts all over again.

In years past, these sorts of shenanigans would get someone drilled in the arm or backside by the opposing pitcher. Ballplayers didn’t want to spend their entire day in the ballpark.

Will MLB do anything about this? No. They tried once, but then just seemed to give up. Games continue to lengthen needlessly.

Bottom line: a game under two hours is a rare fluke, Hell, a game under three hours is becoming an endangered species.

And all of these things are slowly killing the game.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Falcons Win

I am back in town for a couple of days from British Columbia visiting family. I wish to thank Larry Toman for so ably filling in for me. Up in the Shushwap Valley there is not much in the way of WiFi signal.

The trip was a wonderful time with two young boys dear to my heart. We played ball at a ball field and then went to see a Kelowna Falcons ball game. A beautiful night for a ball game and the hometown team won in a shut out.

What is so nice about this level of play? They play in a 1250 seat ballpark, Elks Field. It a small town family operation. The team owner sells fifty-fifty draws himself. He’s a well- known figure hereabouts. The players have their fans in the stands. They are very vocal and supportive. Local advertising, the beer tent, the smell of hot dogs and foul balls hitting the road careening off an occasional car add to the small town feel. Very nice. Different from the MLB.

The Kelowna Falcons belong to the West Coast League. It's a collegiate level, using wooden bats (not the metal bats of regular season college ball). The young men are all university students mostly from North Western United States.

The WCL started in 2005, built from six teams in the former Pacific International League. There are nine teams in two divisions with rosters of 25 men each. They have a 48 game season from June 3 till August 6. The Falcons are the only Canadian team in the league.

On the night I went, the Falcons shut out the Klamath Gems from Oregon 6-0. Ryan Paterson pitched 6.2 shut out innings notching up his third win of the season, a 3-1 record. Connor Joe hit a 1-out, 2-run double in the 4th that put the Falcons ahead in the game for good. In the bottom of the 8th, Andrew Firth hit a 2-out, 3-run double down the right field line, batting in Kyle Pearson, Ben Swinford and Bo Folkinga. For the box score the Falcons went 6 runs on 9 hits, 1 error and 5 left on. The Gems went no runs on 4 hits, 1 error and 7 left on. If the truth be told, both teams are at the bottom of their respective divisions.

This League is not MLB and not AAA. Considering that these are university students they played very well, only two errors. We enjoyed watching a player’s approach to his position. There were occasional miss cues but lots of energy. There were no home runs. However, you could see some good talent playing good ball with glove and bat. You could also observe some mental and physical aspects of the game that needed development. The opportunity to play for the summer at this level is terrific for such young players. The learning curve is very high and they have a very demanding schedule. The players are billeted in each of their team towns and travel long hours by bus. They are paying their dues. New York Met and Canadian, Jason Bay, played in a similar league on the East coast called the Cape Cod League.

All of this was good. The best was talking baseball with my grandsons, son-in-law and my daughter.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

I Was There for One of Them

My fellow contributors often write about games they have attended. Well, I was at one of the strangest ever. In the past forty years there have been only five forfeits in Major League Baseball and game two of a scheduled doubleheader on July 12, 1979 at Comiskey Park was one of 'em.

In early July of that year a friend and I decided to go to Chicago to see some ballgames (and eat 32-ounce steaks and visit the Playboy Club.) Luckily, the White Sox were playing a doubleheader. This was before the owners got greedy and started kicking everybody out and charging again for the second game of a 'twi-night' double header.

Stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the way into Chicago we stopped at a gas station for a map and a cold drink. The attendant looked at us like we were from Mars. What we soon realized was that we had stopped in the South Side of Chicago - where white people did not go.

The night of the White Sox vs. Tigers doubleheader was perfect. When we got to Comiskey a young boy came up to us as we parked and asked if we wanted him to 'watch our car'. He said he'd keep people from vandalizing it. We gave him the $5 figuring if we didn't, he'd vandalize it himself. We were excited to find our seats, which were in the first row behind the box seats and right near home plate.

But it was Disco Demolition Night at the park. Disco was dead and the Sox's marketing director Mike Veeck, son of the legendary Bill Veeck as in 'wreck', and Steve Dahl, WLUP's new rock jock DJ, had cleverly planned to set up a booth between games so Dahl could blow up disco records. Fans got in for 98 (the station's spot on the FM dial) cents - if they brought a disco record. What a brilliant promotion! Really? Had anyone thought this out?

The White Sox management had apparently deemed it unnecessary to hire any more security than their usual pimple-faced college boys and cute little 18-year old co-eds. And who showed up? Rockers by the thousands, mostly with mickies or joints in their pockets. Having no real interest in what was happening on the field, many of the attendees who had never been to a ballgame in their lives left their seats and started wandering. We almost got into several fights telling people not to walk in front of us during pitches.

It got worse. "Fans" in the outfield hung signs and sheets, most of which read "Disco Sucks", over the outfield fences and the PA announcer had to keep telling them to remove them because they distracted the batters. Then some of the 'fans' realized that their records, especially LP's, made perfect frisbees and they started firing them onto the field. Several lodged in the turf close to players and umpires. Just as it started getting really dangerous the first game ended. Phew! What a relief.

Out came the crew to set up the demolition booth. Steve Dahl and his gang came out and blew the records to smithereens. But instead of a cleanup crew as had been planned, several thousand drunken disco haters, some who had paid to get in and others who had jumped a fence, surged onto the field. After a few minutes there was one small fire in the outfield and both foul poles were on fire! Hoodlums stole the bases, knocked over a batting cage and tried to get into the Chisox dugout to steal bats. Harry Carey, the beloved radio voice of the White Sox, pleaded with the hoodlums to get off the field and was completely ignored.

Finally, after 45 minutes of fun - and repeated warnings - most of the high or drunken rioters staggered off the field. Only a handful remained, stumbling around and laughing their heads off. Then the bullpen gate opened. But the relief that was on its way was not Ed Farmer, the Sox closer. It was several huge, mean, angry Chicago riot police, pulling dogs and carrying big nightsticks. They methodically moved among the rockers and clubbed them viciously in the backs of their legs. The 'youngsters' fell helpless to the ground and were unceremoniously hauled off the field to the cheers of the real ball fans like us.

Out came Sparky Anderson, the Tigers' manager to hand in his lineup card. He looked around, knowing what had transpired. "Gentlemen," he told the umpires, "you have yourselves an unplayable field. This is a forfeit." And it was. We never got to see game two and we hadn't seen much of game one either. But it was quite a night.

For video of the riot go to...

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The best part of the season

I don’t know what it is about the immediate part of the season after the All-Star Game, but my interest in baseball always gets a boost. This year is no different. That’s also why Larry’s Jays mid-season report card really resonated with me.

I’ve talked about this with fans of other teams over the years, and I’ve found that this feeling isn’t confined to me. Fans of teams with a less-than-stellar-record can always see the second half of the season as a new start, a peek at the next year, as it were. For the fans of front-running teams, you hope your guys have made the most of the off days, recharged their batteries and girded their loins (how does one do that?) for the stretch run to the post-season. Either way, there's something magical about sitting in the stands on a warm summer evening watching your guys do their thing. Let's face it, major league baseball on a perfect evening with a cup of beer and some good peanuts is a pretty damn good way to spend a few hours, isn't it?

Regardless, mid-July is a time of a second start to the season. I’m reminded of this by the results of the Jay’s first game last night against the Yankees. Even with the shaky pitching of Reyes, the team looked like world-beaters. I almost attended the game and I’m really sorry that I didn’t because it was a damned exciting contest. If the Jays could do this a good part of the time, I’m sure they would see their attendance increase dramatically. Everyone (except their fans) loves when a team beats up on the Yankees.

If the Jays want to be taken seriously next season, now is the time for them to step up their game, make a statement as to where they think they’re at and even though they probably won’t make the post-season (but that kind of charge would be very interesting to watch, wouldn’t it?), they can show us what their core is made of. Actually, I think they’ve showed us that already. There have been a lot of games where they’ve hung in their when down to make a game of it when most teams would have air-mailed in the remainder of the their innings and tried again next day. That says a lot for the squad in 2011 and bodes very well for next year when they very well might be ready to make a serious run at the post-season.

So, I’m looking forward to the rest of July and early August to see how much things change over the next four or five weeks.

Enjoy the ride. I'll be in the 500 level at the Rogers Centre, somewhere to the right of home plate. Stop by. I'll front you a beer.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Toronto Blue Jays Report Card

Larry Toman, our blogger DH/Violist, is back again for another week to fill in for the vacationing John "The Tomahawk" Trembath (no, we're not referring to his cello playing). Today, he’s offering a pretty frank mid-season report card on the Jays. Welcome again, Larry!

With the All-Star break upon us, it’s time to see what the Blue Jays have been up to for the first 92 games of the 2011 season. In the highly competitive American League East Division, Toronto resides in fourth place while sporting a 45-47 record, good for a .489 win percentage. The Blue Jays are 11 games behind the division-leading Boston Red Sox, while sitting 10 games behind the New York Yankees in the wild card race.

Every team in Major League Baseball is faced with the same set of adversities during the gruelling 162-game schedule. Injuries, surgeries, mediocrity and often complacency become the ongoing and unexpected challenges. Season-ending surgery to a star player can quickly become the knock on death’s door for a team. And while the Jays have been fortunate to avoid such a scenario, a team made up largely of stopgaps cannot expect to contend in a division that boasts three of the better teams in the game.

Now, here’s the mid-season report card for the Blue Jays.

STARTING PITCHING: It’s rare that a starting five-man rotation can make it to the break unscathed. Either by addition or subtraction, other pitchers enter the equation. In the case of the Blue Jays, eight different starters have been involved in what are deemed quality starts. They have compiled 47 of them in 92 games and tip the scales at just over a .500 winning PCT.

Bright lights: Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil and Carlos Villanueva.

Question marks: Jo-Jo Reyes and Kyle Drabek.

RELIEVERS: It gets a little dicey here. Seven pitchers have combined for 36 holds, which has resulted in only 20 saves. Blown saves are part of the game, but the above-mentioned two stats are too far apart. While there is always room for improvement, the Jays middle-to-long relief has done a respectable job. Yet, the murky and unsettling waters of the closers are another story.

The Jays do not have a go-to-guy that can slam the door and a closer-by-committee situation is usually a cross between Russian roulette and a recipe for disaster. In this present scenario, the Jays are using Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch back and forth, based heavily on statistical hitter/pitcher matchups. Francisco has above average stuff, but his short fuse and emotional instability have both been detrimental at times and have played a factor in his wildly inconsistent season. Rauch has the physical attributes and mental demeanour, but the quality of his repertoire is average at best and he lacks the speed generally required to excel in the ninth inning.

Bright lights: Jason Frasor, Shawn Camp, Casey Janssen and Marc Rzepczynski.

Question marks: Octavio Dotel, Luis Perez, Francisco and Rauch.

BATTING: The Jays have relied heavily on a few to carry the bulk of their production. One-through-nine is filled with bumps and potholes. The Jays currently have a team batting average of .257, which could be much-improved with increased production from the under-achievers. J.P. Arencibia will come around as his maturity and experience grows, cutting down on chasing bad pitches and showing more patience. Aaron Hill needs to step up production, and most likely will. Travis Snider is coming around, and Eric Thames has been a pleasant surprise, while solidifying his presence. Superstar Jose Bautista leads the charge, as arguably the best player currently in the major leagues.

Bright lights:
Bautista, Adam Lind, Yunel Escobar, Thames and Snider.

Question marks: Edwin Encarnacion, Corey Patterson and Rajai Davis.

FIELDING: The defensive deficiencies in the outfield were often alarming with Patterson, Rivera and Davis, patrolling the space. Collectively, the group is subpar and lacks a combination of range, accuracy and arm strength. Rivera is now gone, but filling spots with players who do not fit into the long-term plans often yields questionable results, as is the case here. Bautista’s move to third base is only a temporary assignment until Brett Lawrie is ready for the call-up from Triple-A Las Vegas, which may happen later this season. The second half scenario paints a much brighter picture once Snider, Thames and Bautista patrol the outfield.

Bright lights: Bautista, Snider and Thames.

Question marks: Patterson and Davis.

While the Blue Jays will be competitive and provide excitement, the quest to return to the postseason is still in the future.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Pretty Exclusive Club

Though the only 2011 starting MLB lineup I could rhyme off is that of the Yankees, you know you can count on me to put modern events into historical perspective. So here goes.

June 28, 2007 Craig Biggio, who was hitting under .240 goes 5-for-6 and his third single of the night is his 3,000th hit. How could you top that? Well leave it to Derek Jeter, one of the great clutch hitters of all time.

He was coming off an injury and having a pretty mediocre season to-date There were just two home games left before the All-Star break and an 8-game road trip. After all the hype you knew he'd like to get it at home. So, Jeter went 5-5 to better Biggio and also got his 3,000th on a homer. The only other 3,000 hit club member to homer for 3,000 was Wade Boggs, who also did it against the Devil Rays.

The list of players with 3,000 hits can be divided fairly evenly between old-timers, players from the 60s and 70s (including Rod Carew – the only one to reach 3,000 in the 80s), and 'modern' ballplayers.

The old-timers include Cobb, Musial, Speaker, Honus Wagner, Eddie Collins, Nap Lajoie, Paul Waner, and Cap Anson.

The 60s to 80s list features Rose, Aaron, Yastrzemski, Mays, Carew, Lou Brock, Al Kaline, and Roberto Clemente.

The modern list includes Paul Molitor, Cal Ripken Jr., Eddie Murray, George Brett, Robin Yount, Tony Gwynn, Dave Winfield, Craig Biggio, Rickey Henderson, Rafael Palmeiro, Wade Boggs, and now Derek Jeter.

Who got there fastest? Stan Musial, in just 8,774 at bats. So he was hitting a career .342 at the time. Who took the longest? Cal Ripken Jr. took 10,803 at bats. So he was hitting just .278 lifetime when he reached 3,000. In the past 75 years who is the member with the highest career average? Of course it's Tony Gwynn – at .338.

Who's next in line among modern players after Jeter? That would be Ivan Rodriguez, now with the Washington Nationals – he's about 150 away. Next are Omar Vizquel, A-Rod, and, surprisingly, Johnny Damon.

Who are the only members of the club not in the Hall of Fame? Rose, Jeter, and Craig Biggio, who retired in 2007.

Who just about made it but didn't? Sam Rice of the Senators fell thirteen hits short. Sam Crawford, Frank Robinson, Barry Bonds, Wee Willie Keeler, Rogers Hornsby, Al Simmons, and Jake Beckley all had more than 2,900. And before you dismiss Beckley, a .308 hitter, keep in mind that his 2,930 hits included a whopping 246 triples. But a lot of his hits were bunt singles. To deaden the ball, 'Old Eagle Eye' would flip the bat around and bunt with the handle!

Mel Ott, Babe Ruth, Harold Baines, and Brooks Robinson, had over 2,800. Because of his premature death Lou Gehrig reached just 2,721 and missing seasons due to WWII and Korea left Ted Williams at 2,654.

It takes longevity (such as Aaron and Ripken) and it takes a lot of skill too. Hard to believe Jeter is the one and only Yankee in the club, but he sure did it in style.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

It doesn’t get much worse than this

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one here listening to the Jays game versus Cleveland on Thursday evening. Villanueva had made another damn fine start with six shutout innings. Going into the bottom of the 9th, the good guys were up by four runs, thanks to yet another blast by JoeyBats. Things should be good to go, right?

Sadly, a victory wasn’t to be. Francisco, the team’s supposed closer, came out, and instead of bringing the heat, he poured gasoline all over the game, loading the bases with no outs. Perez, who is generally pretty reliable, came in, gave up an RBI single and than left a pitch out over the plate to Travis Hafner, the next hitter (admittedly on a tear of late), and the Indians’ DH made no mistake about where he sent it. The game ended with a totally deflating walk-off grand slam.

In my younger days, I might have thrown the radio at the wall. After all, the radio had been the bearer of the bad tidings, hadn’t it? In my more sanguine maturity, I just shut the thing off – rather forcefully.

Yesterday, I couldn’t bring myself to read any coverage of the game, look at the Jays website and so I completely forgot about doing my blog posting until a short time ago. During my time “away from the game” – all thirty-four hours of it – I spent some time reflecting on why we care so much. I mean, in the grand scheme of things, is history going to remember a completely blown victory by one team that’s not even in the playoff hunt? There was nothing historic about the loss. The back end of the Jays’ bullpen, which hasn’t been all that good this season, had their worst night yet, but it’s not like it cost the team a spot in the playoffs. It was all no big deal.

But if you’re anything like me, you probably suffered from a bit of depression yesterday because of your team’s loss. That’s all part of being a sports fan. Teams are going to have great games, horrible games and a whole bunch of games in between those two extremes.

Thursday’s crash and burn stung because the Jays were so close. They could see the finish line and all they had to do was lurch over it. They could have even given up three runs and still put up a W. That’s what made the final outcome of the game sting so much.

But the question remains: why do we care so much?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The rollercoaster ride is still in motion

Today, Larry Toman, an avid and knowledgeable baseball fan and regular commenter here on Late Innings is taking John’s regular spot. He’s written a terrific piece which is what being a ball fan is all about. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it as much as I did. Thanks, Larry!

Some baseball memories remain so vivid that it’s almost like they happened yesterday.

This one takes us back to September 12, 1999. It would be an historic day in Detroit at Tiger Stadium, as the Toronto Blue Jays were to play their final game at the venerable old ballpark at Michigan Avenue and Trumbull. Steeped rich in history and tradition since 1912, the stadium would be scheduled for demolition at the end of the season.

On this day, I would have the great fortune of taking in the game with my dear friend John “The Tomahawk” Trembath and his wonderful dad, Jack. As we were heading for the exits following a 5-3 victory by the Blue Jays, we luckily stumbled upon several players in the corridor waiting for their bus to be loaded for the trek back to Toronto. With the exception of a few big name stars, the players were very accommodating as they mingled and signed autographs with the fans. Standing over in a corner all by himself was a tall boyish-looking player who looked uncomfortable and out of place. At that moment I decided to approach him, shake his hand, and get his autograph. I had just met who would become one of my favourite players of all time; Chris Carpenter, a 24-year-old pitcher.

From that day forward I would closely follow his rollercoaster career. The highly-touted prospect was taken in the first found, 15th overall, of the 1993 amateur draft by the Toronto Blue Jays.

Carpenter would make his major league debut with the Jays on May 12th, 1997 at the Metrodome in Minnesota. Unfortunately, Carp’ got bombed and surrendered 8 hits, 7 runs (5 earned) in a brief 3-inning, 78-pitch outing that left him with a staggering ERA of 15.00. Final score: 12-2 Twins. As a very young 22-year-old, he finished his 1997 rookie campaign with a 3-7 record over 13 starts and 5.09 ERA.

He would make progress over the next two seasons. In 1998 and 1999 combined, Carpenter went 21-15 over 48 starts, logged 325 innings, and posted a near identical ERA in each season, of 4.37 and 4.38, respectively.

In 2000 and 2001, he would post double-digit win totals in each year, but also double-digit losses, to go a combined 21-23. There were rumblings from the Jays brass as to where Carpenter was headed. Although he was always thought of as a future front-of-the-rotation arm, his tenure with the Jays would finish at the end of the 2002 season. He was removed from the 40-man roster and offered a minor league incentive deal which he declined.

The free agent door had just swung open, and his rollercoaster career would now take him to the National League, after being signed by the St.Louis Cardinals prior to the 2003 season.

Pitching in 2003 was not in the Cards, as a torn labrum would shelve him for the entire season. The injury woes that began in Toronto were continuing to follow him in St.Louis.

The 2004 season would prove to be a comeback year for the flamethrower, as he went an impressive 15-5, while posting a very respectable ERA of 3.46 (the lowest of his career at the time). Nerve problems would keep him out of the World Series.

Coming back with the roar of a lion, Carp’ had a spectacular 2005 season, setting career-highs in the following categories: wins (21), ERA (2.83), strikeouts (213), innings pitched (241.7), complete games (7), and shutouts (4). The icing on the cake for Carpenter after a dominating campaign was being named the Cy Young Award winner.

The good fortune would continue to roll in 2006. Carpenter went 15-8, with a 3.09 ERA and helped guide the Cardinals to a World Series date with the Detroit Tigers. And Carpenter’s first career World Series start was an impressive one, pitching eight strong innings of three-hit ball, with no runs allowed. A World Series ring would follow.

However, his rollercoaster career would rear its ugly head and veer down the wrong track -- again. Disaster would strike Carpenter in a big way. He would pitch opening day on April 1, 2007 and in a loss to the New York Mets, his season was over. He would require Tommy John surgery, followed by another procedure to remove bone spurs.

After 486 days, he would return and pitch four innings (getting a no-decision) in a Cardinals 7-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves on July 30, 2008. Plagued on and off by persistent injuries and repeated stints on the disabled list, he would make only four starts in the two seasons of 2007-08.

A marvellous rebound would occur yet again in 2009, as he went 17-4 with a stingy 2.24 ERA (a career best). His 2010 season would continue positively as he posted a 16-9 record, with a 3.22 ERA.

Carpenter’s current campaign of 2011 has endured more potholes, although he is coming off one of his most impressive starts of the season.

On July 5, he threw a gem, going eight innings while winning a 1-0 game over the Cardinals’ arch rival, Cincinnati Reds, improving his record to 4-7 with an ERA of 3.74.

Could this be yet another turnaround? Only time will tell, but one thing is certain: There is no quit in Carp’.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Talk About Trends ! The All-Star Game

The "Junior Circuit" got off to a fast start, with three straight All-Star wins (1933 to '35) and won twelve of the first sixteen mid-summer classics from 1934 to 1949. (No game was played in 1945.) The '37 All-Stars featured a truly remarkable lineup of future Hall of Famers. Pictured at left are Lou Gehrig, Joe Cronin, Bill Dickey, Charlie Gehringer, Jimmie Foxx, and Hank Greenberg. Even super confident NL starter Dizzy Dean had to be a little nervous.

But between 1950 and 1987 the senior circuit's record was 33-8 – an astounding .805. It's generally postulated that the National League's dominance was due to its earlier welcoming of black and Latin American players. It's hard to argue with that. The AL had few stars to match Mays, Aaron, Banks, Clemente, Robinson, McCovey et al. When the AL finally won a game in 1957 it was due to ballot boxing stuffing in Cincinnati, which allowed the Redlegs to win seven of the nine starting positions! The outraged commissioner moved two Reds out of the lineup – and took voting away from the fans. But the NL lineup still included Roy McMillan and Ed Bailey.

In '58 things returned to normal – even though it was the first All-Star game without an extra base hit. The lightweight American League's only stars were Jackie Jensen and Mickey Mantle. Their lineup included Bob Cerv, Gus Triandos, and Frank Malzone! And whom did they face? Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Hank Aaron, and a fair double play combination of Bill Mazeroski and Ernie Banks!

Many fans may not know that two all-star games were played each summer from 1959 to 1962.
Among them was the first tie, in the second of the two 1961 games, when a ninth inning downpour ended the game in a 1-1 tie.

But I would argue that it was not just the black stars in their lineups that allowed the NL to dominate in the 50s and 60s. It was their pitching too. They had Koufax, Marichal, Spahn, Burdette, Drysdale, Jim Bunning, Bob Gibson, Gaylord Perry, Tom Seaver, Fernando Valenzuela, and Dwight Goodin to name a few.

But everything changed in '88. After years of futility (seven straight losses) the AL actually won a game. How? It was A's catcher Terry Steinbach, who hit a home run and launched another drive that fell ten feet short of being a grand slam. It ended up as a sac fly that gave the AL a 2-1 victory. Stunned by their success, the AL racked off five straight more.

From 1988 to 2009 the AL went 18 and 3, an incredible .857 record. Symbolic of the AL's success during this remarkable stretch was the '92 Classic. After four straight losses the now underdog NLers looked for revenge. But the first seven AL hitters stroked singles and built a 4-0 lead in the first. Then Ruben Sierra capped a 4-run sixth with a two-run homer. Ken Griffey Jr. went 3-for-3 and the AL coasted to a 13-6 win. (The AL 'slumped' to a 9-3 walkover the next year.)

Between '92 and '94 the unfortunate NL hurlers were facing lineups with simply no weaknesses. The AL had Kirby Puckett, Gary Carter, Ken Griffey Jr., Ivan Rodriguez, Ruben Sierra, Mark McGwire, Jose Conseco, and Frank Thomas. The 'weak' part of their lineup featured Roberto Alomar, Paul Molitor, Cal Ripken Jr., and Wade Boggs!

The only relief came in '96 – in a game with no singles – when the AL also had no homers and lost 6-0. But they won the next 12 straight, though four in a row (2006 to '09) were by one run and there was the tie in 2002. The 2004 game in Houston was the lone blowout. Much-hyped hometown hero Roger Clemens (then with the Astros) got roughed up in the first.

The NL is on a roll now – with one straight win. Can they start another awesome run? It's 2-1 for the AL in amazing All-Star streaks.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Realigning the major leagues

It’s great to be back. Did anyone miss me? What I should have done was take a computer on vacation with me, but we had no idea what kind of access we’d have in the various places we visited in Italy, and it seemed silly to drag something around that we’d only use very little. Anyway, I’m back in the saddle – but still I’d rather still be in Italy.

Hal Bodley on wrote a column the other day in which he has a few suggestions that I think would go a long way towards addressing some scheduling issues that have existed for the past few years. Here’s where you can read it: Hal Bodley’s Column and I’d suggest you do. He makes a great deal of sense.

First and foremost, Bodley suggests realigning the league. Why was it made unbalanced in the first place? That’s what I’d like to know. The fact that it was Bud Selig’s own team, The Brewers, that were moved to the national league is very suspect. The only real reason they could give is that there would be a natural rivalry between Milwaukee and The Cubs. That’s just no reason to have 14 teams in one league and 16 in the other – and all the inherent scheduling problems it causes, not to mention the silliness of having one national league game when the rest of the teams are doing the interleague thing. Could the switch have been made because Selig thought his team would have a better chance making the post season in the NL rather than the generally stronger AL? Anyway you slice it, the move was stupid.

Now there’s talk about moving the Astros to the AL West (which only has 4 teams). Whatever way they do it, whatever team they move, all I can say is, “It’s about friggin’ time.” The Brewers should never have been moved in the first place, and you can bet if it had been any other team than the Commissioner’s, it would not have happened. I’ll bet previous commissioners were rolling in their graves over that move.

Another suggestion Bodley throws in is to have one Interleague game going on every day, rather than two blocks of games in the year. Personally, I’d rather see them chuck the whole idea, but I know that will never happen, so the idea of spreading them out throughout the year is a good one.

The only alternative to moving an NL team is to add two to the AL. With a number of teams already struggling at the gate in both leagues, that would be also be incredibly stupid. All MLB has to do is take a look at the train wreck happening in the NHL because they put teams in American cities where little or no interest in hockey existed before. If MLB were to make this kind of move, I can’t think of a single city in North America that would be a good candidate unless they did something creative like move into Mexico or some other Central American country. Regardless, any expansion would be stupid at this time.

So what do they do?

The third thing Bodley discusses is the idea that’s been floated of eliminating divisions in each league. He comes out dead against it, but I’m not so sure it’s that bad of an idea. Rooting for a team in the AL East as I do, the idea has some merit. If you’re in the current AL West, you only have to have a better record than three other teams. AL and NL central tend to be rather weak from year to year. Getting rid of divisions would very much level the field. The reason it won’t happen is that MLB is trying their very best to avoid playoff matches that would lead to teams on the same side of the country or even the same division appearing in playoff games or even the World Series together. The television audience takes precedence whenever we get into playoffs.

What do you think? All I can say is they’re way overdue to change something.