Monthly Archives: April 2010

For the Record

Hank Aaron has the most career home runs, Ty Cobb is the batting average leader, Pete Rose has the most hits, and Cy Young tops pitchers in all-time wins. Big stats, most people seem to know them. But I think there are plenty of important records out there that aren’t quite as recognized. Let us now look at just a few.

You know, I’ve always felt like the best power hitters should be putting up big doubles numbers, turning bad pitches into good hits, rather than just hitting home runs and striking out. To me, a double is a big time hit. So who holds the doubles records? Earl Webb has the single season mark with 67 in 1931 and Tris Speaker’s 792 lead Major League history.

Well if doubles are hot stuff, triples should be 1.25 times as good, right? So who is chief of the three-bagger? It’s Chief Wilson, of course, with 36 in 1912. Sam Crawford is the all-time leader with 309.

In this day and age, with so much importance placed on On-Base Percentage, isn’t it nice to know that Barry Bonds is not the career leader? Ted Williams edges him out, .482 to .474.

We all know that the name of the game is scoring runs, so who has done that better than anyone else? Slidin’ Billy Hamilton has for a single season. He scored 198 runs in 1894. In fact, 7 out of the top 10 single season runs leaders played in what we now consider the Dead Ball Era. Funny so many runs were scored. But it is a much more recent player who had enough longevity to cross the plate more than anyone else in the history of the game. Rickey Henderson did it 2295 times.

Cal Ripken, Jr. is widely known as the Iron Man, who has played in more consecutive games than anyone else, but who has played in the most games total? In a landslide, the answer is Pete Rose with 3562. Carl Yastrzemski is second with 3308.

And now some incredibly important, yet less acknowledged records have been recognized. I’ve done my duty for the day. Good night everybody!

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The Midsummer Classic…in April?

Maybe some day people will realize that what we need is less of the DH, not more. Apparently, that day was not yesterday when Major League Baseball announced they were instituting the designated hitter rule for all All-Star Games, not just the ones in American League parks. I’ve also felt that the all-star rosters have been too large for too long, so expanding those is unsettling. All in all, another bad day for Bud Selig as far as I’m concerned.

This whole rule shake up got me thinking about All-Star Games of years past. Did you know that when the game was first introduced in 1933 that the fans were involved in the roster selection process? Just like today, huh? Except it apparently didn’t work because by 1935 rosters were chosen entirely by the managers. They flip-flopped on the issue every ten years or so before the system of the fans voting on the starters and managers selecting the reserves was settled in 1970. That lasted until 2003, when the players and coaches got some say in electing the reserves, where we sit now.

The All-Star Game was the idea of Chicago Tribune writer Arch Ward in 1933. That first game was played at Comiskey Park and Babe Ruth hit the first all-star home run. How fitting.

In the old days, the game showcased each league’s top talent, but there was plenty on the line. There used to be this thing called league pride. It doesn’t really exist anymore, but in the days of yore, it made a difference to be playing in the National League over the American League or vice versa. I’m not sure I ever saw those days, but I miss them just the same.

We are now eight years into the joke of the All-Star game determining home field advantage in the World Series. I’m still laughing. I guess they wanted to make the game more competitive, but I still can’t figure out why players and coaches wouldn’t compete simply because they are on a baseball field. I still laugh at the time they called the 2002 All-Star Game after 11 innings. The argument was that nobody wanted to over extend the pitchers. They had each only pitched 2 innings. They seriously couldn’t throw one more?

Between 1959 and 1962, there were two All-Star Games per year. I’m not sure what the logic behind that was, but in 1959, Don Drysdale pitched a combined (gasp) 6 innings in All-Star Games.

Here’s an interesting all-star fact that isn’t a complaint about pitchers: The first 6 American League starting pitchers were all named Lefty. 5 of them were Lefty Gomez and in 1936 it was Lefty Grove.

I’ll close my all-star ramblings on this thought. In the 1970 All-Star Game, Pete Rose barreled over catcher Ray Fosse (from Marion, IL, home of the Southern Illinois Miners) in the twelfth inning, separating Fosse’s shoulder. While Rose was widely criticized, he claimed that if it is the owner’s intention to make money off of baseball and the All-Star Game is the biggest money-maker of all, it wouldn’t have made sense not to give 100 percent in that game. My feeling is that the money shouldn’t be an issue. I’d like to see each team go out and try to win for the sake of giving their league the victory. And while I agree with Rose about going all out all the time, running over the catcher in an All-Star Game is pretty stupid.

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Let’s Talk About No-hitters

To the most impressive feat that seems to be accomplished by the most unimpressive people, I salute the no-hitter!

While the perfect game has been reserved in history for only the top-notch pitchers, no-hitters occur usually a couple of times a year and often by guys like Ubaldo Jimenez and Anibal Sanchez. Yeah, Jimenez is pretty good and Sanchez was a rising star at the time, but when we look back at the annals of history, theirs are not the names everyone will remember, yet they achieved arguably the best individual accomplishment in the game (next to sealing the deal with a perfecto obviously).

Nolan Ryan holds the record for most no-hitters with 7, and everyone knows him, but how about these other guys who have thrown more than one: Ted Breitenstein, Frank “Piano Mover” Smith, Virgil Trucks, Carl Erskine, Jim Maloney, Don Wilson, Ken Holtzman, Bill Stoneman, Steve Busby, Kent Mercker (one was only 6 innings) and Hideo Nomo. There’s some good pitchers on that list to be sure, but not a legend among them.

Johnny Vander Meer is the only player ever to throw back to back no-hitters. He did so on June 11 and 15, 1938. He’ll probably always be remembered for that feat though it was really the only spectacular thing about his 13-year career, which he finished with a pedestrian 3.44 ERA and a losing record.

In the one major league game I went to last year, I saw Jonathan Sanchez get lit up. Several weeks later I saw the box scores and realized that the most mediocre pitcher in the game had just come one error away from a perfect game and did collect a no-hitter. I think Juan Uribe’s error only served to weed out Sanchez from the game’s elite perfect game throwers. Since 1900, there have only been two perfect game throwers not to have made at least one All-Star Game.

No-hitters don’t always serve to make their pitcher’s immortal, but they do, at least, put them on the list that people like me research more than one hundred years in the future. Sanchez will always be on that list along with guys like Sandy Koufax, Randy Johnson, Cy Young, Warren Spahn and Bumpus Jones. Bumpus Jones? Yeah, you know, the guy who pitched in eight career games, won two of them, and ended his playing days in 1893 with 10 strikeouts and a 7.99 ERA. Why does anyone know who this guy is? Simple. In his first career start, he no-hit the Cincinnati Reds. That’s enough to put you in the history books.

To pitch a no-hitter, just about everything has to go right. As a pitcher, you have to be totally on your game, but throwing that no-no doesn’t make you a star. Then again, I don’t think anyone cares about that after they’ve done it.

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A Rabbit at the Helm

You know, I hate to mate this blog so Cub-centric (in fact I hate to mate this blog anything, but that’s what you get for sloppy typing), but I did promise to tell the tale of a crazy Chicago manager this week. Well, I wasn’t referring to the College of Coaches, which was a crazy idea, but for all I know, involved no crazy managers.

I was actually referring to one Rabbit Maranville, one of the weirder players to play for the Cubs in the first quarter of the 20th century. Maranville was a little edgy when he was playing for the Schlubs, so the brilliant management – not the same management to enact the College of Coaches – decided that if he were put in charge of a large group of people, he would settle down and become a model citizen.

This was back in 1925 and (this is the shocker now) it didn’t work! In one famous story, he used to walk up the aisle on the team’s train and wake up the players by dumping water on them. What a man, that Rabbit Maranville. That was his only season as Cubs skipper and player, but he went on to pay nine more years in his Hall of Fame career in which he hit only .258.

That’s all I’ve got to say about that for now, but come to think of it, anyone who would agree to be involved in the College of Coaches must have been crazy, right?

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Carlos Zambrano to the Bullpen?

On the week that Eric Gagne officially retires from the game (although I thought he was gone three years ago), it only seems appropriate that I should write about starting pitchers moving to the bullpen.

Though it is not my normal fare to comment on current affairs here, as a Chicago baseball fan, the move of Carlos Zambrano to the bullpen felt like news to print. Gagne is just one of the many starting pitchers who went on to become successful relievers, but aside from cases involving injury and old age, how many pitchers who have a no-hitter and two All-Star games under their belt? Off the top of my head, I’d have to guess not many.

However, in Zambrano’s case, I think it’s a good move. In fact, I’ve been calling for it for weeks. About 5 years ago, Bobby Valentine on Jeff Brantley spoke at length about their desires to see Zambrano pitching ninth innings. I thought it was the most ludicrous thing I had ever heard. Under no circumstances, I thought, should you ever move your best starter into the bullpen. In fact, I would argue that anyone with a brain should feel this way. I value relievers, but I would never trade a good 200 innings over a season for a good 80 innings. Heck, I wouldn’t trade a good 200 for a great 80. But Zambrano has really struggled as a starter recently. He has such enormous potential that just hasn’t been fulfilled.

He hasn’t had a sub-3.00 ERA since 2004 and though he has improved dramatically the last few years, he still walks way too many guys. Having to get only between 3 and 6 outs per game may help his focus. I don’t know if this is  a good permanent solution for Carlos, but I do think it’s what needs to be done now. I’m not saying that Carlos Silva and Tom Gorzelanny are better starters than Zambrano, but they are pitching better right now, and I feel that regardless of the Ted Lilly situation, Zambrano needed a change of pace.

I’m hoping that the move to the bullpen will straighten him out a little and propel him to success as either a starter or a reliever. The only thing that disappoints me is that I won’t be watching him hit for a while.

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Baseball’s Sad Lexicon

A few weeks ago, I posted “Casey at the Bat” here, and now I think it’s time to deliver another of the great baseball poems, “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon” about a trio of bear cubs.

These are the saddest of possible words:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”
Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,
Tinker and Evers and Chance.
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
Making a Giant hit into a double –
Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”

Of course, the year that Franklin Pierce Adams wrote this poem, 1910, Johnny Evers committed 33 errors and Joe Tinker committed 42, but those days it didn’t matter. We can easily look past that. After all, Bob Ferguson, who played between 1871 and 1884 was nicknamed Death to Flying Things because of his defensive prowess and he once had 109 errors in a season.

I’m more interested in the bear cubs’ later managerial careers. Evers managed 3 season. One with the Cubs in 1913 another in 1921 and with the White Sox in 1921. Those are oddly spaced out. Frank Chance was the first manager of the powerful New York Yankees when he coached them in 1913 and ’14 (they were the Highlanders in 1912). He was also the only coach to win a World Series with the Cubs. Joe Tinker was hated by his teammate Chance, so he didn’t get his managerial started until after he got out from under the thumb of his first baseman. He went to Cincinnati in 1913, though, then the Federal League in ’14 and ’15. The Cubs brought him back in 1916 thinking the cantankerous Tinker could whip the boys into shape. It didn’t  work.

Oh, I just thought of something else. More on bad Cub managers later this week.

Harry Steinfeldt, Tinker, Evers and Chance

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You Mean I Can Actually Go to Games?

Yesterday I took a trip to my first (and probably only) Major League Baseball game this season. The journey was a hassle. It took an hour and a half to get to Wrigley Field on the ‘l’ and the trip home was no more fun, but the sweet game in the center was all I could hope for, though a little long. I love baseball but let’s get home quicker than 3 and a half hours.

I don’t have a camera, so there are no pictures from this great event, but let’s just say it was as perfect as a day comes weather-wise. 80 degrees and sunny, a nice breeze, blowing out of course, and a seat in the shade. I was a little bit late to the game, but I sat down in my upper deck seat, along the right field line just in time to see Derrek Lee belt a home run to center as the crowd erupted. Good timing. I was initially excited when I saw Carlos Zambrano pitching for the Cubs, because I thought it was going to be Carlos Silva. As it turned out, Silva may have been the better pick.

But it really didn’t matter because everyone looked the same. It was Jackie Robinson Day and everyone was wearing no. 42. There was mass confusion on every substitution, and after I had moved down behind the Cubs bullpen, every time someone would start warming up, my brother and I would have this exchange.

Him: Who’s that warming up?
Me: I don’t know; who’s number 42?
Him: (very annoyed)

After Derrek Lee was ejected – for what I have no idea – it took us three innings to figure out who was playing first base. I love Jackie Robinson, and I just wrote a few weeks ago about the importance of his number, but there’s got to be a better way to honor the man than to totally bamboozle the fans.

Anyway, the highlight of the game was undoubtedly the baby that was sitting in the row ahead of me for the lat few innings. I’ve never seen anybody so happy to be at a ballgame. This kid couldn’t have been more than a year old, but he had a perpetual smile on his face. And why not? He got to spend an afternoon at Wrigley Field AND see the Cubs lose! (The Brewers took the game 8-6) It doesn’t get much better than that, does it?

Like the baby, I left the park smiling. I actually would have preferred to see the Chicago team win, but really, no matter the outcome, you can’t beat fun at the old ballgame.

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Mark Buehrle, Hall of Famer?

Don’t laugh; It’s possible. Not very likely maybe, but possible.

About 5 years ago, I decided it was time to make a crazy prediction, so I foolishly announced that Mark Buehrle would one day be enshrined in Cooperstown. Now that it’s written down, I’ve dug an even deeper hole. I can no longer ever deny this claim.

As long as I’m in so deep, I might as well make the argument, and I think there’s a good one to be made.

He ranks tenth on the active wins list at 137 and within the top ten, only CC Sabathia, who also has 137 wins, is younger than he is.  He’s averaged 15 victories per season in his first 9 full years as an American Leaguer.

Buehrle’s 3.79 career ERA may not be that impressive from a historical perspective, but in today’s game, it ranks tenth again among active starters. He’s also in the top ten among active players in innings pitched (9th) and, at age 31, is 3 years younger than anyone else on the list. He’s led the league in that category twice in his career.

Simply put, Buehrle is one of the most steady and reliable pitchers in the league. He isn’t very flashy and outside of Chicago, I doubt that he gets very much press, but among baseball players in the last ten years, there are few that have been as successful as the Chicago southpaw. He is a World Series winner, a 4-time all-star and has pitched two no-hitters including one perfect game. He also has won a Gold Glove and I’d be shocked if he didn’t have a few more by the end of his career. The accolades are all there, he just needs the numbers to back them up.

Well, let’s extrapolate his current stats toward the next few years. Admittedly, he has not been as successful the last 4 seasons as he was the first 5, so I’ll take one win off his average over the next five years, and say he wins 14 games a season between now and the age of 35. Considering he’s a finesse pitcher with good control, I think it’s reasonable to think he should stay near the top of his game for that long. That puts him over 200 career victories. Now, why don’t we say he averages 10 wins over the next five years. Now he sits at 255 career wins at the age of 40, and I think the numbers I gave him are conservative.

255 victories in this era is pretty impressive, and if you throw in a sub-4.00 ERA, assuming he keeps it that way, I like his Hall of Fame odds, but there is still so much more to accomplish. His strikeout totals are unimpressive and although he doesn’t walk many men, he does give up a lot of hits. He’s only won more than 16 games one time in his career and aside from games started and innings pitched, he hasn’t led the league in any major statistical category since his 1.07 WHIP topped the league in 2001, his first full season.

In other words, he’s got a lot of work to do. I think the 255 wins would be very impressive, but he’ll need a few more accomplishments along with them. For example, even if he only averages about 12 wins a year over the next 10, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to make one or two of those a 20-win season. His 4 All-Star appearances in 9 years are pretty impressive, but he has to keep up at that rate for it to mean anything by the end of his career.

Through five months in 2005, he was probably the Cy Young frontrunner, but his collapse in September cost him an award that would have greatly helped his cause. If he wants to win one of those now, it wouldn’t be a bad idea.

So, I think Mark Buehrle is on track to give himself a good shot at an end of career honor. Even though I’m about to jinx him, he’s never been hurt in his career, so if he can continue to post 33-35 starts per season, why can’t he accrue the numbers? At the very least, I think that if he remains with his current team, he should go down in history as the best White Sox pitcher since Ed Walsh. And that’s a pretty good honor in itself.

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Sing a Song of Baseball

Over the months, I’ve referenced a lot of great baseball songs and even linked to a couple. But today, I felt it would be best if, for once, we simply took an exclusive look at a few of the best. I thought about making another random list, but changed my mind and decided instead that there are so many good ones that it wouldn’t even be right to call any of them better than any of the others. I’ll let you make your own opinion. So here, in no particular order, are some good songs. If I think of any more, I promise I won’t be shy about posting them later.

A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request

Dandy Sandy

I Love Mickey

Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?

Van Lingle Mungo

Centerfield

Stan the Man

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

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Albert Pujols: Portrait of a Superstar

I spent a lot of time this offseason transforming myself as a baseball fan. I no longer have many of the biases that I once did. I  think that I’ve developed a greater appreciation for just watching the game of baseball as opposed to having any specific rooting interest.

Having said that, however, I still hate the Yankees and the Cardinals. I think I always will. Old habits die hard, I guess, and when you grow up a Cubs fan, its hard to let go of that Redbird anxiety.

But there’s something about the Cardinals that even the most diehard hater has to appreciate. OK, maybe they don’t have to, but I think they should. That something is Albert Pujols.

Hear me out here. I mentioned that I hate the Yankees, but I don’t hate Joe DiMaggio or Babe Ruth or Lou Gehrig or any of their other all-time greats. I never got the chance to see any of them play, but I appreciate their greatness and what they did for the game (not to mention the great songs they inspired).

I think if I were born 30 years from now, I would feel the same way about Pujols; I would be able to look back on him as one of the great players in the game’s history and really be grateful for his contributions to baseball. As it is, I’ve always hated the guy just because he plays on the detestable St. Louis Cardinals. To be fair, I should mention that, in a way, I’ve always been appreciative of his work, but that feeling’s been nestled inside the one that hates him.

Of all the steps I’ve made over the offseason, I consider this to be the most important: I really like Albert Pujols. In fact, he’s become one of my favorite players (kind of; I’m trying). How can anyone who likes the game of baseball and the art of hitting get any feeling other than joy when they see this guy come to the plate. In my lifetime (which admittedly is very short in the grand scheme of baseball things) there’s never been anyone to come close to his prowess in really any facet of the offensive game.

Just for fun, I decided to take a look at his stats next to Jimmie Foxx’s. Why Jimmie Foxx? Well, I suppose I’ve probably heard the comparison before, but more importantly, I just really like the guy and feel I should include him in a comparison now and then. Here we go.

Through the age of 29, Foxx had full season on Pujols, having entered the league at a younger age – a different league too – but their stats are remarkably similar. Let’s check out the old line.

Foxx:    .334 BA, .435 OBP, .628 SLG, 313 2B, 93 3B, 379 HR, 1345 RBI, 71 SB
Pujols: .334 BA, .427 OBP, .629 SLG, 387 2B, 14 3B, 368 HR, 1115 RBI, 61 SB

Wow, those statistics are actually a lot closer than I even realized when I started typing this thing. What’s the point of it all? I don’t know, but Jimmie Foxx was really, really good, and Albert Pujols is right there with him. For the record, Pujols has won 3 MVP Awards and Foxx won 2 up to that point and collected his third at the age of 30. In fact, his best statistical season was at 30 in 1938, so I guess we’ll see if Pujols can match him there.

By now I’m rambling but I hope I’ve at least gotten across this idea: Albert Pujols is one of the great hitters of all time, and I think it’s about time I respected that. Whether you love him or hate him, I think everyone should enjoy the ride.

I’ll still never like Alex Rodriguez, though, and he’ll never be as good as Pujols.

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