Monthly Archives: May 2010

Minor League Spotlight: Golden Baseball League

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com

The last Minor League Spotlight focused on a baseball league that plays throughout the state located to the farthest reaches north. This week, the focus shifts to a baseball league that stretches as far north as Canada, south to Mexico, west to Hawaii and at one time even had representation from further beyond in Japan. Though just entering its sixth season, the Golden Baseball League has already left an indelible mark on the baseball community in the United States, North America, and beyond.

This past week, the Golden Baseball League kicked off its season with a matchup between the Edmonton Capitals and Tucson Toros, and it ended up being a Walk Off win for the Tucson Toros. In a game that featured several former big leaguers, it showcased exactly the kind of exciting talent to be expected in the Golden Baseball League.

On May 22nd, the league made history when they featured games being played in three different countries on the same day. The league played games in Canada, the United States and Mexico. Having teams representing several countries is nothing new to the league. In the inaugural season, the Japan Samurai Bears were a traveling team comprised of mostly Japanese born ballplayers. For the 2010 season the Na Koa Ikaika Maui, which means “Strong Warriors of Maui”, are the first professional baseball team to play in the state of Hawaii since the Hawaii Winter Baseball League folded in 2008.

The historic season of firsts for the GBL will continue, as Japanese sensation Eri Yoshida is expected to make her debut for the Chico Outlaws on May 29th. The 5’1 18 year old knuckleballer will be the first woman to play professional ball for the Golden Baseball League, and the first woman since Ila Borders pitched with the Zion Pioneerzz of the Western Baseball League in 2000. Yoshida was signed by the Outlaws after her stint in the Arizona Fall League where she had a 1-1 record with a 4.79 Earned Run Average over a 10 game span.

Throughout its history, the Golden Baseball League has blended their rosters with legitimate major league talent, and those who are dedicated to showcasing their talent in a competitive league in hopes of catching their big break. Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson may be the most famous of all former GBL players, but along with Yoshida there is a growing number of former MLBers and those working towards reaching The Show who are choosing to bring their game to the west coast.

Former All-Star closer Byung-Hyun Kim recently signed a contract with the Orange County Flyers after being released by the San Francisco Giants during spring training. The two-time world series champion’s first appearance of the season was a scoreless inning against the St. Georges Roadrunners on May 22nd. Also playing against the Roadrunners was Keith Ginter, a six year Major League veteran who has spent the last few years with several organizations playing at the Triple A level in the International League.

A former Chicago White Sox first round draft pick made an impressive GBL debut for the Chico Outlaws on May 23rd when he threw a no hitter in the first game of a double header against the Tijuana Cimarrones. Kris Honel struck out 10 over 7 innings in his no-hitter to start his season. Honel’s no-hitter is just the second in league history, and he got more support than he needed as the Outlaws offense clobbered the Cimarrones 20-0. He received support from J.J. Sherrill, Mitch Einertson, and John Urick among others. Those three players have worn the uniform of several minor league affiliates.

There are many stories of players who have worn MLB uniforms, and many still who will one day don the uniform of a major league team. The players referenced above are just a snapshot of what the Golden Baseball League offers its fans. To help follow these teams and the players of the GBL, there are websites linked below for each of the teams and their various social networking sites.

Northern Division

Southern Division

During the GBL season, the Minor League Spotlight will follow along and report some news coming out of the league. If the first week is any indication, the 2010 season of the Golden Baseball League is going to be unforgettable.

Previous Spotlights:

Ask The Clubbie!

During the 2010 season, the Minor League Spotlight occasionally features a Q&A with Jeff Perro, the Clubhouse Manager for the Birmingham Barons, the Double A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox.

BaseballDigest.com: How is Opening Day for you as a clubbie? Are there certain things you need to prepare that might differ from the daily job?

Jeff Perro: Getting ready for Opening Day is a huge challenge! Working an off-season job leading up to the start of the season meant working nights at the stadium. The Hoover High School football team plays its home games at Regions Park after our season concludes and they use our clubhouse as their locker room, which means that all of our equipment has to be locked away. With the help of a few friends, it took an entire day of moving couches, trainer’s tables, stair steppers, tables, bats, balls, and probably over 3000lbs of free weights back to where they are set up for the season. That was quite a task. There is also the duty of wiping down each of the lockers, vacuuming, scrubbing toilets and bathroom floors, rewashing towels, and just getting the clubhouse clean. It took four trips to Wal-Mart to stock up on the supplies a clubbie needs to run a clubhouse. It was all worth it though! Opening Day was very exciting!

Next Week: New York City is home to two of the most celebrated baseball teams in Major League Baseball, the New York Yankees and the New York Mets. The next Minor League Spotlight takes a short trip west of New York City to examine the Newark Bears of the independent Atlantic League. A team stacked with talent that include some that have played for and against both of the powerhouses to the east, the Newark Bears have provided a great source of entertainment and a glimpse of players trying to make their way to MLB, just minutes from the bustle of New York City.

Now Playing, The Boston Red Averages

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com

Sometimes, when baseball articles that are written in Spanish are translated to English, the Boston Red Sox become the Boston Red Averages. This is due to “Medias” in Medias Rojos having multiple meanings. In addition to meaning “socks”, it’s also “median”, as in statistics.

Keeping with double meanings, I’m referring to the Boston Red Averages as a team that’s lacking special distinction. A team playing rather ordinary baseball that has them sitting near the bottom of the American League East standings.

With 40 or so games of the 2010 baseball season completed, the Boston Red Sox have positioned themselves into a hole and could possibly wind up with a very long season being the mediocre disappointment that the season has been to this point.

There are a number of factors that have contributed to the Red Sox 20-20 record on the season.

How About That Offense?

Throughout the off-season, when the Red Sox acquired John Lackey, Mike Cameron and Adrian Beltre, the constant stream of discussion surrounding the Red Sox focused on pitching and defense while acknowledging the perceived drop in offensive power from the lineup with someone like Jason Bay no longer in the heart of it. For the record, this writer said back in early March that the Red Sox offense would show up in 2010.

With the Red Sox stumbling around .500, a lot of fuss has been made that the pitching and defense plan has crippled their postseason dreams before they could even be considered. The problem with this stance, is that despite the pitching and defense focus, their offense has not been nearly as quiet as some doomsayers had envisioned. At least not yet.

Entering last night, the Red Sox rank among the top five in the American League for batting average, on-base percentage, slugging, and OPS. They have the most hits in the AL, and have hit more home runs than any team aside the Toronto Blue Jays. A lot of this can be attributed to the hot bats of the emergency reserves that arrived with the loss of Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron. They will not likely stay hot, which leads us to the next big question for the team that hovers around .500.

So, What About That Pitching Plan?

To say the Red Sox pitching staff has hit a few bumps along the road this season would be an understatement. Through 41 games, the starting rotation has just two starters with sub-4.00 ERAs. Josh Beckett, who landed on the Disabled List this week, and Daisuke Matsuzaka, fresh off the Disabled List, both have season ERAs north of 7.00.

More concerning than the starting rotation is the musical chairs that make up the relief corp. There have already been changes with the shifting of the Scotts, Atchison at the end of April and yesterday with Schoeneweis.

On the surface, Manny Delcarmen and Daniel Bard appear to dominate the opposition with their miniscule ERAs that hover around 2.25. However, both pitchers have struggled mightily to keep inherited runners from scoring. Between the two, they have allowed 10 of 23 inherited runners to score, good for over 40%. By comparison, the league average for allowing IR to score is 30%. With the changes made so far, the team has already begun to lower the number of runs they’ve allowed by relievers. Delcarmen and Bard have shown in previous seasons an ability shut down an offense and kill a rally, and if the Red Sox have a chance to succeed this season these two players will need to revert to their career norms when it comes to holding runners.

An alarming concern at the anchor of the bullpen is Jonathan Papelbon. A quarter of the way into 2010, the Sox closer has already allowed more than half the number of earned runs allowed in all of 2009, while his strikeouts per nine innings and strikeout to walks ratios have plummeted. In short, all of the wrong numbers have risen for Papelbon since the 2008 season. Without a bonafide closer like Papelbon of yore, the 2010 season will undoubtedly remain stagant.

The assumption here, and it’s not a safe bet since the season this far has gone against conventional wisdom, is Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, and eventually Josh Beckett will continue an upward trend and begin to right the ship of 2010. The development of Daniel Bard and the bullpen corp in general will have a lot to say in whether this season is turned around. With recent moves made, it appears the team is willing to make changes to improve the ‘pen.

Where’s That Defense?

During the off-season, a great deal of focus was put on the acquisitions of Adrian Beltre and Mike Cameron, and how they were going to shore up the Red Sox defense. With Cameron in centerfied and Ellsbury in left, the Red Sox would be covering a greater area than previously with Ellsbury in center. The fans of the newfangled sabermetrics raved about the potential of the Red Sox defense.

Since then, Beltre has come as advertised aside from a few games that featured bad cases of the yips. However, the Red Sox outfield of Ellsbury, Cameron and J.D. Drew lasted just 6 games before Ellsbury went down with injury, and only 11 games featured Mike Cameron.

If there is any glaring hole that one might infer the Red Sox didn’t consider and has made itself widely known, it’s the backup plan for the unexpected loss of both Ellsbury and Cameron. While respectable at the plate, Darnell McDonald, Jeremy Hermida and Bill Hall handcuff the Red Sox as defensive replacements over an extended amount of time. Whether it’s the fault of the fielder or the shifts put on by the coaches, it’s not really clear, but there is without a doubt a noticeable difference between Mike Cameron and Jacoby Ellsbury in the outfield compared to the men who have filled in.

The lingering concern is what happens when Cameron and Ellsbury return? If the players don’t return at full health, will the subsequent defensive questions remain? If there is hope for a strong push in the remaining 121 games, the Red Sox will need these questions answered.

A Few Bright Spots

To start the season David Ortiz hit .185 in April, with just one home run to go along with 21 strikeouts. Entering late May, Big Papi has emerged from his early season slump in a big way. In his last 19 games, Ortiz is hitting .309 with 8 home runs. In his last 6 games spanning 24 at bats, he is hitting .417 with 4 homers while slugging a robust .917. Ortiz may play a huge role in turning the season around.

After an April that saw his earned run average push near 7.00, Ramon Ramirez has quietly made adjustments. In 6 appearances in May, Ramirez has allowed just one run over 5.1 innings while striking out 11.

Where Do They Go From Here?

For all the doomsayers who have written off the Red Sox season as a bust, it’s worth noting that 121 games is a great amount of time to adjust a roster as eeded and string together a few winning streaks. However, the wins must begin piling up soon if they don’t want to find themselves in a giant hole a month from now.

Barry Bonds, Major League Outfielder

This is a biography originally written for a baseball website, but before any contracts were signed, they decided to go in a different direction creatively. So, I was left with a really long biography that reads like a wikipedia page. Feel free to critique this article, or praise it, or whatever. It’s here because otherwise it wouldn’t see the light of day.

Barry Bonds will go down in history as one of the most prolific ballplayers to ever play Major League Baseball. Drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1985, he tore through the minor leagues and made the Pirates’ decision to promote him easy. His first career hit came on April 20th, 1986 in the 17th inning of a game versus the Chicago Cubs. His hit, coupled with an error, ended the 6 hour stalemate and the Pirates went on to beat the Cubs.

Despite finishing 6th in the Rookie of The Year honors, Bonds led all National League rookies in home runs, runs batted in, walks and stolen bases. During his first several seasons in the big leagues, Bonds gradually improved his numbers, and his walks began piling up as he learned to maneuver the strike zone. By 1989, he had nearly as many walks as he did runs scored.

1990 was a breakout season for Barry Bonds, as he collected his first of 14 subsequent All-Star nods and the first of seven Most Valuable Player Awards. In addition to reaching the level of being a 30 homer, 100 RBI player, he reached the .300 mark for his batting average for the first time. He led the league in slugging and OPS to win the Silver Slugger, and completed the award sweep with a Gold Glove. A slight drop in offensive numbers in 1991 prevented Bonds from a repeat performance as he finished second in the NL MVP voting to Terry Pendleton, of the eventual NL Pennant winners the Atlanta Braves. However, 1991 was a resounding success overall, as Bonds kept his power pace and was undoubtedly considered among the best players in all of baseball.

Barry Bonds had another stellar season in 1992 as he lead the league in runs scored and walks while hitting .311. His power numbers were reflected in leading the league in Slugging Percentage,On-Base Percentage and OPS. He captured his second Most Valuable Player award as the Pittsburgh Pirates reached the National League Championship Series for the third straight season. After two lackluster playoff performances from Bonds, he responded in 1992 by hitting .262 against the Atlanta Braves and slugged his first career postseason home run.

The 1992 NLCS ended on a play that involved Barry Bonds, and would serve as his final play as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Facing an 0-2 deficit in the bottom of the 9th inning in game 7, the Braves mounted a comeback against Pirates starter Doug Drabek. After loading the bases on a pair of hits and an error, Stan Belinda was called upon to stop any further bleeding. Belinda allowed a walk between the first two outs of the inning before facing utility player Francisco Cabrera, who had played in just 12 games during the 1992 season. With the bases loaded, Cabrera hit a line drive to Barry Bonds in left. Bonds fielded the ball and made a throw home that arrived just late of Sid Bream scoring the winning run.

During the 1992 off-season, Bonds signed a record breaking deal with the San Francisco Giants worth $43.75 million over 6 years. The most lucrative deal in baseball history also brought Bonds to the team that both his father and godfather had spent the majority of their careers. Bonds wore number 25 with the Giants since 24, the number he wore as a member of the Pirates, was retired by the Giants to honor Willie Mays.

Bonds played up to his contract hype immediately, when he led the National League in home runs for the first time in his career with 46. He also set his own new career highs in almost every offensive categories en route to his first back-to-back MVP seasons. It was the fourth straight season that he won the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards. Despite leading his team and the league in most offensive categories, Bonds’ 1993 Giants failed to make the playoffs with a 103 win season. The Giants and Atlanta Braves were in the middle of one of the greatest pennant races in history, which the Braves won with a 104 win season.

During the strike shorted 1994 and 1995 seasons, Barry Bonds slugged 70 homers and hit .302 over 256 games. He was named to the All-Star team in 1994 and led the league in OPS, but saw a slight decline overall in his power numbers. Following the strike shortened 1995 season, Bonds returned to his usual offensive numbers entering his 30’s. In 1996, Barry Bonds became just the second player in Major League Baseball history to join the elusive 40 / 40 Club, which Jose Canseco became the first member of in 1988 when he stole 40 bases and slugged 40 home runs.1996 was a historic year for Bonds, as he became fourth member of the 300 / 300 Club when he stole his 300th stolen base and slugged his 300th home run. He joined his father Bobby Bonds, his godfather, Willie Mays and Andre Dawson in the exclusive club. Within two years, he established the 400 / 400 Club with his 400th stolen base and 400th home run, and tied his father with his fifth 30 / 30 season. In each of the two seasons following the strike year, Bonds ranked 5th in National League MVP voting.

Around the same time Barry Bonds joined the 40 / 40 Club, the great Home Run Chase was beginning to grip baseball as the league attempted to recover from the eighth work stoppage in history that saw the 1994 postseason wiped out for the first time since 1904. Coming off a few injury plagued seasons that slowed the early promise of his rookie year’s 49 homer season, Mark McGwire followed up his 39 home runs during the strike-shortened 1995 campaign with a league leading 52 home runs in 1996. The most home runs by any player since George Foster’s 52 homer campaign in 1977 was quickly surpassed by McGwire in 1997 when he slugged 58 home runs while playing with the Oakland Athletics and St. Louis Cardinals. The 1998 season turned out an incredible race between Mark McGwire and Chicago Cubs’ slugger Sammy Sosa towards the single season record of 61, held by Roger Maris for the previous 37 years. Ken Griffey Jr. came closest prior to the 1998 season with a 56 home run season in 1997.

As the home run record was being chased by McGwire and Sosa, Barry Bonds’ numbers slipped slightly. His home runs total of 71 from the 1998 and 1999 seasons nearly equaled McGwire’s record setting 70 homers during the 1998 season. Despite the perceived power loss, Bonds managed to slug 34 homers in just 102 games during the 1999 season. As Bonds’ 1999 season was shortened due to injuries, it was also the last season where Bonds swiped at least 15 bases in a season. The following year, Barry Bonds made a full recovery from his injuries, and at the age of 35 years slugged a career best 49 home runs. Though he trailed Sammy Sosa’s 50 home runs for the league lead, Bonds finished 2nd in voting for Most Valuable Player., his highest finish in MVP voting since winning his last MVP award in 1993.

Barry Bonds’ 2001 season is among the greatest offensive seasons of all time. In addition to shattering his own personal bests, Bonds set new single season records in slugging percentage(.853) thanks in part to setting a new record for the most walks in a single season with 177 free passes. He smacked 39 home runs before the All-Star break, the most ever hit in the first half of any season, en route to his record breaking 73 home runs for the season. Bonds’ on-base percentage of .515 had not been achieved by any player in the previous 40 seasons. He received 98% of the MVP votes over second place Sammy Sosa and his 64 home runs, securing his fourth Most Valuable Player Award and first since the 1993 season.

Though Barry Bonds set the single season home run record in 2001, and had previously won the MVP award four times, his offensive output between the 2002-2004 seasons are easily the greatest numbers of his career. Simply put, those seasons are among the greatest of all time. By the end of this era, Bonds was the player with the most MVP awards in history, and the only player to ever win four consecutive MVP awards. Bonds had a batting average of .358 between 2002-2004, winning the batting title in 2002 and 2004. He had an on-base percentage of .575 and a slugging percentage of .786 over the three season span. These staggering numbers are coupled with the fact that Bonds was walked 578 times in 420 games over three seasons, of which 249 were intentional walks. This stretch included the closest Barry Bonds would get to winning a World Series title with the San Francisco Giants. During the 2002 postseason Bonds slugged 8 home runs, including four against the Anaheim Angels while hitting .471 in the World Series. Despite his heroics, the Giants lost the series in 7 games. Though the Giants reached the postseason in 2003, they were quickly eliminated in the National League Division Series by the eventual World Series champion Florida Marlins.

During the height of Bonds’ success in the 2000’s, he also came under great scrutiny due to an investigation into the company which his personal trainer was involved. Greg Anderson of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative faced federal indictment when their investigation revealed the organization may have supplied anabolic steroids to athletes. Bonds steadfastly denied any wrongdoing, and testified under oath that he used supplements known as “the cream” and “the clear”, and believed they were nutritional supplement flaxseed oil and a rubbing balm for arthritis.

Despite the growing media pressure and public outcry from the alleged steroid use, Bonds continued to perform at a high level when he won his seventh MVP award in 2004. The steroid scandal grew during the off-season, and did not let up when Bonds missed much of the 2005 season due to a knee injury and subsequent surgeries needed before being activated in September of that year. Even with a limited number of at bats, Bonds managed to slug 5 homers in just 15 at bats.

Prior to the start of the season, a book entitled “Game of Shadows”written by Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada was released and detailed the alleged steroid use by Barry Bonds. The book arguably played a critical role in the change of the public opinion on Bonds. Despite the previous injuries and the mounting pressure about steroids, the outfielder returned in 2006 and was able to play a full season, reaching several historic milestones. In addition to moving into second place all time by displacing Babe Ruth with his 715th home run, Bonds later broke Hank Aaron’s National League record of 733 home runs when he hit his 734th on September 23rd, 2006 in the Milwaukee, the same city where Hank Aaron had established his career. Despite hitting his fewest home runs in a season since 1991, Bonds still led the league in on-base percentage due to again leading the league in walks during 2006.

2007 was Barry Bonds’ final season, and he managed to improve his overall numbers by slugging 28 home runs and receiving 130 walks in 126 games. His final season saw a several home run droughts, and it wasn’t until August that he threatened to finally break the all-time record of 755 career home runs, held by Hank Aaron. Coincidently, Barry Bonds’ 756th home run came off Washington Nationals pitcher Michael Bacsik. Bacsik’s father, Mike Bacsik, had faced Hank Aaron soon after he hit his 755th home run.

In late September of that year, the San Francisco Giants announced that they would not re-sign Barry Bonds for the 2008 season, and in October he officially became a free agent. Despite his agent’s expected interest from many ballclubs, the all-time leader in home runs went unsigned for both the 2008 and 2009 seasons. Though he has not officially retired, Barry Bonds will be eligible for induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame following the 2012 season.

Much of Barry Bonds’ story remains to be played out. While not on the field, the impending resolution of the BALCO scandal and eventual place he will take on the ballot for Hall of Fame consideration will undoubtedly gain as much interest to baseball fans as his illustrious career did.

Greg Maddux, Major League Pitcher

This is a biography originally written for a baseball website, but before any contracts were signed, they decided to go in a different direction creatively. So, I was left with a really long biography that reads like a wikipedia page. Feel free to critique this article, or praise it, or whatever. It’s here because otherwise it wouldn’t see the light of day.

Greg Maddux was born on April 14th, 1966, and is the younger brother of another former major league baseball player, Mike Maddux. Though his brother was drafted before him, he reached the major leagues just a few months after him. Born in Texas, Maddux spent some of his youth in Spain before attending high school in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The younger Maddux was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 2nd round of the 1984 draft, and after two seasons toiling in the lowest levels of the minor leagues powered his way through the minor leagues to reach the majors by 1986. After starting the season with the Single A Pittsfield Cubs, he compiled a 14-4 record between Pittsfield and Iowa before being called up to the big league club.

On September 2nd, 1986,  Maddux entered the bottom of the 17th inning of a tie game against the Houston Astros as a pinch runner. Failing to score, he came on to make his pitching debut in the top of the 18th inning, facing the bottom of the Astros’ batting order. After retiring Craig Reynolds on a groundball to second base, pinch hitter Billy Hatcher welcomed the 20 year old right hander to the major leagues with a home run that gave the Astros the lead they would not relinquish. However, the home run didn’t rattle Maddux. In his next outing, his first major league start, he threw a complete game victory over the Cincinnati Reds, his first of 109 eventual complete games.

As the youngest player in the major leagues in 1986, Maddux had a few ups and downs during his first season. With 14 losses to go along with 6 wins in 1987 that included a brief demotion to Triple A Iowa, his erratic success continued into his sophmore year. This includes his July 1st, 1987 start in which he threw a complete game 4 hit shutout against the Montreal Expos, and wound up finishing just three innings against the same team three weeks later.

Whatever changes “Mad Dog” Maddux made between 1987 and 1988 seemed to click. The 22 year old emerged as the ace of the Chicago Cubs, winning 18 games, with 9 complete games and 3 shutouts en route to his first of eight all-star nominations.

Maddux improved upon his 1987 campaign with a 19-12 season in 1988, for which he garnered a third place finish in the National League Cy Young Award voting and had his first taste of postseason baseball when he helped propel the Cubs to just their second division title ever, putting them in the playoffs against the San Francisco Giants. He failed spectacularly in his first career postseason start, allowing 8 runs on 8 hits in just four innings of work in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series. Years later, he would claim that during a discussion at the mound prior to giving up a grand slam to Will Clark that Clark read his lips. As a result, Maddux made a point to always cover his mouth with his glove during meetings at the mound. The young righty struggled again in Game 4 of the NLCS, failing to get out of the fourth inning after giving up 3 runs on 4 hits and 3 walks en route to a 6-4 loss and an eventual 4-1 series loss.

Though the Chicago Cubs slid to fourth place in 1990 and 1991 after their impressive push to the 1989 NLCS, Maddux continued to rise among the ranks as one of the best pitchers in the National League. In addition to winning 15 games in both 1990 and 1991, he earned the first two of his eventual eighteen Gold Glove Awards. During these seasons, he led the league in games started, and in 1991 led the league in innings pitched. Over the next five seasons, nobody would throw more innings than Greg “Mad Dog” Maddux.

The 1992 season was truly a benchmark going forward for the 26 year old starting pitcher as he registered a 2.18 ERA while racking up 268 innings pitched, more innings than any season in his career. He won 20 games for the first time en route to his first Cy Young Award, to go along with his second all-star nomination and his third Gold Glove Award. His incredible season also marked the end of his 7 year career in Chicago. Due to contract negotiations deteriorating between the Cubs and his agent Scott Boras, Maddux signed with the Atlanta Braves in December of 1992.

Coupled with 1992, the next four seasons of Maddux’s career were not only his greatest stretch, but it is easily among the greatest periods of pitching by anyone in Major League Baseball history. In addition to winning an unprecedented four straight National League Cy Young Awards, Maddux won 75 games while losing just 29 with an earned run average over the four year span than stood at 1.98. In addition to 37 complete games that included 11 shutouts, Maddux allowed just 746 hits in 946.2 innings of work. During this span, he also lowered his already incredible Walks/Hits Per Inning ratio from 1.011 to .811

The Maddux signing by the Atlanta Braves in the winter of 1992 proved to be one of the final pieces to a starting rotation that ranked among the best in all of baseball even before he joined the team. Maddux slid into a rotation that included 15 game winner Tom Glavine, 1991 Cy Young Award Winner and perennial 20 game winner John Smoltz, and a rising star in the left handed Steve Avery. In Maddux’s debut season in 1993, the foursome won a combined 75 games en route to their third straight NLCS birth.

In his first postseason start since his 1989 matchups against the San Francisco Giants, Maddux stifled the Philadelphia Phillies, limiting them to just 2 runs on 5 hits over seven innings in Game 2 of the 1993 NLCS. He did not have the same success in Game 6, the deciding game of the series. Unable to finish the sixth inning, he allowed 6 runs(5 earned), on 6 hits and 4 walks to lead the way to a 6-3 loss that pushed the Phillies into the 1993 World Series.

During the strike shortened 1994 season, Maddux led the league with 16 wins and an ERA of 1.56, the lowest of any pitcher since Dwight Gooden’s 1983 campaign that included a 1.53 earned run average. Coincidentally, 1994 was also his best season at the plate to date. His .222 batting average was higher, informally speaking, than his ERA of 1.56. In addition to his Cy Young and Gold Glove Awards, he finished 5th in voting for the National League Most Valuable Player.

At 29 years old, the four time Cy Young Award winner arguably had his best season in 1995, from the beginning to the very end. In addition to leading the league in victories, innings pitched, complete games, shutouts, and WHIP while sporting a 1.63 ERA, during the dog days of the 1995 summer he threw 51 innings between June and July without issuing a single walk. Maddux also rose to the occasion when the Atlanta Braves reached the 1995 postseason. In two starts against the Colorado Rockies in the National League Division Series, Maddux earned a victory in two starts limiting the Rockies offense to 7 runs in 14 innings. In his one NLCS start against the Cincinnati Reds he threw eight innings of 1 run ball as the Atlanta Braves swept the Reds in four straight games. Though he lost game 5 of the 1995 World Series, he started and won Game 1 of the World Series in a fashion that set the tone for the series. He threw a complete game, allowing just 2 runs on 4 hits in a 3-2 victory. The Braves went on to win their first and only World Series championship during Greg Maddux’s tenure with the team.

When a pitcher’s earned run average rises more than a run from one year to the next, it typically is a cause for concern. With Maddux’s ERA rising more than a run in 1996, it meant a slight return to mortality, and the end of his streak of consecutive Cy Young Awards. However, his 2.72 ERA to go along with 15 wins still garnered him a 5th place finish in Cy Young balloting, and the veteran righty saved his best performance of 1996 for the Braves postseason. In five starts during the postseason, he held the Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals and New York Yankees to a combined .232 batting average with a 1.70 earned run average. He allowed just 7 earned runs in 37 innings. Despite his dominance, he was the tough luck loser in a 3-2 series loss in Game 6 to the New York Yankees despite limiting the Yankees offense to 3 runs in 15.2 innings in two World Series games.

The 1997 and 1998 seasons saw a return to the norm, at least with regard to the Maddux standard. Despite a combined record of 37-13 and an ERA of 2.21 over the two seasons that included the ERA title in 1998, Maddux finished 2nd and 4th respectively in National League Cy Young balloting. In addition to securing his 200th career victory, and his 100th victory as a member of the Atlanta Braves in 1998, he earned his only postseason save against the San Diego Padres. In fact, the postseasons of 1997 and 1998 were among his most dominating, but the final numbers don’t show precisely how good the righty was. Despite winning 2 games and losing 3, Maddux had a 1.80 earned run average over 6 appearances, allowing just 7 runs in 35 innings. Two of his losses came when the Braves offense mustered to score just a single run in both games.

Maddux won 19 games in 1999, despite his highest earned run average since his second year in the big leagues. It was also a season during which he allowed 258 hits in 219 innings, more hits than any season before or after. However, much like the two season prior, Maddux saved his best for the postseason with almost the exact same results. Despite a 2-3 record, he allowed just 7 runs in 28 innings pitched, good for a 2.25 ERA over four starts. Though the Atlanta Braves reached the World Series for the first time since 1996, they were no match for New York Yankees, suffering a 4 game sweep at the hands of the reigning champions.

Maddux had a slight return to his earlier dominance in 2000, his final season that he would receive a vote in the Cy Young balloting. His 3.00 ERA and 19 wins would become the level of consistency over the next three seasons. Between 2000 and 2002, his era hovered around or just below 3.00 to go along with 52 wins.

At the same time the Atlanta Braves were continuing to reach the postseason, and were regularly bounced from the postseason.  They reached the National League Championship once between 2000 and 2003, winning one game against the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2001 NLCS. In six starts over this time, Maddux again pitched better than his 1-4 postseason record over this time indicates. In four of his six starts, he allowed just 2 runs and pitched at least 6 innings in each contest. His final postseason start for the Atlanta Braves came against the Chicago Cubs in the 2003 National League Division Series. Allowing just 2 runs in 6 innings, Maddux and the Braves lost Game 3, and went on to lose the series in 5 games.

At the age of 37 years old, 2003 was Maddux’s final season in a Braves uniform, and it was also the final time his earned run average would be below 4.00 for a season. Maddux managed to win 16 games and start 36 games, the most since starting the same number of games in 1993. 2003 was also the end of an impressive 13 year streak of winning the Gold Glove Award.

Following the season, the Atlanta Braves and Greg Maddux could not come to an agreement to re-sign the veteran and in March of 2004, the righty returned to the Chicago Cubs. The signing proved to be a great move for the Cubs, as he complimented the rotation that included 23 year old Carlos Zambrano as each starter won 16 games. 2004 was a year of an incredible milestone for Maddux, when he earned his 300th win in August of that year against the San Francisco Giants.

As he entered his late 30s and early 40s, Maddux settled in as an anchor of the Cubs rotation in 2005 and 2006. Though 2005 saw the end of his incredible stretch of 15 wins per season when he won just 13 games, the year was still memorable for the milestones he reached. In April of 2005, he faced off against Roger Clemens in the first pitching matchup between two 300 game winners in 113 years. Later that season, he joined the 3,000 Strikeout Club, becoming just the ninth pitcher with 300 wins and 3,000 career strikeouts. He also became the fourth pitcher with 3,000 strikeouts and less than 1,000 walks issued.

His return to the Chicago Cubs came to an end at the trade deadline in 2006 when he was traded for the first time in his career to the Los Angeles Dodgers. As the Cubs were on their way to a season with more than 90 losses, the trade put Maddux back in the middle of a pennant race, a familiar place for the 40 year old. After starting the season at 9-11 with the Cubs, Maddux finished the season strong with the Dodgers, ending with an overall 15-14 record. In what would be his final postseason start, Maddux allowed 4 runs in 4 innings against the New York Mets, who swept the Dodgers 3 games to none.

Following the 2006 season, Maddux signed a 1 year deal with the San Diego Padres for $10 million, and the contract included a player option for the 2008 season. In addition to reaching a few more milestones, the 2007 season was a success for Maddux as he shored up the back end of the rotation behind Jake Peavy and Chris Young and managed to win 14 games with an ERA of 4.14 in just under 200 innings pitched. The 14 wins pushed him passed Cy Young for the most consecutive season with at least 13 victories at 20. Maddux became just the third pitcher to pitch 20 seasons with at least 10 wins, tied with Nolan Ryan and behind Don Sutton with 21.

Following the success of his first season with the San Diego Padres, Maddux picked up his player option for the 2008 season. Though his season record was 6-9 with the Padres, his 3.99 ERA indicated that he was still able to get out major league hitters. The Los Angeles Dodgers also believed this, as they made a mid-August trade to reacquire the future Hall of Famer that had helped them down the stretch in 2006.

Though his return to the Los Angeles Dodgers wasn’t as successful as his first go-round with the team, he reached a milestone in late September nonetheless. Maddux threw his 5,000th career inning as a Dodger, and won his 355th game in his final start of the season, putting him 8th all time for wins. The other difference from Maddux’s 2006 season with the Dodgers was that the team almost reached the World Series in 2008. Dodgers manager Joe Torre opted to go with a three man rotation for the postseason and had Maddux work out of the bullpen. He responded well in his new job, allowing no runs in 4 innings of work. The Dodgers would go on to lose the 2008 NLCS against the eventual World Champion Philadelphia Phillies. After the season, he was awarded his final Gold Glove award, and announced his retirement from baseball soon after.

Greg Maddux will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the greatest pitchers of his generation, and in all major league baseball history. He will be eligible for the National Baseball Hall of Fame ballot in 2014, and will likely be a first ballot nominee. He currently works in the Chicago Cubs front office.

Minor League Spotlight: 49th State Hardball

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com

For many fans of minor league baseball, the first league that comes to mind when they want to see the rising baseball stars at the collegiate level before they’re drafted by major league clubs is the Cape Cod Baseball League. If you’re looking for baseball talent that includes players that will go on to have Hall of Fame careers later on, the CCBL is a great place to start. However, there is a another league nearly five thousand miles away fielding similar teams under the Midnight Sun.

While this league has flown below the radar for some fans, there are a few websites dedicated entirely to the teams, players, and long history that make up the Alaska Baseball League. 49th State Hardball is an incredible resource that keeps tabs on players that are currently on Alaskan rosters, and former players that have gone on to have recent success. One such example is the New York Mets’ own Ike Davis, who had a strong debut when he went two for four with a run batted in. Davis played with the Anchorage Bucs in 2006, and continues the trend that has been long established in the north.

Since the 1960’s, Alaska has quietly been home to the earliest careers of many players that have gone on to have success in the big leagues. Before Dave Winfield’s Hall of Fame career started when he was drafted by four teams in three different sports, he played two seasons with the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks, Alaska. Several years after Winfield left Alaska for the big leagues, Barry Bonds took the field as a member of the same team. The current all-time leader in home runs is another in a long line of talent that have traveled far and long to join Alaskan baseball teams. Jesse Jack of 49th State Hardball took a look at the roster of the Goldpanners last week, and noted a few players to keep an eye on when the season gets underway early next month.

Alaska is the only state in the entire country that experiences a sun that never fully sets during the summer months. For more than 100 years, there has been a Midnight Sun baseball game played in the northernmost reaching state on June 21st, the Summer Solstice. Since 1960, the Alaska Goldpanners have hosted the annual Midnight Sun baseball game traditionally held long before the ABL even existed.

This year’s Midnight Sun game may include a first hand account of the festivities surrounding the celebrated event by a long time Alaskan baseball fan who doubles as a prolific writer at 49th State Hardball. We asked Jesse if he would take a few minutes to tell us about his website and the ABL, and he was happy to oblige!

Baseball Digest.com: Can you tell us a little about how you were drawn to baseball, and which MLB team you follow?

Jesse Jack: I grew up in Alaska, and like a lot of kids I was always playing ball, starting in Little League and continuing up through high school. Baseball’s just always been part of my life. Growing up in Alaska, which is pretty much off the map — sometimes literally — you really get a sense of pride when your state does something to make the rest of the world take notice. Naturally I became really enthusiastic about the league when I learned about the superstars and Hall of Fame players who came north to start their careers. There isn’t as much of a buzz online, especially from a fan perspective, so that’s how I was inspired to start paying more attention and writing about the league.

As far as MLB teams that I follow, I’ve always been into the Atlanta Braves. I grew up on an island, really isolated even by Alaskan standards, but I remember having cable TV as a kid and having the Braves piped into our living room several nights a week. Our family kind of adopted the Braves as our “home team”, despite the fact that we were about as far away geographically as possible. Other than that, I keep track of teams that have a lot of former ABL players in their organizations, particularly high-level prospects who are right on the verge of making the jump to the major leagues. This season I’m keeping an eye on teams like Kansas City, Oakland, and the Mets. But I also check in with all the MLB teams, a few dozen college teams that are sending up players this year, and even the independent league teams. Basically everywhere baseball is played!

BD.com: There are six teams in the Alaska Baseball League. How do you spread out your coverage?

JJ: My priorities for choosing games to attend will shift as the season goes on. For the first couple weeks of the season my goal is to see every team at least once, and get as many photos and first impressions as possible. This really sets the stage for the rest of the summer. I’m fortunate to live within an hour’s drive of three teams, so I always have options and on any given night there is probably at least one road team in town. I can get a look at everyone within a week or two if I plan my schedule carefully.

My next task is to see every team’s home game. The rush to catch every team as quickly as possible means that I may end up at one stadium three times in a week and never set food inside another, just because that’s how the schedule falls out during the first couple weeks. I try to make sure I’ve been to all the parks within a reasonable amount of time. This does include traveling to Kenai and Fairbanks. I can’t make this happen as often as I would like, so I try to make it out for days when I can cover something special (for example, the Midnight Sun Game in Fairbanks) or catch a doubleheader. At that point I feel like I’ve got all the major things covered, and then I can focus on matchups, getting another look at a draft prospect, etc.

BD.com: How would you compare the Alaska Baseball League to other well known leagues such as the Cape Cod Baseball League?

JJ: Compared to other amateur summer leagues, I feel confident in saying that the Alaska League offers something unique that the others don’t. To their credit, the Cape is consistently stacked with the biggest amateur prospects in the country. Along with some of the other solid summer leagues that have come up over the past decade or so, it also seems like they are a little more upscale than the ABL. But whether or not the Cape or other leagues are better because of this is a matter of perspective.

BD.com: If a baseball fan visits Alaska, what level of talent should they expect if they attend an ABL game?

JJ: When you go to an ABL game, you’re going to see guys who will be drafted very early in the MLB draft, probably even a few first-rounders. In the past we’ve had guys like Boston Red Sox right fielder J.D. Drew, players who get drafted early and command huge signing bonuses. In the 2010 draft class we’ll have a couple alumni who go very early as well. But the the teams in Alaska also have hard-working staff who know how to dig a little deeper and find some seriously talented prospects who, for whatever reason, don’t have the same hype about them.

It results in an interesting mix, and it’s really nice to me as a writer because I get to cover some players that the mainstream prospect-watching crowd might have missed. I have the opportunity to write about players who have tons of potential but haven’t already been smothered in media attention, and it’s rewarding to me to “get in on the ground floor” so to speak.

BD.com: Are there advantages for ballplayers who have the opportunity to play in the Alaska Baseball League that they may not otherwise have at their level of talent?

JJ: Life in the low minors is not glamorous and the Alaska League helps players get acclimated to the minor league lifestyle because it has a unique Alaskan ruggedness about it. The bus rides are long, the schedule is grueling, and the facilities aren’t scaled-down version of big-league parks. Players are housed out with local families, bunked in the back of bingo halls, and sheltered in mobile construction camps leftover from when they built the pipeline in the 70’s. It sounds pretty wild up here, and maybe it is. But on the other hand, I think a lot of players who do four years in Division 1 and maybe a summer or two in the Cape might be in for a shock when they get drafted and end up somewhere like the Pioneer League, especially the ones who don’t have a seven-figure signing bonus to take to the bank. The players I’ve talked to tell me that a season in Alaska really puts a player ahead of the curve as far as making the adjustment to pro ball, both on and off the field.

Though the ABL season is another month off, Jesse is busy monitoring roster moves and player news for 49th State Hardball. In addition to checking out his website, you can follow Jesse and 49th State Hardball on twitter and facebook.

Each of the six teams that make up the ABL have made efforts to reach their fans using the internet and social networks. The folllowing are links for each of the teams:

A big thank you to Jesse Jack of 49th State Hardball for providing a great resource for baseball in Alaska, and for contributing to the Minor League Spotlight article. We will check in with Jesse throughout the ABL season and keep fans informed of any new MLB/ABL connections that arrive on the scene in 2010!

Previous Spotlights:

Bus Leagues Baseball

Birmingham Barons

Pittsfield Colonials

Rochester Red Wings

Next Week: Fielding teams from Canada to Mexico and even in Hawaii, the Minor League Spotlight will feature the Golden Baseball League. The league is primed for their upcoming fifth season in existence and though relatively young, this league is full of a rich history that encompasses all the great things about the minor and independent leagues!

A Review: Silver Seasons And A New Frontier

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com

Silver Seasons And A New Frontier is a story that literally takes you from the first pitches thrown in unorganized baseball games involving famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass’ son in Rochester, New York to the most recent squads that have included the eventual 2006 American League Most Valuable Player Justin Morneau.

Jim Mandelaro and Scott Pitoniak have compiled the most comprehensive study of the Rochester baseball club, as their research follows the franchise through its various incarnations in the early years of the 1880’s through 1920’s before the St. Louis Cardinals cobbled up several minor league franchises to establish a player development system, and what would eventually become the norm throughout for major league organizations.

Silver Seasons And A New Frontier is not just a comprehensive listing of the events of the Rochester Red Wings during their tenure at the top minor league affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals, Baltimore Orioles and Minnesota Twins. The story which Mandelaro and Pitoniak put together is a snapshot of baseball history from the perspective of the game played in Rochester, New York. The second edition of Silver Seasons includes the latest point in Rochester Red Wings history as the top minor league affiliate of the Minnesota Twins.

As baseball grew along with the country and the rest of the world, the Rochester Red Wings grew as well. Through the world wars, the Great Depression, and alongside the booming careers of many future baseball Hall of Famers, the Red Wings fielded a steady stream of quality teams. One such example of their historic ties is the end of segregation in baseball. Before breaking the color barrier at the major league level, Jackie Robinson played against the Rochester Red Wings while with the Montreal Royals, the Brooklyn Dodgers Triple A affiliate. Robinson dealt with rowdy fans elsewhere, but as depicted in Silver Seasons, he and the Royals proved to be a draw in games played in Rochester.

Jackie Robinson wasn’t the only eventual Hall of Famer to play in Rochester on his way to the big leagues. Also in the opposing dugout, Tommy Lasorda, more famous as a World Champion Manager for the Los Angeles Dodgers, spent some of his earliest professional days pitching against the Rochester Red Wings in the 1950’s.

There was also a great deal of homegrown talent that reached the majors over the years that included Red Wings appearances by Stan Musial, Red Schoendienst, Earl Weaver, Tom Seaver, and Cal Ripken Jr. along with current major leaguers Jason Bartlett, Justin Morneau and Francisco Liriano to name a few.

Mandelaro and Pitoniak profile the great players that played for the Red Wings and against them, and highlighted the several players and coaches that have come to define the team and the city. For example, Joe Altobelli had just 166 games as a player in the major leagues and 7 years as a big league manager including his duty leading the 1983 World Champion Baltimore Orioles squad. Silver Seasons gives readers a great understanding of the man who is known to Rochesterians as “Mr. Baseball”, a nickname earned for his winning ways as a Red Wings player, coach, manager and later on as general manager and broadcast announcer for the club. Another example of this is the Rochester Red Wings career of Luke Easter. By the time he arrived in Rochester, he was well into his 40’s and on the decline. However, his propensity for slugging long home runs remained, and his number is one of just three retired by the longest running organization in baseball history.

The remaining number to be retired by the Red Wings, 8,222, is perhaps the largest number to be retired and perhaps the most significant number in their long history. The number represents Morrie Silver and the Rochester Community Baseball company established in 1956 when the St. Louis Cardinals decided to end their relationship with the Rochester Red Wings. The importance of Morrie Silver and the community involvement to keep the team in Rochester is one of the central themes that Mandelaro and Pitoniak touch upon throughout Silver Seasons. The Silver family remains a presence today, as Morrie Silver’s daughter Naomi is the chairman of the board for the Rochester Community Baseball company.

Silver Seasons And A New Frontier is not just for fans of the Rochester Red Wings, or the St. Louis Cardinals, Baltimore Orioles, and Minnesota Twins. It is for all baseball fans, as the story of the Rochester Red Wings cannot be told without including players from dozens of teams throughout more than a hundred years of baseball.

You can learn more about Silver Seasons And A New Frontier and the authors Jim Mandelaro and Scott Pitoniak at the facebook page that is full of information about book signings and interviews related to their book and the Rochester Red Wings. The publisher, Syracuse University Press, also has a website full of information about how you can purchase the book.

Minor League Spotlight: Rochester Red Wings

Two weeks ago, the Minor League Spotlight focused on the Pittsfield Colonials of the Can-Am League, a new team playing at a ballpark full of history. This week, the focus is on a team that has remained in the same city, and has been home to many future baseball superstars over the last 100+ seasons.

The Rochester Red Wings of the International League may be best known for their part in playing in the longest game in professional baseball history, a 33 inning affair in 1981 against the Pawtucket Red Sox that featured future Hall of Famers Cal Ripen Jr. and Wade Boggs. However, the franchise has a great deal more to their history.

They have won 20 league titles since 1899, 14 of which have come while competing as the Triple A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals, Baltimore Orioles and most recently as the top affiliate of the Minnesota Twins. In addition to continually fielding a competitive team, the Red Wings have always served as the launching pad of major league talent. The likes of Bob Gibson, Cal Ripken Jr., Dennis Martinez and Justin Morneau have taken the field as Red Wings and that tradition continues today. Luke Hughes, promoted to the Minnesota Twins last week, took advantage of his brief stay at the top level of baseball when he homered in his first major league at bat. Though he was optioned back to Rochester a few days later, the guess here is the perennial minor league all-star will return to the big league club soon.

Despite having several players that went on to have major league careers that led to induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on their teams throughout the years, the Rochester Red Wings have just three numbers retired. The numbers of 26, 36, and 8222 are not representative of Cal Ripken Jr., Joe Mauer, or even a combination of all the great players to wear the Red Wings uniform. They represent the community connections between the community of Rochester, New York and the game of baseball.

Joe Altobelli appeared in just 166 games at the major league level, but was a hugely successful player and manager at the minor league level. He wore number 26 during his time as a player and manager of the Red Wings, and remained a legend in the community long after his playing days were over. Known as “Mr. Baseball” to Rochesterians, Altobelli actually settled down in Rochester and called it home during the off-season. Number 36 belonged to minor league legend Luke Easter, owner of just 96 career major league home runs. Easter was a hulking first baseman who slugged 269 homers in the minor leagues, including more than 50 with the Red Wings between 1959 and 1964. During his Rochester career, the team regularly held “Luke Easter Nights” in honor of the ballplayer who launched tape measuring home runs.

Perhaps one of the highest number retired in sports history, 8222 is a number that can be considered the one that saved baseball in Rochester, New York. In 1956 the St. Louis Cardinals announced that they were pulling their franchise out of Rochester, and within 72 days the Rochester Community Baseball organization was created with the help of 8,222 shareholders buying into the team and ensuring that baseball remained in the community for years to come.

The community ties between the Red Wings, the Rochester Community Baseball organization, and Major League Baseball remain strong today. With the advent of Facebook and Twitter, the team has found new ways to reach out to fans and created new ways to promote the ballclub. Likewise, fans are able to interact with each other and the team through these social networks.

Some bloggers have taken to using these networks to follow the team as well. A great example is Seth Stohs’ SethSpeaks, a blog that follows the Minnesota Twins as well as their affiliates. Before the season started, he previewed the Rochester Red Wings. Twitter has proven to be a tremendous resource for following the minor leagues for news and updates for teams such as the Red Wings.

This Week: In part 2 of this week’s Minor League Spotlight, be sure to check back on Friday as Baseball Digest.com will review Silver Seasons And A New Frontier: The Story of The Rochester Red Wings, the comprehensive book by Jim Mandelaro and Scott Pitoniak that chronicles the long history of the franchise that dates back to 1899!

Previous Spotlights:

Bus Leagues Baseball

Birmingham Barons

Pittsfield Colonials

Next Week: Changing gears a bit, the Minor League Spotlight will focus on a league that many people may have never heard of, that is home to many future baseball stars. With the help of Jesse Jack of 49th State Hardball, we will take a look at the teams, the players, and a blog that make up the very exciting summer league known as the Alaska Baseball League.