Category Archives: baseball

PIRATED PLAYOFFS or RED(s)emption?

The Reds are trying to get over the hump of being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.  The Pirates are just happy to be here and they may be good enough to run a bit of a stretch.

Which way will this go?

The Reds are throwing Johnny Cueto against the Pirates’ Francisco Liriano. Cuerto has made 2 starts in September against the lowly Astros and Mets. Liriano has had a resurgence in the NL despite an ERA nearly double from his first half to second half.

With the Reds’ hopes resting on the shoulders of Johnny Cueto and the Pirates riding high on their first playoff berth in 2 decades, I think the Pirates will handily defeat the Reds. It could be a blowout either way, but I’m leaning on the side of Pittsburgh.

—–

You have to like how my broad general prediction for the Rays scoring early and setting the pace worked out in my favor.  Also, Nelson Cruz’ 0fer didn’t help the Rangers at all.

Advertisements

100 Years of Awesome

With a few days to calm down after the Red Sox weekend debacle against the New York Yankees, I’ve been able to consume a ton of content surrounding the 100 year anniversary of Fenway Park. Being a Massachusetts native now living in NYC, I have to make an effort to find everything great about the Red Sox.  The NYC newspapers openly mock my team, so I can’t take a trip to the store to grab a 30 page spread about how awesome Fenway is.

For a large part, I rely on the Sons of Sam Horn. They’ve become my home away from home for the better part of 5 years. I visited the site for years before then, but it wasn’t until I moved away from Boston that I relied heavily on it to feed my needs.

There are a few members who have amazing photography skills, and some attended the events leading up to the 100 year event. This thread has some great photos and stories about players of years gone by. Perhaps my favorite story involves Harley Hisner.

85 year old Harley Hisner attended the 100 year anniversary of Fenway Park. He made exactly 1 appearance in the major leagues. He started the last game of the 1951 season for the Red Sox against the Yankees. Though he took the L on the day, he faced a lineup of 5 future Hall of Famers and struck out Mickey Mantle twice! He also had a hit in 2 ABs to secure a career .500 batting average.

This guy may have never even been to Fenway Park. He never played there, as the last game was away in New York. He might be the player with the most interesting playing time that made the trip to Fenway. A quick look at the official list of players that returned shows guys like Ed Phillips, John Lickert(Moonlight Graham-esque), and perhaps most famous for being the obscure ‘other’ Martinez on the 2004 Red Sox, Anastacio Martinez.

Overall, I think the Red Sox did a great job with the event. Millar and Pedro’s return made me think about the impossibly awesome era of 2003-2007. I’ve heard from people that the current crop of players aren’t as likeable as the Pedro/Millar/early Pedroia/Beckett group. I think it has some to do with the players, but I think it has more to do with the improbable becoming the possible, the reality, the actuality.

The 2003 team was classic Red Sox, folding at the end. The 2004 team changed everything, and I think that ‘everything’ includes the feeling of dread. This team’s monkey is off its back, for better or worse. Part of that ‘worse’ part is the expectations of being awesome, with characters who back up their attitudes.

That being said, I think the 2012 team has plenty of characters that can be well liked. They just need a chance to show it. Count me as one of the believers in the team that utterly shat the bed this weekend. If they don’t turn it around, hopefully it’ll be hilariously awful. Either way, I’ll be watching.

The End Of An Era

With apologies to Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz, the recent retirement of Tim Wakefield and (this Thursday) Jason Varitek ushers in the new era of Boston Red Sox Baseball. Truth be told, David Ortiz transcends eras, because he will go down as one of the greatest Red Sox of all time.

That being said, Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek combined for 30+ seasons in Red Sox uniforms, and both have secured their place in Sox history.

New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox

Tim Wakefield Winds Up

Tim Wakefield and Pedro Martinez, back to back in the rotation during Pedro’s first few seasons in Boston, gave me a tutorial in pitching that has stayed with me ever since. Pedro with pitches that approached 100 MPH and Wake with pitches that hit 70 MPH if he was lucky and the wind was at his back. One guy could fool you with blazing speed and location, the other guy fooled you with uncontrolled movement and barely any speed behind it.

Only Doug Mirabelli caught Wakefield more than Jason Varitek, but that’s a testament to Varitek and Wakefield’s lengthy Red Sox tenures more than anything else. Tek caught Wake for just 13 innings in 2011. He didn’t catch Wake in 2010, 2009, 1 inning in 2008, and not before then until 2005 with 21+ innings that garnered Wake an ERA near 9.00.

Tek caught Wakefield on October 16th, 2004 for 3.1 innings where the New York Yankees smashed the Red Sox to a final score of 19-8. Wake had sacrificed his own start the next day to give the bullpen a breather. 2 days later, Tek was in the game when Wakefield threw 3 scoreless innings despite 3 passed balls in the 13th inning of Game 5 of the ALCS.

In a way, the 2004 ALCS with Tek and Wake is a fantastic snapshot into the types of players they were. Wakefield took one for the team in Game 3, and then held the game scoreless two days later. Tek handled 3 passed balls in a single inning, and the Sox came away unscathed.

The above photo is Tek and Wake in Tek’s first start as catcher for the Red Sox on April 2nd, 1998. My guess is we’ll see a retirement version of this sometime during the 2012 season when the team celebrates two players that helped shape an era of a team that became World Series champions…twice!

World Series Connections: Keys In The Bullpen

This post was first published on BaseballDigest.com
The 2011 World Series between the Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals enters Game 6 with both teams looking to prove they belong at the top of the mountain as the best team in Major League Baseball. The Texas Rangers have already proven that 2010 was not a fluke, and they’re looking to put the finishing touches on the first franchise title which they were denied just a year ago. Meanwhile, the St. Louis Cardinals busted many of the pre-season experts playoff charts when they knocked off the heavily favored Philadelphia Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers to reach the Fall Classic.

With two teams stacked with pitching and offense, the World Series has offered one of the most compelling match ups in recent years. Aside from the lopsided 16-7 score of Game 3, the two teams remaining have combined for a total of 18 runs in the other 4 games of the series. Much of this can be attributed to the great pitching that has kept both of these teams in the series. There are a pair of players, one of each team, that emphasis the importance and evolution of pitching, and they’ve played for both teams during their careers.

Darren Oliver has held the middle innings together for the Texas Rangers all season long. Oliver’s dominance in the middle innings was not an overnight discovery, and his career is a terrific example of how the Rangers have evolved over the years. When Darren Oliver’s career began in Texas during the early 1990’s, he was inserted into the rotation and had moderate success. Like many of the Texas Rangers rotations during the 1990’s, Oliver filled the role as an adequate innings eater supporting an offensive juggernaut that had lineups that included Ivan Rodriguez, Juan Gonzalez and Dean Palmer. In his(and the franchise’s) first postseason appearance, he threw 8 innings of 3 run ball in an ALDS loss to the New York Yankees in 1996.

In a July 2004 article in Baseball Digest, Troy Renck of the Denver Post wrote about pitchers like Darren Oliver reviving their careers by adding to their pitching repertoire. Click here to check it out!

Within two years of the postseason appearance, Oliver’s ERA rose to 6.73 during the 1998 season and he was shipped off to the St. Louis Cardinals, which started an seven team(eight, if you include his second tour in Texas) odyssey that lasted a decade and included missing the entire 2005 season. Upon his return to the big leagues in 2006, Oliver became a full time reliever and immediately became a huge component to bullpens in New York and Anaheim. After three seasons in the Angels bullpen, Oliver joined the Rangers for his third tour. His season ERA has remained below 3.00 during his first two years in Texas, and for the last four years straight.

Darren Oliver’s transformation from mid-rotation starter to bullpen ace has played a role in shedding the long held theory that pitchers can’t succeed in the Texas heat. Despite giving up a home run during Game 3, Oliver remains a key factor in the series. For a half-season Cliff Lee continued to dispel the theory of pitching in Texas as well, helping the Rangers in 2010 to their first World Series berth. Despite Lee’s departure for Philadelphia, C.J. Wilson anchors a new era of pitchers who are defying the Texas heat and pushing the Rangers to the brink of their first title. Derek Holland, Colby Lewis and Alexi Ogando rounded out the rotation with regular season ERAs that sank below 4.00.

The St. Louis Cardinals know all to well about the importance of the relief pitcher, especially with Tony LaRussa at the helm. Aside from his Game 5 bullpen issue involving reliever Jason Motte, LaRussa has mixed and matched his bullpen like he has for his entire career, arguably being the first manager to make a bullpen a focal point of his roster. One such key component of LaRussa’s bullpen is a player who has been around nearly as long as LaRussa, 42 year old Arthur Rhodes.

Rhodes was a long time member of the Baltimore Orioles and Seattle Mariners before becoming a journeyman reliever, logging time with 7 different teams over the last 8 years which included missing the entire 2007 season due to Tommy John surgery. Though he has spent 2 decades in the big leagues and reached the postseason four times before joining the St. Louis Cardinals, the 2011 World Series is a career first for the well traveled lefty.

In a June 2001 issue of Baseball Digest, Bob Finnigan of the Seattle Times wrote about pitchers like Arthur Rhodes dealing with injuries and playing through pain. Click here to check it out!

His 2011 season may prove to be the most fascinating of his career. He began the season as a member of the Texas Rangers, and struggled mightily in July. He was put on waivers and passed through in mid-August. Just days later, the St. Louis Cardinals scooped up the veteran, who rebounded with a strong finish in August and September. He has seen action just twice, but has rose to the occasion for both batters he faced. Tony LaRussa has used Rhodes primarily as a left handed specialist since he was acquired, and the choice has paid off nearly perfectly.

With Game 6 pushed back a day, there is little doubt that both Arthur Rhodes and Darren Oliver could see action as the Texas Rangers try to seal their first franchise championship against the St. Louis Cardinals, a team that looks to even the series and prove the pre-season critics wrong in the best way possible, by extending the season by one more game.

Baseball Digest Birthdays: George Kell

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com

A ‘country-gentleman” familiar voice of the Detroit Tigers, and a career .306 hitter to boot, George Kell was the epitome of a baseball man. Between his career as a player and as a broadcaster, he spent the better part of 65 years around the game.

George Kell had an impressive major league career than spanned fifteen seasons with the Philadelphia Athletics, Detroit Tigers, Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox, and Baltimore Orioles. In addition to being named an All-Star ten times, Kell batted over .300 nine times, including beating out fellow Hall of Famer Ted Williams for the AL batting title in 1949 while striking out just 13 times that season.

In a July 2006 Baseball Digest article, Bill Dow wrote about fan favorite George Kell. Click here to check out the article!

Kell’s 13 strikeouts in 1949 were par for the course during his playing days. In over 7,500 plate appearances, he struck out just 287 times. By contrast, he walked 621 times during his career. He twice led the league in hits and had 385 career doubles to go along with 50 triples.

After retirement, George Kell began a forty year broadcasting career for the Detroit Tigers that spanned 1957-1996. In 1983, the Veteran’s Committee inducted Kell into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The beloved announcer passed away in his sleep on March 24th, 2009.

Also Born Today:

Hall of Famer George Davis(1870-1940) was a sensational ballplayer at the turn of the century, leading the league in outfield assists before shifting to the infield and leading the league again at the shortstop position. He was the first player in history to hit a triple and a home run in the same game.

Julio Franco(b. 1958) appeared in 23 MLB seasons between 1982 and 2007, despite spending the 1995 season in Japan and playing in Japan, Mexico and South Korea between 1998 – 2000. He played one game as a member of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 1999.

Mark Bellhorn(b. 1974) played ten seasons in the big leagues, but may be best remembered as a member of the 2004 World Series Champion Boston Red Sox. Bellhorn homered in Game 6 and Game 7 of the ALCS against the New York Yankees, and became the first second baseman to homer in three straight postseason games when he slugged a two run homer against the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 1 of the World Series.

Baseball Digest Birthdays: Roberto Clemente

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com
For a game that celebrates important milestones, it is appropriate that Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente sits among the greatest ballplayers of all time with exactly 3,000 career hits. At the time of his sudden death at the age of 38 on the New Years Eve of 1973, Clemente was coming off his fifth straight season with a batting average above .300, and thirteenth time overall for his career. There’s no mistaking that Roberto Clemente would have surpassed 3,000 hits and built upon an already impressive resume had his life not been cut short.

That being said, Roberto Clemente’s impact on Major League Baseball and the importance being involved in humanitarian activities has grown tremendously since December 31st, 1972, when Clemente died while escorting supplies to Nicaragua, which had been devastated by an earthquake. Roberto Clemente, in more ways than one, has established himself as a benchmark for excellence on and off the field for future ballplayers.

Born on August 18th, 1934 in Carolina, Puerto Rico, Clemente reached the major leagues as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates at the age of 20. For a franchise coming off its third straight eighth place finish Clemente offered a glimpse of potential, even if the team finished in eighth once again during his rookie season.

Bart Ripp of the Daily Iowan wrote about the ‘gifted player and extraordinary man’ that Roberto Clemente was in a March 1973 issue. Click here to check it out!

Over the first five seasons of his career, he solidified himself as the every day right fielder. During the off seasons, Clemente played in the Puerto Rican Baseball League. However, a major change in his off season regiment had an impact on the rest of his career. During the off season before the 1959 season, Clemente served with the United States Marine Corps Reserves, which added ten pounds to his frame and contributed to his .296 average during the 1959 season. The off season change proved beneficial, and he continued as a member of the corps through 1964. Beginning in 1960, Clemente hit above .300 eight times and won four NL batting titles along the way.

As Clemente was arriving on the national stage, he was carrying the Pirates with him. For the first time since 1927 the Pirates were facing off against the American League in the Fall Classic, and for the first time in 45 years the Pirates became kings of baseball when they defeated the New York Yankees for their third franchise title. Clemente earned his first of fifteen All-Star nods during the 1960 season, and the first of twelve consecutive Gold Glove Awards.

From 1960 to his final season in 1972, Clemente hit .329 over that span. Over the course of his career, he averaged 200 hits, twice leading the league in that category. Frankly, the right fielder ranked among the top 10 every year in most offensive and defensive categories throughout his career. He secured his only MVP Award in 1966, in the midst of a four year span where he hit a robust .335.

In a September 1971 issue of Baseball Digest, Roberto Clemente tells George Voss about the ‘Game He’ll Never Forget’. Click here to read all about it!

With the new decade, the Pirates returned to the postseason in three straight seasons, culminating with a World Series victory over the 101 win Baltimore Orioles in 1971. Clemente did his part with a .342 season average and a .414 average in the World Series. Though he played in just 102 games during the 1972 season, Clemente showed as a 38 year old that he was far from being finished as a ballplayer at the major league level. His final at bat came on September 30th, 1972; and he stroked a double to left field. He came around to score the first run in a 2-0 victory over the New York Mets.

On December 23rd, 1972, a 6.2 magnitude earthquake struck Managua, Nicaragua, killing 5,000 people, injuring 20,000 more and leaving a quarter million homeless. Clemente organized efforts to send supplies to the victims, and encountered a government that was stockpiling foreign aid instead of ensuring the supplies reached victims. After three failed flights with supplies Roberto Clemente boarded a plane overloaded, bound for Nicaragua, on December 31st, in hopes of ensuring supplies reached their intended destination. Shortly after takeoff, the plane crashed off the coast of Puerto Rico.

Roberto Clemente’s body was never recovered, despite efforts by even his long time friend and teammate Manny Sanguillen, who dove off the coast of Puerto Rico on the day of his funeral services. Less than four months after his death, the Baseball Writers Association of America held a special election to waive the five year waiting period to induct him into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Since 1973, Roberto Clemente has been posthumously honored in several ways. Perhaps the biggest honor Clemente has received(next to the three Presidential Awards) is the renaming of the Commissioner’s Award presented by Major League Baseball each year to a player in his honor that “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team”. Clemente’s legacy also lives on with his his, Roberto Clemente Jr., who established the Roberto Clemente Foundation in 1993.

Baseball Digest Birthdays: Carl Crawford

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com
On December 11, 2010 Carl Crawford signed a 7 year deal worth $142 million dollars with the Boston Red Sox. Over the previous nine seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays, Crawford averaged 45 stolen bases to go along with a .293 batting average and an OPS of .781. As Crawford,who turns 30 years old today, is two thirds of the way into his first season in Boston, he has just 12 stolen bases to go along with a .245 batting average and an OPS of .660.

While this may cause concern for some Boston Red Sox fans, they only need to look at a slew of ballplayers born on the same day as Carl Crawford to understand that the new left fielder may just need a full season to get himself going in Boston. He may not even need a full season. There are a number of players born today who made an impact in Boston in just a few key games.

One such player is Eric Hinske, who helped the Red Sox to the 2007 World Series. His first home run as a member of the Red Sox broke a 2-2 tie game against the Detroit Tigers. Hinske, born on August 5th, 1977, hit 7 home runs during his brief tenure with the team between 2006-2007. Hinske went on to join Carl Crawford and the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008 and helped them reach the World Series for the first time by slugging 20 homers during the season. He had a World Series trifecta when he reached the 2009 World Series with the New York Yankees.

Bernie Carbo is a player to consider when trying to determine whether or not Carl Crawford could possibly turn his season and his career around. Born on August 5th in 1947, Carbo found himself coming off the 1973 season with a .286 batting average and an OPS of .819 with the St. Louis Cardinals. After that season, he was traded to Boston, and his first season proved to be a bit underwhelming. For the 1974 season, his average dropped to .249 and his OPS slipped to .778. It wasn’t until the 1975 season that Carbo proved his worth. He slugged 15 homers to go along with a .257 average/.892 OPS, and made his biggest contribution in the World Series against his former team. He cranked a 3 run home run in Game 6 of the World Series, tying the game a 6-6 and set the state for Carlton Fisk’s famous walk-off homer in extra innings.

Jeff Berlinicke wrote an article about Carl Crawford as the cornerstone of the Tampa Bay franchise in a May 2005 issue. Click here to check it out!

Some naysayers may believe that Carl Crawford’s best years are behind him. If Bobby Kielty(born August 5th, 1976) is any indication, even players seemingly at the end of the line can contribute significantly. A veteran outfielder with postseason experience with the Minnesota Twins and Oakland Athletics, Kielty split his final season in 2007 between the A’s and the Red Sox. Though he hit just .218 dring the regular season, he played a huge role in the ALCS and World Series, including slugging a pinch hit home run in the series ending Game 4 against the Colorado Rockies.

One thing is for sure; it is highly unlikely Carl Crawford’s career in Boston will be remembered as fondly(or infamously) as John “Way Back” Wasdin’s Boston tenure. Born on August 5th, 1973, Wasdin acquired when he was traded for Jose Canseco by the Oakland Athletics. Wasdin allowed 54 home runs during his three plus seasons in a Red Sox uniform. He also allowed 7 runs in 3.1 innings of work between the 1998 and 1999 postseasons. Wasdin did show he was a capable pitcher, however, when he threw a perfect game for the Toronto Blue Jays Triple A affiliate in 2003.

Drafted by the (then) Devil Rays in the second round of the 1999 draft, Crawford need to adjust briefly during his meteoric rise through the minors. He also had an adjustment period during his first two seasons in the big leagues. If Curtis Granderson of the New York Yankees is any indication, there can also be an adjustment to playing in a big market like New York and Boston. Having played in an ALCS against Boston and in the World Series against the Texas Rangers, there is great potential for Carl Crawford to build his own Red Sox history like the several players he shares a birthday with.