Top 100 Baseball Blog

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

"Rooftop Ruppert" Jones and His 12-Year Ride in Major League Baseball


Ruppert Jones has one of the coolest nicknames in baseball history; “Rooftop Ruppert.” This was due to his proclivity in hitting tape measure home runs in Tiger Stadium during his lone season with the Detroit Tigers in 1984. However, this is just one part of a greater 12-year major league career enjoyed by the former outfielder.

The left-handed Jones was a voracious athlete growing up in Berkeley, California. He played baseball, basketball and football, and was good enough to earn scholarship offers to play wide receiver from major football powerhouses such as the University of Southern California and Arizona State University.

Given how he was regarded as a prospect, he decided to pursue baseball instead and was selected in the third round of the 1973 draft by the Kansas City Royals, who immediately started the 18-year-old off on his professional journey in the minor leagues. He responded quickly, hitting .301 and .320 in his first two years. He made his major league debut in 1976 at the age of 21, hitting .216 with a home run and seven RBIs in 28 games.

For whatever reason, the Royals did not protect Jones ion that off season’s expansion draft and the newly minted Seattle Mariners snapped him up with the first pick. It was a wise moved, as he was an All Star the next season in 1977, hitting .263 with 24 home runs and 76 RBIs in 160 games.

Jones played three seasons with the Mariners and went on to also play for the New York Yankees, San Diego Padres, aforementioned Tigers and the California Angels. All told, in his 12 seasons he hit a combined .250 with 1,103 hits, 147 home runs, 579 RBIs and 143 stolen bases. He also added another All Star appearance in 1982 with the Padres.

As his career unfolded, he slid into more of a platoon role, as he fared much better against right-handed pitcher (.264/.348/.448) than he did against southpaws (.212/.281/.328). His final major league season was in 1987, with the Angels. He hung on to play another two years in the minors and in Japan, but retired as a player following the 1989 season due to a torn rotator cuff.

I was recently able to connect with Jones to ask him about his career. Keep reading for more about “Rooftop Ruppert” and his memories of his time in baseball.

Ruppert Jones Interview:

Who was your favorite player when you were growing up?: Willie Mays.

Can you describe your draft experience with the Kansas City Royals in 1973- How did you find out you had been selected?: I went to the public library to get updates on the draft where I found out Kansas City drafted me in third round.

What do you remember most about your major league debut?: I got a hit my first at bat against Gaylord Perry.

What is your favorite moment from your baseball career?: Winning the World Series in 1984 as a member of the Detroit Tigers.

The 1985 California Angels included future Hall of Famers Reggie Jackson, Don Sutton and Rod Carew on the roster. What kind of influence did they have on the team?: I played against all those gentlemen for years and it was a  pleasure. Being their teammate is something I remember to this day. Also being around them, I quickly found out why they were so special as players.

Who was the toughest, nastiest pitcher you ever faced?: The Frank Tanana I faced in 1977.

If there is anything you could go back and do differently about your baseball career, what would that be?: I wish I would have not sustained so many injuries and truly discovered what kind of player I may have become.

What are you up to since retiring as a player?: I worked for a great company, The Boon Group, located in Austin, Texas. I sold employee benefits to government contractors that work on Prevailing Wage, Davis-Bacon and Service Contracts. These contracts have a built in hourly amount for health and pension benefits on their contracts. Most contracts that are funded with Federal and State dollars require contractors to pay hourly benefits. Believe it or not the contractors actually save money using those hourly dollars and purchasing benefits for their employees.

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You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Baseball Hall of Fame Case for Fred McGriff

Voting for the 2019 class of the National Baseball Hall of Fame is due shortly. As always, there will be much debate over who should and shouldn’t get in, and a wheelbarrow load of whys. Contributing to this muck and mire is the following discussion of a player who is sure to get some votes, but equally certain to not receive nearly enough to reach enshrinement status—but deserves much more consideration. That player is former first baseman Fred McGriff.

The Crime Dog had an exemplary 19-year (1986-2004) major league career with six different teams. During that time he hit .284 with 493 home runs, 1,550 RBIs and 2,490 base hits. He has a career WAR of 52.6, although that number is negatively impacted by his not so stellar work with the glove, which resulted in a -17.3 dWAR according to Baseball Reference.com. With his top-two career comparisons being Willie McCovey and Willie Stargell, he is in great company with an impressive resume. However, about to be on the ballot for a 10th year, he has consistently polled low, always receiving between 11.7 and 23.9 percent of the votes the previous nine years (including 21.5% in 2018).

Upon taking a closer look it appears that McGriff has been victimized by having a resume that is every bit as good as a Hall of Famer’s should be, but one that is not as straightforward as many like to see when considering their candidates.

McGriff has all the numbers, yet is at the same time being downgraded because of them. Statistically, he is a top-100 player of all time in just about every important offensive category. With 323 people having been previously inducted into the Hall of Fame, one would think that makes him a very strong candidate. However he fell just short of the magical 500 home run threshold; didn’t reach 3,000 hits (fell just shy of 2,500); and only led the league in a major statistical category twice (home runs in 1989 and 1992).

He was also “only” a six-time All Star and never won any major awards (Save the 1994 All Star MVP). However, he had six top-10 MVP finishes, including four times when he didn’t even make the All Star team those years.

McGriff was remarkably consistent with no major outlier seasons. Between 1987 and 2002, during which time he was a regular player, with the exception of two years his OPS+ was between 119 and 165. At a time that is widely considered to be a golden age for first basemen, he was often lost in the pack because his calling card was being consistently very, very good for a long period of time and not occasionally the best.

The nomadic nature of his career has also almost certainly contributed to his lack of Hall of Fame support. He moved around quite a bit for a player of his caliber and toiled for the majority of his career for smaller market teams like the Toronto Blue Jays, San Diego Padres and Tampa Bay Devil Rays. His biggest star turn came in 1993-1997 where he starred for the Atlanta Braves, who won their division each year with him anchoring their offense. He never stayed more than five years with any one team (five-year stints with both the Blue Jays and Braves) and was not consistently on the main stage for much of his career, like so many others with Cooperstown aspirations.

Although it is not often mentioned, he actually raised his game in the playoffs. His teams made five post seasons, including two World Series appearances (one win with the 1995 Braves), during which time he hit .303 with 10 home runs and 37 RBIs in 50 postseason games.

Advanced metrics say McGriff wasn’t a gifted or nimble fielder, but the counting stats show him top-12 all time in assists, putouts and double plays turned. Defense may not be an element that can be used as a proactive argument for his Hall of Fame case, but neither is it something that should demonstrably detract from his body of work.

The Hall of Fame’s mission statement says in part that it is “dedicated to fostering an appreciation of the historical development of baseball and its impact on our culture by collecting, preserving, exhibiting and interpreting its collections for a global audience as well as honoring those who have made outstanding contributions to our national pastime.” McGriff may not have the slam dunk case some like to see. However, his body of work is impressive and he displayed a level of consistent excellence over an extended period of time during his career. Not only does he deserve more consideration on the ballot than he has received, he flat out deserves enshrinement. 2019 may not be his year, but hopefully a groundswell will eventually push him towards this honor, which he earned.

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You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Monday, December 3, 2018

How a Former Atlanta Braves Pitcher Has Become a Star in the Art World: The Baseball Historian's Notes for December 3, 2018

Fully in the throes of holiday season, many baseball fans wistfully gaze out windows to scan the snow driven landscape before them. Although another baseball season is still months away, a generous helping of the Baseball Historian’s Notes may help bridge the gap.

-Forbe’s Terence Moore checked in with his thoughts on how Major League Baseball is failing African Americans. From the continued anemic numbers of black players to the recent embarrassment of having to ask for the return of a political donation from an embattled Mississippian Senatorial candidate espousing racist ideology, it is not a good look at all for the game. Baseball is truly at its best played and shared among different people and places. And it cannot be America’s Game unless it is open and inviting to all that call this country home.

-The casual observer may gloss over the career of outfielder Pete Gray. After all, he appeared in a total of just 77 games (all during the 1945 season with the St. Louis Browns) and hit just .218 with 13 RBIs. However, he had just one arm, the result of a childhood accident. A natural right-hander, who had to play with his left hand, his feats on the diamond (He was a career .308 hitter with five home runs in parts of six minor league seasons.) showed he was one of the most talented players the game has ever seen. His glove is now housed at the Hall of Fame, and one of his admirers is working to raise the funds to have it properly restored to make sure fans can continue to see it and learn about this amazing player for generations to come. 

-Check out this clip of Hall-of-Fame outfielder Ty Cobb being interviewed in 1955. A highlight is his discussion of an at-bat he once had against pitcher Rube Waddell.

-Additionally, here is some brief footage of legendary pitcher Christy Mathewson warming up before games. “Big Six” won 373 games during an epic career that saw him as the biggest star in baseball during his career. He ended up serving in World War I and ultimately he died in 1925 at the age of 45 because of complications of being exposed to poisonous gas during his service.

-Production from the designated hitter position can vary league-wide from year to year. Matt Monagan from MLB.com says that the year that has seen the best DH production was 1995. Check out his thoughts to see why.

-Slugger Jose Bautista has bashed 344 home runs during a 15-year big league career. He is still seeking a home for 2019, but in the meantime has received an honor that may rival his six All Star selections and four top-ten MVP finishes. An entomologist recently discovered a new species of beetle and named it (Sicoderus bautistai) after the star. The scientist acknowledged that he decided to name the weevil after Bautista after seeing him make a widely celebrated bat flip after hitting a dramatic home run for the Toronto Blue Jays in the 2015 playoffs.

-Outfielder Cleon Jones starred for the iconic 1969 World Series-winning New York Mets as part of an excellent 13-year big league career. Now decades after retiring from playing he is still a star, but in a much different way. Now 76, he and his wife Angela (the cousin of Hall-of-Fame outfielder Billy Williams) have worked diligently to help restore and maintain Africatown, a small community located on the outskirts of his hometown of Mobile, Alabama. Founded by freed slaves, it has fallen on harder times in recent years, which the baseball legend is helping to combat.

-Left-handed pitcher Richard Sullivan spent six years in the Atlanta Braves minor league system and independent ball. He was a combined 20-37 with a 4.42 ERA that time. Although he made it as high as Double-A the 2008 11th-round draft choice unfortunately never got a shot at the major leagues. He retired following the 2013 season, but has since found a new career as an up and coming artist, whose work (including baseball pieces- is drawing rave reviews for the 31-year-old.

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You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Boston Red Sox Radio Announcer Tim Neverett Discusses His Career and 2018 World Series

The Boston Red Sox enjoyed a magical 2018, winning 108 games in the regular season, on their way to steamrolling through the playoffs and defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. It was also one of their most entertaining seasons, as in retrospect they seemingly cruised to the title right from the start. While many fans showed up to cheer on the team in person, many relied on television and radio broadcast to keep up. One of their favorite announcers was WEEI radio’s Tim Neverett, who recently shared his thoughts on being part of the Red Sox’s historic season.

Neverett was hired by WEEI following seven years broadcasting Pittsburgh Pirates games. A native of Nashua, New Hampshire and a graduate of Emerson College, his New England roots run deep, making him an ideal fit for his job alongside long-time Red Sox announcer Joe Castiglione.

Like many in his field, Neverett worked his way up. He called minor league baseball, football and hockey games for a number of years and also did broadcast work at the 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2008 Olympics. Perhaps his biggest break came in 2009 when he was hired to do radio play-by-play by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He remained in that role until 2015 when he started his current job with WEEI and the Red Sox.

Keep reading as Neverett shares his thoughts and memories on his career and this year’s World Series winning team.

Tim Neverett Interview:

Who was your favorite player/team growing up and why?: My favorite team growing up was the Red Sox. I grew up in and still live in Nashua, New Hampshire, which is less than an hour drive from Fenway Park. I also followed the Celtics and Bruins a lot when I was younger.

What made you interested in a broadcasting career?: I became interested in a broadcasting career when I knew I probably wasn't going to play past my college days and wanted to still be in the game. I have broadcast a number of sports on both TV and radio and I figured that I would have a better chance for a longer career calling games than trying to play in them. We all play our last game and mine was a long time ago.

What is the most memorable game you have ever called?: The most memorable game I have ever called might be the National League Wild Card game in Pittsburgh versus Cincinnati in 2013. The Pirates had a long postseason drought and the atmosphere was still the best I have ever seen at a game. That includes a medal round Olympic Basketball game between the USA and Greece in Athens in 2004. That atmosphere was incredible. The USA eventually won, but Greece gave them a battle to the end. 

At PNC Park the night of Oct 1, 2013 was the best it has ever been there before or since. The Pirates won then took the Cardinals to the brink in the NLDS, losing in 5 games. Also, the 18-inning Game 3 of the 2018 World Series. I have done games 18 innings or more in the past, but never one that took 7 hours and 20 minutes to complete.

Who is the most interesting player/coach you have interacted with during your career?: The most interesting player might have been former right-handed pitcher Ross Ohlendorf. I know, random, but this is a guy who almost scored perfect on his SAT exam, went to Princeton and did very well there. He would read western novels while sitting in the dugout during the afternoon and interned one off season with the United States Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C. I was on a White House visit with him in 2009 and he asked the Secret Service most of the questions and they were questions that you would never, ever think of asking. His intelligence was on another level, but he wouldn't let you know it. 

Of course, Mookie Betts of the Red Sox, who is not only one of the best players I have ever seen, but he bowls perfect games on the pro circuit and can solve the Rubik's Cube in two minutes or less. He is a great person, also. Many other interesting people in this game; too many to mention.

What are your thoughts on the recent 2018 Red Sox season and World Series victory? How did they pull this off?: The 2018 Red Sox won the World Series with great pitching out of the bullpen during the postseason, timely offense and with the exception of one potential game ending play in the 13th inning of Game 3, played exceptional defense. Steve Pearce provided much needed offense when Mitch Moreland was not 100% health wise.  Pearce picked up the slack and then some. Jackie Bradley Jr.'s bat came to play at the right times, also.

What is something about this year's team that many people may not know or realize?: Something about this team that people may not know is how quickly they were able to shake off losses or bad performances. That started with the manager and was contagious. Alex Cora was the same guy in April as he was in October, win or lose. I spent a lot of time in his office with him and observed him after big wins and difficult losses. He was never different and I think that translated to the players in the clubhouse. The biggest example is being walked off in Game 3 of the World Series. Cora told the team how proud he was of them after the game and then they showed up after a short night and won Game 4 decisively, effectively putting the World Series away.   

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You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew