Top 100 Baseball Blog

Monday, October 8, 2018

Lenny DiNardo: Memorable Boston Red Sox Pitcher Recalls His Career

Making it to the major leagues is tough enough on its own. Breaking through to baseball’s highest level and becoming part of a historically memorable team is even rarer. Left-handed pitcher Lenny DiNardo had a 94-game big league career, but he stretched it out over the course of six seasons. He also played a pivotal role on the 2004 Boston Red Sox, who broke an 86-year drought and won a dramatic World Series Championship that fans had been dreaming about for decades.

The Red Sox had their eye on DiNardo early, as they selected him in the 10th round of the 1998 draft out of high school. However, he elected to attend Stetson University, and raised his stock during his three years with them, ultimately getting snapped up in the third round of the 2001 draft by the New York Mets.

The southpaw pitched well in the minors, but couldn’t crack New York’s roster. In 2003 the Red Sox renewed their interest in him by taking him the Rule 5 Draft. He made 22 appearances with Boston in 2004, all in relief, posting a 4.23 ERA in 27.1 innings. He was used exclusively in mop-up situations, as the 98-64 Red Sox were 6-16 in games in which he pitched, and in the six victories he appeared in, each win was by at least a margin of six runs. Nevertheless, he was extremely valuable, saving the pitching staff with his ability to eat innings and pitch effectively. He was also a fan favorite with his upbeat personality.

Although DiNardo did not make the postseason roster, he made enough of an impression to stick around with the Sox for two more seasons before moving on to the Oakland Athletics in 2007 where he was a career-best 8-10 with a 4.11 ERA in 35 games (20 starts).

DiNardo pitched for the A’s in 2008 and the Kansas City Royals in 2009—his last season in the majors. He pitched in the minors and independent ball through 2013 before retiring as a player. All told he was 10-18 with a 5.36 ERA in 94 games (34 starts).

Now, nearly a half decade after his playing career ended, DiNardo is still involved in the game while being quite busy in other arenas like music, real estate, and family. Keep reading to see what one of Boston’s nicest players had to say about his career and life after baseball.

Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?: My favorite player growing up was Roger Clemens. He was such a bulldog on the mound. He had the perfect mix of power and location. My dad and I collected his baseball cards together and I still have them in all in a binder.

Can you describe your draft experience with the New York Mets in 2003- How did you find out you had been selected?: I was drafted by the Mets in 2001 after a pretty successful time at Stetson University. My numbers the past couple seasons were decent and I had already been drafted before in 1998 out of high school by the Red Sox. It was basically a sit and wait situation. I got the call in the third round. Not too long after I was in Brooklyn playing for the Cyclones (A ball).

What do you remember most about your professional debut? (Getting Gary Sheffield, Hideki Matsui and Bernie Williams in order against the Yankees)?: I’ll never forget my first big league outing in 2004. Playing for the Red Sox and pitching in Yankee Stadium obviously warranted some heckling from the fans in the bullpen. I did my best to ignore them but with nerves hitting on all cylinders, I heard every word. 
I pitched the ninth inning in a Sox blow out. We were up by at least 7 or 8 I think. I just kept telling myself to throw strikes. I ended up getting Sheffield to ground to third; Matsui struck out; and Bernie Williams also grounded to third.

In your opinion, who was the most talented player you ever played with or against? What made them stand out so much?: I played with and against a lot of talented players. Pedro Martinez, Mike Piazza, Frank Thomas, David Ortiz to name a few. I pitched against Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Derek Jeter and Vladimir Guerrero and Alex Rodriguez. I think the main thing these players had in common was how consistent they were over a long period.

What is your favorite moment from your baseball career?: Being part of the 2004 World Series team would have to be my favorite, favorite part of my career.

How special were the 2004 Red Sox, and how often do you get remembered for your role with that team?: If I’m in Boston I get recognize pretty often. Sox fans never forget a former player, especially from that team. That was a special group. A perfect mixture of talent and personalities. We played hard and always had fun. We had mostly veteran players, but Kevin Youkilis and I were both rookies at that time

If there is anything you could go back and do differently about your baseball career, what would that be?: I think I squeezed out every drop of talent that I had to get and stay in the big leagues with three different clubs. Not sure I would do anything different other than learn a knuckleball. I could possibly still be pitching if I had one of those. Haha.

What role does music play in your life?: I’ve always been a huge music fan. Some of my earliest memories are listening to tunes with my dad. The Beatles, Rolling Stones,  The Who among many others were a constant soundtrack for me while growing up. I learned to play guitar as a way to waste time in the minor leagues and it’s become therapy. I use it to relax and also as a challenge.

What are you up to since retiring as a player?: These days I live in Rhode Island. I’m raising a family while working for NESN doing their Sox  pre and post game shows. I also work in real estate. My labor of love is giving pitching lessons around New England. Trying to pass on what I’ve learned is very special to me.

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

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Babe Ruth's Final Game as a Pitcher Was a Complete-Game Win Against the Boston Red Sox in 1933

Before becoming synonymous with slugging baseballs, the legendary Babe Ruth was an outstanding pitcher, who was on track for a Hall of Fame career form the mound before destiny came calling with the lumber. The Bambino became a full-time hitter following the 1919 season, when he hit a then record 29 home runs and was traded by the Boston Red Sox that offseason to the New York Yankees.

After joining the Yankees, Ruth went on to hit hundreds of home runs and win four World Series titles. However, he never fully gave up pitching, and occasionally toed the rubber every, with his last official appearance on the mound coming in 1933 when he pitched a complete game win at the age of 38 on the last day of the regular season; and just more than three years after his last pitching appearance.

In 1933 the Yankees were in an unfamiliar place for them; not in first. The Washington Senators ended up winning 99 games and taking the division by seven games over New York. Thus, on October first of that year, when the Yankees hosted the Red Sox for the final regular season game, the team had nothing significant at stake by letting Ruth take up his old occupation one last time.

Although Ruth hit .301 with 34 home runs, 104 RBIs and a league-leading 114 walks that season, it appeared he was finally in decline. After all, it was the lowest number of home runs he had hit in a full season since 1919, and his 1.023 OPS was below 1.100 for the first time in seven seasons.

The Red Sox were a second division team in 1933. They ended up at 63-86; only saved from last place by the even more putrid St. Louis Browns, who finished a full nine games behind them. Boston‘s problem was that they had no offensive firepower. Only one player (Roy Johnson) had double digit home runs, and then just barely with his 10. Unfortunately, their other problem was that they had no pitching firepower either, as only Bob Weiland (3.84) had an ERA below four.

The proverbial cherry was placed on Boston’s sundae that first day of October, as the rotund Ruth went out and tossed nine job-getting-done innings and beat his former team 6-5. A few notes about the outing, courtesy FanGraphs and Baseball Reference:

An approximate 25,000 fans showed up to see the spectacle. This was about five times the size of an average crowd at a Yankees game that season. It also represented nearly 10 percent of the entire Boston gate for the year (estimated 268,715 in 1933 attendance).

Ruth permitted 12 hits (11 singles and a double by the immortal George Stumpf). He walked three batters, but did not record any strikeouts.

New York outfielders were kept busy, as 21 of the 27 outs were recorded through the air.

Ruth helped his own cause by batting his customary cleanup and hitting his 34th home run of the season (and 686th of his career) in the bottom of the fifth inning.

The Yankees obviously had a far superior team to the Red Sox in 1933. Judging from the stat line alone, Ruth did not have to do much to keep his team in the game. 

Nevertheless, he earned the “W,” which was the 94th and final victory of his career—marking the final time he ever took to a major league pitching mound.

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

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Jackie Bradley Jr.'s Consistent Inconsistency

Boston Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. has never become a star, but is a very useful player. He shines with his glove and has occasional bursts with his bat. However, this is the product of being one of the streakiest players in baseball. He goes for long stretches playing like a dud (with the bat) and then will catch fire and be close to elite for quite a spell. The second half of the 2018 season has been one of his better streaks, and the team will need him to sustain this as they head into the postseason with major expectations.

In parts of six seasons with Boston, Bradley has combined to hit .237 with 69 home runs and 290 RBIs. While he consistently plays Gold Glove-caliber defense, he has yet to put out a full season of consistent offense. He has traditionally started out strong and finished seasons on downward slides. Heading into this year his batting average/on base percentage/slugging splits for the first half of the season (in which he has been with Boston the majority of the year) versus the second half has looked like this:

2014 First Half-  .227/.305/.311
2014 Second Half- .126/.162/.153
2016 First Half- .296/.378/.548
2016 Second Half- .233/.315/.412
2017 First Half- .280/.363/.490
2017 Second Half- .204/.277/.302

In 2018 Bradley is hitting a modest .231 with 12 home runs, 57 RBIs and a career-high 16 stolen bases. Although he has experienced the same vastly different halves, he has bucked tradition and actually gotten better as this season has worn on:

2018 First Half- .210/.297/.345
2018 Second Half- /.267/.333/.485

The change in his 2018 fortunes is rather obvious, as he is hitting .349 when he puts the ball in play during the second half of the season, compared to a .265 mark during the first half. His .297 career BABIP suggests his current hot streak is based more on luck than skill, but that has the room to find more consistency with the bat.

This season has been all about inconsistency for Bradley. In addition to his first and second-half splits, he is hitting .183 against left-handed pitching versus .246 against righties. He is hitting a very respectable .274 at Fenway, but an anemic .190 on the road. He has also been almost non-existent in losses in which he has played this year, hitting .138 with no home runs and 3 RBIs in 43 such games.

Barring a major drop off in the closing weeks of the season, 2018 will mark the fourth straight season of Bradley contributing at least a 2.0 WAR (Baseball Reference). His high is 5.5 in 2016, and he is currently at 2.1 this year. Those numbers suggest that consistency is a major factor holding him back from knocking on the door of star (or at least All Star) status.

Bradley is 28, so the window for him to prove he is more than he appears to be now (a very useful, but streaky player) is gradually closing. The former first-round draft choice is one of the most engaging players the team has had in recent memory and obviously possesses a lot of talent. He will be looked upon to contribute to their current playoff run, but his ability to even out his game could make him in Boston for many years to come.

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

Friday, September 14, 2018

Greg Litton: Baseball's Mr. Versatile

When discussing baseball prospects, versatility is not a skill that rises to the top. People want to know how fast someone can throw or how much powers they have more than whether they can do a lot of little things. However, this ability has served some players well and allowed them to have productive careers in the major leagues. A great example of this is Greg Litton.

Litton was the 10th overall selection in the 9184 MLB draft, selected out of Pensacola Junior College by the San Francisco Giants. A second baseman, he performed solidly in the minors, but had his path blocked to the majors by veteran Robby Thompson, who debuted in 1986 and finished second in the National league Rookie of the Year voting.

Finally, in 1989, the right-handed Litton got the call to San Francisco. Thompson was entrenched as the starter, so the rookie had to find other ways to find the field. He did this by playing all over the field—eventually playing at every position at least once besides center field. This versatility led to a six-year major league career with the Giants, Seattle Mariners and Boston Red Sox (His last season in the majors was 1994 with Boston).

Litton’s best season was in 1993 with the Mariners. He appeared in 72 games, hitting .299 with three home runs and 25 RBIs. For his career, he appeared in a total of 374 games at the big league level, batting a combined .241 with 13 home runs and 97 RBIs.

He has continued to be versatile in his post baseball life. Keep reading for more about his baseball career and what he is up to now.

Greg Litton Interview

Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?: Pete Rose was my idol because he wasn't the most talented but went all out every play and was willing to do whatever it took to win, not make himself look better.

Can you describe your draft experience with the San Francisco Giants in 1984- How did you find out you had been selected?: Funny cause I don't really remember. I knew I was gonna get drafted that year and was probably on the golf course.

Who was your favorite coach or manager, and why?: Lou Pinella. He was extremely emotional, but managed the game well, used his bench extremely well and kept all of us sharp by playing us on a somewhat regular basis.  That helped us do a better job when we were needed.  

What do you remember most about your major league debut?: Getting plunked in the knee by Greg Maddux after giving up a bomb to Kevin Mitchell in the 8th inning that put us ahead and then Rick "Big Daddy" Reuschel, a 20-year veteran, knocked Shawon Dunston on his butt leading off the 9th, protecting me.  That was awesome.

In your opinion, who was the most talented player you ever played with or against? What made them stand out so much?: Ken Griffey Jr. or Alex Rodriquez were a toss-up; both incredibly talented and a head above any other player I played with or against.

What is the toughest part about playing professional baseball that most people may not realize?: How long a 162 game season in 182 days is with all the travel and a six-week spring training with only one day off on top of that. 

Who was the toughest, nastiest pitcher you ever faced?: My least favorite pitcher to face if I needed a hit to save my life was Ramon Martinez. I couldn't see the ball off him until it was halfway home and it was 94+ mph with movement.

You played every position in the majors (except center field?); how did you develop such versatility?: I worked my butt off on fielding ground balls and catching fly balls my whole life, but just paying attention to the game I learned about the other positions.

What are you up to since retiring as a player?: I became a graduate Diamond Grader and Appraiser from GIA (Gemological Institute of America) after ball and was a partner with a good friend in a Jewelry shop for about 10 years, then trained and became a Professional Key Note speaker and have been doing that for 12+ years, I was an account executive in the credit card processing industry for about 10 years and now I'm doing residential mortgages.

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