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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Why the Boston Red Sox Should Make a Run at Freddie Freeman

In the throes of a major rebuilding process, the Atlanta Braves are reportedly willing to consider selling just about anything and anyone that isn’t nailed down. Although they have already stripped themselves dangerously close to the bone at the major league level, there is still talent to be had, and their self-imposed refurbishment could be to the benefit of the Boston Red Sox—especially if the Braves could be convinced to give up their prize first baseman, Freddie Freeman.

First base was a series of ups and downs for the Red Sox in 2015. Beloved and bearded veteran Mike Napoli hit so poorly (.207) that he was sent to the Texas Rangers in August. Rookie Travis Shaw hit .270 with 13 home runs in 65 games but given he had never been considered a top-tier prospect, expecting him to continue producing on such a level is a risky proposition.

Technically, the Red Sox have first basemen already on the roster for 2016. Shaw will likely get a few at-bats here and there, but as things stand the bulk of playing time will go to Hanley Ramirez after it was determined he could no longer play in the outfield following a historically disastrous 2015 campaign in the field.  Having never played first base before should give the team their fans pause about handing the reins for yet another new position to the career shortstop/third baseman.

Ramirez is owed approximately $90 million over the next four years and is a career .296 hitter with power. If he is put in the right glove situation, he can still bring back a reasonable return on his contract. There are some ways to get him off first base in 2016, includeing trading Pablo Sandoval (easier said than done) and putting him at third; making Ramirez a jack of all trades until he can take over designated hitter full time once David Ortiz retires after next year; obtain another first baseman and do nothing until the end of spring training in the event injuries rear their ugly head.

Freeman would be a costly prize for the Red Sox, but one potentially worth opening up the proverbial wallet. The 26-year-old left-handed hitter has 162-game averages of .285, 22 home runs and 91 RBIs in his five-plus seasons as a major leaguer. He is also a patient hitter (.366 career OBP), which would fit well with the Boston team philosophy of seeing pitches and making pitchers work. While he doesn’t have a reputation for his glove, he is certainly serviceable. Perhaps the best aspect of bringing him on board is the fact that he is under team control through the 2021 season ($118.5 million remaining over those six years). For a player of his caliber, that is considered a steal in the ever-growing realm of baseball contracts.

For their part, Atlanta has denied they are actively shopping Freeman. His departure would not only create a talent void on their already depleted roster, but it would be sure to anger the team’s fan base, who figure to have little to cheer about in the next few years. However, any team truly looking to rebuild should be willing to listen on any of their assets. Their first baseman is a great chip, so putting him on the market is well within the realm of possibility.

A number of pundits believe the Red Sox gave up too much in their recent trade for their new closer, Craig Kimbrel. A trade for Freeman would likely cost more. Fortunately, the Red Sox still have one of the deepest farm systems in baseball. Although they’d have to give up some top prospects to pry the first baseman loose, it’s important to remember they are just that at this points—prospects. On the other hand, Freeman is under team control for a reasonable price throughout his prime years. That value cannot be understated. There’s no need speculating what prospects would make a deal work, as Boston has a number of young players that have wide-spread appeal. It will just come down to whether or not they’d be willing to part with the right combination to entice Atlanta to return potential phone calls.

The Red Sox have been seeking a long-term solution at first base since the departure of Mo Vaughn 17 years ago. They have had some good ones, but other than the five years Kevin Youkilis as a converted third baseman they have all been short term and more often than not, older veterans. It looked like Boston had their man a couple of times, only to see the player moved to another squad. Anthony Rizzo was a top prospect looking like the heir apparent but he was traded in 2010 in order to bring in established star Adrian Gonzalez. Gonzalez was signed to a massive contract in 2011 but traded the following year in an effort to bring financial relief. It just hasn’t worked out.

Obviously, with the Red Sox having won three World Series in the years since they last had a long-term first baseman, it’s not a necessity. However, adding a player of Freeman’s caliber would be a prudent move, especially considering the impending departure of Ortiz. Prospects are nice to have but so are established young players. Opportunities like this don’t come up all the time, so before any final decisions are made the team should consider long and hard about making a run at Freeman.

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

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Jim Campanis Jr.: Former Seattle Mariners Catcher Prospect Recounts Career

Baseball fans are typically enthralled by highly regarded prospects. After all, they are the possible future of their respective team, as long as everything goes well with their development. Unfortunately, just being young and talented isn’t an automatic key to a lengthy big league career. Competition is fierce and there are never any guarantees. Jim Campanis, Jr., once one of the most coveted young catchers in the game, went through all of the ups and downs and saw his career end at the threshold of the majors. Years after he stopped playing, he has plenty to say about his career.

Baseball courses through the blood of the Campanis family. Jim Campanis, Sr. and his father Al Campanis both played major league ball, and Al went on to work in big league front offices. With a lineage like that, it was practically ordained that Jim Jr. would follow on their path.

Following a stellar high school career in California during the 1980s, Campanis upped his game even more at the University of Southern California. A catcher, he accumulated an array of awards and recognitions, culminating in his selection in the third round of the 1988 draft by the Seattle Mariners.

Although he put up very solid numbers in the minor leagues, he never got the promotion that would have made him the third Campanis in the majors. Following the 1994 season, he retired from playing, having posted career minor league numbers of a .254 batting average, 56 home runs and 239 RBIs in 575 games.

Since hanging up his catching gear, Campanis has led a busy life across varied interests. However, he is still deeply connected with his family game and on Opening Day, 2016 he will be releasing his book, Born Into Baseball, published by Summer Game Books. It will not only chronicle his career in baseball but also delve into other topics such as his grandfather Al’s controversial interview with Ted Koppel in 1987. It’s sure to be a fascinating read.

To connect with Jim, or to look for more information about his upcoming book, give him a follow on Twitter. Keep reading to see what he had to say during our recent exchange of emails.

Jim Campanis, Jr. Interview:

Your grandfather Al and father Jim were both major league players and involved in the game in other capacities; please describe their "baseball" impact on you.: I was literally “Born Into Baseball” so I wrote a book of dozens of baseball stories from my grandpa, dad and my experiences in the game we love so much. When I was five years old, I would shag batting practice and could catch giant fly balls so when I entered Little League I was pretty advanced compared to the other kids.  It kept me one step ahead all the way into pro baseball.  My very first memories in life are around baseball.

Who was your favorite team and player growing up, and why?: My grandpa was the GM of the Dodgers when I was growing up, so that was my team.  I also was a batboy and knew the players personally. They called me “Little Campy” and treated me very well, except for one guy who I wrote about in my book; the same guy my grandpa gave a bunch of extra chances after he kept screwing up.

How did you end up going to USC and what was your experience like there?: I always loved USC since my grandpa and Rod Dedeaux were friends. But Rod couldn’t offer me a full scholarship, so I verbally committed to Cal State Fullerton, who offered me a full ride. When I went to sign my letter of intent the secretary called in sick that day so it wasn’t prepared. I was disappointed but was told to return the next day. That night, Coach Dedeaux called and offered me Randy Johnson’s scholarship and I signed the next day with Don Buford. USC has the ULTIMATE network. My teammates included relatives of famous musicians, actors, producers, golfers, baseball players, football players and even two general managers. We really gelled as a group and I maintain friendships with dozens of guys from 30 years ago.

What are the most important traits of being a good catcher?: Profound knowledge of hitter’s weaknesses and tendencies. Calling a great game is more important than catching a great game. The thing about catching is if your name is mentioned on defense for anything but throwing out runner it’s a bad thing. If you are NOT mentioned in the game you played a GREAT game that day and no one knew except the pitchers.

What's the story of the party you threw as a teenager that was crashed by Bret Boone?: Yeah… My parents made the mistake of trying to take a little weekend vacation in like 1986.  A bunch of my USC teammates rolled to my parent’s house in Orange County and took over the high school party my sisters started.  We were charging kids at the door $5 and made several hundred bucks that night! Then Boonie and his local high school buddies rolled up. I had known Bret since he was 12, so we chatted up how great USC was and he said it was on his list of schools. He ended up coming in for the 1988 season and immediately made an impact on our team.  We were later teammate in the minors and are still friends.

What was your draft experience like, and how was playing in the minor league system of the Seattle Mariners?: This is a story in my book.  My grandpa told me I was drafted but would not tell me by who except that it was an American League team. So that night my mind was racing thinking I would be a Yankee or Tiger or Angel…but a freakin’ last place Mariner?  They are good now but in 1988 they were by far the poorest and cheapest organization in baseball. Yet they were stacked in the minors with high draft picks like Griffey. If I would have been drafted by the Royals that year my career would likely have been very different.

Who had the best stuff of any pitcher you ever caught?: That is impossible to answer since no one could consistently be lights out. Randy Johnson, Roger Salkeld, Mike Hampton, Jim Converse, Roberto Hernandez, Jeff Nelson, Ron Villone, Billy Swift and Derek Lowe come to mind as guys who were unhittable at times.

Your grandfather's interview with Ted Koppel in 1987 garnered huge national attention. What was its impact on you, as a college student at the time, and now later in life?: A BIG part of my book. When the last name on the back of your jersey said “Campanis” in the late 80’s and early 90’s everyone knew it from that interview. To this day, I still get people asking if I am related that that racist, which he wasn’t, and we have hundreds of examples of work with minority and international players and coaches to prove it.  Part of my motivation to write my book (due out Opening Day 2016) is to enlighten as many people as possible to the real man behind the controversy. We are hoping to re-write his legacy.

How disappointed were you that you did not reach the major leagues?: When you can’t control the outcome of things it’s frustrating. When I was on the 40-man roster in 1992, my Double-A manager called me into his office in late August to inform me I was going up to the big team for a cup of coffee in a few games. I was so excited. Three pitches into that game after he told me Willie Greene fouled a ball off and snapped my pisiform bone in my left wrist. Season over. No call up and taken off the roster never to return. That was literally a tough break that I couldn’t recover from physically or within the Mariners catching depth chart. I did have some “Bitter Years” as I chronicled in my book after my last release. It still feels like unfinished business and maybe another motivation for writing the book was to somehow get to the “Bigs” in another way. I’ve come to grips with it now but in my mid 30’s I was dealing with the loss of my ability to play baseball at an elite level ever again. It was like a death of someone close to me but I didn’t understand that until recently. 

Now that you are done playing, what are you up to?: I’ve done a lot of the things I dreamed about outside of baseball after I stopped playing. I’ve played guitar and written songs since I was 15, so I played in local bands, recorded and then took the music to my marketing jobs making jingles. Some are on the radio in LA! I also wrote a punk rock song this year that is currently on a Rap album (I know, Rap?) that hit #8 on the Billboard charts in September called “Sink or Swim” by the Kottonmouth Kings. Right out of baseball, I worked for radio stations selling airtime then moved into my own ad agency called “Campy Media” for the last 15 years. I’m doing that part time now as I’m getting into technology with SaaS (Software as a Service) for a Fortune 1000 company. Hey, gotta keep growing, right? The book “Born Into Baseball” is scheduled to be released on Opening Day 2016 from Summer Games Books. I’m very excited about the book and hope to share an insider’s view of our beloved game.

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

Thursday, November 19, 2015

David Ortiz: What He Means to the Boston Red Sox and Me

I’m a little late to the game in putting out a few thoughts about David Ortiz’s recent announcement that he will be retiring as a player following the 2016 season with the Boston Red Sox. A lot has already been written about his impending departure and legacy but I’ll add a bit more because it’s better late than never.

After Ortiz first joined the Red Sox in 2003, my initial impressions weren’t favorable. I had picked him up on my fantasy team, as experts had crowed about his potential to hit 20 home runs as part of a potent Boston lineup. However, by the end of June, he was hitting just .254 with four home runs, and splitting time with Jeremy Giambi. Then, all of a sudden, something clicked and he went on to hit .286 with 27 home runs over his final 75 games. Needless to say, it helped catapult me to my league finals and made me an instant fan.  It was also the springboard for his career that is now going into its 14th and final successful season in the Hub.

There’s little need to hash out Ortiz’s numbers. He has 503 home runs, 2,303 hits and been an integral part of three championship teams after the franchise went an agonizing 86 years without one. Without question, he’s on the Mt. Rushmore of all-time Red Sox greats. Only a vague connection to PEDs will possibly keep him out of the Hall of Fame.

While Ortiz delighted Boston fans for well over a decade, he could occasionally be a bit to take. While always seeming to be a great teammate, he also had a habit of finding the spotlight in unattractive ways like arguing over a scorer’s call or lamenting his contract status.

Ultimately, Ortiz’s positives overwhelmed any negatives. His jovial hand clapping between pitches and clutch hitting (There may be no scientific way to prove clutch play but try saying he wasn’t an absolute beast when the games meant the most) provided the kind of infectious fun that makes baseball so great. Even his controversial posturing after home runs made the game better (unless you were on the opposing team).

It wasn’t just his production that made Ortiz such a popular figure with Boston fans. He was much more relatable as an everyman than your typical modern athlete. With a moon face and a body type reminiscent to Babe Ruth, he didn’t cut the imposing figure of a chiseled Adonis. Additionally, his arrival in Boston after a failed stint as a top prospect of the Minnesota Twins gave him an air of redemption that everyone likes to see in sports and in everyday life. He did heroic things while appearing as someone you might encounter at your neighborhood bar. He is someone that even an author couldn’t make up.

2016 will be an extensive farewell tour for the man affectionately known as Big Papi. Fans and opponents will line up to heap him with praise and well wishes. Ultimately, he will be much deserving of it all and leave the Red Sox with a hole that will never be truly filled.

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

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Tom Gamboa: A Baseball Life

In baseball, players typically receive all the glory when it comes to contributions to the game. After all, it’s a lot easier to recognize someone who has accumulated statistics or made a spectacular play that is captured on film. However, there are many other to be celebrated—those identify and help the players reach their fullest potential. One of the best in recent years is Tom Gamboa, who has handled numerous roles as scout, coach and manager, and is still building his résumé.

A college player in the 1960s, Gamboa was a good player but quickly realized that if he were to stay in the game he would need to do so in a different capacity. He initially found work as a scout and parlayed that into a career now in its fifth decade of various roles in baseball. He has managed 11 years in the minors, to the tune of a .532 winning percentage—including managing the Brooklyn Cyclones (the Single-A team of the New York Mets) for the past two years. He has also served as coach for a variety of minor league and major league teams.

Despite all of the great work he has done, his biggest moment in the baseball spotlight came in extremely unfortunate circumstances. In 2002, while coaching first base for the Kansas City Royals in Chicago’s Comiskey Park, he was the victim of an unprovoked attack by two fans who rushed him during the game while his back was turned. Fortunately, Gamboa was able to persevere and continue his career.

At the age of 67, Gamboa is still going strong with his baseball career. Although he is dedicated to the game, he is an even more dedicated father. Who knows when he will decide to call it a career and move on to something different. Honestly, that will probably never happen to this baseball lifer, who remains a behind-the-scene jewel of the game.

Tom Gamboa Interview

You had a great playing career with UC Santa Barbara; what position did you play and how long did you pursue a professional playing career?: I played mostly center field but also a little bit of first base. After college I played two years in Canada and was a player/manager and a two-year All Star, but I quickly realized there were a lot better players than me and my future would be in coaching.

How did you land your first job with a major league team (scout for the Baltimore Orioles in 1973)?: While in college I played four years of summer ball in the California Collegiate League with a team of the Baltimore Orioles and my manager became a top scout with Baltimore. With his influence I was hired as a scout in 1974, which started my 10-year scouting career.

Who is the best player you ever scouted in person?: Best players I scouted would be Ozzie Smith, Shawn Dunston, Gary Sheffield and Barry Bonds. Best players I was involved with signing would be Dale Sveum and Dion James.

Out of scouting, coaching or managing, which is the toughest, and which do you enjoy the most?: Scouting would be the toughest for me. Very difficult to project what type of player a high school youngster will be in five years. A lot of projection is involved and the competition gets so much better from high school to college to minor leagues to the major leagues!

What is the most talented team you have ever coached or managed?: My most talented team would be in Puerto Rico in the winter of 1988-89; the Mayaguez Indios. More than 20 players on that team went on to have extensive major league careers. The most notable would be third baseman Ken Caminiti, center fielder Steve Finley, right-handed pitcher Roberto Hernandez and right-handed pitcher Jeff Brantley. We won the Puerto Rican League Championship and finished second in the Caribbean World Series.

You were a 20-year-old John Smoltz’s manager for the 1987 Glens Falls Tigers. What kind of pitcher was he back then, and what kind of future did you think he had at that time?: Yes, in 1987 John Smoltz was only 20-years old and was already in Double-A. He had a high ERA and poor win/loss record due to lack of control, as he averaged over five walks per nine innings, yet he was voted best pitching prospect in the league as he had the best fastball and slider of any pitcher in the league. He was a can't-miss prospect by everyone. He simply needed more innings to refine his control, and he also needed more confidence in himself, which he obviously found very quickly as his rise to stardom in Atlanta came very quickly!

When your baseball career is finally over, what would you most like to be remembered for?: Unfortunately, I will always be remembered as the coach that was attacked in Chicago during a major league game as a coach with the Kansas City Royals, but I would like to be remembered as a baseball lifer that had an incredible passion for the game of baseball, and a fundamental teacher of the game who got the most out of his teams and players and also made them better people for having played for me!

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