Top 100 Baseball Blog

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Ryan Church Answers Some Questions


Ryan Church is the perfect example of a baseball player who was never destined for stardom, but worked hard and got the best out of his abilities in making a solid major league career. A lefty throwing and hitting outfielder, Church was taken in the 14th round of the 2000 MLB Draft by the Cleveland Indians, after completing his collegiate career with the University of Nevada at Reno.

Church put up solid numbers in each of his first seasons in the minors, but was unable to crack the Cleveland lineup. Finally, in 2004, he was traded with Maicer Izturis to the Montreal Expos for reliever Scott Stewart. Church ended up playing 30 games with the Expos, mainly off the bench.


The Expos became the Washington Nationals in time for the 2005 season and brought Church along. The one season Church had with Washington as an undisputed starter was in 2007, and he responded by hitting .272 with 15 home runs and 70 RBI in 144 games. He was also considered a good defender who played all three positions in the outfield.


Church was traded to the New York Mets in November, 2007 and spent the remainder of his career bouncing around between the Mets, Braves, Pirates, and Diamondbacks. Although he typically received significant playing time, he never returned to his status as a full time starter over the course of a full season.


While with the Mets in 2008, Church suffered a series of concussions that kept him out for a lengthy amount of time. He did get into 90 games that year, and played well with a .276 batting average and 12 home runs. He also made the last ever out at Shea Stadium when he flied out deep to center field on September 28th in a loss against Matt Lindstrom and the Florida Marlins.


Church last played in the major leagues in 2010. He has not officially retired, but has not caught on with another team as of the writing of this piece. In 7 big league season, he has hit .264 over 654 games with 56 home runs and 267 RBI. More information about his career statistics is available at

http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/c/churcry01.shtml
.

Ryan Church Questionnaire:


If you could do anything about your playing career differently, what that be?:
I wouldn't change a thing! I gave everything I had every game.

What was the strangest play you ever saw on the baseball diamond?:
A triple play, and being part of a no-hitter in the minors.

Who was your favorite coach or manager?:
Bobby Cox, by far!

What was the best prank you ever saw in baseball?:
Not much of a prank, but dressing all the rookies up at the end of the year never got old!

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Friday, December 30, 2011

Jake Lowery Interview

Check out my most recent submission to http://mlb.dirt.com. It is an interview with Cleveland Indians minor leaguer, Jake Lowery. He is one of baseball's next big catching prospect. http://mlbdirt.com/2011/12/30/jake-lowery-interview.

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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Spoiled Fish Jeopardized Ty Cobb's Career


Ty Cobb is nearly as well known for his fits of temper and violence as he is for his 4,189 base hits and .367 career batting average. His aggressive play on the baseball diamond carried over to his willingness to fight anyone at any time. During his life he was involved in several widely publicized altercations, but one that has largely slipped into the historical abyss nearly ended his major league career; and it was a dispute over 20 cents worth off fish.

The Detroit Tigers started 1914 in fine form, with a 36-24 record by June 20th, good for second place, and just .12 percentage points behind the first place Philadelphia Athletics. However, on the evening of Saturday the 20th, that all changed. 

After playing a game at Navin Field against the Washington Senators, Cobb went home with Senators’ manager Clark Griffith to have dinner with Cobb’s wife, Charlie.  Upon reaching Cobb’s home, his upset wife described to them an argument she had earlier in the day with local butcher W.L. Carpenter, who had delivered fish for that night’s dinner. Upon preparing the fish, Mrs. Cobb discovered it appeared spoiled. She tried to return the 20 cents worth of fish, but Carpenter insisted it was fresh and refused to issue a refund. Carpenter’s refusal to acquiesce was seen by Mrs. Cobb as being called a liar, and it drove her to near hysterics.

Cobb phoned the butcher and accused him of upsetting his wife and calling her a liar. After a brief, heated conversation in front of his shocked wife and Griffith, he grabbed his gun and ran out of the house, later telling police he took his automatic revolver and four cartridges with him in case he needed protection.

When Cobb reached the butcher’s shop, he drew his gun on Carpenter, and demanded he call Mrs. Cobb to apologize. The terrified man did as he was asked, and afterwards, Cobb thanked him and asked what was owed for the fish. This was when the real trouble started.

Carpenter’s 20 year old brother-in-law, Harold Harding, an African American, had heard the commotion, from the back of the shop, and emerged wielding a meat cleaver and demanding Cobb leave (Given Cobb’s connection with racism, it is interesting to note the added detail of Harding’s race in this story). Cobb later told police, “Our little affair was practically over when Harding butted in. He seemed to want trouble and I was so angry I gave him what he was looking for.” 

The two men scuffled, and Cobb pulled his gun once again, hitting Harding over the head several times. During the fight, a glass case and some other furniture in the shop were smashed, and Harding began bleeding from his head. Cobb suggested they go outside and finish their fight, and Harding agreed. While Cobb continued to beat the younger man outside, Carpenter called the police.

When the police arrived, it was clear that Cobb had been the aggressor, but he had also injured his hand. He was taken to the hospital, where he was treated for a broken thumb, and then was taken into custody and held in jail over night. He was released the next day after Harding declined to press charges, but was re-arrested for disturbing the peace the following week after Carpenter decided that Cobb was going to pay for the damage and humiliation he had caused.

Carpenter explained to reporters why he decided to take a stand. “The easy thing would be to drop the whole matter, but I feel it my duty to the public to see that this wild man is halted in his mad career. If he is allowed to go into a man’s place of business and threaten him with a revolver, and not suffer for it, there is no telling what he will do next. If I could have gotten the revolver away from him, Cobb would have had to settle with me on the spot. I am sorry my young brother-in-law interfered, for it was a case for the police to handle, but the kid would have licked that big ball player if the fight had been allowed to go on. Most professional ball players are gentlemen.”

To avoid a trial that could have sent him to jail for up to six months if convicted, Cobb decided to please guilty and was assessed a $50 fine. This slap on the wrist was the least of his worries, as his mortified wife took their children and relocated to Augusta, Georgia for the remainder of the summer. Cobb himself was also said to be extremely embarrassed over the incident.

Cobb had been dissatisfied with baseball salary since 1913 and had considered jumping to the rogue Federal League. Before his plea agreement, several of his friends indicated that Cobb talked about leaving Detroit for good to avoid an embarrassing trial, and start his career anew with a Federal League team. It is more likely that he used this incident as leverage with the Tigers, instead of actually considering skipping out on his arrest.

A newspaper article that appeared in November, 1914 contradicted Cobb’s supposed embarrassment. Cobb stated, “In Detroit one afternoon, a butcher called Mrs. Cobb a liar. What would you do? Somebody had to apologize, and when I forced the apology, a personal affair with me, I again broke into the papers as a rowdy. There have been other incidents, but not one in which the most minute details have not been spread wide and far.”

The Tigers struggled mightily in the 22 games Cobb missed because of his broken thumb. They went 8-13-1 and rapidly fell out of contention. They finished the season at 80-73, in fourth place and 19.5 games behind the first place Athletics.

While this fight has gotten somewhat lost over time, it is a fascinating episode in his lengthy and complicated career. It put his infamous temper on full display and came close to impacting his major league career. Like many other troubles in his life, Cobb escaped from this incident relatively unscathed. He played another 14 seasons in professional baseball, but they came close to not happening, all because of a piece of spoiled fish.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Red Sox Make Quality Move in Acquiring Andrew Bailey


Finally! After months of relative dormancy, it appears that GM Ben Cherington and the Red Sox have made a transaction of some significance. Buster Olney of ESPN is reporting that the team has acquired closer Andrew Bailey and outfielder Ryan Sweeney from the Oakland A’s in exchange for Josh Reddick and minor league players Miles Head and Raul Alcantara. In light of the hauls other young pitchers like Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill, and Mat Latos have commanded in trades this offseason, the Red Sox look like they have made a very nice deal.

Bailey will be just 27 at the start of the 2012 season, and is a former Rookie of the Year winner, who has 75 saves, a 2.07 ERA, and exactly one strikeout per inning over his first three major league seasons. Most importantly, he is under team control for three more seasons, and easily slides into the vacant closer role, allowing Mark Melancon and Bobby Jenks to settle into defined set-up roles. In the high priced world of the American League East, this is a quality move, on both talent and financial levels.

Ryan Sweeney is a decent throw-in for the Red Sox. He is a light hitting, good fielding outfielder, who can play all three positions. He won’t be a star or probably even play that much, but he will fit nicely as a late inning defensive replacement and 5th outfielder.

The players the Red Sox gave up were all eminently expendable. Reddick has improved with each year, but projects as nothing more than an average major league regular. The Red Sox figure to platoon Ryan Kalish (an all-around better version of Kalish) and possibly Mike Aviles in right field this coming season.

Miles Head is a young first baseman in the lower levels of the Boston system, who hit .299 with 22 home runs in 2011. However, with Adrian Gonzalez locked up for the next seven seasons, Head was never going to make it in Boston. Using him in a deal like this is a wise allocation of resources.

Raul Alcantara is the most intriguing piece that the Red Sox relinquish in this trade. He is a raw 19 year old right handed pitcher from the Dominican who already throws in the low-to-mid 90’s, though with reportedly shaky command. Despite only appearing in 26 games over his first two professional seasons, he has already shown excellent control (84 strikeouts and 20 walks in 125.1 innings) and could develop into a special pitcher if everything goes right. But given the long road expected for his development, the Red Sox could afford to include him in this trade.

After constantly being picked at by critics (including myself), Ben Cherington has come up big with this trade. He has turned raw prospects and a spare part into a quality major league closer and a nice piece for his bench. The trade not only solidifies the Red Sox bullpen, but it dramatically decreases pressure on Daniel Bard, who will now have the luxury of a much longer leash in the starting rotation, without the specter of being  returned to the back of the bullpen looming over his head.

Cherington has transformed this offseason from among the quietest in recent memory, to one that will be remembered for the dirt cheap quality he brought to the team. Kudos to him for being more patient and apparently smarter than the rest of us, and waiting until the right moment came along to make his move. I had said that Cherington needed a signature moment or transaction to separate himself from the shadow of Theo Epstein. I think he may have finally done that.

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Decision to Sign Prince Fielder Should Weigh Heavy on Teams


Now that Albert Pujols has signed with the Angels and making the trek to Los Angeles on a road paved with gold, the top remaining free agent is Prince Fielder. Fielder is seeking to make a financial strike matching or exceeding the approximate 254 million dollars received by Pujols, but prospective buyers need to think long and hard before making such a commitment to the slugging first baseman. The elephant in the room (no pun intended) when it comes to this decision should be Fielder’s weight and his ability to hold up over the course of a long term deal.

Fielder’s weight has been picked at from the moment he entered professional baseball. Along with his enormous power, it is something he inherited from his father, Cecil, aka “Big Daddy.” There is no doubt that Fielder is a fantastic player who has put up staggering numbers in his six full major league seasons, but smart teams truly have to question how much they are willing to invest in him. Many baseball people say that Fielder’s weight is a tired subject, and point to his career production as the reason why there should be no issue. However, such rationale is flawed and not a good way to predict future success. 

Officially, Fielder is listed at 275 pounds, but that is clearly a driver’s license weight and not the true figure. There is little doubt that he is somewhere north of 300 pounds, and has been there for quite some time. He has always had a big body type, even when he was an 11 year old blasting home runs over the roof at old Tiger Stadium. While he has carried his weight about as well as could be expected thus far in his career, how much longer can that be expected?

How many of who carry a few extra pounds of our own can honestly say that as we have gotten older we have gained agility and athletic ability? The answer is none of us. Although Fielder will enter the 2012 season at the age of 28, his athleticism will regress as he gets older, but to what extent is unknown, and a major reason why signing him to a rich long term contract is a very bad idea.

Fielder is already a below average defensive first baseman, and it can be reasonably surmised that by the time he reaches the end of a mega contract, when he is in his mid to late 30’s, he would no longer be playable in the field. These are fears teams even explored about Pujols, who is a good defender. Players who are going to get huge money can’t have the kind of doubt surrounding them that Fielder has. At least such doubts should prevent National League teams from making a serious run at Fielder, because of their inability to hid him at DH if the need arises.

You will not hear me say that Fielder is a bad player. In fact, I think he is one of the two or three most feared hitters in the game, and seems to be an all-around good guy. My opposition to a team giving him a big deal is because it’s clearly a bad business decision. Outside of sports, no other company would consider spending as much as a quarter of a billion dollars for an asset with so many doubts. Baseball is not known for savvy owners, but it doesn’t take a great deal of acumen to understand the risk posed by Fielder. 

Despite the red flags, Fielder will be signed prior to spring training by some team who is willing to take a financial gamble in an effort to improve their franchise. Sadly, such moves are rarely worth it. Here’s hoping that Fielder gets his money and lives up to the contract, but if I was running a team, it wouldn’t be coming from me.

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