Top 100 Baseball Blog

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Milwaukee Brewers Prospect Seth Harvey Pushes On

Baseball is a game of perseverance. Skill is necessary to succeed, but so is possessing the will to get past whatever obstacles get in your way—both on and off the field. Nobody knows this better than Milwaukee Brewers pitching prospect Seth Harvey.

The right-hander was originally drafted in the 43rd round of the 2009 draft out of Washington State University by the Arizona Diamondbacks. However, he decided to go back and finish what he had started academically and athletically with the Cougars. The decision was a good one, as he wound up being taken by the Brewers the following year in the 37th round.

A reliever, Harvey has enjoyed success during his first five professional seasons when he has been healthy. He has gone a combined 10-4 with a 3.31 ERA and 30 saves in 102 games. He has also struck out an impressive 179 batters in 144 innings while permitting just 129 hits and four home runs. Unfortunately, Tommy John surgery has delayed his progress and made his road all the more difficult. Nevertheless, he continues to push forward in an attempt to reach the majors and ply his craft on the biggest stage.

A couple of years ago I was able to connect with Harvey and ask him some questions about his career. You can also keep up with him on Twitter. All the best to him as the 2015 season approaches!

Seth Harvey Interview:

If you could sit down and pick the brain of any pitcher, current or former, who would that be and why?: Without hesitation, only one guy comes to mind. Mariano Rivera. I believe he is one of the best pitchers of all time and one of the most mentally strong performers in the game. I would love to ask him about his thought process and his overall development as a player and person throughout his career and parallel that to my career.

Leading up to the 2010 MLB draft, what kind of contact and recruiting were you getting from different teams?: Quite honestly, I was not getting too much contact or recruiting from any teams. There was a point during the draft that I was preparing for a future without baseball after I missed the second day of the draft. However, I was blessed with an opportunity on that final day to join the Milwaukee Brewers organization and I have enjoyed every minute of it.

Can you run through what your draft was like?: It began on the final day of the draft. I received a phone call from the scout that signed me, Brandon Newell, early in the morning. Basically, he told me that I had been selected in the 37th round and was congratulating me. From there, we got the contract faxed and ready to go, and I was signed into it about five hours later and preparing for the report to Arizona.

What pitches do you throw and which one do you hope to improve the most?: Currently I have a three pitch mix. Fastball, change-up, and slider. I’ve been developing a cut-fastball and will have that dialed in by the time I report to spring training. I would like to improve the consistency of my pitches, more-so than the actual pitch itself. If I am able to repeatedly control my pitches and throw them where I want
in all counts, that is a great foundation for success.

What do you enjoy most about playing for the Milwaukee organization?: Milwaukee is a great organization and it starts at the top with great management and staff. The coaches have all been helpful and are very knowledgeable about the game, so combining those two huge factors; it’s made for an incredible experience. I cannot leave out the teammates. The group of guys in this organization 
is incredible and I have made some lifelong friends for sure.

What is one thing you would change about your professional career if you could go back in time?: As you gain experience and knowledge year after year, you find yourself learning how to prepare yourself better. My first offseason, I don't feel that I prepared the way I should have. I was working hard, in great shape and ready for spring training, but there were a few things I could have done different that would have benefitted me come spring. The way I prepared early in my career would be the one thing I would have changed.

Why did you decide to go back to school instead of signing with the Angels in 2009?: There were two main factors that influenced my decision. One was my education. Here was an opportunity to complete my degree in Criminal Justice and finish what I had started three years prior. The second was my team at Washington State University. The program was on the rise and we had a great chance to do something special that next season. This was something that I would never get to experience again, a run at a national title with a very special group of guys. The combination of finishing my degree and being a part of WSU Baseball led to the delay of going pro. 

What kind of mentality do you have to have to be a closer or reliever?: I don't know if there is one word to describe the mentality you need to be a closer or a reliever. You must be able to live in the present moment, not hold onto the past pitch or past outing. A constant confidence and trust in yourself, your pitches and your team. Emotionally constant, having the ability to control your passion and erasing your fears and doubts. All of these attributes allow a pitcher to focus one pitch a time, and by doing that, you are allowing yourself to have the opportunity to have success. 

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

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Bernie Carbo, Ripped Pants and Selling Chevrolets: The Baseball Historian’s Notes for the Week of January 25, 2015

The legacy of baseball is built brick by brick with the contributions and passion of its players and contributors. One of the greatest was Chicago Cubs shortstop and first baseman Ernie Banks, who sadly has passed away at the age of 83.

“Mr. Cub” began his career in the Negro Leagues but gained his success in the Windy City, plying his trade for 19 seasons (1953-1971). Although his teams famously never reached the postseason, it was certainly never because of him, as he combined to hit .274 with 512 home runs 1,636 RBIs. He was a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, gaining admission in 1977, and has since served as a true ambassador to the game. Baseball has truly lost one of the greats.

And now, with heavy heart, on to the notes for the week…

*One of baseball’s most positive and indelible phrases is Banks’ “Let’s play two,” which has taken on a life of its own over the years. This excerpt from The Cubs: The Complete Story of Chicago Cubs Baseball (Text by Glenn Stout) breaks down the possibilities of when and where this was first uttered. Like many baseball legends, there is no clear-cut answer to this question, but there are a number of possibilities that help deepen the mystery.

*Here’s a baseball art classic. This 1909 issue of Baseball Magazine advertises the opponents of that year’s World Series (the Detroit Tigers and Pittsburgh Pirates) in interesting fashion. It’s certainly a much more intimidating rendering than if were teams with more modern names (for instance, if the Padres played the Angels)…

*Babe Ruth is best known for playing with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox but he also played for other teams in his career. This included a brief stint with the Boston Braves in 1935; his last year in the majors. This picture shows the Bambino with some extra pounds and a few wrinkles but handling a pile of bats, his weapons of choice throughout his legendary career.

*Longtime Red Sox radio announcer Joe Castiglione is being inducted into a Hall of Fame for his years of some of the best work the airwaves have ever heard. MassLive.com’s Ron Chimelis has the story. About to enter his 33rd year in the booth for the Sox, the velvet-throated Castiglione has more than earned his status as one of the best in the business.

*It used to be in baseball that if you blinked you might miss a play. However, the innovation of instant replay in 1963 gave fans the ability to analyze plays just moments after they occurred. Sadly, Tony Verna, who is considered the father of sports broadcast instant replay, recently passed away at the age of 81. His work made it possible for fans at home to have a more intimate experience with each game, and has no doubt helped spread the popularity of the sport in subsequent years.

*Crosley Field was the home of the Cincinnati Reds from 1912 until 1970 but became a casualty to the boom of modern ballparks. Although it is gone it is not forgotten, and plans are in full force to have a historic site commemorating the venue in place in time for the 2015 MLB All Star Game, which will be held in Cincinnati.

*Outfielder Ty Cobb is one of the most controversial figures in baseball history with amazing play combined with his often unsavory reputation. This interview with Herschel Cobb, an author and the legend’s grandson, tells a different story about the man often portrayed as one of baseball’s most flawed stars.

*Bill Schroeder spent six of his modest eight-year career as a backup catcher with the Milwaukee Brewers. However, he has gone on to be a face of the franchise, about to enter his 21st year as one of their television analysts. Because of his contributions, it was recently announced that he was named as the newest member to the Miller Park Wall of Fame.

*Major League Baseball has had a barnstorming influence in Japan for decades, going back to All Star teams being sent over to raise awareness and interest in the game. This 1955 Sports Illustrated article by Curtis Prendergast details how the Yankees served as baseball’s ambassadors that year, and had a great time playing so far away from home.

*Fans collect many items as souvenirs to commemorate their experiences and love of the game. Ticket stubs of well-known games and those that were personally attended have always been popular collectibles. However, there has been a growing trend of teams embracing digital tickets and making the paper versions obsolete. One team that has given up sending paper tickets to their season-ticket holders is the Toronto Blue Jays, who will go fully digital for the first time in 2015.

*Finally, I was able to recently meet former outfielder Bernie Carbo, who played for six teams during a 12-year major league career. One of the most colorful personalities to play the game, his greatest fame came from the dramatic home run he hit for the Red Sox during the 1975 World Series. He encountered significant difficulty with substance abuse but has been able to turn his life completely around.

During our recent conversation, he mentioned former teammate Carl Yastrzemski’s enjoyment of “tailoring” new clothing for anyone foolish enough to leave it laying around in the locker room for his devious scissor work. He also recalled a television spot he did in the 1980s for Casey Chevrolet, and wondered if footage of that still exists. Luckily, it does, and here it is.

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

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Ken Griffey, Jr. Gets a New Job: The Baseball Historian’s Notes for the Week of January 18, 2015

The 2015 baseball season is nearly here. The reporting dates of pitchers and catchers are literally just a month away. Once those players start arriving in camps, things start happening rapidly. But until then, there is still much work to be done around the majors.

Although many free agents have signed their new deals, there are still a number of available players who could be real difference makers, including highly coveted pitchers Max Scherzer and James Shields. Waiting this long to sign in the offseason can be a risky move but it can also pay off big time—for the players and the teams. What is certain is that there will be a flurry of activity in the coming weeks, and until spring training actually starts it will be difficult to get a true sense as to where each team really stands.

Now, on to the notes for the week…

*Wrestling legend Randy “Macho Man” Savage is becoming a member of the WWE Hall of Fame. The boisterous grappler, who passed away in 2011, was one of the best of all time but it wasn’t his first love. Before he became famous, he was Randy Poffo, a minor league player for the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds in the early 1970s.  This Sports Illustrated piece details his desire to become a professional ball player and some of his exploits on the diamond before he moved on to the ring.

*The 1985 Cardinals were one of the most unique teams in baseball history. Although they hit just 87 home runs as a team, they stole an astounding 314 bases. Led by Hall-of-Fame manager Whitey Herzog, they won 101 games in the regular season before succumbing to the Kansas City Royals in seven games in the World Series. In this article by the St. Louis Post-Dispatches’ Rick Hummel, the old skipper fondly recalls that squad being the best he ever managed.

*Speaking of Hall-of-Fame managers, Sparky Anderson is right up there with the greatest to ever lead a team. He could also act a little and rock a suit so plaid it would make a frat house’s couch blush. This 1979 episode of WKRP in Cincinnati shows all those talents rolled into one tight performance.

*Steve Garvey enjoyed a lengthy career as a first basman who could hit and field—and boy did he have great hair! He was also a prolific pitchman, including these vintage commercials for SegaVision televisions and Chevy, which both ran in the late 1970s.
*Negro League star Herb “Suitcase” Simpson has passed away at the age of 94. Playing first base and outfield, his successful career was altered by his military service and the segregation of the major leagues.

Although he played three minor league seasons from 1952-54 and hit a combined .324, he was never given a chance at the big leagues, as already being in his 30s and gradual  integration of the majors prevented him from being seen as a legitimate prospect. In later years he worked in maintenance and served as an ambassador for the game and his Negro League brethren.

*Carl Long, the man who broke the Carolina League color barrier, also recently passed away at the age of 79. The former Negro Leaguer still holds the circuit’s record for most RBIs in a season with the 111 he posted in 1956 with the Kinston Eagles. Despite hitting .275 with 57 home runs over four minor league seasons, the outfielder/third baseman never broke into the majors.

*Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully is a true baseball treasure. Working for more than half a century, he has helped countless fans fall in love with the game because of his butterscotch-smooth voice and ability to describe the action. The Transistor Kid was a 1964 article by Robert Creamer in Sports Illustrated that followed the legend in the earlier stages of his career. Even then, he was as essential to baseball as a glove or ball, and finding out about some unique aspects of his work (including an unusual way to wish happy birthday to an umpire) makes one appreciate him all the more.

*Turns out New Hall-of-Famer Randy Johnson isn’t the only Seattle Mariners legend to take up photography as a major interest following his playing career. “The Kid,” Ken Griffey Jr., has begun doing sideline shooting for college and professional football games for ESPN. Simon Pollock has the story. It’s an intriguing turn for the legendary former outfielder. It seems a safe bet he will need to put his equipment down for a little bit next in the summer of 2016 when he should be enshrined in Cooperstown if everything goes the way most expect.

*Warren Spahn was one of the greatest left-handed pitchers in baseball history, compiling 363 victories in 21 major league seasons. Raised in Buffalo, New York, and spending his career pitching in major hubs like Boston and Milwaukee, he wound up settling in the small burgh of Hartshorne, Oklahoma. The Oklahoman’s Jenni Carlson wrote about what led the southpaw to this place he ultimately called home.

*Here’s an announcement that should make all fans of baseball history happy. The entire Ken Burns Baseball documentary series is now available for free on YouTube. It’s a great opportunity for those who have never seen the terrific series before, or for those wanting a second or third pass through.

*Bob Feller was a dominant pitcher, winning 266 games during an 18-year career with the Cleveland Indians. In his right arm, “Rapid Robert” was also know to possess one of the best fastballs the game has ever seen, estimated at over 100 MPH during its peak. Playing before the age of advanced measurement equipment, there were attempts made to measure exactly how fast he threw, including this elaborate test against a policeman’s motorcycle.

*Baseball History Daily has the curious story of Homer Hausen, who was blacklisted from the Western league following a 1900 incident where he nearly killed catcher Bill Wilson with a bat because of their competing affections for a woman.

Hausen got the girl, Wilson lived and both players ultimately resumed professional careers. However, in a bizarre twist, Hausen was himself attacked with a bat during a game just a few years later. Another tremendous find by BHD.

*Left-hander Bill Lee was known as much for his personality as his hurling ability during his 14 years in the majors with the Boston Red Sox and Montreal Expos. This brief set of clips from his younger days is just as eclectic as the southpaw, and definitely worth a look!

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

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Rambling On: Will the New England Patriots Beat the Indianapolis Colts?

Ron Juckett and I break down this year's AFC Championship game between the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts. Who will advance to the Super Bowl? We chat about the game, the factors and make our final predictions.


Check out the podcast HERE.
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You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Friday, January 16, 2015

An Interview with Boston Red Sox Prospect Nick Longhi



Growing up rooting for a baseball team, and striving to get into position to one day have a professional career are two very different things. However, occasionally, players can have their cake and eat it too, as prospect Nick Longhi is not only looking like a good bet to make some noise as a pro ball player, but he is doing it with the Boston Red Sox—the team he has loved since he was old enough to strap on a glove and hoist a bat.

Born in Massachusetts, the right-handed hitting, left-handed throwing Longhi ultimately moved to Florida where he starred for Venice High School. A candidate to be picked in the early rounds of the 2014 MLB Draft, he slid because of the belief he was going to attend LSU, where he had a solid commitment. Then the Red Sox came calling in the 30th round and everything changed. An aggressive offer and the chance to play for his favorite team was enough for him to set college aside for the time being and start his career.

After a slow start with the GCL Red Sox, Longhi was brought up to short-season Lowell, and he really took off, hitting .330 with 10 doubles and 10 RBIs in 30 games. Unfortunately, his tremendous momentum came to a sudden end in late July, as he was shut down due to surgery to repair a damaged thumb ligament.

Having just turned 19, Longhi is still in perfect position to rapidly move up the ranks of Boston prospects in 2015. Heralded by SoxProspects.com for his ability to hit and his potential for power, fans should be excited to see how he progresses in the coming years.

Recently, Longhi answered some questions about his experience in last year’s draft and the early stages of his career. Keep reading for more info on this outstanding young player, and make sure to give him a follow on Twitter to show support for someone who has a very good chance of playing in a Red Sox uniform in the not too distant future.

Nick Longhi Interview:


What was your favorite team and player when you were growing up, and why?: Definitely the Red Sox, I was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, so I was predetermined to be a Red Sox fan. It’s how I was brought up in the Boston sports atmosphere, even in Florida, and my favorite player growing up had to be David Ortiz because he's so clutch! Every time they need him to come through he does and it doesn't faze him.

You play multiple positions but which makes you feel most comfortable?: I feel comfortable at all the positions I play and I’ll play whatever gets me on the field.

If you could face one pitcher from any time in baseball history, who would that be and why? And how might you approach the at-bat?: Nolan Ryan, and I’d look first-pitch fastball or a two-seam fastball because he seemed like a pitcher with an ego and would want to blow the fastball by you, but I’d be ready

How did you first find out that the Red Sox were interested in you, and what was your draft experience like?: I found out when I met Willie Romay, the scout that signed me, at my game and he invited me to Jet Blue for a workout. The draft for me wasn't exactly a great experience because of me slipping so late in the draft, and to top it off, I didn't think I’d get the chance to sign but It worked out perfectly because I did sign and now I'm playing for my favorite team.

What moment or accomplishment from your first professional season are you most proud of?: I honestly can’t pick one because I was just proud to be in Lowell this year and putting that uniform on every day made me feel accomplished.,

What is the one part of your game that you hope to improve on the most?: I really want to improve my mental side of the game because I do expect a lot from myself and get upset when I don't perform to my expectations. But I feel it’s what drives me to work so hard and makes me try to improve every day. Just understanding the game is based on failure will help me because I hear it a lot but I just don't accept it because I’m hard-headed, haha.

Your 2014 season ended suddenly because of thumb surgery. How are you feeling?: I’m feeling great. It was unfortunate but it gave me the opportunity to work on things I needed to work on, and I'm hitting and practicing 100 percent so I'm happy as can be!

How much attention do you pay to all of the commotion made about Boston's great farm system, and where do you think you belong in those conversations?: It makes me feel very blessed to be a part of such a great organization. And I don't know honestly; wherever I am, I am. 

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

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Tray Chaney Discusses HBO's The Wire and His Role of Poot Carr



Typically, this space is dedicated to the subject of baseball. However, sometimes other things come along that I want to write about, and let’s face it; it’s my space to do with as I please. Fortunately, there is something extraordinary interrupting the regularly scheduled baseball material, and that’s concerning the greatest TV show of all time—The Wire, and one of its tremendous cast members, actor Tray Chaney.

The Wire, an HBO drama series created by David Simon, ran from 2002 to 2008. The show explored urban decay, told through multiple points of view, including the police, illegal drug traffickers, the school system, politics, the working class and the media. Set in Baltimore, it’s difficult to identify a more thought-provoking and authentic production. The crisp writing and phenomenal performances by the actors give viewers the experience of being cast directly into that world than simply watching from the periphery.

Chaney is a multi-talented artist, known for dancing, music and writing, in addition to his acting. He was a regular on The Wire, playing Malik “Poot” Carr, a “corner boy” caught trying to survive in a world that had made him an underdog caught in the struggle from the moment he was born. For those in his shoes, the only way to get by is figuring out how to best survive “the game;” day-to-day life where winning is temporary and losing is often forever.

His portrayal is noteworthy for a number of reasons, including the way he and his colleagues worked so seamlessly together. The show isn’t about catching audience attention with the use of A-List celebrities. It’s about telling an incredibly layered story through performances that were often drawn from a place of authentic experience. They may be actors playing roles, but in many cases, they could be superimposed on real people whose lives mirrored the show to a surprising degree.

I was able to chat with Chaney regarding his run playing Poot Carr, and his take on the impact of the show. Before reading on, make sure to check out some of his more recent projects.

His most recent music video, “Attendance” can be seen here. He is clearly still doing great work that is sending positive and strong social messages.

His website also contains a lot of great information about him, including even more of his videos and other work. Hopefully, he continues to participate in these projects that are finding such a widespread audience.

Tray Chaney Interview:

How did you land the role of Poot, and were you given any part, or did you lend any personal experience in helping create his persona/personality?: I actually auditioned with Pat Moran in Baltimore for the role of Wee-Bey. That was actually my first time ever reading for a role on TV as an actor. The Wire was my first television gig ever. I was called back three times, and the third time David Simon and some of the producers were there. I received a call later on that week saying I wasn't casted for Wee-Bey but I had landed the role of Malik “Poot” Carr. My personal experience in preparing to play a character like Poot was spending a lot of time in Baltimore and just embracing their culture in some of the neighborhoods. I'm from Forestville, Maryland, right outside of Washington, DC, so it's a lot of examples of characters like Poot that's what inspired me to bring the character to life 

Not to sound clichĂ©, but when you were making The Wire, did it feel like you were part of something special, and if so, why?: Well it definitely felt like I was a part of something special because the writing and entire production of the show being shot in Baltimore was so authentic. It's such a realistic show on so many levels that people can relate to until I knew I was a part of something that people would talk about for a while. But now The Wire has passed all of our expectations I feel I can speak for the cast. None of us knew it would blow up so huge and have an effect on pop culture like it did, but we did know we were filming something great. 

How frequently do you hear from people regarding your involvement in the show and the impact it has had on them?: I hear from people all the time. The fans, friends, family, and the industry. 

I'm always engaged in debates and conversations but I love it all. I'm just honored to say I'm a part of history. 

Poot is one of a precious few characters who has a somewhat happy ending (presumably). Were you satisfied with his character arc?: Yes, because first off, to say Poot lasted five seasons is a blessing. I was the last man standing, and it showed that in America an individual has choices. Poot had a choice to stay in the streets or take the positive route, and it just proved you can turn a negative situation into a positive. 

What was your favorite scene or moment on the show?: It’s so many scenes and roles to name as favorites. One classic scene was in the third season was when Snoop’s character does a drive by on Poot, and I had to fake my death. That was fun until I had to go home realizing I did my own stunts and my body was aching. 

What do you believe is the lasting legacy and impact of the show?: I feel the impact of touching on so many subjects from the streets, politics, education, media, and regular middle class workers. When you talk reality shows, The Wire is the reality TV show the world gravitated to. 

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

Sunday, January 11, 2015

JFK, The Catcher: The Baseball Historian’s Notes for the Week of January 11, 2015

The National Baseball Hall of Fame has four new members. This past week, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio all received the requisite amount of votes to establish their permanent residency in baseball’s most exclusive museum.

These are all extremely worthy candidates but the voting process is still in great need of an overhaul. Additionally, innuendo and unproven allegations over things like PED use seem to be steering the Hall-of-Fame paths of many otherwise deserving candidates. Character and sportsmanship are the criteria this is used against, but it is applied unevenly, and unfairly if players are assumed guilty.

With widely loved Ken Griffey Jr. entering his first year of eligibility, the next vote should be another interesting one.

Now, on to the notes for the week…

*Sad news in the recent passing of former pitcher Stu Miller at the age of 87. The right-hander played from 1952-1958 with five teams; most notably the San Francisco Giants and Baltimore Orioles, going a combined 105-103 with a 3.24 ERA and 154 saves. The slim hurler was perhaps best known for allegedly being blown off the mound while in his windup in windy Candlestick Park during the 1961 All Star Game. However, he was dominant in his own right, twice leading the league in saves and posting four seasons when he finished in the top-20 in MVP voting.

*Another former ball player passed away in the person of former New York City mayor Mario Cuomo. Although he never made the majors, he did play briefly for the 1952 Brunswick Pirates. He didn’t progress as a prospect but certainly found his calling in another arena.

*Speaking of politicians and baseball, here’s a photo of John F. Kennedy playing the role of an impromptu catcher on what appears to be a beautiful summer day. Given the former President’s sandal-clad feet, it seems safe to assume this wasn’t the most competitive game.

*Here’s a nice picture of dapper former Boston Red Sox manager Patsy Donovan around 1911. He led the team to a 78-75 record that year, his last as a skipper in the majors. Managers sure don’t dress like that any longer.

*Casey Stengel hit .284 during a 14-year major league career as an outfielder. However, he is best known in baseball circles for his work as a manager, which included 1,905 regular season victories and seven World Series titles. This feature by Gerald Holland in a 1956 issue of Sports Illustrated follows around the old skipper when he was helming the New York Yankees. Known as an eccentric and a jokester, his masterful ability to lead a baseball team is put on full display in this piece.

*Two other tremendous managers from days gone by were Connie Mack (Hall-of-Famer) and Kid Gleason (led the 1919 Chicago Black Sox team). This is a cool clip of the two having a brief conversation of their memories of “old time” baseball. They combined to put in 91 years as players/managers during through respective careers, so whatever they have to say about baseball should be listened to.

*On a recent episode of the popular PBS television show Antiques Roadshow, a woman received quite a pleasant surprise when she discovered her collection of late 19th century Boston Red Stockings (later named the Braves) baseball cards was worth in excess of $1 million. Undoubtedly, in light of the airing of the show, a number of collectors scurried over to their nanas’ houses to forage their attics in hopes of making similar discoveries.

*Some really cool signed memorabilia from the Black Sox are going up for auction, including a ball signed by Shoeless Joe Jackson on the sweet spot. Although many collectors would surely love to add these items to their collections, only those with some serious cash will be able to seriously consider them.

*Outfielder Ty Cobb may have a reputation as being one of the meanest players in baseball history but he was also one of the most gifted. The .366 lifetime hitter was a rare athlete, who was head and shoulders above his counterparts when it came to his physicality and the brute force with which he played the game. This footage gives a rare glimpse into the legend, whose heyday came before the time much baseball was caught on camera.

*Before the explosion of television, social media and the mobility to regularly attend games, most baseball fans enjoyed the National Pastime by listening to their radio. Announcers brought the action to life with distinctive voices and well-crafted narrative of what they were seeing on the field. Here is a complete broadcast of a September 20, 1934 game between the Detroit Tigers and the New York Yankees. In case you want to listen, I won’t spoil the outcome, but the full box score is here. It was an entertaining game, and one that has six future Hall of Fame players and managers.

*The old A.J. Reach factory in Philadelphia no longer is the hub producing official baseballs for the major leagues and the masses—at one time producing as many as 24,000 balls per day. While that business has ceased there, the old building is still keeping on, having found a new life as housing. Hopefully, it will always maintain some connection to its past, which was rich and vibrant.

*Finally, left-handed pitcher Al Hrabosky had the nickname of “The Mad Hungarian” during his time as a player due in part to his fiery demeanor. This clip from 1980 shows the southpaw, who was then with the Atlanta Braves, going off on an announcer prior to a game. It’s not clear what the dispute was about, as you can make out just a handful of unbeeped words. Ironically, Hrabosky has been a long-time announcer since his playing days ended in 1982.

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

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Houston Astros Pitching Prospect Jordan Jankowski Talks Baseball

Pennsylvania is a well known breeding ground of athletes. Stan Musial, Ken Griffey Jr., and Dan Marino are just a few legends who were raised in the Keystone State. Another trying to earn his place on that ever-growing list is Houston Astros pitching prospect Jordan Jankowski.

The right-hander was taken by Houston in the 34th round of the MLB draft out of high school in 2008. However, he elected to attend Catawba College in North Carolina and passed on a chance to go pro. The team never forgot him, and four years later in 2012, the they once again used their 34th-round selection to nab the hurler. This time he signed and has steadily progressed through their system, looking more and more likely each year like a pitcher who will have a chance to play at the major league level.

In three professional seasons, Jankowski is a combined 12-7 with a 3.17 ERA in 90 games (26 starts). He has struck out an impressive 10.1 batters per nine innings and shows excellent control. Although he has started and relieved, it remains undetermined where his ultimate home will be. Having reached Double-A in 2014, the 25-year-old is knocking on the door of the big league team, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him there soon.

Last offseason, I had an opportunity to ask Jankowski some questions. Keep reading for more from this Astros prospect, who may soon be plying his craft in Houston.

Jordan Jankowski Interview:

Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?: I'd say it was Ken Griffey Jr.  I was a hitter until the second time I got drafted, and I loved his swing. I used to try and be like him with the backwards hat during BP in the back yard with my dad!

What do you believe are the primary sacrifices you have had to make to get so far in baseball?: You need to realize early that you can't do what other kids do. I grew up in Pittsburgh and I wasn't allowed to play football, go skiing or snowboarding. I wasn't allowed to do much with my friends but it kept me on the right path and helped me stay healthy. I wouldn't say choosing who my friends were was such a sacrifice but you need to surround yourself with the right people to stay on path.

Was it just a coincidence that the Astros drafted you in the 34th round in both 2008 and 2012, or did they follow you throughout?: I think it was just a coincidence. It was funny it happened that way. I was just blessed to get drafted twice by such a great organization!

What pitches do you throw and which do you think you need to work on the most?: I throw a four-seam, two-seam, changeup, spike curveball, and a slider. I believe that I need to work on my changeup control the most.  Going to a Division II school, I really didn't need my changeup that much and I really never got to develop it.  In pro ball, it is a different story, and a changeup has really opened up more pitch-ability options for me.

How much talking to the minor league players do when news of MLB vets signing big contracts comes out?: We really don't talk about it much. I try and just focus on what I can do and helping my team win. We really don't watch much TV and when we do we just want to relax.

Do you believe you will ultimately be more successful as a starter or reliever, and why?: I'm not sure but I am happy with the chance to do both. It is very pleasing to have the opportunity to show that I can start and relieve. I am grateful that the Astros have given me both opportunities to develop as both.

What is the most impressive thing you have either done or seen on a baseball diamond?: I am impressed on a daily basis. The game of baseball is wonderful. You see new things in every game and it is really a treat to watch such talented players play a game.  I did experience my first triple play in person this year and that was really special.

What are some things you like to do outside of baseball?: I have been doing workouts from Cressey Performance. I like learning how I can prepare myself better for the upcoming season. Also, I like to hang out with my family and fiancĂ© as during the season I do not see them much. I like to keep in touch with my teammates to see how their offseason is going for the next year. I am a big Pittsburgh Steelers and Penguins fan so when they are on, I will be watching!

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

Monday, January 5, 2015

Rambling On: 2015 Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot Show

Ron Juckett and I reveal our votes for the Internet Baseball Writers of America Hall of Fame and our hypothetical ballots for Cooperstown.
Check out the podcast HERE.
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You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Satchel Paige, Western Movie Star: The Baseball Historian’s Notes for the Week of January 4, 2015

Now that we have eased into 2015 a new baseball season is on the horizon. Spring training will literally start next month. You can practically taste it it’s so close. With the days shorter, darker and colder, anything that offers a glimmer of hope to ball being played again on a regular basis should be enough to raise the spirits of any fan. I know it does here any ways…

Now, on to the notes for the week…

*Baseball appeals to a broad swath of people, including the famous and notorious. This outstanding photograph of Argentinean revolutionary Che Guevara posing with a bat shows how the game can attract even those you might never suspect would have an interest.

*Julio Franco enjoyed one of the longest major league careers in history, logging 23 seasons with eight different teams. He last played in the big leagues in 2007 with the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets but that did not end his playing days. He played in Mexico in 2008, and just last year, at the age of 55, he collected six hits in 27 at-bats with the independent league Forth Worth Cats. This video tells his story and shows why it has been so difficult for him to completely walk away from the game that he has defined his life.

*Bobby Wallace was a great player; great enough to be inducted as a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He played shortstop for 25 major league seasons from 1894-1918, hitting .268 with 34 home runs and 1,121 RBIs. When he played, not everyone believed his success was based solely on raw talent. Baseball History Daily dug up an article from 1911 reporting how a noted phrenologist (old quack science that believed that a person’s capabilities were determined by the size/shape of their dome) inspected Wallace and found him to have an “abnormally developed” head. Fortunately, he was able to push past this “impediment.”

*The Boston Red Sox have a rich history. This podcast (which I was fortunate enough to participate in) with author Glenn Stout covered some interesting topics. There isn’t a person out there that knows their Red Sox stuff better.

*Johnny (Jackie) Price was a very ordinary professional ball player who collected three singles in 14 plate appearances for the 1946 Cleveland Indians. Otherwise, he hit just .267 in parts of six minor league seasons. However, he had an incredible skill for making trick plays look like the ordinary. This video clip shows some of his best feats, including throwing three balls to three different players with in one throw, catching line drives while driving a jeep headlong into the batter and playing catch while hanging upside down. It’s really something to see.

*Australia is best known for its love of cricket but it also has strong ties to baseball. MLB.com’s Doug Miller details the connection the game has down under going all the way back to the 19th century. Over the years, a number of Aussie players have suited up, with reliever Grant Balfour being the most recognizable player currently in the majors.

*Sad news in the passing of former Negro League player Hank Presswood on December 27 at the age of 93. The shortstop played for the Cleveland Buckeyes and Kansas City Monarchs before his professional career ended in 1952. He didn’t get his shot at the majors until 2008 when he was “drafted” by the Chicago White Sox at the age of 87. Nicknamed “Baby” by Negro League great Buck O’Neill, he later excelled at playing fast-pitch softball after leaving professional baseball.

*World War II veteran Bob Usher also recently passed away at the age of 89. Following a stint in the Navy, he played parts of six major league seasons  (1946-47; 1950-51; 1957) with four teams—most notably the Cincinnati Reds, hitting a combined .235 with 18 home runs and 102 RBIs in 428 games.

*The 42nd anniversary of the death of Pittsburgh Pirates great Roberto Clemente just passed. The Hall-of-Fame outfielder died in a plane crash on New Year’s Eve, 1972 while taking a load of supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. CBS New York’s Steve Kallas took an in-depth look into the career and lasting legacy he left behind.

*The Holy Grail for baseball card collectors is the Honus Wagner T-206 issue from around 1910. It’s the rarest card in existence and examples in varying degrees of condition have sold for massive amounts (six figures and up). The story has always been that the card is so rare because Wagner did not wish to be associated with the promotion of tobacco, and that was the business of the company that produced the T-206s. However, Forbes’ David Seideman has a nice piece showing how Wagner actually had many instances throughout his life and career where he very plainly was a user and promoter of tobacco products. There are some great photos which also help debunk one of the biggest myths in the collecting world.

*Even at the age of 89, Yogi Berra remains one of the most recognizable characters in baseball. His Hall-of-Fame career and famous one-liners have indelibly stamped him in the game’s ledger. In 1959, Sports Illustrated’s Herbert Warren Wind wrote a profile of the colorful catcher. In addition to his reputation that he maintains to this day, in this piece, Berra also showed off his strong commitment to family and a strong nose for business ventures such as Yoo Hoo and bowling alleys.

*It’s not uncommon for popular baseball players to make television or cinematic appearances to capitalize on their fame. One you may not realize did this was pitcher Satchel Paige. The great right-hander, who starred for decades in the Negro Leagues and then the majors before eventually being enshrined in the Hall of Fame has exactly one acting film credit to his name. He appeared in the 1959 western, The Wonderful Country, starring Robert Mitchum.

Here’s a clip of Paige playing Sergeant Tobe Sutton. Honestly, he’s quite good!

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

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Rambling On: Author Glenn Stout Chats About Boston Sed Sox History

Prolific author and editor Glenn Stout sat down with Ron Juckett and myself to talk about Boston Red Sox history. There really isn't a better baseball history writer out there, especially when it comes to the Sox. This truly is a must-listen!
Check out the podcast HERE.

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

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Why John Smoltz is a No-Brainer Selection for the Baseball Hall of Fame

Nobody has ever been unanimously elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Even those like Babe Ruth and Willie Mays, whose production and legend place them in a totally different stratosphere, didn’t receive 100 percent support for their enshrinement. Thus, the annual ballot typically has a number of candidates whose merits are the fodder for furious debate, trying to prove who is over and who is short of the imaginary line that establishes who is a Hall of Famer and who is just another retired player. One member of the 2015 ballot that falls into this category is pitcher John Smoltz, who perhaps has the most interesting case of anyone in this year’s class.

Let’s get a few bits of business out of the way. First, early indications are that Smoltz will likely receive the requisite 75 percent of the votes needed for enshrinement when the results are announced on January 6, 2015. Second, I personally believe he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. Having watched him since he began his career, he passes my eye test. There is no set standard or authoritative voice that determines who is in and who is out. Accordingly, let’s break down his case a bit more to see what the statistics, anecdotes and other shreds of evidence used in such arguments have to say.

The Resume:

Played- 1988-2009 (except for 2000, which he sat out with injury) for the Atlanta Braves, Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals.

Career Statistics- 213-155, 3.33 ERA in 723 games (481 starts), 53 complete games, 16 shutouts, 154 saves, 3,084 strikeouts, 3,473 innings pitched.s started (thrice); innings pitched (twice); strikeouts (twice); saves (once).

Awards/Recognitions- Eight-time All Star; won 1996 National League Cy Young Award; four other top-10 Cy Young finishes; 1997 Silver Slugger Award; 1992 National League NLCS MVP; 2002 National League Rolaids Relief Award; 2005 Lou Gehrig Memorial Award (player who best personifies Gehrig’s character and integrity on and off the field); 2005 Roberto Clemente Award (good play combined with outstanding work in the community); 2007 Branch Rickey Award (community service recognition).

It seems that with a record this varied and accomplished, one would be hard-pressed to dismiss the right-handers candidacy out of hand. However, he doesn’t have the same straight-forward case as most players. He missed significant time (probably close to three full seasons-worth) because of injury; bounced between starting and closing; never hit any major benchmarks (300 wins, no pitching triple crowns, only three seasons with at least 15 wins, etc); and was often considered his team’s third starter (pitching with Hall of Famers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine in Atlanta).

That all being said, Smoltz has an incredibly sound foundation of a Hall of Fame resume built brick by brick during his lengthy career, including:

*Despite being a third starter in name, he was far from that in actuality. With the kind of talent the Braves had in their starting rotation, there couldn’t be three number one starters. Smoltz, who threw a fastball (in the mid-90s), a devastating slider, split, changeup and curveball very well may have had the best overall pure stuff between himself and his vaunted rotation mates.

*He was a playoff beast. Although he only played on one World Series winning team (1995 Atlanta Braves), he pitched in a whopping 25 series during his career, going a combined 15-4 with a 2.67 ERA, four saves and 199 strikeouts in 209 innings. He appears on the all-time postseason leader board for many categories, including the most strikeouts of any pitcher.

*The path Smoltz’s career took was unprecedented. Between 1989-1999, he won 155 games and was widely considered among the best starters in the game. He had Tommy John surgery, missed the entire 2000 season, returned to partial duty in 2001, and then became a full-time closer the next three years, compiling astounding totals of 144 saves and a 2.47 ERA.

Amazingly, his ability to adjust did not end in the bullpen, as he was made a starter once again at the age of 38. From 2006-2008, he rang up 44 wins, a 3.22 ERA and 667.3 innings. He also had to endure a half-dozen other surgeries at various times during his career, making one wonder if he was made out of some sort of new-aged titanium material rather than flesh and bone.

The only pitcher that comes to mind with a similar career is Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley, who also successfully converted from starting to relieving. However, Eck did not have to overcome serious injury. He did battle alcoholism, and also never went back to starting once he joined the bullpen. He and Smoltz remain the only pitchers in major league history to have both a 20-win and a 50-save season.

Smoltz’s ability to not only persevere but thrive through the physical and mental roadblocks each transition must have taken is remarkable. That alone should give him his own definable niche among Hall-of-Fame inductees.

*Although Smoltz’s counting stats might not be as great as others in the Hall, they are more formidable than they might first appear.

According to BaseballReference.com, his 66.5 career WAR is 39th all-time among pitchers. He is also 16th in strikeouts, 22nd in adjusted pitching wins (33.9), 10th in win probability added (40.5), and tied with the likes of Lefty Grove and Jim Palmer for 64th with a 125 ERA+—meaning he was 25 percent better than the league average pitcher.

*Character, or alleged lack thereof, is something often used as a weapon against Hall of Fame candidates. The reverse is rarely true but if it was, Smoltz would have that box emphatically filled in with No. 2 pencil.

According to the BBWAA voting criteria, character is literally something that should be taken into account when considering candidates— “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.” Smoltz is a first-ballot good guy who has few superiors in that department.

Ultimately, the Baseball Hall of Fame is a museum capturing the best moments, players and contributors in the game’s history. Just to be considered is an actual honor but there will always be a debate over who belongs, who doesn’t and why. After playing this rationalization game with Smoltz’s career there should be no argument other than acknowledging the man better look into flight and accommodation reservations for Cooperstown, New York in late July, 2015.

Statistics obtained from BasebalReference.com

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