Top 100 Baseball Blog

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Urban Shocker: Silent Hero of Baseball's Golden Age- A Review

Professional athletes ingrain themselves on the collective memory of fans who stockpile memories of the exploits of their favorites.  These evolve into legacies, which linger long after the athlete is done playing. Unfortunately, some pass way too young, including pitcher Urban Shocker, who was dead at the age of 37; less than a year removed from being the ace for the fabled 1927 New York Yankees. The largely forgotten story of this great hurler has been reinvigorated by Steve Steinberg’s Urban Shocker: Silent Heroes of Baseball’s Golden Age (University of Nebraska Press- 2017).

Steinberg, a seasoned baseball historian and writer has found a hero that is largely missing from the lexicon of many aficionados of the sport. Shocker was a right-hander who won 187 games with a 3.17 ERA between 1916 and 1928 for the St. Louis Browns and the Yankees. A spitballer, he was truly one of the best in the game, racking up 91 wins in the four-year span of 1920-1923. He was brought down by a bad heart that limited him in the twilight of his career and ultimately killed him.

Shocker is remembered as a rather taciturn man, which only helps him recede into the shadows of baseball memories past. His greatest success also came with the Yankees, where it was easy to be pushed out of the spotlight by the likes of Ruth and Gehrig. However, the hurler was a near Hall-of-Famer in his own right, which makes this biography a needed entry into the baseball catalog.

Like many players of his generation, Shocker had a unique path to the majors. He didn’t start playing professional ball until he was 22 and was nearly 30 before he became a big league regular. However, once he gained his foothold he was immediately respected, and Steinberg does an excellent job of digging up testimonies of his peers who discussed their trepidation in facing him or delight in watching him hurl the bean.

Part of the intrigue with Shocker was his ability to make the ball move like few pitchers before and since. Again, the author beat the bushes to find anecdotes to relate exactly how conniving and effective he was with his craft.

While Shocker certainly is a fascinating character, his story is not one that matches some others in terms of ribaldry and sensation. He had his struggles with alcohol and a failed marriage, but his existence remained typically out of the limelight and thus doesn’t give him as much flare as other historical baseball figures.

Aside from his talent and results on the field, Shocker will be remembered primarily for his untimely death. His final year of life is extraordinary, as he tried to hold on to his career as he was wracked by rising age and ravaging heart disease. Despite having to sleep sitting up, losing a dangerous amount of weight and often feeling faint, he pushed through. In the weeks up until he died he was still trying to pitch on a semi-pro basis in the hopes it would lead him back to the majors (he pitched in just one big league game in 1928, the year that he died).

Steinberg has put together a nice biography of one of baseball lesser-known standouts. This will likely be more appreciated by a baseball fan or researcher instead of a casual reader but it is well-written and researched. The importance of mining baseball research and making it a consumable product cannot be understated. Urban Shocker delivers on this and then some.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of the book being reviewed by the publisher, but received no payment or other consideration for this review.

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Thursday, December 7, 2017

Can Rafael Palmeiro's Hall of Fame Case Make a Comeback?

Former first baseman Rafael Palmeiro recently re-entered the news hemisphere again by indicating he is think about making a comeback at the age of 53 . That seems like quite the long shot, much like his chances to get in the Hall of Fame after he fell off the ballot in 2014 due to anemic support. However, his case for inclusion in Cooperstown is quite compelling and should not be dismissed as quickly as some may reject the notion that he may return to a major league stadium near you in the near future.

Palmeiro forged a 20-year career for three teams as a left-handed first baseman. He hit a combined .288 with 3,020 hits, 585 doubles, 569 home run and 1,835 RBIs. That's quite an impressive resume, yet he never received more than 12.6 percent of the votes during his four years on the Hall of Fame ballot. Although not exclusively the reason, a lot of it had to do with one wag of the finger. Months after emphatically testifying before Congress that he had never used performance enhancing drugs, he tested positive, served a 10 day suspension, went 2 for 26 in seven games upon his return and never played again.

Although the finger wag seemingly cemented Palmeiro’s status as a baseball outsider, he has faced criticism in the past and present that has the commonality of diminishing his accomplishments (PED use aside). Frequently mentioned are his lack of major awards and All Star games (4 appearances and no MVPs); never leading the league in a Triple Crown category; lack of playoff success (no World Series appearances); and having won a Gold Glove in 1999 despite playing just 28 games in the field that year. However, there are relatively mundane explanations for all of these.

Palmeiro did not get as much recognition in All Star or MVP votes because he played in an era of offensive explosion and was more consistently very good (evidenced by his 162 game averages of 33 home runs and 105 RBIs). He was also in a Golden Age for first basemen. For instance, he hit .310 with 39 home runs in 1995 but was 11th in MVP voting and did not make the mid-summer classic. However, the American League was typically flush with stand-out first sackers, including Mo Vaughn (MVP winner), Mark McGwire, Don Mattingly, John Olerud, Frank Thomas, Tino Martinez and Will Clark just to name a few in 1995 alone.

Granted, his Gold Glove win for a literal handful of games seems ridiculous in hindsight, yet that was a reputation-based award that is still a frequent occurrence. He had won the award the previous two seasons with what advanced numbers suggest was above average defense. He may not have been as deserving in 1999 but that certainly shouldn't be held against him. He declined in the field as he got older but was an overall competent fielder. Cherry picking at least one advanced stat, he was a total of 51 total zone fielding runs above average for his career, which is significantly higher than noted defender Mattingly and his 33.

There is so much evidence that screams for Palmeiro’s induction. He would be the only eligible player with at least 3,000 hits not inducted. He is one of just five players with at least 3,000 hits and 500 home runs (Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Eddie Murray and Alex Rodriguez are the others). He also ranks highly on a bevy of all time lists, including:

bWAR for position players- 71.6 (59th)

Games played- 2,831 (18th)

Runs Scored- 1,633 (33rd)

Hits- 3020 (28th)

Total Bases- 5,388 (12th)

Doubles – 585 (20th)

Home runs- 569 (13th)

RBIs- 1,835 (17th)

Walks- 1,353 (33rd)

Runs created- 2,040 (19th)

Extra base hits- 1,192 (8th)

Double plays turned as a 1B- 1,782 (4th)

Assists as a 1B- 1,587 (6th)

Putouts as a 1B- 17,738 (24th)

Another remarkable aspect of Palmeiro’s game was how consistent he was. Besides a 22-game call-up as a rookie in 1986 with the Chicago Cubs, he posted numbers that ranged from slightly above average to elite for the next 19 years. He walked more than he struck out, had no severe platoon splits and could do at least a little bit of everything during his career.

Simply put, as far as numbers go, Palmeiro should be a Hall of Famer with little equivocation. The PEDs are obviously a major hurdle but with voters seeming to ease up a bit recently in their judgement of players with such belmishes, it is likely that major players who were caught up in that scandal but otherwise deserving will find their way into the Hall. The “morals clause” is often cited where discussing the merits of Hall candidates, yet we know that their current ranks include cheaters, racists, PED users and worse. That is not to excuse him but to reinforce keeping him out on this basis is a double standard.

It will be extremely interesting to see if Palmeiro is given a chance in the future. Often overlooked as a player, that has only increased in retirement (assuming he does not make a successful comeback). When reviewing his production, it’s obvious that his greatness snuck up on us. Just because we have to open our eyes a little wider to realize this doesn’t mean his legacy should suffer for it.

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

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Scott Rolen's Baseball Hall of Fame Case

The 2018 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot is loaded with a plethora of talented players. Some may seem like more sure things than others, while there are some cases that are certain to inspire furious debate. In the first of a series, we’ll explore some of these non-locks who are making their first appearance on the ballot and dissect their cases piece by piece. Let’s start with third baseman Scott Rolen.

The right-handed hitter was seen as a virtual can’t-miss prospect, who debuted at the age of 21 with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1996. Following a cup of coffee, he put his first full major league season under his belt in 1997, hitting .283 with 21 home runs; taking home that year’s National League Rookie of the Year Award. It’s important to not forget his immediate impact with his glove, as he was a shut-down defender, even from a young age.

He went on to play a total of 17 seasons in the majors with four teams. He hit a combined .281 with 2,077 hits, 517 doubles, 316 home runs and 1,287 RBIs. He won seven Gold Gloves and made seven All-Star teams. He would have had an even more cluttered mantel if not for having played in a golden era of third baseman, when he was regularly manning the same position as the likes of Chipper Jones, David Wright and Ken Caminiti. Ironically, his last All Star appearance was in 2011 with the Cincinnati Reds when he hit just .242 with five home runs in 65 games.

Rolen’s career War of 70.0 matches up well with Hall-of-Fame comparisons. Ron Santo at 70.4 and Brooks Robinson at 78.4 are right in the same neighborhood. Because he was such a solid player across the board his impact may not have been as apparent while he was playing. However, much like Santo, one can truly appreciate his impact by examining his stats and how he lines up all time and during the era in which he played.

Advanced statistics cannot be relied on exclusively, nor can they be assumed to be 100 percent accurate. However, they do have value and help measure player worth in new and exciting ways that may not have always been evident by the eye test. One of the most comprehensive measurement systems is Jay Jaffe’s JAWS, which measures numerous facets of player performance. By his reckoning, Rolen ranks as the 10th best third baseman of all time.

The wide scope of Rolen’s overall talent is what really makes him a viable candidate. His offensive numbers are very good but even the most optimistic fan would be hard-pressed to describe him as a superstar hitter. He exceeded 30 home runs twice, 100 RBIs four times and never led the league in any major offensive statistical category. Yet, his 162 game averages of .281, 25 home runs and 102 RBIs reflects his consistency as a star. His 876 career extra base hits place him 74th all time and his 30.9 WPA (Win Probability Added) is 104th.

However, defense is what helps push Rolen over the top. His 20.6 career defensive WAR is sixth all-time among players who spent the bulk of their career at third base. He is 11th all time in assists, sixth in Total Zone Runs and 12th in double plays turned. His superior range was perhaps only outdone by his cat-like reflexes. Often playing hurt, it’s both fun and sad to wonder what level he could have brought his production to if not for the physical deterrents.

The nagging injuries that kept popping up ended up playing a significant role in Rolen’s career. In the 15 years he played following his initial call-up, he missed a total of 429 games, which equates to over two and a half full seasons. Having back that missed time would have padded his career totals nicely. Of course injuries are part of the game and one can only speculate on what might have been, but it is an especially important part of this third sacker’s story.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to envision a scenario where Rolen sails into the Hall on the first ballot. There are too many persnickety voters who possess a thousand agendas and criteria. That being said, the third baseman has a strong case for his inclusion and given the body of evidence, it would be an injustice if he is not one day given a plaque.

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Sunday, November 26, 2017

Blaise Salter: Grandson of Detroit Tigers Great Bill Freehan Making A Splash

The talent to play baseball can be like other genetic traits—passed down through generations. Names like Bonds and Griffey strike resounding chords for baseball fans. There are many other familial connections in the game, including the grandson of former Detroit Tigers great Bill Freehan, Blaise Salter, who is making his way through the Tigers system as an up and coming prospect.

Freehan forged a 15-year career as a catcher for the Tigers between 1961-1976. Built like a linebacker, he mashed 200 home runs and looks to have passed his proclivity for power hitting on to Salter, who at 6’5” and 245 pounds is carrying on the family tradition for size.

After a successful career at Michigan State University, Salter was taken in the 31st round of the 2015 draft by the Tigers (They previously drafted him in 2011 but he elected to attend college). A first baseman, the right-hander hit .293 in the low minors that year, showing they got good value despite taking him so late.

In 2016, Salter appeared in 60 short season games, hitting.263 with 42 RBIs. He followed that up by hitting a combined .304 with 39 doubles, 8 home runs, 75 RBIs in 121 games between Single-A and high Single-A this past year.

Given his size, it is a fair assumption that Salter still has some game power waiting to materialize. He will turn 25 in June, 2018 and is older than some prospects. However, his selection in the later rounds suggests his being a project, who has showed extremely encouraging results in his first few professional seasons. With the Tigers in the midst of a major rebuilding project, there could be plenty of opportunity for him to seize.

The year before he was drafted, I had the opportunity to chat with Salter prior to a college summer league game he was playing in. Keep reading for more from this Tigers prospect.

Blaise Salter Interview:

How did you first become interested in baseball?: I was introduced to the game by my dad and my grandfather. Those are the two most influential people in my life through baseball. I just fell in love with it when I was growing up. That was how I was a baseball fan.

How much influence did your grandfather, former Detroit Tiger great Bill Freehan, have in the way you grew up learning the game?: Other than my dad, he is the biggest influence in my life in everything, life and baseball. He taught me the ins and outs of everything and how to do it the right way, and what to do and what not to do. He just taught me the basics. He’s been a great person in my life and I can’t thank him enough for all that he has done for me.

You were drafted by the Tigers in 2011 but decided to attend college instead. What went into that decision for you?: At the time, I just didn’t think I was mature enough to go off on my own and play professionally. Actually, I decided to go to college and grow up a little bit and evolve a little bit more, and show people that I improved in college.

What parts of your game do you think you have improved upon the most since starting college?: I think just the mental side of the game, learning not to get down on yourself, playing until the next pitch. Just slowing the game down almost. See my pitches and not chasing pitches. Trying to become the best player and best teammate possible, and playing hard every time.

What are your hopes for the remainder of your school career?: I really want to be a Big-10 champion, and with the guys we’ve got up there I think it is an attainable goal. I want to leave Michigan State better than I found it and try to bring that school to Omaha. Hopefully with this year being my senior year, have a great year and see what happens. We’ve got a lot of good guys and a lot of really good incoming freshmen, so hopefully we can have a really good season.

Do you believe you are primed to enter pro ball once you are done with school?: Yeah, I’m definitely looking forward to the next chapter after that. I’m focused right now hopefully winning the championship with Newport and seeing how far we can go there, and then get back up to East Lansing and work with the new team and hopefully leading that team. Next June, we’ll see what happens.

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

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Baseball Hall of Fame Modern Era Ballot: A Preliminary Look


Ten names are appearing on the Modern Era ballot for the Baseball Hall of Fame election that will take place on December 10th. These are players and instrumental figures who have thus far missed out on having their achievements in the game recognized with a plaque in Cooperstown, New York.

A 16-person committee will be voting for these candidates (who by definition had their greatest contributions to baseball occurring between 1970-1987), who were dropped from the writer’s ballot but are believed to be worth a second look. 12 votes (75%) are needed in order for any of these 10 to start looking at flights to rural New York for next July. Let’s take a look at these candidates and briefly look at their chances.

Steve Garvey: The former first baseman has some hallmarks of a Hall of Famer (an MVP award and five other top-ten finishes; five World Series appearances; six 200-hit seasons) but some others that suggest otherwise (never led the league in home runs, RBIs or batting average; overall numbers are merely good). Additionally, while a reputation for being a good defender helped him win four Gold Gloves, subsequent advanced metrics suggest he was subpar at the position. It would be a significant surprise to see him get the requisite votes.

Dale Murphy: From 1982-1987 Murphy was in all likelihood the best player in the National League, winning two MVP awards. However, he barely has 2,000 hits; (2,111) fell short shot of 400 home runs (398); and spent the bulk of career playing for the then moribund Atlanta Braves. To a certain extent, he’s the poor man’s Jim Rice, who although a Hall of Famer, is one that traditionally gets a lot of hard looks for his inclusion. 

Jack Morris: Morris was a stout starting pitcher who won 254 games; tossed 175 complete games and surpassed 240 innings in a season 10 times in his career. He also won Game 7 of the 1991 World Series for the Minnesota Twins by throwing a 10 inning shutout.  On the other hand, his 3.90 ERA (which would be the highest of any Hall of Famer) and never having reached higher than third in any Cy Young Award voting are major detractors.

His supporters have rallied around the idea that because he often pitched so deep into games, he “pitched” to the score,” which helped inflate his ERA. However, that notion has been thoroughly debunked. If advanced stats mean anything, his 105 career ERA+ places him just a tick about average. He was obviously a very talented pitcher but signs point to his success also being aided by his teams’ offenses, which scored more than the league average in runs in 13 of the 17 seasons he was a regular.

Alan Trammell: The longtime teammate of Morris has a much more compelling case for an excursion to Cooperstown. An outstanding defensive player at shortstop, he also hit .285 in his career with 2,365 hits, 185 home runs and 1,003 RBIs at a time when players at his position were typically lightweights with the bat.

Trammell’s 70.4 career WAR would put him just a smidge above fellow shortstop Barry Larkin (70.2), who was inducted in 2012. It would also outpace other Hall of Fame shortstops like Pee Wee Reese (66.4) and Luis Aparicio (55.4)

Marvin Miller: Miller’s role in heading the Player’s Union and helping bring about the advent of free agency makes him a titan on the side of baseball innovators. This one is actually a no-brainer that should have been resolved long before this.

Don Mattingly: Donnie Baseball patrolled first base for the New York Yankees from 1982-1995. He was perhaps the poster child of baseball during the last half of the ‘80s before back injuries significantly slowed him down following the 1989 season. 

Other than his MVP season in 1985, Mattingly had five other “star” seasons. He had a reputation for a slick glove but advanced metrics paint a more indifferent story. Although a very good player, it’s hard not to think that if he had spent his career outside of the Bronx he might be considered Wally Joyner (which is meant as no slight to either player, who both had fantastic careers!).
Ted Simmons: The switch hitter was the best catcher in the National League during the 1970s outside of Johnny Bench. He hit .285 with 248 home runs and 2,472 hits during his 21-year career and made himself into a capable fielder. He rarely struck out (just 694 times in his career), was an eight-time All Star and hit righties and lefties almost identically. Aside from home runs, his career numbers, particularly on the offensive side, match up strongly with Carlton Fisk, who easily got in to the Hall on just his second year on the ballot.
Luis Tiant: The right-handed Cuban pitcher was a rising star with the Cleveland Indians during the 1960s, endured several years of injuries and then remade himself as a star again with more of a junk ball repertoire to compensate for his diminished stuff. All told, he lasted 19 years and racked up 229 wins, a 3.30 ERA, 187 complete games and 49 shutouts.

Despite winning 21 games with a 1.60 ERA and 264 strikeouts in 1968, he had the misfortune of being up against Detroit Tigers right hander Denny McLain, who swept the Cy Young votes that year on the strength of his 31-win season. Despite winning over 20 games three other times later in his career, Tiant never finished higher than fourth in any other Cy Young voting.

Tiant’s career 66.1 WAR puts him snugly between Hall of Famers John Smoltz (66.5) and Bob Feller (65.2) on the all-time list. He may not have received the accolades when he was playing but he has a surprisingly strong case that deserves more attention than it has received.

Dave Parker: Built like a linebacker, the left-handed hitter punished pitching instead of quarterbacks during his 19-year career. He hit a combined .290 with 339 home runs, 1,493 RBIs and 2,712 hits. He won the 1978 National League MVP with the Pittsburgh Pirates and finished in the top five in voting an additional four times. Sadly, one must wonder what impact his admitted drug use had on his career.

While a first-ballot Hall of Very Good player, Parker just doesn’t fully measure up when it comes to the Hall of Fame.

Tommy John: The lefty was on the operating table and successfully came back from the eponymous surgical procedure that addressed the arm issue that had claimed the careers of many pitchers before him. While he has 288 career wins and a 3.34 ERA, he did this over the course of 26 seasons. If you take out a four year stretch (1977—1980) when he won a combined 80 games, finished in the top-five in Cy Young voting three times and made three Al Star teams, he won 202 games (only more than 15 wins in a season once) over his other 22 seasons with no other All Star appearances or Cy Young ballots.

John is a classic case of being an accumulator rather than a long-term star. It’s difficult to concoct a scenario where he is a truly deserving candidate.

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

Monday, November 13, 2017

Blue Jays’ Dennis Holmberg Named Mike Coolbaugh Award Winner

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida — Minor League Baseball announced today it has selected Bluefield Blue Jays Manager Dennis Holmberg as the recipient of the 10th annual Mike Coolbaugh Award. Holmberg will receive the award at the Baseball Winter Meetings Banquet on Sunday,Dec. 10, at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Orlando, Florida.

The Mike Coolbaugh Award is presented annually to an individual who has shown outstanding baseball work ethic, knowledge of the game and skill in mentoring young players on the field. The award was created by Minor League Baseball in 2008 to honor the late Coolbaugh, a 17-year minor league player who was in his first year as a coach at the time of his passing. Mike appeared in 44 major league games with the Milwaukee Brewers (39 games in 2001) and St. Louis Cardinals (five games in 2002).

Holmberg played eight seasons in the Milwaukee Brewers organization from 1970-77, where he played every position except shortstop. During his playing career, he also spent eight years (1971-78) in the Army Reserve National Guard. Following his playing career, Holmberg embarked on a coaching career that has spanned 40 years, the last 39 of which have come in the Blue Jays organization. Of Holmberg’s 40 seasons in
the dugout, 38 have been spent at, or below, the Class-A level (he spent the 1994-95 seasons as Toronto’s bullpen coach).

Holmberg’s teams have reached the postseason 11 times and he received the Bobby Mattick Award, which is presented by the Blue Jays organization to recognize excellence in player development, in 2006 and 2011. In his career, Holmberg has coached or managed 244 players that have reached the Major Leagues and he has a managerial record of 1,474-1,355. His 1,474 wins are ninth-most among active minor
league managers.

“I am humbled and deeply honored to be chosen as the 2017 recipient of the Mike Coolbaugh Award. To be included on the list with the previous winners and their accomplishments only reminds me of Mike’s work ethic, his knowledge and passion for the game,” said Holmberg. “I am grateful to the Toronto Blue Jays organization for 40 years of opportunity, Pat O’Conner and all of Minor League Baseball and most
importantly, the Coolbaugh family.”

“This is an incredible achievement and recognition for someone who has selflessly devoted the better part of his life to developing and mentoring our players and coaches on and off the field,” said Toronto Blue Jays General Manager Ross Atkins. “Dennis has impacted this organization as much or more than any player development staffer and we know that he will continue to. On behalf of the Blue Jays, we congratulate Dennis on receiving this award.”

“Dennis has spent the majority of his coaching career at the lower levels of Minor League Baseball, helping hundreds of impressionable young players learn what it takes to be a professional ballplayer and putting them in a position to have a successful career and hopefully reach the Major Leagues,” said Minor League Baseball President & CEO Pat O’Conner. “The impact he has made on so many careers, and the respect
he has earned from his peers throughout the game, made him an easy choice for the Mike Coolbaugh Award.”

“Each summer I have the pleasure to visit Dennis during the minor league season, and every time that I do, I am amazed by the passion and energy he puts in to educating these young men, preparing them for their careers ahead whether in, or out, of baseball,” said Blue Jays Director of Minor League Operations Charlie Wilson. “We are lucky to have such a unique, dedicated and talented leader in our organization and this recognition of Dennis is very well deserved.”

PREVIOUS MIKE COOLBAUGH AWARD WINNERS

2008 Bobby Jones, Texas Rangers
2009 Charlie Montoyo, Tampa Bay Rays
2010 Woody Huyke, GCL Pirates
2011 Mike Jirschele, Omaha Storm Chasers
2012 Johnny Goryl, Cleveland Indians 

About Minor League Baseball Minor League Baseball, headquartered in St. Petersburg, Florida, is the governing body for all professional baseball teams in the United States, Canada and the Dominican Republic that are affiliated with Major League Baseball® clubs through their farm systems. Fans are coming out in unprecedented numbers to this one-of-a-kind experience that can only be found at Minor League Baseball ballparks. In 2017, Minor League Baseball attracted 41.8 million fans to its ballparks to see the future stars of the sport hone their skills. From the electricity in the stands to the excitement on the field, Minor League Baseball has provided affordable family-friendly entertainment to people of all ages since its founding in 1901. For more information, visit www.MiLB.com. Follow Minor League Baseball on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
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You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Boston Red Sox: Possible 2018 Free Agent Targets

Ticker tape is practically still being picked up from the victory parade of the World Series winning Houston Astros. However, as we head into the offseason, eyes have already turned to the 2018 major league baseball season. Nearly 150 players have become free agents and teams will shortly begin jostling to add new pieces in an attempt to field an even better team than the year before. Let’s take a look at some of the available talent that could be good fits for the Boston Red Sox, who won 93 games this year and may not be too far away from planning another parade of their own in the near future.

The Red Sox have eight players of their own who are now free agents (Fernando Abad; Blaine Boyer; Rajai Davis; Doug Fister; Mitch Moreland; Eduardo Nunez; Addison ReedChris Young). Given how they produced with Boston last year, and the holes they would create by leaving, it seems like Moreland and Nunez are two of the better bets to return if terms are mutually agreeable. That being said, there are plenty of other players that could potentially help the Red Sox in 2018:

Outfielder Cameron Maybin: After a nice first season as the Sox’s fourth outfielder in 2016, Young’s production dropped significantly this past year. In particular, he lost his ability to beat up left-handed pitching (a primary reason he was brought on board in the first place), as his batting average against them dipped from .329 to .200.

Although he doesn’t have the power of Young, Maybin could be a worthy replacement. The 30-year-old has excellent speed (33 steals in just 114 2017 games) and can all play all three outfield positions. He is also a pretty darn good defender, which would only add to the reputation of the stout Boston outfielders. He has played for seven teams in his 11-year career, mostly as a starter. He may not do enough with the bat to command starting dollars on the open market but could be a nice option to shore up the Red Sox bench.

Outfielder JD Martinez: Despite the team’s success it was obvious that the Red Sox sorely missed retired slugger David Ortiz this past year. They were in the top half of the league in runs scored but dead last (by a decent margin) with 168 home runs. They relied more on stringing together hits to score runs than one big blast, as had been a frequent occurrence throughout the career of Big Papi.

There aren’t a lot of great power options on the free agent market but Martinez is clearly the best. He hit 45 home runs in just 119 games this past year, including a Ruthian 29 in just 62 games after joining the Arizona Diamondbacks following a mid-season trade. He has a 1.222 career OPS in 14 games against Boston, so they would likely breathe easier if he didn’t have to face them any longer.

A pretty abysmal fielder, the 30-year-old right-handed hitter is an outfielder by trade. There is no place for him to play his natural position in Boston. However, one solution might be shuttling him between DH and first base, as disappointing/oft injured Hanley Ramirez plays out the final year of his $88 million pact in 2018. He has not played at first during his career but such shortcomings would be much more forgivable if he was around to put 40-plus homers over the fence on an annual basis. Once Ramirez’s contract runs its course he could slide into a full-time DH role.

Obviously, money will be an issue when considering the plausibility of signing Martinez.  It is rumored that he may be asking for upwards of $200 million. Given his age and defensive limitations that should be out of the question for any team that might mind spending 200 cents on the dollar. However, if the Sox don’t land slugger Giancarlo Stanton in a trade, he would be the next best option to see what might be worked out.

Relief Pitcher Bryan Shaw: Boston doesn’t typically throw a lot of money at higher-priced middle relief options. Shaw might be worth the exception. The 30-year-old right-hander has been a lynchpin of the Cleveland Indians’ bullpen for the past half decade, and has led the American League in appearances in three of the past four years. A slider/cutter man, he kills right-handed hitting, holding such batters to a .621 OPS for his career.

With the Red Sox currently possessing a pretty full bullpen, signing Shaw would be more about making an upgrade than addressing a need. His availability could also be determined by his market, as it is possible some team could make a run at him in the hopes of making him their closer, which would certainly eliminate Boston from any contention for his services.

Pitcher Yusmeiro Petit: A much less sexy but potentially as valuable option would be the right-handed Petit. A journeyman with a propensity to give up to many long balls for much of his career, he had a career year in 2017 with the Los Angeles Angels. He appeared in 60 games (one start) and had a 2.76 ERA, a near career-best of 10.0 strikeouts/9 and halved his home runs/9 from the previous year.

With a fastball that averages less than 90 MPH, he throws breaking balls a majority of the time and is the definition of a crafty pitcher. However, he has the ability and track record of both starting and relieving. He is the Swiss Army Knife type of pitcher that could be of immense value to the Sox staff, especially with free agent Doug Fister likely to hit the road and the healthy return of Steven Wright still unknown at this time.

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Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Remembering Future Hall-of-Famer Roy Halladay


Sadly, baseball lost another legend entirely too soon with the news that former pitcher Roy Halladay died Tuesday at the age of 40 in a single-engine airplane crash over the Gulf of Mexico. He is not due for consideration for the Baseball Hall of Famer until 2019 but his untimely passing is a melancholy opportunity to remember what a talented force he was during his 16-year big league career.

Make no mistake about it, regardless of his sudden death the right-handed Halladay should have always been a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer when he becomes eligible. His 203-105 record and 3.38 ERA are impressive but may not blow stat-counting voters away. However, he did more than enough.

For a decade (2002-2011) he was the best pitcher in baseball, going 170-75 with a 2.97 ERA. He won two Cy Young Awards during that time and finished in the top five in voting an impressive additional five times. He was also perhaps the last of the workhorse pitchers, tossing 67 regular season complete games and 20 shutouts during his career. For comparison sake, Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer have combined for 33 complete games and 19 shutouts during their respective careers (spanning a total of 20 seasons).

Part of what makes Halladay’s resume so impressive was that he originally came up with the Toronto Blue Jays in the late 1990s as a top pitching prospect but ultimately had to rebuild himself. He posted promising results his first two years but a ludicrous 10.64 ERA in 67.2 innings in 2000 led to his demotion to the low minors where he rebuilt himself as a sinker/cutter pitcher. He was up the next year and never looked back.

The crowning achievement of Halladay’s career was his 2010 no-hitter game in the National League Divisional Series, when his Philadelphia Phillies beat the Cincinnati Reds. This was just the second no-hitter in major league postseason history. He also had a perfect game earlier that season (against the Florida Marlins).

The perpetually bestubbled hurler was a throwback a breed of pitcher that simply doesn’t exist today. His appearance, demeanor and stuff was eerily reminiscent of pitchers from decades prior. He was a threat to go the distance in any given game and exceeded 200 innings eight times during his career. In a cruel irony, nagging arm injuries curtailed his career and led to his retirement following the 2013 season at the age of just 36.

Adding an ERA+ of 131 and a WAR of 65.6 to Halladay’s decade of excellence make him a surefire candidate to be inducted in Cooperstown in the coming years. Baseball fans should not look back in reflection and give him any undue credit; his untimely death simply means an appreciative retrospective is due all too soon.

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Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Cooperstown Casebook: A Review

Everybody loves a good debate, and in the baseball world such arguments are typically most spirited when it comes to discussing the Hall of Fame. From who should be in to who is overrated, the number of points of contention are practically endless. Jay Jaffe has written the next great primer on this topic with his The Cooperstown Casebook: Who’s in the Baseball Hall of Fame, who should be in, and who should pack their plaques (Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin’s Press- 2017).

Jaffe, a writer for Sports Illustrated and creator of the JAWS player rating system, has long been at the forefront of conversations about who should be in and out in the Hall of Fame. He uses “new stats” (think WAR, park adjusted offense, defensive runs saved, etc...) instead of relying on the counting statistics that so many used heavily to measure Hall-worthiness in the past.

Although this book does rely heavily on advanced baseball statistics, it does a fantastic job of not only explaining what they are but why they matter. Additionally, there is no assertion that these numbers are the end-all, be-all, but rather a newer way to examine and appreciate the impact various players have had on the game’s history. Jaffe also discusses a fair amount of the politics of previous elections, especially those related to the Veteran’s Committee. It certainly appears that some players had extra boosts because of former teammates or friends who were involved in the voting.

Debating the merits of baseball hall of famers is a cottage industry. It is perhaps the one thing that most consistently keeps the sport in the headlines, as there has never been unanimous agreement over whether or not the correct candidates have been enshrined. The first quarter of the book examines how players have been elected in the past; what criteria has been used; biases that may have played roles and how new stats are starting to turn things on their head. It is an excellent primer to familiarize readers with all previous levels of knowledge of such things.

Baseball junkies will likely go gaga for the second portion of The Cooperstown Casebook, which takes a position-by-position look at a sampling of players both in, out and upcoming for election to the Hall of Fame. Although the synopsis for each player is brief (typically no more than 2-3 pages), there is an incredible amount of information packed in to give the reader a lot to think about. Players who have thus far been snubbed (i.e. Dwight Evans, Alan Trammell and Larry Walker); elected but over-celebrated or underappreciated (i.e. Phil Rizzuto, Bobby Doerr and Kid Nichols); and those with compelling cases for induction once they are eligible (i.e. Adrian Beltre, Bobby Abreu and Chase Utley) are presented in ways that fans may have never seen before.

While Jaffe’s work will not remove anyone from the Hall of Fame, it's very possible it could help sway some voters who may have held previous stances on candidates who would have not received future votes otherwise. At a minimum, readers should delight in rehashing players and reviewing evidence that has not been presented in such a way before. The Cooperstown Casebook is not only ground breaking; it’s well researched, well written and a heck of a lot of fun. In a genre that often struggles to reach new heights, that is no problem for this book, which soars and looks by all accounts to be a first-ballot hall of famer itself.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of the book being reviewed by the publisher, but received no payment or other consideration for this review.

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Friday, November 3, 2017

Binghamton Rumble Ponies’ Richard Tylicki Wins Charles K. Murphy Patriot Award

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida — Minor League Baseball announced today that Richard Tylicki, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard and the Director of Stadium Operations for the Binghamton Rumble Ponies, is the recipient of the second annual Charles K. Murphy Patriot Award. 

Tylicki will receive the award at the Baseball Winter Meetings Banquet on Sunday, Dec. 10, at the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort in Orlando, Florida. The Charles K. Murphy Patriot Award is presented to a team or individual in Minor League Baseball for outstanding support of the United States Armed Forces and veterans, both at the ballpark and in the community. The award was created in 2016 in honor of the longtime Florida State League president and U.S. Army veteran who passed away Feb. 21, 2015, at the age of 83. A retired Lieutenant Colonel after 21 years in the U.S. Army, Murphy broke into professional baseball in 1975 and led the Florida State League from 1990 until his passing. He received the Warren Giles Award for outstanding service as a league president in both 2011 and 1991, and the Friends of Baseball Chapel Award in 1994. 

Tylicki has balanced the demands of both a military and civilian career for over two decades. He received an appointment as a Reserve commissioned officer in the United States Army in 1992, and began his tenure with Binghamton as an operations intern in 1995. He has worked as the Director of Stadium Operations for the last 23 years while simultaneously serving in the National Guard, where he is currently the Commanding Officer of over 550 men and women of the 1st Squadron, 104th Cavalry Regiment. 

Tylicki’s service has earned him 23 medals to date, including the Bronze Star for meritorious service in a combat zone, and the Meritorious Service Medal awarded for exceptional service in support of Command and Staff while deployed to Kuwait in 2013. Tylicki has also maintained a high level of leadership with the Rumble Ponies and is the longest-tenured employee at NYSEG Stadium, despite serving in four different overseas contingency operations (Kuwait in 2013, Egypt in 2008, Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004 and Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2002). 

 “I am very honored to be the recipient of the Charles K. Murphy Patriot Award as Mr. Murphy was a tremendous leader who served the nation for two decades and as a league president in Minor League Baseball for over 25 years,” said Tylicki. “It is truly a privilege to be associated with his good name and an honor to be recognized by Minor League Baseball and I am sincerely humbled by the recognition.” 

With the Rumble Ponies, Tylicki secured a sponsorship that enabled all U.S. military veterans to attend a Rumble Ponies game for free over Memorial Day Weekend, secured a 90 percent renewal rate on sponsorships and in 2017, he arranged to have the Honor Guard present the flag on the field on Memorial Day and Independence Day. Additionally, he orchestrated the dedication of a POW/MIA memorial seat at NYSEG Stadium to ensure that all service members who did not come home from battle would always be honored at the ballpark. 

“Richard embodies the absolute essence of the Charles K. Murphy Patriot Award,” said Minor League Baseball President & CEO Pat O’Conner. “His dedication and service to this country, his accomplishments with the Binghamton Rumble Ponies and his efforts honoring veterans in the community are all highly admirable, and it is with great pleasure that we present him with this award on behalf of Minor League Baseball.”

“Richard is the perfect choice for this award,” said Binghamton Rumble Ponies Managing Director John Bayne. “His dedication to our nation and community, coupled with his 23 years of contributions to our organization, speaks volumes of Richard's work ethic, determination and loyalty.” 

In 2017, Tylicki served as the Commander of the Reactionary Force for the 58th Presidential Inauguration in Washington, D.C., completed the Tactical Commanders Development Program and worked to prepare his unit for a January 2018 deployment to the Middle East. “Richard's contributions to this organization, community, and country exemplify the spirit of what baseball is all about,” said Rumble Ponies owner John Hughes. “This organization, this community and our country should be proud to have Richard as part of the team.” 

PREVIOUS CHARLES K. MURPHY PATRIOT AWARD WINNERS 

2016 Charleston RiverDogs, South Atlantic League  

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Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Omaha’s Laurie Schlender Named 2017 Rawlings Woman Executive of the Year

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida — Minor League Baseball and Rawlings Sporting Goods Company, Inc. announced today that Omaha Storm Chasers Assistant General Manager Laurie Schlender has been named the recipient of the 41st Rawlings Woman Executive of the Year Award. 

Since 1976, the Rawlings Woman Executive of the Year Award has been presented annually to a woman who has made outstanding contributions to her club or league, or to baseball. Schlender will receive the award at the Baseball Winter Meetings Awards Luncheon on Monday, Dec. 11, at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Orlando, Florida.

“It was an honor just to be nominated for this award, but to be the recipient is truly humbling,” said Schlender. “I am blessed to work with this organization, and my heartfelt thanks to everyone who has supported me both inside and outside of baseball.” 

“Laurie has been instrumental in the achievements and successes of the Omaha Storm Chasers over the last decade,” said Minor League Baseball President & CEO Pat O’Conner. “She has demonstrated tremendous versatility in overseeing various departments and leading each to success. On behalf of Minor League Baseball, I congratulate Laurie on being named the 2017 Rawlings Woman Executive of the Year.”

A CPA by trade, Schlender’s work with Omaha began in 2000 when she was contracted to provide accounting assistance. Schlender became a full-time employee of the club in 2008 and has continually added responsibilities throughout the years, including Human Resources, IT, risk management, community relations and other day-to-day operations. When the team moved to Werner Park in 2010, Schlender led the efforts of designing the wired and wireless networks as well as updating security procedures for the new stadium. In October 2011, she became the highest-ranking female executive in the franchise’s history when she was promoted to Assistant General Manager. 

Since Schlender’s first year with the organization, the team’s net income from operations has grown by over 500 percent thanks to her work in improved budgeting, financial reporting and analysis. Schlender also took on the role of managing the Storm Front Team Store in 2012, where she has assisted in increasing gross merchandise revenues by over 36 percent. 

“There are many, including me, who believe there is no one more deserving of this award than Laurie,” said Storm Chasers President and General Manager Martie Cordaro. “The impact she has made on this organization cannot be overstated. We all have become better at what we strive to do because of her commitment and leadership.” 

“To say that this is a well-deserved honor for Laurie is an understatement,” said Storm Chasers Owner Gary Green. “I’m thrilled to see Minor League Baseball recognize everything I have known about her since we met in 2012.” Schlender earned her Bachelor of Science in business administration-accounting from Midland Lutheran College in Fremont, Nebraska. 

The Quimby, Iowa native has been active in the community, completing extensive volunteer work with the Millard Public Schools. 

PREVIOUS RAWLINGS WOMAN EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR AWARD WINNERS 

1976 Alice Neighbors, Tulsa (AA)
1977 Mary Anne Whitacre, Hawaii (PCL)
1978 Patty Cox, Oklahoma City (AA)
1979 Doris Krucker, (MWL)
1980 Frances Crockett, Charlotte (SOU)
1981 Arlene Woodford, Portland (PCL)
1982 Linda Pereira, San Jose (CAL)
1983 Karen Paul, El Paso (TEX)
1984 Mildred Boyenga, Waterloo (MID)
1985 Frances Crockett, Charlotte (SOU)
1987 Leslie Leary, Auburn (NYP)
1988 Mindy Rich, Buffalo (AA)
1989 Pat Hamilton, Toledo (INT)
1990 Leanne Pagliai, High Desert (CAL)
1991 Marta Hiczewski, Buffalo (AA)
1992 Tammy Felker-White, Portland (PCL)
1993 Shereen Samonds, Orlando (SOU)
1994 Naomi Silver, Rochester (INT)
1995 Mary Cain, Portland (NWL)
1996 Audrey Zielinski, Detroit (MLB)
1997 Dot Cloud, Nashville (AA)
1998 Lois Schneider, Cincinnati (MLB)
1999 Judy Ellis, Missoula (PIO)
2000 Mary Barney, Louisville (IL)
2001 Linda McNabb, Ft. Myers (FSL) & Lori Webb (SOU)
2002 Brenda Yoder, Greenville (SOU)
2003 Luchy Guerra, L.A. Dodgers (MLB)
2004 Carolyn McKee, Asheville(SAL)
2005 Lisa Walker, Salem-Keizer (NWL)
2006 Ashley Forlini, Reading (EL)
2007 Shari Massengill, Kinston (CAR)
2008 Carol Gehr, Hagerstown Suns (SAL)
2009 Katie Dannemiller, Greensboro (SAL)
2010 Sharon Ridley, Nashville (PCL)
2011 Marla Terranova Vickers, Montgomery (SOU)
2012 Darlene Giardina, Rochester (INT)
2013 Joan McGrath, Arizona Fall League
2014 Melanie Peiffer Fiore, Pacific Coast League
2015 Lindsey Knupp, Lehigh Valley (INT)
2016 Brandy Guinaugh, Dayton (MID)

About Minor League Baseball 

Minor League Baseball, headquartered in St. Petersburg, Florida, is the governing body for all professional baseball teams in the United States, Canada and the Dominican Republic that are affiliated with Major League Baseball® clubs through their farm systems. Fans are coming out in unprecedented numbers to this one-of-a-kind experience that can only be found at Minor League Baseball ballparks. In 2017, Minor League Baseball attracted 41.8 million fans to its ballparks to see the future stars of the sport hone their skills. From the electricity in the stands to the excitement on the field, Minor League Baseball has provided affordable family-friendly entertainment to people of all ages since its founding in 1901. For more information, visit www.MiLB.com. 

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