Top 100 Baseball Blog

Friday, December 21, 2018

Mark Gubicza Talks About His Baseball Career and Time with the Kansas City Royals

Some babies are born with a particular skill set to play baseball. Mark Gubicza was born to pitch. He parlayed his natural talent into a 14-year major league career spent primarily with the Kansas City Royals, where he achieved great success and contributed to him still being involved in the game years after he threw his last pitch.

The right-handed Gubicza was drafted out of William Penn Chart School in Philadelphia in the second round (34th overall selection) by Kansas City in 1981. He found immediate success and come 1983 won 14 games in Double-A, showing he had little left to prove in the minors. He was promoted to the Royals the following year and never looked back.

He won 10 games as a rookie and was a cog in the Kansas City rotation for years. His best season came in 1988 when he was 20-8 with a 3.04 ERA and 173 strikeouts in 269.2 innings, finishing third in Cy Young Award voting.

Beginning in 1990, Gubicza battled some injuries that hampered his effectiveness and he won more than 10 games in a season just once after 1989. After 13 years with the Royals he was traded to the California Angels in advance of the 1997 season. He lasted just two games with them and although he signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers the following year, he never appeared in another major league game again.

In his 14 seasons, Gubicza was a combined 132-136 with a 3.96 ERA and 1,371 strikeouts. He was a member of two All Star teams and was a key part of the 1985 Royals, who won that year’s World Series.

Since hanging up his glove as a player he has coached high school ball and most recently is working as a television broadcaster for Angels’ games. He recently took some time to answer some questions about his career in baseball.

Mark Gubicza Interview

Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?: My favorite player(s) growing up was a tie between Jim Palmer and Steve Carlton.

Can you describe your draft experience with the Kansas City Royals in 1981- How did you find out you had been selected?: I was playing stick ball in the schoolyard by my house in Philly when my dad came driving by to tell me I was drafted by the Kansas City Royals! Kansas City and Philly had just played in the 1980 World Series versus each other. I was at the clincher with my dad. Ironic that I got drafted by the team I was rooting against eight months later. Turned out perfectly for me though.

In your opinion, who was the most talented player you ever played with or against? What made them stand out so much?: George Brett was the most talented ball player I ever played with. And Bo Jackson was the best athlete I ever played with or ever saw in my life. They both had tremendous work ethics and drive.

What is your favorite moment from your baseball career?: Winning the 1985 World Series is easy to say, but making the 1988 All-Star team with all those future Hall-of-Famers on it was the tops!

Who was the most impactful veteran you played with and why do you choose them?: Dennis Leonard was the player I learned the most from. He was a former 20 game winner with Kansas City, but had to endure a major injury to come back to being a great pitching again. Sat with him and talked to him about life, baseball and future every day.

What is one thing about your career you would like to do differently?: My only real regret in my career is that I didn’t pitch well for the Angels. When I was traded to them, I wanted to be a dominant pitcher again and get them to the playoffs. I got hurt that year and shortly thereafter retired from baseball. Still to this day bummed I didn’t pitch better for them.

What are you up to since retiring as a player?: After I retired, I became the head coach of the Chaminade High School baseball team. Continue to help them out till this day. Joined Fox Sports in 2000 and have worked for them since. I’ve been the Angels Color Analyst for the last 13 years on TV.

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

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

"Rooftop Ruppert" Jones and His 12-Year Ride in Major League Baseball


Ruppert Jones has one of the coolest nicknames in baseball history; “Rooftop Ruppert.” This was due to his proclivity in hitting tape measure home runs in Tiger Stadium during his lone season with the Detroit Tigers in 1984. However, this is just one part of a greater 12-year major league career enjoyed by the former outfielder.

The left-handed Jones was a voracious athlete growing up in Berkeley, California. He played baseball, basketball and football, and was good enough to earn scholarship offers to play wide receiver from major football powerhouses such as the University of Southern California and Arizona State University.

Given how he was regarded as a prospect, he decided to pursue baseball instead and was selected in the third round of the 1973 draft by the Kansas City Royals, who immediately started the 18-year-old off on his professional journey in the minor leagues. He responded quickly, hitting .301 and .320 in his first two years. He made his major league debut in 1976 at the age of 21, hitting .216 with a home run and seven RBIs in 28 games.

For whatever reason, the Royals did not protect Jones ion that off season’s expansion draft and the newly minted Seattle Mariners snapped him up with the first pick. It was a wise moved, as he was an All Star the next season in 1977, hitting .263 with 24 home runs and 76 RBIs in 160 games.

Jones played three seasons with the Mariners and went on to also play for the New York Yankees, San Diego Padres, aforementioned Tigers and the California Angels. All told, in his 12 seasons he hit a combined .250 with 1,103 hits, 147 home runs, 579 RBIs and 143 stolen bases. He also added another All Star appearance in 1982 with the Padres.

As his career unfolded, he slid into more of a platoon role, as he fared much better against right-handed pitcher (.264/.348/.448) than he did against southpaws (.212/.281/.328). His final major league season was in 1987, with the Angels. He hung on to play another two years in the minors and in Japan, but retired as a player following the 1989 season due to a torn rotator cuff.

I was recently able to connect with Jones to ask him about his career. Keep reading for more about “Rooftop Ruppert” and his memories of his time in baseball.

Ruppert Jones Interview:

Who was your favorite player when you were growing up?: Willie Mays.

Can you describe your draft experience with the Kansas City Royals in 1973- How did you find out you had been selected?: I went to the public library to get updates on the draft where I found out Kansas City drafted me in third round.

What do you remember most about your major league debut?: I got a hit my first at bat against Gaylord Perry.

What is your favorite moment from your baseball career?: Winning the World Series in 1984 as a member of the Detroit Tigers.

The 1985 California Angels included future Hall of Famers Reggie Jackson, Don Sutton and Rod Carew on the roster. What kind of influence did they have on the team?: I played against all those gentlemen for years and it was a  pleasure. Being their teammate is something I remember to this day. Also being around them, I quickly found out why they were so special as players.

Who was the toughest, nastiest pitcher you ever faced?: The Frank Tanana I faced in 1977.

If there is anything you could go back and do differently about your baseball career, what would that be?: I wish I would have not sustained so many injuries and truly discovered what kind of player I may have become.

What are you up to since retiring as a player?: I worked for a great company, The Boon Group, located in Austin, Texas. I sold employee benefits to government contractors that work on Prevailing Wage, Davis-Bacon and Service Contracts. These contracts have a built in hourly amount for health and pension benefits on their contracts. Most contracts that are funded with Federal and State dollars require contractors to pay hourly benefits. Believe it or not the contractors actually save money using those hourly dollars and purchasing benefits for their employees.

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Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Baseball Hall of Fame Case for Fred McGriff

Voting for the 2019 class of the National Baseball Hall of Fame is due shortly. As always, there will be much debate over who should and shouldn’t get in, and a wheelbarrow load of whys. Contributing to this muck and mire is the following discussion of a player who is sure to get some votes, but equally certain to not receive nearly enough to reach enshrinement status—but deserves much more consideration. That player is former first baseman Fred McGriff.

The Crime Dog had an exemplary 19-year (1986-2004) major league career with six different teams. During that time he hit .284 with 493 home runs, 1,550 RBIs and 2,490 base hits. He has a career WAR of 52.6, although that number is negatively impacted by his not so stellar work with the glove, which resulted in a -17.3 dWAR according to Baseball Reference.com. With his top-two career comparisons being Willie McCovey and Willie Stargell, he is in great company with an impressive resume. However, about to be on the ballot for a 10th year, he has consistently polled low, always receiving between 11.7 and 23.9 percent of the votes the previous nine years (including 21.5% in 2018).

Upon taking a closer look it appears that McGriff has been victimized by having a resume that is every bit as good as a Hall of Famer’s should be, but one that is not as straightforward as many like to see when considering their candidates.

McGriff has all the numbers, yet is at the same time being downgraded because of them. Statistically, he is a top-100 player of all time in just about every important offensive category. With 323 people having been previously inducted into the Hall of Fame, one would think that makes him a very strong candidate. However he fell just short of the magical 500 home run threshold; didn’t reach 3,000 hits (fell just shy of 2,500); and only led the league in a major statistical category twice (home runs in 1989 and 1992).

He was also “only” a six-time All Star and never won any major awards (Save the 1994 All Star MVP). However, he had six top-10 MVP finishes, including four times when he didn’t even make the All Star team those years.

McGriff was remarkably consistent with no major outlier seasons. Between 1987 and 2002, during which time he was a regular player, with the exception of two years his OPS+ was between 119 and 165. At a time that is widely considered to be a golden age for first basemen, he was often lost in the pack because his calling card was being consistently very, very good for a long period of time and not occasionally the best.

The nomadic nature of his career has also almost certainly contributed to his lack of Hall of Fame support. He moved around quite a bit for a player of his caliber and toiled for the majority of his career for smaller market teams like the Toronto Blue Jays, San Diego Padres and Tampa Bay Devil Rays. His biggest star turn came in 1993-1997 where he starred for the Atlanta Braves, who won their division each year with him anchoring their offense. He never stayed more than five years with any one team (five-year stints with both the Blue Jays and Braves) and was not consistently on the main stage for much of his career, like so many others with Cooperstown aspirations.

Although it is not often mentioned, he actually raised his game in the playoffs. His teams made five post seasons, including two World Series appearances (one win with the 1995 Braves), during which time he hit .303 with 10 home runs and 37 RBIs in 50 postseason games.

Advanced metrics say McGriff wasn’t a gifted or nimble fielder, but the counting stats show him top-12 all time in assists, putouts and double plays turned. Defense may not be an element that can be used as a proactive argument for his Hall of Fame case, but neither is it something that should demonstrably detract from his body of work.

The Hall of Fame’s mission statement says in part that it is “dedicated to fostering an appreciation of the historical development of baseball and its impact on our culture by collecting, preserving, exhibiting and interpreting its collections for a global audience as well as honoring those who have made outstanding contributions to our national pastime.” McGriff may not have the slam dunk case some like to see. However, his body of work is impressive and he displayed a level of consistent excellence over an extended period of time during his career. Not only does he deserve more consideration on the ballot than he has received, he flat out deserves enshrinement. 2019 may not be his year, but hopefully a groundswell will eventually push him towards this honor, which he earned.

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Monday, December 3, 2018

How a Former Atlanta Braves Pitcher Has Become a Star in the Art World: The Baseball Historian's Notes for December 3, 2018

Fully in the throes of holiday season, many baseball fans wistfully gaze out windows to scan the snow driven landscape before them. Although another baseball season is still months away, a generous helping of the Baseball Historian’s Notes may help bridge the gap.

-Forbe’s Terence Moore checked in with his thoughts on how Major League Baseball is failing African Americans. From the continued anemic numbers of black players to the recent embarrassment of having to ask for the return of a political donation from an embattled Mississippian Senatorial candidate espousing racist ideology, it is not a good look at all for the game. Baseball is truly at its best played and shared among different people and places. And it cannot be America’s Game unless it is open and inviting to all that call this country home.

-The casual observer may gloss over the career of outfielder Pete Gray. After all, he appeared in a total of just 77 games (all during the 1945 season with the St. Louis Browns) and hit just .218 with 13 RBIs. However, he had just one arm, the result of a childhood accident. A natural right-hander, who had to play with his left hand, his feats on the diamond (He was a career .308 hitter with five home runs in parts of six minor league seasons.) showed he was one of the most talented players the game has ever seen. His glove is now housed at the Hall of Fame, and one of his admirers is working to raise the funds to have it properly restored to make sure fans can continue to see it and learn about this amazing player for generations to come. 

-Check out this clip of Hall-of-Fame outfielder Ty Cobb being interviewed in 1955. A highlight is his discussion of an at-bat he once had against pitcher Rube Waddell.

-Additionally, here is some brief footage of legendary pitcher Christy Mathewson warming up before games. “Big Six” won 373 games during an epic career that saw him as the biggest star in baseball during his career. He ended up serving in World War I and ultimately he died in 1925 at the age of 45 because of complications of being exposed to poisonous gas during his service.

-Production from the designated hitter position can vary league-wide from year to year. Matt Monagan from MLB.com says that the year that has seen the best DH production was 1995. Check out his thoughts to see why.

-Slugger Jose Bautista has bashed 344 home runs during a 15-year big league career. He is still seeking a home for 2019, but in the meantime has received an honor that may rival his six All Star selections and four top-ten MVP finishes. An entomologist recently discovered a new species of beetle and named it (Sicoderus bautistai) after the star. The scientist acknowledged that he decided to name the weevil after Bautista after seeing him make a widely celebrated bat flip after hitting a dramatic home run for the Toronto Blue Jays in the 2015 playoffs.

-Outfielder Cleon Jones starred for the iconic 1969 World Series-winning New York Mets as part of an excellent 13-year big league career. Now decades after retiring from playing he is still a star, but in a much different way. Now 76, he and his wife Angela (the cousin of Hall-of-Fame outfielder Billy Williams) have worked diligently to help restore and maintain Africatown, a small community located on the outskirts of his hometown of Mobile, Alabama. Founded by freed slaves, it has fallen on harder times in recent years, which the baseball legend is helping to combat.

-Left-handed pitcher Richard Sullivan spent six years in the Atlanta Braves minor league system and independent ball. He was a combined 20-37 with a 4.42 ERA that time. Although he made it as high as Double-A the 2008 11th-round draft choice unfortunately never got a shot at the major leagues. He retired following the 2013 season, but has since found a new career as an up and coming artist, whose work (including baseball pieces- is drawing rave reviews for the 31-year-old.

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Sunday, November 25, 2018

Boston Red Sox Radio Announcer Tim Neverett Discusses His Career and 2018 World Series

The Boston Red Sox enjoyed a magical 2018, winning 108 games in the regular season, on their way to steamrolling through the playoffs and defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. It was also one of their most entertaining seasons, as in retrospect they seemingly cruised to the title right from the start. While many fans showed up to cheer on the team in person, many relied on television and radio broadcast to keep up. One of their favorite announcers was WEEI radio’s Tim Neverett, who recently shared his thoughts on being part of the Red Sox’s historic season.

Neverett was hired by WEEI following seven years broadcasting Pittsburgh Pirates games. A native of Nashua, New Hampshire and a graduate of Emerson College, his New England roots run deep, making him an ideal fit for his job alongside long-time Red Sox announcer Joe Castiglione.

Like many in his field, Neverett worked his way up. He called minor league baseball, football and hockey games for a number of years and also did broadcast work at the 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2008 Olympics. Perhaps his biggest break came in 2009 when he was hired to do radio play-by-play by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He remained in that role until 2015 when he started his current job with WEEI and the Red Sox.

Keep reading as Neverett shares his thoughts and memories on his career and this year’s World Series winning team.

Tim Neverett Interview:

Who was your favorite player/team growing up and why?: My favorite team growing up was the Red Sox. I grew up in and still live in Nashua, New Hampshire, which is less than an hour drive from Fenway Park. I also followed the Celtics and Bruins a lot when I was younger.

What made you interested in a broadcasting career?: I became interested in a broadcasting career when I knew I probably wasn't going to play past my college days and wanted to still be in the game. I have broadcast a number of sports on both TV and radio and I figured that I would have a better chance for a longer career calling games than trying to play in them. We all play our last game and mine was a long time ago.

What is the most memorable game you have ever called?: The most memorable game I have ever called might be the National League Wild Card game in Pittsburgh versus Cincinnati in 2013. The Pirates had a long postseason drought and the atmosphere was still the best I have ever seen at a game. That includes a medal round Olympic Basketball game between the USA and Greece in Athens in 2004. That atmosphere was incredible. The USA eventually won, but Greece gave them a battle to the end. 

At PNC Park the night of Oct 1, 2013 was the best it has ever been there before or since. The Pirates won then took the Cardinals to the brink in the NLDS, losing in 5 games. Also, the 18-inning Game 3 of the 2018 World Series. I have done games 18 innings or more in the past, but never one that took 7 hours and 20 minutes to complete.

Who is the most interesting player/coach you have interacted with during your career?: The most interesting player might have been former right-handed pitcher Ross Ohlendorf. I know, random, but this is a guy who almost scored perfect on his SAT exam, went to Princeton and did very well there. He would read western novels while sitting in the dugout during the afternoon and interned one off season with the United States Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C. I was on a White House visit with him in 2009 and he asked the Secret Service most of the questions and they were questions that you would never, ever think of asking. His intelligence was on another level, but he wouldn't let you know it. 

Of course, Mookie Betts of the Red Sox, who is not only one of the best players I have ever seen, but he bowls perfect games on the pro circuit and can solve the Rubik's Cube in two minutes or less. He is a great person, also. Many other interesting people in this game; too many to mention.

What are your thoughts on the recent 2018 Red Sox season and World Series victory? How did they pull this off?: The 2018 Red Sox won the World Series with great pitching out of the bullpen during the postseason, timely offense and with the exception of one potential game ending play in the 13th inning of Game 3, played exceptional defense. Steve Pearce provided much needed offense when Mitch Moreland was not 100% health wise.  Pearce picked up the slack and then some. Jackie Bradley Jr.'s bat came to play at the right times, also.

What is something about this year's team that many people may not know or realize?: Something about this team that people may not know is how quickly they were able to shake off losses or bad performances. That started with the manager and was contagious. Alex Cora was the same guy in April as he was in October, win or lose. I spent a lot of time in his office with him and observed him after big wins and difficult losses. He was never different and I think that translated to the players in the clubhouse. The biggest example is being walked off in Game 3 of the World Series. Cora told the team how proud he was of them after the game and then they showed up after a short night and won Game 4 decisively, effectively putting the World Series away.   

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Thursday, November 22, 2018

The Man With 5,000 Barry Bonds Rookies: The Baseball Historian's Notes for November 22, 2018

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! May your hearts be full and your plates even fuller. As you recline from your bountiful meal, here’s another addition of the Baseball Historian’s notes for your holiday enjoyment.

-Jesse “Pop” Haines had a 19-year Hall-Of Fame career as a right-handed pitcher with the Cincinnati Reds (1918) and St. Louis Cardinals (1920-1937) that saw him win 210 games. However, the knuckleballer had an even lengthier post-baseball career, serving as the Montgomery County, Ohio auditor for 28 years. The Dayton Daily News recently detailed his service, showing that he strove to be the best at whatever he did throughout his professional life.

-With the free agency season upon us, expect to see any number of exorbitant contracts signed—including individual deals in excess of $100 million in total value. $100+ million contracts seem to be the norm these days, but it was just 20 years ago that the first major league player, right-handed pitcher Kevin Brown, inked the first such pact in 1998 with the San Diego Padres (Seven years, $105 million). Yahoo! Sports ran a piece by Sports Illustrated’s Gabriel Baumgartner about how that contract came to be.

Although Brown lasted just one season with the Padres, he provided good value over the course of the deal (including seasons spent with the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees). In those seven years, he was a combined 86-45 with a 2.87 ERA.

-Here is some incredible footage of the 1934 All Star Game, which took place at the Polo Grounds in New York. This video not only details part of Giants’ pitcher Carl Hubbell’s famed five consecutive strikeouts of the American League’s heart of the order, but also shows a wide array of other historical figures and players.

-Tampa Bay Times sportswriter Marc Topkin recently sat down with his paper to discuss his book Twenty Years of Rays Baseball.  Unbelievably, the franchise marked its twentieth year in existence during the 2018 season. The team was among the worst in baseball in the early years, but since then has made a World Series and has developed a reputation for annually fielding a competitive if not contending team despite one of the lowest budgets in baseball.

-Shortstop Honus Wagner was one of the great players in baseball history. He spent his entire 21-year playing career with the Louisville Colonels/Pittsburgh Pirates franchise and then went on to coach/manage them for a number of years; more than earning his enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. It is with little surprise that the city of Pittsburgh had great admiration for him. This footage of a parade the city gave him in appreciation not only shows a vast turnout, but also some neat clip of him clowning around with a ball and bat.

-An extremely rare program from Game 7 of the 1903 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and Pirates recently sold at auction for a whopping $228,780. Pittsburgh wound up winning the inaugural Series five games to three (The World Series started as a best-of-nine games affair). There are only two other known copies of 1903 World Series programs, which look much different than today’s thick glossy editions.

-Although outfielder Barry Bonds remains somewhat of a baseball pariah following his 2007 retirement in the face of swirling performance enhancing drug allegations and legal troubles, he is still popular in the world of baseball cards. Forbes’ Daniel Seideman profiled Greg Mirmelli, who has amassed a collection of over 5,000 1986 Topps Traded Bonds cards, which is his rookie issue. The avid collector has spent in excess of $120,000 on the cards and is part of a greater Bonds collection that is insured for $1 million.

-Here’s something from the vaults of Hollywood. On January 15, 1957, Phil Rizzuto’s daughter Pat appeared on an episode of the popular game show To Tell the Truth. This aired just months after the shortstop ended a 13-year Hall—of-Fame career with the Yankees. 

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Friday, November 16, 2018

Boston Red Sox Manager Alex Cora Was Not Robbed in Manager of the Year Award Vote

Now that the 2018 Major League Baseball postseason has concluded, various awards have been given in a number of categories. Recently, Oakland Athletics’ skipper Bob Melvin beat out Alex Cora of the Boston Red Sox for American League Manager of the Year. This has not set well with many Boston fans, who rightfully adore Cora for helping his team to this year’s World Series title. However, common sense shows that Melvin was a fine choice for this award.

First of all, Cora, who led Boston to a team-record 108 regular season victories and ultimately the Championship was a dynamic manager in his inaugural campaign, who artfully directed a big payroll team like a steamroller. He was a great candidate for the AL Manager of the Year Award, but so was Melvin.

The A’s won a surprising 97 games in a tough AL West that featured the 103- win Houston Astros and 89-win Seattle Mariners. It was a true dog fight and Oakland hung tough despite having a payroll ($86.9 million) that was nearly a third that of Boston’s ($237.4 million). Oakland obviously did a lot with much less.

As with most teams in General Manager Billy Beane’s tenure, the 2018 Athletics were a mash up of younger players and “off the heap” veterans. Although the team bashed 227 home runs, they hit just a combined .252. They were led by young rising star third baseman Matt Chapman who did his best Brooks Robinson two-way performance, and outfielder Khris Davis who seemingly does little else than hit .247 with at least 40 home runs every season—including leading the league with 48 this year.

Oakland’s pitching staff was a major plus, as they posted a collective 3.81 ERA, which placed sixth in the league. They also permitted the fourth-least walks and third-least hits. However, this was a classic patchwork job. The tam had 34 players who threw at least one pitch this season. Only three of them reached the 100 innings threshold, paced by ace Sean Manaea, who had just 160.2. His 12 wins were also the high water mark on a team and he was their only pitcher to reach double digits.

At the end of the day it’s very important for anyone contesting the results of this award that there is no exact metric that can be leaned on to help determine rightful winners. No, we can’t tell who was liked more by their players or which lineup tweaks produced the best long-lasting results. In the cases of Cora and Melvin, they each helmed extremely success teams. Yes, Cora’s quad won the World Series, but Melvin excelled on a shoestring budget. They were both worthy choices, but let’s permit Melvin to enjoy the spoils of his success and Alex Cora can assuage any negativity he may feel by re-adjusting the World Series trophy on his mantel and basking in the glow of his recent contract extension.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Vance Law Discusses His Life In Baseball

Vance Law had access to big league baseball that most kids can only dream about. His father Vern had a 16-year major league career as a star pitcher. Not surprisingly, Vance went into the family business and his in the midst of a 40-year (and still going) baseball career.

Vance has an 11-year career (1980-1991) playing in the majors for five different teams as an infielder. He hit a combined .256 with 71 home runs and 442 RBIs. His best season came in 1988 with the Chicago Cubs, as he was an All star, batting .293 with 11 home runs and 78 RBIs. Since his playing career ended he has worked extensively in coaching at various levels.

I recently had a chance to ask Vance some questions about his career. He provided some detailed and enthralling answers. Keep reading for more about his experiences in the game.

Who was your favorite player (other than your dad) when you were growing up, and why?: My favorite player was Willie Stargell for a couple of reasons. First, he took the time to play pepper with this seven or eight year old kid down in the right field bullpen of old Forbes Field, and actually was the one who asked me to play with him. Secondly, he had tremendous power and on occasion would hit prodigious home runs over the right field roof. I also loved to watch him throw because he had a great arm from left field, where most people don’t know he played when he first came up with the Pirates.

Can you describe your draft experience with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1978- How did you find out you had been selected?: It was following my senior year at BYU and I thought I had a very good season. I really thought I might go in the first 10 rounds or so because I played very well in all the major tournaments we played where the scouts were and also in the Western Athletic Conference Finals against Arizona State, a major power in the NCAA. Scouts flocked to watch them play with the likes of Bob Horner, Hubie Brooks, Ken Landreaux, Floyd Bannister, Bobby Pate, Chris Bando, etc. I had a very good series there and had high hopes for the draft.

The first day went by as I sat in my apartment expecting to get a phone call yet it didn’t happen, then the second day passed and was coming to a close and still no phone call. I was very discouraged and was really banking on having the chance to play professional baseball, but it looked like that wasn’t going to happen. After the second day, I didn’t even stay around my apartment and it wasn’t until the 10 pm news broadcast that it mentioned that I was drafted in the 39th round by the Pittsburgh Pirates. I was very excited to at least have the chance to play professional baseball, but didn’t receive a phone call until the following day when I received a call telling me when to report to Pirate City in Bradenton, FL.

What was it like growing up with a father who was a major league player?: I was very proud to be the son of a major league baseball player, but expectations were higher for me and I think I put more pressure on myself to be better than others. I was just a normal kid, though and made physical mistakes like everyone else. Because I had the opportunity to see a lot of baseball games, I do believe I knew better than most kids my age how to play the game, and my exposure of being around the game, being able to shag and play catch with big leaguers during batting practice was a definite advantage.

I felt that kind of pressure all the way through high school and college and would often hear remarks from fans and opposing players that I wasn’t that good and that my dad was the reason I was on my college team. Seems crazy to think that people try to raise themselves by putting a young kid down with their words. As a young kid, I was so proud to be able to walk out of the clubhouse holding my dad’s enormous hand because he was so recognizable and by association, I felt important too.

I had access to major leaguers which was pretty cool and could come and go as I pleased at Forbes Field. One time, while I was shagging, I got the idea that the new balls that the Pirates used for BP would make a pretty good souvenir for some fans, so I kept some of them and lined four or five of them up on the foul line right where it met the right field wall. Following BP, I put them in my glove and went in near the clubhouse and as the players walked by, I asked them to sign the balls. After the ball had a fair amount of signatures, I took them up into the stands near the souvenir stand and undercut the price of the balls they were selling. It didn’t take long to sell them and I had nearly $15 in my pocket. I thought, “what a business!” I sold the balls for about $3 a pop while the souvenir stand sold them for $3.50. I did this so I could have some concession money during the games. My mother only gave me a quarter each night because we went to a lot of the games and I’d have to save for four nights if I was going to get the tasty pizza that was sold for $1. So all of a sudden, I had plenty of money to have a pizza and popcorn. After a couple nights of good business, my mom must have told my dad and he watched me gather balls and start to get them signed when he came out of the clubhouse and asked me if those balls belonged to me. Reluctantly, I said I didn’t buy them but the Pirates had so many of them that it didn’t seem to matter much. He asked me if that was the honest thing to do. That’s all he had to say and I was out of business. But that’s the kind of man my dad is. Always honesty and integrity above all else and I have remembered that lesson my entire life.

What do you remember most about your major league debut?: I will never forget when I was called up. I was in my hotel room in morning of May 31, 1980 in Spokane, Washington playing for the Portland Beavers on a short road trip. Our manager, Jim Mahoney, called me on the phone and asked if I was sitting down. I said, “Should I be?” and he simply replied that the Pirates just called and wanted me in Pittsburgh tonight so to get a cab, go to the ball park, collect my gear, fly back to Portland, have my wife meet me there with more clothes and fly to Pittsburgh. I was so excited, I could hardly believe that my dream of playing in the major leagues for my childhood favorite team was about to come true. I called my wife and she was so excited for me. I wasn’t making enough money to fly her back with me so I made the trip solo.

My dad was coaching in Japan at the time so I didn’t know how to get a hold of him and my mother right away. I’ll never forget landing in Pittsburgh and taking another cab to the ball park and coming out of the Fort Pitt tunnel with the lights of 3 Rivers Stadium illuminated right there in front of me. I wasn’t activated until the following day, June 1, and when I got to the ballpark, I saw that I was in the lineup, playing second base. I was a little scared about that because I had played second only a couple times my senior year in college. I took a bunch of ground balls during BP and turned double plays and tried to get as comfortable as possible in an hour of work.

During the game I actually turned a double play and the action shot was in the paper the next day with Hubie Brooks from ASU, now with the Mets, sliding in and me jumping over him. I remember very vividly my knees and legs actually shaking during my first at bat.

Since it was Cap Day, there were about 55,000 fans there that day (paid attendance is listed at 49,626!) so I was plenty nervous. I was facing a left hander Pete Falcone and flew out to right field my first at bat. I got my first hit, a line double down the right field line, off Tom Hausman in I believe my fourth at bat. They stopped the game and threw my first hit ball to the dugout. I was very proud. When I came off the field, they presented me with the ball and my joy went to shock when I began to read what was written. I’d never be able to show it to anyone, let alone my wife or parents. They had written curse words all over it. After a few seconds of watching my response, they busted up laughing and Willie Stargell, my childhood hero, who was playing first base, presented me with my first hit ball. He has great penmanship and wrote up the game situation and signed it for me. It is a real treasure for me.

Following the game, which we won, I was sitting in my locker almost not believing I actually was in the major leagues. I was bent over untying my spikes, when a pair of shoes walked up and stopped right in front of me. I looked up and it was Harvey Haddix, our pitching coach, but also a teammate of my dad’s back in the 60’s. He reached forward, and said, “Congratulations, have a beer.” I looked at him and said, “Thanks Harvey, but you know I don’t drink.” He said, “I’m just checkin’ son.” Having played a number of years with my dad, he knew that my dad was a strong member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and didn’t drink alcohol and rightly assumed that I had the same beliefs. 

You fared well in your seven major league pitching appearances (3.38 ERA). What was in your repertoire?: I was called on to pitch in those seven games, all blowouts, to save our bullpen for the next night. Because I would often throw early and extra BP hours before game time, our managers knew that I could throw strikes and at that point in the game, that’s all they wanted so as not to prolong the game. I took it very seriously though. I didn’t want to go out there and embarrass myself by giving up a bunch of runs either.

The first time I pitched was against the San Diego Padres and I faced Marvell Wynne, Kevin McReynolds and the late great HOF’er Tony Gwynn. I got all three to ground out; three up, three down. I went to the dugout and joked what’s so tough about that since the game was well out of hand. Many years later, I read an article where Tony was asked if there was one at bat that he would like to have back and he said that was the one. As far as what I threw? I threw a four-seam fastball, a two-seamer that sank a little, a very average slider, and rarely, a very weak change up. The key as I have always heard was to throw strikes. 

What is your favorite moment from your baseball career?: There are so many memorable moments that it is too tough to single out just one. Team-wise, it was winning divisions in 1983 and 1989. It was also truly an honor to be named to the 1988 National League All Star team along with five Chicago Cubs team mates.

Personally, I had a few game winning hits, a few two-home run games, but probably the most memorable was a walk off grand slam while playing with the Montreal Expos against my former team the Pirates. It remains the only grand slam I ever hit, in little league all the way to the major leagues.

Who was the toughest, nastiest pitcher you ever faced?: The toughest pitchers varied from year to year, though they were always tough each year, one year each would have unhittable stuff. Dwight Gooden and Nolan Ryan were tough every year because of their overpowering fastballs and nasty curves.  Fernando Valenzuela was tough with his pinpoint control and screwball, plus he threw pretty hard too. Orel Hershiser was tough to face because of his smarts, a hard sinker and great control, particularly in 1988.

Mike Witt with the Angels was always a challenge, but I think if I had to name one guy, it would be David Cone when he was with the Mets. He threw almost every pitch except his split finger from all angles so you never knew what was coming and he threw hard as well. He’s who I would call nasty. One year I believe I hit .300 off him. I was 3 for 10 with 3 singles and 7 strikeouts! He was very tough to hit.

If there is anything you could go back and do differently about your baseball career, what would that be?: I was way too serious! I would make a conscious effort to outwardly show how much I enjoyed playing. Don’t get me wrong, I truly enjoyed playing, but I didn’t smile enough, and I believe I kind of took it for granted that it would always be there, kind of like raising kids. Before you know it they are grown and gone and you say, “Where did the time go?” I was so fortunate to do what I did for as long as I did. I also would interact more with the fans. I always tried to be cordial but I think I could have done even more. It is always nice to be kind.

What are you up to since retiring as a player?: I took a couple of years off to see if something would grab me in life after baseball. I dabbled in coaching at a local junior college, then when my oldest son was in high school he was going into a terrible baseball program, so I volunteered to the principal to coach the baseball team to try and give him and his friends a chance to have a better experience and what do you know, we won the state championship the third year there and took second and third two other years. From there, I was hired at BYU and was the head coach for 13 years.

For the past six seasons, I have been a roving instructor in the minor league system of the Chicago White Sox, one season over outfield and base running, three seasons as the hitting coordinator and the last two as the infield coordinator. They eliminated that position following this season so currently I am actively looking for a professional level coaching job. I have been so fortunate to have been in baseball either as a player or coach since I signed in 1978, nearly 40 years. Where has the time gone?

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

Thursday, November 8, 2018

3 Free Agents That May Interest the Boston Red Sox This Off-Season

Now that the 2018 baseball season is over and Boston Red Sox players have retired to their couches and golf courses to enjoy the off-season, eyes shift to 2019. While the team will return an impressive core, there is always a desire to explore available players who may be able to improve on what is already in place. Let’s take a look at some available free agents that could be a good fit for Boston.

The 2019 Boston payroll is currently in excess of $155 million, which doesn’t take into account what players will earn through arbitration and contract renewals. That figure rises to $211 million in salary when using projections for those without contracts at the moment. It’s important to also point out that over $30 million are owed to Pablo Sandoval, Manny Ramirez and Rusney Castillo, who are all long removed from the team. Castillo is still in the Boston system, but will never get called up, as his onerous salary ($11+ million annually through 2020) is not counted towards the luxury tax threshold as long as he remains off the active and 40-man rosters.

With the luxury tax threshold expected to be at $206 million in 2019, Boston is sure to once again be in the penalty box, but the question will be, how far over are they willing to go? Perhaps some of these free agents will be too tempting to pass up.

Marwin Gonzalez, Infielder/Outfielder: There is not a clear need for this jack-of-all-trades, so pursuing him on the open market would be out of pure extravagance. However, the 29-year-old has shown an ability to play competently at every position except catcher and pitcher in his seven year career with the Houston Astros. He has also developed some pop in his bat, going from a singles hitter earlier in his career to a someone who hit as many as 23 home runs in a season as recently as 2017.

Gonzalez would be a great, albeit expensive, insurance policy for Boston at second base. Dustin Pedroia is coming back from yet another injury-riddled season and is on the wrong side of 35. Backup option Eduardo Nunez had a miserable 2018 on both sides of the ball. Gonzalez would make such uncertainty much easier to deal with, while giving Boston someone who could also step into many positions at a moment’s notice if necessary. The question on fit would come down to money and Gonzalez’s desire for a guarantee of playing time.

Nathan Eovaldi, Starting Pitcher: Arriving this summer as a mid-season acquisition, the right-handed flame thrower was impressive, posting a 3.33 ERA in 12 regular season appearances and then emerging as a post-season hero (1.61 ERA starting and relieving). The Sox already have a strong rotation, but must be interested in bringing back this pitcher, who at 28 has undergone two Tommy John surgeries, but regularly hits 100 MPH with his 

fastball and recently added a very effective cutter that has only increased his effectiveness.
It’s hard to imagine that any free agent made himself more money than Eovaldi did over the final month or two of the season. One potentially facing a one or two year deal, he will be getting paid, and paid well over multiple seasons now. Given how he performed in Boston and how his teammates respect and admire him, look for the team to make a strong push to return him to the fold.

Greg Holland, Relief Pitcher: The Red Sox extended a qualifying offer to current closer Craig Kimbrel, but it would be a surprise if he were to accept it, given what he can likely earn in free agency. If the offer is indeed rejected this is one area where the team may be able to save a little money. Veteran Matt Barnes may be an internal candidate to close, but lacks experience in that role. Bringing in Holland, who will likely not command a huge deal would be another option, even if is just to provide insurance to someone else like Barnes.

At one time the 33-year-old right-hander was one of the best closer in the game, combining for 93 saves and a 1.32 ERA in 2013-14 with the Kansas City Royals. Unfortunately, he missed all of 2016 because of injury. Although he led the National League in saves with 41 for the Colorado Rockies upon his return in 2017, he had a 3.68 ERA and saw a big spike in his WHIP. He was putrid this past season with the St. Louis Cardinals (7.92 ERA in 32 games), but was a revelation after being traded mid-year to the Washington Nationals, posting a microscopic 0.84 ERA with three saves in 24 relief appearances.

Holland should command a much more manageable deal than some of the sexier closer free agent candidates. Could it be possible he might even take a one-year make good deal (higher salary for one year) to set himself up for one more potential free agent splash in 2020? If so, the Red Sox may spring to the phone to dial his agent, as he appears to be an intriguing fit.

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Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Pitcher Miguel Fuentes' Tragic Death As He Was About To Become a Star

Every so often a bright baseball star is snuffed out far too early due to tragedy. One of these was the sad case of pitcher Miguel Fuentes, who was a top prospect whose greatest distinction in his 26-inning major league career was throwing the final pitch in Seattle Pilots history. Unfortunately, just as his burgeoning career was taking off, he was murdered in the parking lot of a bar at the age of 23, ending what might have been a star career in tragic fashion.

A native of Puerto Rico, the right-handed Fuentes was slight (6’0” and 160 pounds), but became known as a top amateur pitcher. In 1968, scout Felix Delgado signed the hurler to a contract for the Pilots.

Fuentes was sent to Single-A for the 1969 season and proved he was way too advanced for the level. In 26 games (6 starts) he was 8-2 with a 1.46 ERA, two shutouts and two saves. He only permitted 47 hits in 74 innings, which seemed like solid proof that the 23-year-old was ready for the majors. The Pilots agreed and brought him up for the final month of the season.

The Pilots were in the midst of a miserable season in 1969 that would see them sport a 64-98 record. Fuentes was slipped into a jack of all trades role down the stretch. He showed off his vast potential almost immediately, pitching a complete-game seven-hitter against the Chicago White Sox in just his third big league appearance.

Fuentes wound up making eight appearances (four starts) for the Pilots, going 1-2 with a 5.19 ERA. He also threw the team’s final pitch in the season finale (the team moved to Milwaukee and became the Brewers the following season)—a line out to center field by future Hall-of-Famer Reggie Jackson of the Oakland Athletics. Accordingly, hopes were high for the young pitcher as he embarked to the off season and pitching for the Caguas Criollos of the Puerto Rican Winter League.

On January 29, 1970, Fuentes was at a bar in Loiza Aldea celebrating the end of Criollos’ season, drinking with a group of teen aged friends. He went outside to relieve himself due to the establishment’s non-working plumbing. Another patron, who thought the pitcher was too close to their vehicle shot him three times in the abdomen, hand and thigh at close range. He went into shock and died shortly after being taken to a hospital where medical staff could do nothing to save the young man.

There is no known information (that I could find) about what happened to Fuentes’ murderer. What is known is that a young baseball player on the verge of possibility and opportunity was cut down before he had a chance to fully display the talent that had made him one of the top prospects in baseball. 

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