Top 100 Baseball Blog

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Baseball Historian's Notes for July 29, 2013: Baseball Legacies Ain't What They Used to Be

The recent suspension of Ryan Braun for 65 games without pay because of his involvement with PEDs in the Biogenesis scandal is the latest example of the vastly changed landscape of baseball. It used to be that salacious cheating came in the form of doctored baseballs, corked bats and stealing signs. It’s a whole new ballgame now.

The traditional forms of cheating were typically viewed with a laugh and knowing shake of the head, in addition to modest punishments being meted out. Even a Hall of Famer like Gaylord Perry wrote a book lampooning the success he reaped from his ability to make Vaseline a weapon of mass destruction. These things didn’t hurt player’s reputations; if anything it frequently made their bones, and not in a bad way.

Performance enhancers are an entirely different kettle of fish. Those caught juicing have been roundly met with disdain, while those caught multiple times or found to be tangled in a web of lies have made the remainder of their careers into punch lines. Braun is already starting to see what his reaping has sewn, as fans have firmly ensconced him as the newest poster child for baseball shame. Once he returns to the field, he may continue to put up big numbers and earn large sums of money, but for all intents and purposes, his career as he once knew it is over.

***Contrasting the recent disgrace of those associated with PEDs is a guy like Jimmy Vaughan. He was a semi-pro pitcher in the 1910s and 1920s, who made a very profitable career out of his ability to throw a spitball and otherwise doctor the ball with various substances. This article describes how Vaughan, long deceased, was an incredibly coveted player because of his goopy talents, and loved by fans because of his ability to baffle hitters. He didn’t flaunt what he did, but everyone knew he was loading up the ball. For whatever reason, cheating in baseball is now construed completely differently than in the past.

***Pitchers don’t always need substances to make the balls do funny things. Hall of Fame knuckleballer Phil Niekro was a maestro in making the horsehide dance. This brief clip shows his ability to make hitters look downright foolish on an extremely off-speed pitch.

***Here is a fantastic picture of a very young Lou Gehrig. The future Hall of Famer is front and center, and in the uniform of the Hartford Senators of the Eastern League. Although the picture is dated 1922, it was almost certainly taken in 1921 or 1923.

Gehrig played 12 games under a false name for Hartford in 1921 in the summer following his freshman year with Columbia University. He played incognito because being discovered would have impacted his collegiate eligibility. Of course, he was found out and forced to sit out the next year at Columbia. He returned to Hartford in 1923, and debuted with the New York Yankees later that year, establishing his legacy as the “Iron Horse.”

***Outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. will always be remembered as one of the most naturally talented players in the history of the game. He could make the most difficult of plays look effortless, both at the plate and on defense.  On May 20, 2006, his talent was great enough to overshadow a bit of history.

Facing Detroit Tigers reliever Joel Zumaya in Detroit, Griffey, who was playing for the Cincinnati Reds, he took a 104.8 MPH fastball and deposited it deep into right field stands for a grand slam. Although it was the fastest recorded pitch at the time in baseball history, Griffey negated the impact of that achievement by his big hit, which erased a 5-2 deficit for his team and helped them go on to win the game.

***This piece, which recently appeared in the Smithsonian, details the history of the baseball glove. Mitts were first developed in the 19th century to help players prevent injuries and other wear and tear on their hands from bare-handing balls and making tag plays. At first, there was actually a stigma among players about wearing gloves, but as the designs improved and their utility was proven, they became a staple. There has been an amazing evolution in gloves, which have become one of the most important pieces of equipment for a player.

***Hall of Fame pitcher Warren Spahn’s 1957 National League Cy Young Award recently went up for auction. It was just one of hundreds of memorabilia items put up for sale by Spahn’s son Greg, who planned to distribute the proceeds (the award went for $126,000 alone!) among his siblings.

Spahn won the 1957 Cy Young after going 21-11 with a 2.69 ERA in 39 games for the Milwaukee Braves. Incredibly, although he won 20 or more games an amazing 13 times during his career, that was the only time he won the top pitching award (He did have four other top-3 finishes).

***And now, your moment of Zen. It’s a serious matter when a player is injured and has to miss time, but there have been some bizarre things that have caused boo boos. recently came up with a list of the 24 strangest injuries in major league history. From the player whose false teeth bit him in the butt when sliding in to second base, to Wade Boggs suffering a strained back attempting to put on cowboy boots, there have been some truly odd incidents. While some games were missed, and a few laughs were had at their expense, none of the players on this list suffered any long-term issues.

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

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Matt Ridings: The Difficulties in Chasing a Dream

The Kansas City Royals were expected to do great things in 2013 thanks to a revamped roster that saw them make a number of substantial trades and free-agent signings last offseason. Unfortunately, they are in danger of chalking up their 18th losing season in 19 years, and still have holes to fill if they want to compete in the future. One of their minor leaguers who had hoped to one day nab a place on their roster was pitcher Matt Ridings, who had persevered during his young career despite nothing coming to him easily. Unfortunately, it appears that dream has ended.

The 25-year-old right-hander was a big fish in a small pond at Western Kentucky University. He was a sparkling 34-9 with a 4.14 ERA and 354 strikeouts in 384 career innings. Taken in the 25th round of the 2009 draft by the Washington Nationals, he decided to return to school to complete his college career.

Ridings finished his senior year on top, going 9-1 with a 3.01 ERA, but his final home game saw him tear the UCL in his throwing elbow. Although the injury scared many teams away, the Royals decided to make an investment and drafted him in the 41st round in 2010.

Following Tommy John surgery, Ridings debuted professionally in 2011 and pitched extremely well. His best season came last year, splitting time between Single-A and High-A, as he went 10-5 with a 2.63 ERA in 36 games (10 starts).

He converted to relief full-time in 2013, and was relatively effective for Double-A Northwest Arkansas; posting a 1-1 record and 3.98 ERA in 15 games. Unfortunately, the Royals decided to part ways with him, and he was released in mid-June.

During his three minor league seasons, he was 14-10 with a 3.23 ERA in 65 games (24 starts). He struck out 168 batters in 189.2 innings, while walking just 39 batters.

Prior to his release, Ridings was nice enough to answer some questions about his career. Here’s hoping he is able to get back in the game if that is something he would like to do.

Matt Ridings interview:

Who was your favorite player and team when you were growing up, and why?: My favorite team was definitely the Braves. Both my grandpas and my dad were big Braves fans and so was I! I always had a few favorite players. I was a big Smoltz, Maddux and Glavine fan. I also really like Chipper. I respect all of them for what they accomplished in Atlanta.

How did you end up attending Western Kentucky?: Even though I only lived about an hour away I had never really heard of WKU until I heard from their baseball coach and took a visit up there. It was the best decision I ever made. The coaches were awesome and the friendships and experiences I had there were life changing. 

What led to you passing on signing with the Nationals when they drafted you in the 25th round in 2009?: It was definitely one of the hardest decisions of my life.  I had dreamed since the day I started playing baseball to play professionally. To turn down that opportunity was an incredibly tough decision, but having the opportunity to graduate and do some special things my senior year at WKU helped me in my decision. I made the right decision and have no regrets!

What was your 2010 draft day like?: It was a roller coaster of emotion. I was still recovering from my Tommy John surgery and I was still trying to figure out exactly why things were happening like they were.  I wasn’t even sure that I would get drafted. Thanks to the Kansas City Royals and my scout Jason Bryans, the Royals took a chance on me and drafted me in the 41st round. I got a phone call from Jason and he told me to stay on the line and listen for my name.  I was so thrilled and so blessed and I can’t really put into words the feeling when you get drafted, it is very special!

Where do you think you would have been drafted in 2010 if you hadn't suffered the elbow injury?: This is a tough one because so much goes on during draft day that can change so much. Based on what I heard from some scouts and coaches, I had reason to believe I would be drafted around the 10th round. Again, I’m not really sure, and it would have been nice to find out but everything happens for a reason and it all worked out!

Which pitches do you throw; which is your best; and which do you believe needs the most work?: I throw a four-seam and two-seam fastball, a curveball, and a changeup. My best is definitely my fastball. I have always been a fastball pitcher, relying on location. I would say that my changeup could use the most work. Some games it is very good, others it isn’t. Hoping to get it more consistent.

Which coach or manager in the Royals system has had the greatest influence on you?: So far it would have to be Vance Wilson, my manager with the Wilmington Blue Rocks.  He is a great coach and really knows how to get the best out of his players.  I honestly haven’t ran into a coach in the Royals system that hasn’t done all they can to help me out with my career!

How stressed were you starting your pro career, competing against other top players and coming off a major injury?: I had a very unique situation. I was drafted and flew to Arizona and went straight into rehab for an entire year.  It was very tough knowing I was getting a late start to my career but I was blessed that the Royals believed in me and I was so excited when I finally got a chance to prove what kind of pitcher I am. I was definitely more excited and anxious than anything else.

What do you like to do that's not baseball related?: Well, I just got married in September, so lately I have really been enjoying the time I have been spending with my wife! We have been away from each other a lot because of baseball so it is great to be together!

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

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Baseball Historian's Notes for July 22, 2013: Teams Must Be Careful to Not Over-Extend Themselves

In these heady days of nine-figure contract extensions, it is becoming increasingly less likely to see a player spend their entire career with the same team. Those who do, like the New York Yankees’ Mariano Rivera, can achieve icon status. However, teams seeking to retain their signature players have to be careful not to make bad business decisions in the name of sentiment.

The Boston Red Sox are reportedly discussing the framework of a five or six-year contract extension with star second baseman Dustin Pedroia that would pay him in the neighborhood of $20 million per year. The 29-year-old has won a Rookie of the Year award and an MVP in his eight seasons in Boston, while hitting .304 and accumulating many other recognitions. His diminutive size and swing-out-of-his-socks style of play have made him a fan favorite. Despite his resume, entertaining an extension at this point is a foolhardy move for the Red Sox, and could backfire on them down the road.

Pedroia is currently under team control through the 2015 season on a deal that will pay him a combined $21 million over the two full seasons (assuming the team picks up a 2015 team option). Laying out a rich extension now makes little sense with so much time left until he is eligible for free agency.

Star players like Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols have inked huge deals in recent years and then seen their production fall off a cliff. While it would be great to keep Pedroia in a Boston uniform for the entirety of his career, it would be prudent to wait and extend him a little later down the road based on what they think he can do for the team in the future, not what he did for them in the past.

***Speaking of the Red Sox, they have enjoyed one of the most dedicated fan bases in the game going back to their earliest days. This picture of Opening Day in 1912 at Fenway Park shows that even before the days of mass transportation, the faithful poured into the stadium like enchanted lemmings to root for the Beantown Nine. The neighborhood and park have changed in the 101 years since that photo was taken but the allure of the team has persevered through the passage of time; a testament to their power over the region.

***Likely history was made last week by a Cleveland Indians season ticket holder who was attending a home game against the Kansas City Royals. Greg Van Niel became the envy of 10-year-old boys everywhere by catching four foul balls during that epic game. He had never snagged a ball before but more than made up for it with his recent onset of sticky fingers. In case you were wondering, replicating Van Niel’s feat is a far reach at a very unlikely one in a trillion odds.

***Major League Baseball has had numerous players interrupt their playing careers to serve in the armed forces. The Korean War was one conflict that saw many players step away from the game to serve their country. USA Today’s Bob Nightengale profiled a handful of these players who exposed themselves to great risk and uncertainty, but have no regrets about the choices they made and the experiences they had.

Hall of Famers like Willie Mays, Ernie Banks and Whitey Ford missed significant time because of their military obligations. With the incredible numbers they put up during their careers, it is even more impressive to think of how those stats might have been padded with that additional time.

***SB Nation’s David Davis wrote an incredibly poignant article about Kirk Gibson’s famous 1988 World Series home run for the Los Angeles Dodgers against Oakland A’s closer Dennis Eckersley, and how the moment related to a personal tragedy for the author. He also wonders about whatever happened to the ball, which has never been officially identified as being recovered from that historic moment. Along the way, Davis explains the importance of baseball to a fan, the importance of honoring family, and how the two intersect and sometimes need to be kept separate. It’s a great read and only adds to the legend of the Gibson story.

***Players now-a-days get bent out of shape if an opponent goes into them with a hard slide or puts a good lick on a catcher at home plate. With that mentality, they would have hated to face Ty Cobb. In addition to a snarling and frequently hateful personality, he played the game with a ferocious intensity rarely seen before or since. He also earned a reputation for his violently aggressive base running, which included playing in spikes he allegedly honed to razor sharp points to intimidate and maim the opposing team. This picture shows the kind of play Cobb was capable of when he was challenged on taking a base. You just don’t see things like that on the bases any more…

***And now, your moment of Zen. For whatever reason, it seems like a small miracle when people throwing out ceremonial first pitches are able to get the ball within ten feet of home plate. There are others who make it seem like they are seeing a ball for the first time in their lives. A compilation has popped up showing some of the worst of the worst in first pitches. The flurry of balls spiked into the ground and thrown high and wide are good reminders that some things should simply be left to the professionals.

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

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Baseball Historian's Notes for July 15, 2013: Is it Time to Change the All Star Game?

 Despite making his major league debut on June 3rd and only playing in 37 games, 23-year-old Los Angeles Dodgers rookie sensation Yasiel Puig received a huge surge of support to make this year’s National League All Star team. The outfielder has done his best Roy Hobbs impression by hitting a blistering .392 with eight home runs and 19 RBI. While he made it to the final cut, he won’t be playing in the mid-summer classic on July 16th at Citi Field in Flushing, New York, as Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman grabbed the final roster spot.

An All Star nod for Puig would have been unprecedented but may have been exactly what baseball needs. As opposed to suffering through the mandatory representative from every team, MLB should move to a model that puts the most exciting players on the field. In this age of technology, fans from around the world are no longer relegated to primarily watching their hometown teams, so making sure every franchise has at least one player in the game is no longer as necessary.

The All Star game, which has rapidly lost appeal (This time it counts, anyone?), could use a shot of adrenaline administered squarely in a buttock. Showcasing the best up-and-coming stars like Puig would be a great way to do that. If MLB added one roster spot per squad for a top rookie or young player, they could introduce a new dynamic while not entirely blowing up the old system.

Although baseball embraces tradition with giant bear hugs, the truth is the game is frequently changing. The All Star game isn’t nearly as exciting as it used to be and needs to be fixed. If baseball can accomplish that while marketing its youngest best and brightest, it could be a win-win for everyone.

***The last All Star game hosted by the New York Mets was all the way back in 1964. It was a classic, as Philadelphia Phillies outfield Johnny Callison won the game for the National League with a walk-off home run against giant Boston Red Sox closer Dick Radatz.’s Steve Wulf recently did a wonderful profile on that game and the life and career of Callison, who was once billed as the next Mickey Mantle. Callison may not have reached such lofty expectations, but he did have an excellent 16-year major league career. He was able to overcome humble beginnings and to live a very successful life that stretched well beyond what he accomplished on the baseball diamond.

***Willie Mays is often mentioned as the best all-around player to ever set foot on a baseball diamond. His eclectic skills may have only been surpassed by the fictional feats of Sidd Finch, a lanky pitcher who was the literary creation of author George Plimpton. This picture shows Mays and Plimpton sitting side-by-side, in full uniform (Plimpton loved playing and writing about sports), no doubt discussing the inner workings of the game which they each had their own mastery of.

***Legendary comedian Don Rickles, who is also a big fan of baseball and the Dodgers, claims former Los Angeles manager Tommy Lasorda once let him make a pitching change during a game. SB Nation’s Rob Neyer speculates in an article that if that actually happened, it would have been during the 1977 season, when the Dodgers ran away with their division.

Rickles indicated he was in uniform and actually removed a pitcher from the game. Neyer can find no actual evidence that this ever happened, but also can’t conclusively say it didn’t. Either way, it’s a great story.

***There’s no historical significance to this next bit unless you count unbridled laughter that is sure to last for generations. During a Red Sox and Los Angeles Angels game several years ago at Fenway Park, a fan kerfuffle broke out in the third base stands after a foul ball interference. The imbroglio that followed included a perfectly good piece of pizza being launched through the air and on to the shoulder of the offending fan. The slice slinger was escorted from the game but not before his actions caused Red Sox announcers Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy to erupt into convulsive giggles.  

***Bobby Cox won 2,504 games during a 29-year major league managerial career spent primarily with the Atlanta Braves. With 15 division titles and five pennants to his name, he will be a slam dunk for the Hall of Fame.’s Terence Moore wrote about how the 72-year-old Cox may have retired following the 2010 season but has not distanced himself from the game. He still keeps track at home from his recliner, micromanaging without having to experience the grind from the dugout.

***Legendary Babe Ruth played his first major league game 99 years ago on July 11, 1914 for the Red Sox. To commemorate the event,’s Cliff Corcoran came up with 99 cool facts about the Bambino. These include how he was groomed to become a shirt maker before finding a career in baseball, and the fact that he won just a single MVP award during his Hall-of-Fame career. Part of what made him so popular while he played and now in death is how interesting his career and life were compared to the average player.

***And now, your moment of Zen. It may a little bit past Independence Day but never too late to celebrate a blatant act of patriotism. On April 25, 1976 at Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles, Chicago Cubs outfielder Rick Monday saved an American flag from being lit on fire by a couple of pyromaniacal protesters. Just as the banner was doused with lighter fluid and about to go up in flames, Monday sprinted  in from his position to snatch the symbol of America safely off the field just in the nick of time. 

A horrendous outfielder, the moment was arguably the greatest defensive play of his career.

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

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Baseball Historian's Notes for July 8, 2013: The Rise of the Golden Oldies

Although often attributed to performance enhancers and other nefarious training methodology, older players have become increasingly more productive and relevant in baseball. Two current examples are 40-year-old pitcher Bartolo Colon and 41-year-old designated hitter Raul Ibanez.

Colon is 11-3 with a 2.78 ERA for the Oakland Athletics, and an improbable mid-season candidate for the American League Cy Young. While the girthy right-hander has been conclusively linked to PEDs, there is no evidence that this season is being aided by anything other than veteran know-how and ballpark cheeseburgers.

Ibanez should see his production fall off a cliff because of his advancing age. Instead, he continues to mash home runs. As a mostly regular player for the Seattle Mariners, he has already cranked 21 homers in just 65 games this season. Amazingly, he is on pace to shatter his career high of 34 home runs, which he set in 2009.

The success of players like Colon and Ibanez just goes to show that some things do get better with age. Baseball may have an emphasis on young stars like Bryce Harper, Mike Trout and Manny Machado, but some of the old boys can still play a little too.

***SBNation’s Larry Granillo recently wrote about the 1973 season of Hall-of-Fame outfielder Hank Aaron, who earned his place among the senior citizen All-Stars by bashing 40 home runs that year at the age of 39. It marked the eighth time that “Hammerin’ Hank” hit at least 40 homers in a season, and left him with 713 at the end of that year, which was one behind then all-time leader Babe Ruth.

Aaron went on to break the home run record and play another three seasons. While his home run mark was later eclipsed by Barry Bonds, many still consider him to be the true home run king; a feat that was helped by the way he so gracefully aged without the alleged aid of steroids.

***Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig represent the most fearsome duo any lineup has ever boasted, as they terrorized opposing pitchers for the 12 years they spent together as teammates with the New York Yankees. In 1931, they tied for the American League lead by each swatting 46 home runs, but there was one pitcher they couldn’t solve. Her name was Jackie Mitchell.

The 17-year-old southpaw was signed as a promotional stunt by the Chattanooga Lookouts; as much for her skill as for the novelty of her gender. She had allegedly been tutored by pitching great Dazzy Vance and developed a high aptitude for hurling. The Lookouts signed her in part to prepare for their hosting of the Yankees in an exhibition game in April, 1931.

Prior to the game, Chattanooga paraded Mitchell around in sexist fashion; having her powder her nose before taking the mound. She then astonished the crowd by displaying impressive stuff and whiffing Babe and Gehrig in succession.

Mitchell went on to barnstorm around the country, even playing for the legendarily hairy House of David team. While there is no evidence to the contrary, some have speculated that her two famous strikeout victims were in on the act. However, in the absence of any proof, I prefer to chalk it up as another great story in the pantheon of baseball history.

***It seems that with each passing year, the rings crafted and presented to the players of the winning team in the World Series get more expensive and elaborate. But sometimes you just can’t beat classic simplicity. Check out this ring, which was one of those presented to the members of the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers after they won that year’s  Fall Classic.  It may not weigh five pounds and be encrusted with a cache of precious gems, but it sure looks like it was worth playing for.

***Ty Cobb and Ted Williams are among the top handful of batters baseball has ever known. While they also developed reputations for their prickly and sometimes offensive behavior, they are still best-remembered for their hitting prowess.

With Cobb (.367) and Williams (.344) ranking first and seventh all time respectively in career batting average, the two left-handed hitters were in their own stratosphere. Unfortunately, they never played against each other, as Cobb played his final major league game 11 years before the “Splendid Splinter” played his first. However, this photograph shows that the two did meet and interact, and no doubt talked about their favorite subject—hitting.

***Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland is in his 22nd year managing in the major leagues. He has won three pennants and a World Series during his career, while earning a reputation as a fiery and effective leader.

 Some things never change, at least according to legendary Tigers’ second baseman Lou Whitaker. He recently recalled how Leyland was his manager in 1976 when they were both young pups and with the Lakeland Tigers. Not only does Whitaker believe his former skipper has maintained the edge that whipped him into shape as a youngster, he also pointed out Leyland still has the nasty chain smoking habit some 30 years later.

***And now, a moment of Zen. Besides the classic ditty “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” baseball isn’t well known for its musical pursuits. It’s time to crown another baseball song as being worthy of your time. That would be Terry Cashman’s “Talking Baseball,” which was released in 1981. The lyrical rundown of some of the best players in baseball history is a whimsical look at how much fans enjoy discussing the game.  If only it could get more play time at stadiums around the country, it might make a serious run at the title of top baseball song…

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

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Tim Roberson: Proving the Depth of the Boston Red Sox's Minor League System

The Boston Red Sox have emphasized the cultivation of their farm system over the past two decades, which has led to the maturation of a number of valuable major league players. In recent years, the team increasingly relied more on obtaining veteran players through trades and free agency; causing the value of their player development program to slip a little. However, the consensus seems to be that now in year three of general manager Ben Cherington’s reign, the quality of their minor leagues has never been better. In addition to big bonus draftees, the organization also has young players making their mark despite a lack of signing bonus pedigree. This includes catcher Tim Roberson, who was signed as a free agent in 2011 for organizational depth, but has proved his talent is worth watching since then.

The 23-year-old Roberson starred for the Florida Gulf Coast University Eagles, splitting his time at catcher and third base. He finished his collegiate career with a .321 batting average and 40 home runs, along with a slew of other statistics that up him at or near the top of the school’s all-time records.

A DUI arrest left a major blemish on his senior year, but he accepted the consequences and moved on. While his name wasn’t called in the 2011 MLB Draft, he latched on with the Red Sox, who liked his hitting ability and intriguing versatility in the field.

Roberson has played sparingly in his first two-plus seasons as a minor leaguer but has done well when given an opportunity.

He played his first two years with the short-season Lowell Spinners, hitting .250 with five home runs and 16 RBI in 43 total games.

He has appeared in a total of 26 games in 2013, splitting his time between Single-A Greenville and High-A Salem, hitting a combined .307 with two home runs and 23 RBI. Because Boston’s top catching prospect, Blake Swihart, is with Salem, Roberson has seen the bulk of his playing time at DH.

Despite his inconsistent opportunities behind the plate, Roberson has shown a surprisingly effective arm, throwing out 15 of 32 runners since the start of last season.

There may be other prospects in Boston’s system with gaudier numbers and higher expectations, but Roberson is holding his own. Without the benefit of consistent playing time, it will be difficult for him to progress. However, he has already shown a knack for producing when given the opportunity, so it may just be a matter of waiting for his opening.

I was able to connect with Roberson this past offseason and ask him some questions about his baseball career. Keep reading to find out what he had to say.

Tim Roberson Interview:

Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?: My favorite player growing up was Albert Pujols. Growing up my favorite number was five and he also wore the same number. Also, I loved how he approached the game and his approach at the plate. He drove the ball to all fields and was feared when he stepped into the box.  

What was your college experience like at FGCU?: My college experience at FGCU was nothing less than great. I got to mature as a person on and off the field. When I first got to FGCU I was a little immature as a player and had a lot to learn. The things I learned on the field helped me to become into a better player. 

Our assistant coach Rusty McKee helped me to become into a better hitter at the plate, which led me to have a lot of success hitting at the college level. I was able to do some pretty cool things as a player that I will never forget. While I was there I got to play for some good coaches, and the players I played with were good as well and will be lifelong friends of mine. I got to catch Chris Sale, a big leaguer with the White Sox who was in the Cy Young hunt this past year, which was pretty neat to see. Got to play against a lot of big time college programs and ended up winning three conference championships in the four years I was there.

What were your expectations going into the 2011 MLB Draft?: I really had no expectations on the draft. I was really just focused on the college season ahead of me and trying to help my college team win games. My thought was if it happened, it happened.

What do you think you have improved on most since being signed?: The thing I have most improved on since being signed is being behind the plate. I have gotten more comfortable behind the plate since being with the Sox. The minor league catching coordinator Eppy (Chad Epperson) has helped me so much with being behind the plate, which has allowed me to be more relaxed back there. There is still a lot of work left to do to get to where I want to be but it’s coming along nicely.

What is one thing you would change about your professional career if you could go back in time?: There is nothing I would want to change with my experience playing pro ball. It has been a great experience; I have gotten to play for some really good coaches. We have really good coordinators, and also have played with some really good guys that have made the experience even better. Also, playing for a first class organization like the Red Sox has made it great as well.

What is the most difficult part of calling a game as a catcher?: I would just say knowing the hitter in the box and knowing your own pitchers’ strengths. My pitching coach the last two years, and former big leaguer, Paul Abbott has really helped me with this. Just talking and picking his brain helped me a lot, even if it was a game I wasn’t playing and in the dugout, and we would talk about certain situations and how to go about attacking that hitter.  

If you could have dinner with one baseball player from the present or past, who would that be and why?: I would have to say Albert Pujols just because he’s always been my favorite player and I would love to just sit and pick his brain about hitting. I think I could learn a lot over just a dinner to listen to one of the best hitters in the game.

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

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Baseball Historian's Notes for July 1, 2013: For the Love of the Game

One of the more endearing aspects of baseball is the way it can attract people and hold them in its gentle clutches for the remainder of their days. In an increasingly fast-paced world, professional players are more likely to be transitory; following the money or just the simple opportunity to stay in the game. No matter, there are baseball lifers all around who find that they are unable to do anything else but stay involved with the national pastime.

One of the most famous examples of a baseball lifer was Johnny Pesky, who was affiliated with the Boston Red Sox for an astounding 61 years. He was so closely linked to the team that he literally became synonymous with them, as evidenced by the eponymous Pesky Foul Pole in right field at Fenway Park. Such men are ambassadors and reminders of how much baseball can infiltrate the soul.

***One of the current longest-tenured baseball lifers is Doc Edwards. He is entering his 57th year in professional baseball, having served as a player, manager, coach and just about everything in between.

This New York Times piece by Dan Barry catches up with Edwards, who at the age of 76, is still going strong and managing in the independent leagues.

Edwards played parts of five major league seasons as a catcher with four teams, including the New York Yankees. He hit just .238 with 15 home runs before retiring for a new career in the dugout. He has 33 minor/independent league seasons and three major league seasons of managing under his belt. Although he has won over 2,000 collective games, his career record is below .500.

He has never been a star but always stuck with his game, and there doesn’t appear to be any end in sight. Edwards is a tremendous example of why baseball is magical to so many. In addition to a pastime it can also become a life, and a very good one at that.

***Hall-of-Fame pitcher Cy Young also remained involved in the game long after retiring as a player in 1911. This picture of him as an 87-year-old, which was taken at a 1954 old-timers game, shows youth knows no age when it comes to baseball. Sadly, he passed away the following year, but remained connected to his beloved sport until the end.

***Many of baseball’s legends are only described through written records and first-person narratives because of having played before the age of television. This included one of the greatest pitchers of all time, Walter Johnson, who spent his entire 21-year major league career pitching for the Washington Senators.

He won 417 games in his career, which is second all-time, behind only Cy Young. Unfortunately, fans and historians aren’t able to cue up video of his greatest starts but there are tantalizing tidbits of the right-hander in action.

This clip shows the impossibly lanky right-hander warming up and in game action. With long arms that seemingly would have allowed him to scratch his knees without bending at the waist, it’s easy to see how he was able to throw such a mighty fastball that earned him the nickname of “Big Train.”

***A little more than 29 years ago, one of the most unusual and scary moments in baseball history occurred at Cleveland Stadium during a game between the Indians and Texas Rangers. A 10-cent beer promotion turned ugly quickly, as boozy fans sparked a riot and caused the two teams to fight their way together to their respective clubhouses with bats.
The ugly incident caused the Indians to forfeit the game and ensured fans would never enjoy another discounted frosty adult beverage at a major league game again. Paying $8-10 for a beer may elicit complaints but another way to look at it is to be thankful for how it helps prevent a repeat of that one infamous night in Cleveland.

***Hall-of-Fame pitcher Christy Mathewson had a reputation of being an educated gentleman when he played during the early 1900s, which by contrast was known as a rough-and-tumble era. Despite being known as a good guy, Matty played the game as hard as anyone, including taking advantage of stealing signs if possible.

This excerpt from Mathewson’s 1912 book, “Pitching in a Pinch: Baseball from the Inside,” is a fascinating study of how to steal signs and avoid being caught. With all the outcry today when a player or team are accused of stealing signs, baseball has obviously changed a lot in this regard over the years.

***In a random note, the former house of Al Lopez, who had a Hall-of-Fame career as a catcher and manager, was recently moved in Tampa. The move was part of the Florida Department of Transportation’s Interstate Historic Mitigation Plan, and the house will eventually evolve into the Tampa Baseball Museum at the Al Lopez House. The endeavor will celebrate over a century of baseball in Tampa, stretching from Lopez’s rise, to Negro League play in the area.

***Finally, your moment of Zen. The Northeast has been slammed with heavy rainfall and flooding recently. While they wait for summer weather to show up, they can entertain themselves by watching this clip from several years ago of Florida Atlantic University and Western Kentucky University passing the time with a very creative dance-off during a rain delay.

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