Top 100 Baseball Blog

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Was Joe DiMaggio Overrated?: The Baseball Historian's Notes for the Week of November 30, 2014

Best wishes to those who celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday. Hopefully nobody was done in by that extra slice of pie or sneaking another spoonful of stuffing before it hit the fridge. The moment Americans woke up from their food-induced comas, the holiday shopping season commenced. Neatly wrapped presents are not the only things being bought, as baseball teams are in a mad dash to scoop up the remaining free agents before they are outfoxed or outbid by another.

The Boston Red Sox made a major impact by locking down perhaps the two best available hitters on the market in Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. Signing just one of them would have been mildly surprising, but inking both was a shock to the baseball world. Looking to keep pace in the American League East, the Toronto Blue Jays countered by landing star third baseman Josh Donaldson in a trade with the Oakland Athletics. If this past week is any indication, the remainder of the offseason promises to be full of a lot more surprises!

Now, on to the notes for the week.

*Former pitcher Luis Tiant recently turned 74. The flamboyant right-hander won 229 games during a 19-year major league career spent with six teams—but his greatest success came with the Red Sox. This picture is a classic representation of “El Tiante,” relaxing in a whirlpool after a game, and presumably after one of his victories—perhaps one of his 49 career shutouts.

*Another former player who had a recent birthday is the Yankee Clipper, Joe DiMaggio, who would have been 100 years old on November 25th. The Hall-of-Fame outfielder passed away in 1999 and is widely considered to be one of the most respected, if not best players of all time. In 13 years with the Yankees (he missed three full years due to military service), he hit .325 with 361 home runs. However, not all buy into the hype. Baseball historian John Thorn believes “Joltin’ Joe” may be somewhat overrated with the narrative taking over the actual results. He certainly isn’t denigrating him by any means, but rather pointing out that the nostalgic light he has been cast in over time has perhaps exaggerated the way he is remembered and placed among the greats of the game.

*Speaking of former Yankees greats, check out these two video clips of Babe Ruth that were recently uncovered. One is footage of him playing on an All Star team in Japan in 1927, while the other is of one of his at-bats during a 1929 game against the Washington Senators. It’s a fantastic find, and one can only hope that more continue to surface to allow modern fans to have a better understanding and appreciation of these players from bygone eras.

*The folks at Baseball History Daily have dug up yet another gem. Bobby Eager played for nearly a decade as a backup catcher in minor leagues in California in the early 1900s. His skill as a receiver was modest, as evidenced by his .213 career batting average. However, he was popular with fans and later found a niche as an occasional sports columnist with the San Jose News. Some examples of his work were dug up and can be enjoyed again by new generations.

*Don Zimmer spent over 60 years in professional baseball as a player, coach and manager. Sadly, he passed away earlier this year but his legacy lives on as someone who impacted many during his time in the game. Jean Mackin of WMUR News reports how Zim was recently honored in Windham, New Hampshire for his special connection with the town. He and his family were deeply involved with the Windham Endowment for Community Advancement, a local nonprofit organization. It’s nice to see that the baseball legend used his success as a platform to spread goodwill and assistance to others- a legacy and impact that will likely be felt even longer than what he did on the field.

*This incredible piece by The Sporting News’ Tim Hagerty tells the tragic story of B.F. Hicks, a player for a town ball team just outside of Pittsburgh who made a fatal catch in the outfield during a 1906 game.

Hicks was a railroad worker who also enjoyed playing baseball with his coworkers. During the fateful game described in the article, he went back to catch deep drive off the bat of an opposing player. The field they were playing on bordered a rail line, and as the backpedaling fielder caught the ball, he stumbled on to the tracks and was instantly killed by an oncoming train. Although he lost his life, amazingly he still had the ball nestled in his glove when horrified onlookers rushed up to his lifeless body. Although the story sounds like a tall tale, it appears to be true. However, the only known report of the incident appeared in the 1907 Reach Official American League Base Ball Guide.

*Hall-of-Fame debating season is upon us once again, as the 2015 ballot was just announced. 17 newbies are making their first appearance, including legendary pitchers Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson, who should both be shoo-ins when the votes are tallied late next year.

Forbes’ Tom Van Riper has compiled a list of who he believes are the 20 biggest Hall-of-Fame snubs. Every baseball fan more or less has a list in their head of those they believe are deserving but have not yet gotten their call to the Hall. Take a peek and see how much (or little) you agree with him.

*Following up on the Hall-of-Fame debate,’s Matt Snyder compares Martinez with Sandy Koufax, one of the most dominant pitchers in history. What he finds may or may not surprise you.

*Finally, some interesting footage of former Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Honus Wagner being honored by fans later in his life. The right-handed hitter was one of the best players in the history of the game, but little visual evidence remains from his career because he was retired before the end of World War I. It is unknown when this celebration took place, but the best guess would be sometime in the 1930s.

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

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Ramble On Podcast: What to Make of Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval Signing with the Boston Red Sox

Check out the current edition of the Ramble On podcast with myself and Ron Juckett as we discuss the recent acquisition of free agents Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval by the Boston Red Sox. We also debate whether or not we think Jon Lester makes a return to Beantown.

Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate!

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

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Pokey Reese Perseveres: The Baseball Historian's Notes for the Week of November 23, 2014

Baseball free agency kicked off in high gear with catcher Russell Martin inking a lucrative long-term deal with the Toronto Blue Jays. The signing not only indicates that the Jays are in it to win it in 2015, but that there should be plenty of cash flowing around over the next few months. It used to be that only a few select teams would be serious spenders, but these days there is much more parity when it comes to who dips into the available talent pool.

Now, let’s move on to the notes for the week.

*Unbelievably, former pitcher Dwight “Doc” Gooden recently turned 50. A teenaged phenom who came up with the New York Mets in the mid-1980s, the right-hander had an excellent career, but one that was stunted because of off-field issues. The Studious Metsimus Blog takes a look at how he was able to persevere despite his troubles.

At the age of 20, Gooden was an incredible 24-4 with a 1.53 ERA with the Mets in 1985, winning the Cy Young. While he had other strong seasons, he never approached that level of dominance again. His career spanned 16 years with five teams, and he accumulated a 194-112 record and 3.51 ERA. However, given his struggles with substance abuse, the way he finished out strongly (including winning the 2000 World Series with the New York Yankees in his final season) is a testament to his redemption.

*Sadly, it seems every week there is at least one death of a current or former ballplayer to report. Most recently, Ray Sadecki passed away at the age of 73. During an 18-year major league career that spanned 1960-1977 with six different teams, the left-handed pitcher was a combined 135-131 with a 3.78 ERA. His best season came in 1964, as he went 20-11 with a 3.68 ERA for the St. Louis Cardinals. That culminated in him winning one of his two starts in that year’s World Series, as his team edged the New York Yankees four games to three.

Sadecki was perhaps best known for being traded in 1966 by the Cardinals to the San Francisco Giants straight up for slugging future Hall-of-Famer Orlando Cepeda, who at the time was at the peak of his career.

*Moe Berg was a nondescript journeyman backup catcher for 15 major league seasons from 1923-1939. He hit just .243 with six home runs during that time in just a total of 1,813 at-bats. He was better known for his intellect, multiple Ivy League degrees and later his reputation as an international spy. That’s right; he was literally an international man of mystery in addition to his work on the baseball diamond. This podcast is an hour of all things Moe Berg for anyone wanting to know about this fascinating character from the game’s past.

*During an eight-year major league career, infielder Pokey Reese was best known for his cool name and super slick glove. He hit a combined .248 with 44 home runs, 271 RBIs, 144 stolen bases and two Gold Glove Awards for the Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates and Boston Red Sox. Interestingly, his last game as a big leaguer was the clinching Game 4 of the 2004 World Series, as the Red Sox took home their first championship in 86 years.

Despite his commendable career, nothing has come easy for Reese, who has experienced a good deal of tragedy. Now ten years removed from a major league roster, he is the subject of an excellent profile by The State’s Neil White.

*Hall-of-Famer Paul Molitor was recently hired as the newest manager of the Minnesota Twins. Prior to that, he was one of the best hitters baseball has ever seen—no thanks to the umpires. Following a disputed call in 1995, he was ejected by Al Clark, who filed the following mandatory report detailing the incident. It’s quite an interesting read, but if you really like it, you can actually buy it through an auction. It’s never too early to be on the lookout for holiday gift ideas!

*A hat tip to @RonJuckett for the following tidbit. A recent piece in Golf Digest by W.G. Ramirez details golfer Jeff Flagg winning the 2014 World Long Drive Championship at the Las Vegas Paiute Golf Resort. What brings this back to baseball is that prior to smashing drives down the fairways, he was crushing balls as a professional ballplayer.

Flagg was a 2008 27th-round draft choice of the New York Mets. He played a total of five seasons as a first baseman in the minors and with independent league teams, hitting a combined .247 with 58 home runs. His best season was his last, as he hit .248 with 20 homers and 83 RBIs in 96 games for the Traverse City Beach Bums of the Frontier League in 2012.

*Here’s a really classic black and white photo of Mickey Mantle at old Yankee Stadium.
*And here are some photos of old baseball stadiums back when they were in their glory. It is worth a watch, especially for anyone who reminisces about the “good old days.”

*The 125th anniversary of the formation of the Players League, an attempt at a player-run professional baseball league that folded after its lone season of 1890, just passed. Deadspin’s W.M. Akers nails a profile of the efforts of players, led by shortstop and lawyer John Montgomery Ward, to create something that would allow them to play the game professionally, but not under the thumb of penny-pinching owners.

Ward, who is enshrined in the Hall of Fame, is one of the most interesting yet relatively unknown figures in baseball history. In addition to being an outstanding player, he was also an intellect and social figure (even marrying a Broadway actress). In 1885 he founded the Brotherhood of American Base Ball Players, in an attempt to unionize players. Although it eventually petered out, it was a genesis for the powerful MLB players’ union that operates today.

*Slugger Dick Allen was known for his prodigious power, cracking 351 home runs in a 15-year major league career. The right-handed hitter could park them no matter where he was playing. What made his feats all the more impressive was the tree trunk-esque bats he swung. This short video clip is of Allen describing the 42-ounce lumber he would bring to the plate. The kind of torque it takes to turn around a 90+ MPH fastball is one thing, but it is another thing entirely altogether when doing it with such a heavy cudgel.

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

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Tyler Hill: Catching Up With the Boston Red Sox's Toolsy Outfield Prospect

When you are young player in the Boston Red Sox’s organization, you are immediately under the microscope. So rabid is the fan base that the progress of the rosters of the various minor league teams are followed much more closely than you might expect. Not all prospects enter the system with great fanfare but can build that up as they proceed with their development. Outfielder Tyler Hill is in that boat, and having just begun his career, is about to have the spotlight shone on him more than your average minor leaguer.

The 18-year-old right-handed hitter attended Delaware Military Academy in Wilmington. As a senior, he hit an impressive .432 with six home runs and earned a place with nearby Wilmington University. However, an opportunity in professional baseball came knocking and he answered the bell.

The Red Sox made Hill their 19th-round selection in the 2014 draft, clearly enamored by the potential of the toolsy outfielder. At least one scouting report indicated the youngster checks all the boxes when it comes to his projectability as a hitter, power potential, speed, defense and throwing ability.

After signing, Hill was assigned to the Gulf Coast League. Raw players of his age are seldom rushed, and this was no exception. He got just seven hitless at-bats over four games but had his first taste of the professional game and will undoubtedly be ready to open things up in 2015.

I had the pleasure of recently catching up with Hill and asking him some questions about his career. Keep reading for more, and if you would like to follow him and see how he does in the coming years, you can also find him on Twitter.

Tyler Hill Interview:

Who was your favorite team and player when you were growing up, and why?: Ironically, I have always been a fan of David Ortiz. The emotion he brings to the game and the impact of his leadership he displays is really how the game is supposed to be played in my opinion. My uncle was always a Yankees fan but I loved the way the Sox worked. From the beards, to the characters that have been through the organization, those things have just always caught my eye.

How did attending a military academic in high school prepare you for a career in professional sports?: Delaware Military Academy benefited myself not only in professional baseball but just life. Self-discipline, leadership, and respect were the core values we were taught, and although some people had trouble with going through with it for four years, I looked at it in a positive way because it really did make me a better person. I can also thank my parents for that because I thought it would be a struggle going to a military high school but it wasn't too bad. I'm thankful I have a great family that guides me day in and day out.

How difficult was it to choose between starting your baseball career and attending college at Wilmington University?: My decision between Wilmington and pro ball was very difficult. Although playing at home with Wilmington would have been great, I would tell myself there's no guarantee in three years that I would be sitting in the same position I was this past June. Coach August runs the best college program in Delaware in my opinion, so it was very tough turning him down. He is a great guy and understood the position I was in. Another factor that made it tough was that when watching WU play, it looked like a big brotherhood and it reminded me of football, and being a part of that would have been a great feeling. However, I just felt like I was ready to take that big risk and start my career.

How did you first find out that the Red Sox were interested in you, and what was your draft experience like?: I met Chris Calciano at a workout at All Star Baseball Academy in the fall. I introduced myself and he was throwing some batting practice, and soon after I got an email from him with a questionnaire attached. I was very excited to see this, especially because the Sox were my favorite team. It was a dream come true getting picked up by the Red Sox.

The draft process was honestly stressful for me from hearing different numbers and rounds I was projected and things along those lines; I was sort of lost. The first two days of the draft were miserable, but when I heard my name called on that third day, it was like the days before never even happened. The pure joy on the faces of my family really captivated me on that day. I was so excited to get things started.

What is your favorite moment from your first professional season with the Gulf Coast League?: Without a doubt my favorite moment from my first year of professional ball was winning the GCL championship. Despite myself getting hurt and not being able to play much, I have never been a part of something like that, especially at this level. You could definitely tell that we were gonna finish the year out on a high note. Everyone had each others’ back and you could feel that brotherhood-like atmosphere all around the facility.

What is the one part of your game that you hope to improve on the most?: I will always look to improve my game in all aspects, but I just need more repetitions in the outfield so I can feel more comfortable since this was my first full year out there after being a catcher all my life.

Who is one pitcher from any time in baseball history that you would like to face, and how would you approach the at-bat?: I think I would like to face Mariano Rivera, one of the greatest of all time. I would probably just think middle and look for a single because there's most likely someone in scoring position and that run is probably huge, but I wouldn't try to do too much and would stay within myself.

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

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Time Babe Ruth Fought a Wall and Lost: The Baseball Historian's Notes for the Week of November 16, 2014

Baseball has always stood strong when one of its own passes away. This was proven during the untimely death of St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Oscar Tavarez during the World Series last month. Tavarez and his girlfriend were killed in a horrific car accident in his homeland of the Dominican Republic. However, the most recent update is that the former top prospect was severely intoxicated at the time of the crash.

While the loss of these two young people will rightfully be continued to be mourned for some time to come, perhaps it will not be in vain. The best possible outcome of this tragedy is using it as a springboard to educate both professional ballplayers and fans alike on the dangers of operating vehicles while impaired. It looks like the Cardinals are already on this path. If this can prevent even one person in the future from making the same mistake some good will come out of all this.

Now, on to the notes for the week…

*Graham Womack over at Baseball Past and Present has done it again. The talented writer and researcher published his list of the 25-most important figures in baseball history. Over 250 voters participated in the project and made their picks from among the titans of the game, both current and those from the past. Some selections and placements may surprise you, while others may not. One spoiler I will give you is that Ned Yost did not make the list; at least not this year.

*Boston Red Sox television announcers Jerry Remy and Don Orsillo have been a dynamic duo for a number of years. Their camaraderie not only provides for excellent game narrative but also the likelihood of hijinks in the booth. This clip from a 2014 game against the Chicago Cubs caught the unusual situation of Remy losing a tooth during the contest, and he and his partner’s ensuing conversation regarding what he should do about it. Hint; it involved a bit of do-it-yourself dentistry.

*Another baseball passing to report in former Oakland Athletics’ first baseman Kelvin Moore, according to the Idaho Statesman. The 57-year-old played parts of three seasons for Oakland from 1981-83, appearing in a total of 76 regular season games. He hit a combined .223 with eight home runs and 25 RBIs, and chipped in two singles in 16 at-bats during the 1981 playoffs. He was much more successful as a minor leaguer during his career, with a .288 batting average and 132 home runs in eight years. He leaves behind a wife and three children.

*Getting to sit next to an athlete during a flight is something many fans talk about but rarely experience. The Washington Times’ Todd Dybas had that rare opportunity when he had Los Angeles Dodgers legendary speedster Maury Wills as a seatmate on a trip to Phoenix. The chance encounter led to a broad discussion of his career and battle with alcoholism among other things.

Wills, who had 586 career stolen bases, including leading the National League in the category six consecutive seasons from 1960-65 is one of the more underappreciated stars from a bygone era. Now 82, reading some of his reflections is an interesting reminder about his place in the history of the game.

*Slugging Hall-of-Famer Babe Ruth was known for slamming balls over outfield walls. Unfortunately, there was also at least one time where he tried to go through a wall himself. This photograph shows an unconscious Bambino after a collision while chasing a fly ball against the Washington Senators in a game that occurred on July 5, 1924 while he was with the New York Yankees. In a nod to a different time, Ruth actually stayed in the game, going 3-for-3. He even played later that day in the second game of a double-header, and played in 153 of 154 regular season games on the year, leading the league with a .378 batting average and 46 homers.

*Major League Baseball was recently on tour in Japan, parading a team of decidedly average players abroad. This is far from a new practice, as squads have been playing exhibition games in the Land of the Rising Sun for the better part of a century. A major difference is that those teams used to be comprised of many All-Star and Hall-of-Fame caliber players. This collection of clips contains some of the home movies of Hall-of-Fame slugger Jimmie Foxx, who was part of the 1934 tour. An excellent book on that subject is Robert Fitts’ Banzai Babe Ruth, which goes into great detail about that year’s 18-game tilt and the experiences of the star-studded roster (including Foxx, Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Connie Mack among others).

*Former player and manager Alvin Dark has passed away at the age of 92. Primarily a shortstop, he had a 14-year playing career with five teams from 1946-1960, with his best years coming with the New York Giants. He compiled career marks of a .289 batting average, 126 home runs and 757 RBIs—star numbers for a player at his position at the time. He also made three All-Star teams and played in three World Series (his 1954 Giants squad winning his only ring as a player). After hitting .322 with the Boston Braves in 1948, he was named the National League’s Rookie of the Year.

Following his playing days, Dark skippered for 13 seasons with five different teams. He had a career record of 994-954 and won the 1962 pennant with the San Francisco Giants and the 1974 World Series with the Oakland Athletics.

*Finally, yet another reminder of how much the game has changed over the years. This clip of Kansas City Royals’ Hal McRae taking out the Yankees’ Willie Randolph to break up a double play in Game 2 of the 1977 ALCS is something you would never see today. Calling McRae’s play a hard slide would be like categorizing a Bazooka as a water pistol. More reminiscent of something that might be seen in the WWE, this shows just how far baseball has come in the past generation when it comes to rough levels of play and decreasing aggressive play.

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

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Is Giancarlo Stanton’s Massive Contract with the Miami Marlins a Big Mistake?

Multiple outlets have reported that the Miami Marlins are on the verge of reaching a landmark contract extension with their young outfielder Giancarlo Stanton. The 25-year-old slugger is about to ink a deal that could pay him a whopping $325 million over the next 13 years, which would be the largest pact in professional sports history. While he is a rising young star and one of the most personable players in the game, there are a number of reasons to believe that giving him this kind of contract is a big mistake.

The big right-handed hitter has batted .271 with 154 home runs and 399 RBIs in 634 games over five seasons. 2014 was his best year to date, as he hit .288 with a league-leading 37 homers and 105 RBIs in 145 games, while placing second in the National League MVP race. Unfortunately, his season was brutally ended on September 11th in a game against the Milwaukee Brewers when he was hit in the face by a Mike Fiers pitch that caused numerous fractures and other injuries requiring surgery.

Stanton is freakishly strong and athletic, is by all accounts a wonderful person and teammate, and has already shown he can produce at a high level in the majors. Thus, it would seem he is the perfect candidate to push the biggest contract envelope. However, there are no guarantees in sports that a player is ever going to live up to any contract, and in particular, the marriage of the young outfielder and the Marlins may make an even riskier proposition than usual.

Can the Marlins Compete with Stanton?

ESPN’s Buster Olney (subscription required) recently wrote that the Marlins view Stanton as “their Cal Ripken.” Having been drafted by the organization in the second round of the 2007 draft, he is already nearing a decade with the franchise. His popularity and production make him the most obvious candidate to be the face of the organization but it will obviously come at a large financial investment.

Although Miami was the recipient of a heavily publicly-funded stadium in 2012, they have often been thrifty when it comes to spending on the talent they put on the field. In 2014, their payroll of $46.4 million was just a notch above the Houston Astros and their $44.4 million, which represented the lowest in baseball. Only once in the past 15 years has the Marlins’ payroll been in the top-half of teams in the majors, with that one season being 2012—when making a positive show in the wake of the controversial new venue was a virtual necessity.

Stanton’s yearly average salary with his new deal would represent well over half of what the Marlins spent on players last year. The team certainly has more money to spend, but not the same as those in larger markets like New York, Boston and Los Angeles. Baseball is simply never going to draw that kind of attraction in Florida. Would there be enough meat left on the proverbial bone to surround him with the talent to make for a contending team? If history is any indication, he could wind up like Ripken- in receiving a lot of earned credit but not a lot of postseason appearances.

Do You Give a Third of a Billion Dollars to a Player Coming Off Such a Serious Injury?

Reports about Stanton’s recovery from his bean ball incident have been encouraging. There’s no reason to believe he won’t be ready well in advance of 2015 spring training. However, what we know about him is physical; the mental recovery has yet to be seen. Taking a pitch to the face is akin to being involved in a serious accident. It’s trauma, plain and simple. Having the courage and mental toughness to get back in the batter’s box and attack pitchers with the same laser focus and aggressiveness is no easy task.

The Boston Red Sox had a young outfielder named Tony Conigliaro, who led the American League with 32 home runs as a 20-year-old in 1965. He was well on his way to being one of the team’s best players ever when he was struck in the face by a pitch in 1967. He returned in 1969 but was never the same. Granted, he suffered some permanent damage to his vision but there was certainly a mental component to it as well.

It’s not to say that Conigliaro and Stanton suffered equally physically debilitating injuries as much as it is to point out that there are many complex components to returning from such an experience. While the body may indicate to a player that he is able to come back, the mind may have something entirely different to say on the matter.

One can only hope that Stanton comes back stronger and better than ever. That being said, giving him the largest contract in professional sports history before he has played one competitive inning since the beaning seems rash. Since he is under team control through arbitration for the next two seasons, there was no urgency in getting a deal done this offseason.

Getting a little more information and context are never bad things when negotiating landmark contracts. The Philadelphia Phillies gave slugger Ryan Howard a $125 million extension in 2012, two years before he was due to be a free agent. Since then, his production has fallen off a cliff.

All contracts in sports are gambles. There are simply no sure things. It all comes down to taking smart and calculated risks. With the way Stanton’s 2014 season ended, it seems like an extraordinary leap of faith to lock him in before seeing how and if he bounces back.

Is Stanton Actually a Superstar?

Stanton is an excellent player. However, it’s reasonable to ask if he is a superstar—particularly is he one who will sustain his production for a reasonably lengthy period of time.

There is little doubt that Stanton is one of, if not “the”, premiere power hitters in the game. By just about any metric, he hits the balls harder and farther than anyone else, but what about his others skills?

He is a good but not great defensive player. At 6’6” and 240 pounds, he presently gets pretty close to maximum value in the outfield with his body type. It will be interesting to see how long he can maintain his ability with the glove or if he will eventually recede into a DH skill set—which would be problematic with the Marlins playing in the National League.

Injuries have played a significant role during the early stages of his career. In his first four full seasons, he has missed a total of 114 games, with most of those being due to various ailments. It’s fair to wonder if he can consistently stay healthy, as the amount of money he will be making for a team of Miami’s financial inclinations would mean he needs to be on the field as much as possible.

While Stanton makes his fair share of contact, he is also a prolific whiffer, having struck out 742 times in 2,640 career plate appearances. That’s good for once every 3.56 at-bats, or about once per game on average. That figure has not changed appreciably as his career has progressed, but could it as he ages and his bat speed eventually reaches the point where it inevitably slows?

Baseball Reference’s player comparison by age indicates that Stanton’s current closest comp is former Texas Rangers slugger Juan Gonzalez. Gonzo was definitely an excellent player but never developed into the Hall-of-Famer some had him pegged for earlier in his career. He was through being an impact player after his age-31 season and was out of baseball at 35. If nothing else, that’s a reminder of how expectations don’t always get fulfilled and how quickly a player can decline.


The immediate take away should be that Giancarlo Stanton is one of baseball’s bright young stars and should be congratulated for landing his huge new contract. However, as Uncle Ben once famously told his nephew Peter Parker (we’ll forget that Voltaire actually coined the phrase), “With great power comes great responsibility.” It’s for that reason and that reason alone that picking through the player and the deal with a fine-toothed comb is a necessity.

As mentioned previously, every contract in professional sports comes with its own risks and concerns. These become magnified as the deals get longer and the expenditures increase. About to get a guarantee for an historic amount of money, the spotlight is about to shine on Stanton with the luminescence of a pulp detective interrogation room lamp. Here’s hoping that the deal works out for both sides, but in the meantime there are a number of reasons to question whether or not it is a big mistake.

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

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Tragic Death of Brad Halsey: The Baseball Historian's Notes for the Week of November 9

The days of baseball players spending their entire careers, or at least healthy chunks of it with the same team, are over. While free agency is certainly a good thing for the business of the game and the bank accounts of players and agents, it’s a stark difference from the way things used to be. Now that the 2014 season has concluded, the bidding frenzy will commence, as teams position themselves to restock their rosters for next year. At least the theatre that’s the offseason is highly entertaining, as many uniforms will be swapped and long-term contracts will be inked. While that starts to rev up, let’s get to the notes for the week.

*The Baseball History Daily has found another great lost figure from early days of the game. Pitcher Charles Barngrover was a forgettable 2-9 in his lone minor league season in 1910. However, as TBHD found out, he was involved in memorable and odd incidents during his career as a semi-pro player and even after he had left the game- including a bizarre after-game fight due to a crossed up bet; being erroneously reported as being lynched following attacking an umpire with a baseball bat in a game in Texas; and being indicted by a grand jury for “theft of interstate shipments” in 1921. Sadly, the following year, as he was about to testify against co-defendants, he was shot and killed in a likely attempt to silence him.

*It used to be that pitchers applied a variety of substances to baseballs in an effort to get them to do things that seemingly defied the laws of physics. Grease, pine pitch, mud, powders and sweat were among the most commonly used but none approached the level of popularity of good old fashioned saliva. At one time, the spitball was as common in the game as a slider is today. The pitch was phased out of the game nearly a century ago as a way to provide more safety (Cleveland Indians shortstop Ray Chapman was killed in 1920 when he was hit in the head by an errant spitter) and greater offensive production. Grantland’s Jonah Keri takes an intriguing look at the demise of the squishy pitch and its place in baseball history.

*Endorsement deals are a common sideline for today’s players. Hawking products on the side is a lucrative way to make money off the field and expand one’s ability to make a “brand” off their name. This is something that has happened for years. Check out this mid-1950s commercial for Gillette razors starring former Brooklyn Dodgers great Pee Wee Reese. The black and white film and the $1.29 price tag on the chin scraper are essentially the only things that stand apart from anything that is seen today.

*Another great Dodger who knows a thing or two about working on camera and with a microphone is announcing legend Vin Scully. Check out his induction speech for the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982. It’s hard to believe that he is so great that despite more than 30 years passing since his inclusion in baseball’s greatest shrine, he is still plugging away at his craft!

Some people are put on this earth to do very specific things, and Scully was most certainly sent to Planet Earth to describe a baseball game. I don’t know about you, but he is so good at what he does that I would pay to listen to the man read an Arby’s menu…

*Most fans of baseball history associate Hall of Famer Casey Stengel with the New York Yankees and New York Mets, as those are the two teams which he had the most success and notoriety with respectively as a manager. However, the “Old Perfessor” also had a 14-year career as an outfielder, spending much of it with the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants. Here is an excellent picture of young Casey mugging for the camera in his checkered Dodgers uniform, which looks similar to the material my kitchen towels are made of…

*Sad news to pass along in the recent death of former pitcher Brad Halsey. The 33-year-old died from an apparent climbing accident on a cliff in Texas but authorities are still investigating.

Drafted in 2002 by the Yankees, the left-hander quickly moved through the minors, debuting with the Bombers in 2004. He was subsequently traded that offseason to the Arizona Diamondbacks in a deal involving pitcher Randy Johnson. On the move once more, he was dealt to the Oakland Athletics in 2006, which proved to be his final major league season.

Halsey was a combined 14-19 with a 4.84 ERA in 88 career games (40 starts). His best season was with Arizona in 2005, as he went 8-12 with a 4.61 ERA.

*’s Ryan Whirty has done a fantastic job writing about the tragic death of former Negro League player Alex Albritton at Byberry mental hospital in 1940. A right-handed pitcher, “Brit” had a relatively obscure playing career in the 1920s before moving on to work odd jobs. He later had what was described as a nervous breakdown and was institutionalized.

Not surprisingly, the hospital, which closed in 1990, had a history of deplorable conditions, and those responsible for Albritton’s death were never found. It’s important to remember this old ballplayer even though so many years have passed, especially since the circumstances of his final days slipped through the cracks already.

*Hall-of-Fame pitcher Dennis Eckersley had a turbulent career, going from top prospect, to ace, losing his way because of personal problems, and finally ending by being one of the greatest closers in the history of the game. This 2004 article from the Hartford Courant’s Paul Doyle details the extreme ups and downs of the right-handers more than 20 years as a player, including his battles with alcoholism, and failed relationships.

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Saturday, November 8, 2014

Carlos Asuaje: The Versatile Boston Red Sox Prospect With The Big Bat

The Boston Red Sox have made a cottage industry out of getting big production from undersized infielders in recent years. Dustin Pedroia and Mookie Betts are the most recent examples, but there is another player speeding up through the minors behind them in Carlos Asuaje.

The 5’9” and 160-pound Asuaje is 23 and just wrapped up his second professional season. Born in Venezuela but raised in the United States, he became an elite player and wound up attending Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where he hit well over .300 in each of his three seasons.

In 2013, the Red Sox made the left-handed hitting Asuaje their 11th-round selection in the draft. He hit a very respectable .269 with a home run and 20 RBIs in 52 games with the Lowell Spinners but didn’t stand out in any one area. That all changed this past season. Splitting time with Single-A Greenville and Single-A Advanced Salem, he appeared in 129 games and hit a combined .310 with 38 doubles, 12 triples, 15 homers, 101 RBIs, and an impressive .393 OBP. He also showed enormous versatility in the field, spending significant time at second, third and the outfield. His performance was also essentially unchanged after he was promoted, which is always a very encouraging sign for a young player.

The 2015 season should be a big one for Asuaje, as he nears the upper reaches of the minor league system. If he can continue showing a potent bat, ability to get on base and play multiple positions, he should be on the fast track for the rebuilding Red Sox.

Recently, Asuaje answered some questions about his career and baseball in general. Make sure to keep a close eye on this rising Boston prospect. In addition to reading this interview, give him a follow on Twitter, so you can keep up with him during the 2015 season and beyond.

Carlos Asuaje Interview

Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?: Growing up I always admired Derek Jeter. I think he’s everyone’s favorite player. He’s such a good role model that it’s easy to look up to him. He was the captain of the Yankees ever since I started watching baseball and he was so fun to watch day in and day out.

You play all over the field but which position do you feel most comfortable?: I would say I feel most comfortable at second base. I played shortstop all my life except two years of second that I played in college, but when I go to the right side of the infield I just feel at home really.

Growing up a Yankees fan, how did you reconcile being drafted by Boston?: Yes, I was a huge Yankee fan growing up and my dad was a huge Boston fan and obviously still is. But going into draft day, I really didn’t have a “favorite team,” if that makes sense. It was funny and ironic getting drafted by the team I always rivaled as a kid, but I was just ecstatic to get selected by such a great organization.

How did you first find out that the Red Sox were interested in you, and what was your draft experience like?: After my summer playing in Cape Cod, I had a bunch of meetings with about 15 team scouts. One of them was Willie Romay of the Red Sox, who ended up being the scout that drafted me. In our interview he asked me a bunch of question, and I think my character really made an impact on him. But draft day was a mess. I wanna say everything went as planned but it really didn’t. I don’t think I ate all day I was so nervous. But when I finally heard my name, it was such a weight off my shoulders. I was just really happy and my family was super proud.

How pleased were you with the major jump in production you made in your second professional season in 2014?: I was definitely pleased. It’s funny because there were so many people who looked at my first year and thought of me as “just another little guy,” and after this year they were shocked. There were only a few people, mostly in my small circle, that knew this was going to happen. It felt great showing what I can do with an opportunity. I felt like the work I put in last off-season was deserving of the season I had, and I don’t plan on taking a step backwards anytime soon.

What is the one part of your game that you hope to improve on the most?: I’ve always been a big believer that you can never stop improving as a ball player, in all aspects of the game. I may have had a good offensive year last season, but if I start slacking at all, this game will humble me in a heartbeat. If I had to break it into a few major improvements, I would say I would need to improve on my defense, speed and strength.

What are your top goals for 2015?: My top goals for 2015 would be simple, just like my goals last year. Have consistently good at-bats, make the routine plays, be aggressive on the base paths, and help my team win every time I step on the field.

How much attention do you pay to all of the commotion made about Boston's great farm system, and where do you think you belong in those conversations?: I really don’t like paying all the commotion made about the farm system any attention really. It seems kind of counterintuitive but I feel like focusing on that stuff can really cloud your state of mind. I don’t worry about any moves or deals or possibilities or anything of the sort, I just focus on controlling what I can control, which is going out and playing the game as well as I can every day, and leave the rest up to the people in charge. 

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

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Podcast: 2015 MLB Free Agent Predictions

I recently rolled out my 2015 MLB free free agent predictions.  Check out the current edition of the Ramble On podcast with myself and Ron Juckett as we discuss my picks, and whether or not he agrees.

*These are predictions based on speculation from reviewing team needs, history etc... No direct sources were utilized in the forming of these opinions.

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

Sunday, November 2, 2014

2014 World Series Wrap-Up: The Baseball Historian Notes for the Week of November 2

Congratulations to the San Francisco Giants for winning the 2014 World Series! Although not all of the individual games were nail biters, Game 7 and the totality of the series made for great baseball. Giants’ pitcher Madison Bumgarner (Don’t call me Bumgardner) was this year’s player to use the Fall Classic as his personal coming-out party, earning two wins, a save and the series MVP award.

A big hand is also due to the Kansas City Royals, who took the Giants to the limit. Not only did they bring playoff baseball back to their city after a 29-year drought, their team brand of small ball hearkened to a time gone by.

With the formalities out of the way, let’s move to the notes for the week.

*Bob Ryan, the long-time writer for The Boston Globe, made an appearance on the John Feinstein Show to discuss the World Series and the amazing performance of Bumgarner. As someone who has been around the game for decades, his perspective on the impact and history of it all is a very interesting take—particularly when he elbows his way through the mishmash of over-the-top commentary he believes enveloped the final seven games of the 2014 season.

*Legendary author Roger Kahn got his start in writing doing a beat on the Brooklyn Dodgers. During that time, he developed a particularly close relationship with their ground and barrier-breaking star, Jackie Robinson. On a number of occasions, he served as Robinson’s written voice, ghosting pieces to a publishing and social world that weren’t always ready for what he had to say.

Currently, Kahn has a legitimate claim to baseball’s poet laureate, having penned such classic titles as The Boys of Summer, and most recently, Rickey & Robinson. However, he will forever be inextricably linked to Robinson, a relationship recently explored in some depth by Bryan Curtis of

*There are certain baseball stories that will give fans literal chills. One that I suspect will get this job done is a recent short film produced by The New York Times about San Quentin Prison’s baseball team. There are no major leaguers to be seen, and no real tales of glory. Instead, it’s an amazing glimpse of how the game can stabilize a community and allow people to crawl from the darkest of depths to achieve some level of personal redemption where there may otherwise be none to be found.

*Sad news to report in the passing of former pitcher Jeff M. Robinson at the age of 52. He pitched for the Detroit Tigers, Baltimore Orioles, Texas Rangers and Pittsburgh Pirates for six seasons between 1987 and 1992. The right-hander had his greatest success with the Tigers, with his 13-6 record and 2.98 ERA in 1988 being his best individual season. His run with the team ended prior to the 1991 season when he was dealt to the Orioles for catcher Mickey Tettleton. Overall, he sported a career record of 47-40 with a 4.79 ERA in 141 games (117 starts).

*Likewise, the game lost another of its alumnus with the death of former pitcher Pat McGlothin at the age of 93. The southpaw won 108 games in a 10-year minor league career and had brief stints in the majors, appearing in eight combined games for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1949-50. As a major leaguer, he was 1-1 with a 5.60 ERA. His lone win came on May 7, 1949, as he went the final five innings of a 10-4 victory against the Chicago Cubs after starter Ralph Branca was knocked out early. His resume may not be as dazzling as others but was enough to earn his enshrinement in the Brooklyn Dodgers Hall of Fame where he will be remembered for many years to come.

*These days, baseball cards come in a variety of flashy colors, high-definition photography and other bells and whistles that drive their cost ever skyward. This is a far cry from their early days. That being said, the first cards may have been simpler with their materials but not necessarily their style. Rebecca Onion of details some of the elaborate poses nineteenth-century players struck on their cards in an effort to make their diamond feats come to life in that era of black-and-white studio photography.

*Former major league infielder Fred Marsh batted .239 over seven seasons for a handful of teams, including the St. Louis Browns. Unfortunately, he died in 2006, but fortunately left some primary records documenting his time in the game, including this interview in which he discussed such things as Eddie Gaedel’s famous at-bat, playing with Hall-of-Famer Satchel Paige, and much more.

*Outfielder Irv Waldron was an instant star for the fledging American League in 1901, hitting a combined .311 with 186 hits, 52 RBIs, 102 runs scored and 20 stolen bases for the Milwaukee Brewers and Washington Senators. Despite his success, he never appeared in the majors again, although he played in the minors through 1911, hitting an excellent .285. Graham Womack of Baseball: Past and Present has theories about why Waldron failed to stick around, which includes money and a suspect glove. This is a must-read for baseball historians.

*Finally, thinking about taking a vacation during this offseason? How about one combining baseball and history? The Hot Springs, Arkansas Historic Baseball Trail is a unique way to make a hardball sojourn.

Before the days of Florida and Arizona, teams used to conduct spring training in various locations in the south, including those with natural hot springs, which were seen as an amenity for the returning athletes to get back into shape. Hot Springs was once a bustling destination for winter-weary squads, including Cap Anson and the 1886 Chicago White Stockings. It sounds like a fantastic way to connect to the earlier days of the game, so if you decide to go don’t forget to send a postcard.

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