Top 100 Baseball Blog

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Alfred Hitchcock Presents The Finer Points of Baseball: The Baseball Historian’s Notes for the Week of March 29, 2015

In case you haven’t noticed, racism is unfortunately alive and well in the United States. The number of higher-profile incidents only seems to be increasing recently, and no corner of society has been spared, including the realm of baseball.

It was recently reported that Curt Ford, a former backup outfielder and pinch hitter for some of the great St. Louis Cardinals teams of the 1980s, was allegedly assaulted at a St. Louis-area gas station in an incident that also included racial epitaphs and references to the ongoing unrest in Ferguson, Missouri.

It‘s beyond sad to see such things and consider racism’s horrible impact. Helping bring about its demise is something that will require the collective efforts of everybody. Baseball is a game embraced by so many from myriad backgrounds and origins, so it has the potential of being a powerful medium in hopefully helping to effect change.

Now, on to the notes for the week…

*Former pitcher and song writer Bill Slayback has died at the age of 67. The right-hander appeared in a total of 42 games (17 starts) with the Detroit Tigers between 1972-74, going a combined 6-9 with a 3.84 ERA. His best performance was a 5-hit shutout of the Kansas City Royals as a rookie. He later co-wrote the baseball song “Move Over Babe, Here Comes Hank” with legendary Detroit broadcaster Ernie Harwell.

*It was also recently announced that Steven Shea, another former right-handed pitcher, had passed away at the age of 72. After seven seasons in the minors, he finally debuted in the majors in 1968 with the Houston Astros, and appeared briefly the following year with the Montreal Expos. In 40 total big league relief appearances, he was a combined 4-4 with a 3.22 ERA and 6 saves. Following his playing days, he had a banking career and was a dedicated family man.

*Pete Reiser was one of the best players in baseball during his 10-year major league career between 1940-1952. Gaining his greatest success with the Brooklyn Dodgers, the left-handed hitting outfielder batted a combined .295 and led the National League in a number of categories. Unfortunately, his career was derailed by a series of injuries caused by his hardnosed play, which is detailed in this fantastic excerpt from a 1958 issue of True Magazine.

*The Seattle Mariners play their home games in swanky Safeco Field. However, before they got such fancy digs they occupied the decidedly more pedestrian Kingdome. Check out the footage from 15 years ago of the old ballpark getting demolished with explosives to make way for its shinier replacement.

*Of all the baseball movies that have ever been made, it’s hard to find many that are better than the iconic The Sandlot. Although you can’t beat the original, a number of players on the New York Yankees recently recreated one of the more memorable scenes. It’s a fun watch even if it’s unlikely there are any Oscars on the horizon for the boys in pinstripes.

*A recent spring training game between the Minnesota Twins and Philadelphia Phillies may have made baseball history. With Paul Molitor and Ryne Sandberg skippering the teams, it was believed to be the first time a game has been played with both managers being active members of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

*Sandy Koufax is on the short list of the greatest left-handed pitchers in the history of baseball. Although he terrified major league hitters during his career, he was not always such a known commodity. This story tells how he walked on to the University of Cincinnati varsity team in 1955. After making the team and striking out 34 in his first two games, he was launched on the path that would lead to baseball immortality.

*Baseball fans come in all shapes, sizes and manner of backgrounds. Famed film director Alfred Hitchcock is likely someone most have not associated with the game but he had this monologue from an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Although he is explaining some of the finer points, it remains unclear of his actual personal interest.

*The Boston Red Sox’s David Ortiz has been one of the most prominent players in baseball during his time in the Hub. His gaudy numbers and his reported inclusion on a 2003 list of players that failed tests for performance enhancers created an aura of suspicion that has never quite gone away. The slugger recently addressed those allegations in a piece he penned for the Player’s Tribune. Although he denies culpability, there are still some like Subway Squawkers’ Lisa Swan who don’t believe his version of events add up.

*Are you looking for a new book to read now that the weather is about to turn for the better? No worries, has you covered. They recently rolled out their list of the 20 best baseball books ever written. There are definitely some gems to consider, and seemingly new candidates being released by publishers every day.

*Speedy outfielder Lou Brock spent the final 16 years of his 19-year Hall-of-Fame career with the Cardinals. Upon retiring, he held the all-time record for stolen bases with 938. Even after his playing days ended, he remained connected to the team, and this 1980 commercial urging fans to attend Opening Day is a great example. It appears he read teleprompters as well as he did pitcher windups…

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

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Casey Stengel Asserts Life Cereal Really is for Adults: The Baseball Historian’s Notes for the Week of March 22, 2015

A big change is coming to the MLB All-Star Game, as it was recently announced that the paper ballot will be no more and all votes cast will now be exclusively online. But why stop there? How about using this as a catalyst to breathe new life into an event that could stand a more extensive makeover?

The inaugural All Star game (mirroring the current model) was in 1933. It was a brilliant way to allow fans to experience players they may have otherwise never had an opportunity to because of media and travel impediments. Now that we live in a high-flying digital age, that is no longer a true benefit. Some suggestions that it would be difficult to imagine baseball fans not relishing include having a skills competition; splitting the teams into United States versus the world; and a futures game. Really, the possibilities are endless.

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

*Al Rosen, a former All-Star third baseman and later a major league front office figure, has passed away at the age of 91. He played from 1947 to 1956 with the Cleveland Indians, hitting a combined .285 with 192 home runs and 717 RBIs. A four-time all Star, he also won the 1953 American League MVP, hitting .336 with 43 home runs and 145 RBIs, losing the Triple Crown by finishing .001 behind Mickey Vernon in batting average.

In later years, Rosen served in the capacity of general manager and president for the Houston Astros and San Francisco Giants.

*In 2002, Ian Ferguson was a top pitching prospect for the Kansas City Royals. That year, splitting time between two levels, the 22-year-old right-hander was a combined 18-3 with a 2.48 ERA. Unfortunately, as’s Anna McDonald details, his promising career was derailed because of a struggle with anxiety. Although he ultimately left the game without ever having made the majors, it’s stories like his that have inspired teams like the Boston Red Sox and Washington Nationals to hire staff to specifically work with players on such issues. Hopefully, the level of support and understanding will only continue to grow over time.

*Fox Sports’ Dan Epstein posted a terrific piece on musician Warren Zevon and former pitcher Bill “Spaceman” Lee. Both were eccentrics who rose to prominence in their respective fields in the 1970s, and wound up becoming great friends. The result was a lot of entertainment and a catchy song not surprisingly titled “Bill Lee.”

*Willie Stargell was one of the greatest players to ever step on a field, compiling a .282 batting average and 475 home runs during a 21-year Hall-of-Fame career with the Pittsburgh Pirates. However, bumps in the road came before the success, and this video explains how he got some valuable advice as a young man from fellow Pirates legend Pie Traynor  that very well may have gotten him on track.

*Some baseball teams are so great that they not only win games, they can inspire songs. Such was the case of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who were the subject of this popular ditty by Danny Kaye, which rose to prominence during the 1962 pennant race.  Although the team won an impressive 102 games that year, they unfortunately finished a game behind the San Francisco Giants.

*Moe Berg carved out a 15-year major league career as a journeyman backup catcher from 1923-1939. He was also Ivy League educated and occasionally served as an international spy. Needless to say, he was incredibly intelligent and well-spoken, which he put on display in this 1941 article he wrote for Atlantic Monthly about the inner workings baseball.

*During spring training in 1973, one of the oddest things to ever come out of a team camp occurred when New York Yankees teammates Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson announced they had decided to trade families. Apparently, the two pitchers had fallen in love with each other’s spouse, so they agreed to the swap. The story obviously garnered big attention, and is still remembered today. Ben Affleck and Matt Damon are currently producing a film about baseball’s oddest trade.

*Sometimes one comes across a picture that inspires wonder in what exactly was going on when the shutter clicked. This photo of pitching legend Satchel Paige is a perfect example of that phenomenon.

*The forgotten hero of a team is often the mascot. They can light a fire under the crowd, heckle the opposition and provide entertainment during breaks in the action. One of the most iconic of these masked men and women is Mr. Met. Here’s the behind the scenes story of the mascot when portrayed by A.J. Mass (now a popular fantasy sports writer) in the 1990s.

*Baseball History Daily has the story of the “Next Babe Ruth,” which was a distinction bestowed on a number of young players after power outbursts in the low minors. Of course, there was only one Ruth, and living up to him and what he eventually accomplished was essentially impossible. 

*Baseball cards have long been an important part of the game. Being a medium for displaying player pictures and stats has evolved into an expansive hobby that is now geared more towards adults than children. Michael Pollack of The New York Times has an interesting look at the first mass-produced card, which appeared all the way back in 1869.

*One of the greatest questions humanity has ever pondered is whether Life Cereal is for kids or adults. Casey Stengel, the Hall-of-Fame manager, once took a stab at trying to provide the answer, debating with a precocious Little Leaguer named Jimmy in this vintage commercial.

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

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Best Baseball Nicknames of All-Time

There’s nothing better than a good nickname. Unless you’re blessed with an accommodating legal name (Shout out to all you Smittys and Sullys of the world!), you have to either do something very special or very embarrassing to earn a good moniker. One realm that has traditionally been a breeding ground for good nicknames is professional baseball. Its landscape is littered by men who ceased to go by the names their mothers gave them because they became well known as something else.

Baseball nicknames have gradually declined in terms of quality and quantity. They mostly currently range from the bland (Miggy) to the uninspired (ARod). However, there are many that should go down in history quite literally for their cleverness and uniqueness. Here are some of my favorites:

Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd: A native of Mississippi, where cans of beer are called oil cans, the right-handed pitcher had an old-time nickname that hearkened to a different time. Ironically, his flamboyant style and gritty pitching during his 10-year career (1982-1991) also made him seem like a holdover from a previous era.

Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown: Not the most sensitive choice, the Hall-of-Fame pitcher got his nickname after losing two fingers in a childhood farming accident. Instead of it being an impediment, it assisted him in his pitching, to the tune of 239 wins and a 2.06 ERA in 14 seasons.

Bob “Death to Flying Things” Ferguson: The 19th-century outfielder was known as a temperamental but solid player during his 14 year career. He was also a prolific defender, who gained a reputation of being a real stopper with his glove, which in his time would have been little more than a leather covering for his hand.

Nick “Tomato Face” Cullop: The beefy outfielder hit .249 in parts of five major league seasons from 1926-1931, unable to match the success he had in the minors (.311 batting average and 398 home runs in 22 years). Through no fault of his own, the slugger got his nickname not because of his looks but because his face would turn deep crimson whenever he was angry or embarrassed.

Marc “Scrabble” Rzepcyzynski: The left-handed pitcher is still active and the owner of a 9-20 record with a 3.77 ERA in parts of six major league seasons. Little explanation is needed to explain the origins of his nickname.

Doug “Eyechart” Gwosdz: A backup catcher for the San Diego Padres in the early 1980s, he earned a similarly styled pseudonym as Rzepczynski for obvious reasons.

James “Cool Papa” Bell: The Hall-of-Famer was legendary for his speed. Rumor has it he was so fast he could turn off the lights in his room and get under the covers before the room got dark. This is the kind of nickname you pray to get instead of something like “Stinky.”

Carl “Meal Ticket” Hubbell: There’s no big mystery what earned the southpaw this name. During his 16 years with the New York Giants (1928-1943), he won 253 games with a 2.98 ERA and was consistently one of the most dominant pitchers in the National League.  Naturally, he was ultimately enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 1947.

Rich “El Guapo” Garces: Spanish for “The Handsome One,” this nickname became iconic for the portly right-handed reliever. Pitching primarily for the Boston Red Sox, his image likely didn’t adorn too many walls. However, he became so popular with fans that he came to be simply referred to as “Guapo.”

Dmitri “Da Meathook” Young: During his 13-year major league career, the big hitter was no stranger to the 300-pound range. That didn’t stop him from mashing 171 home runs to go along with a .292 batting average. However, since his playing days ended, Young has put his health in a stranglehold and gotten himself into tremendous shape.

Carl “American Idle” Pavano: Once a top pitching prospect, the right-hander went on to win 108 games with a 4.39 ERA over 14 seasons. Still, he will always be a classic case of “what might have been,” as injuries caused him to miss a significant portion of his career, and his frequent trips to the disabled list helped create his unfortunate nickname.

Garry “The Secretary of Defense” Maddox: An explanation of how the fleet-footed outfielder got his nickname is probably not needed. Patrolling center field for the San Francisco Giants and Philadelphia Phillies for 15 years (1972-1986), Maddox was well known for his mastery with the leather.

“Shoeless” Joe Jackson: If it wasn’t for that whole 1919 Black Sox scandal thing, the sweet-swinging left-handed outfielder would have been in the Hall of Fame years ago. His .356 career batting average still ranks third all-time, and he was a well-rounded five-tool player. Whether or not the story is true, he got his nickname for the time he supposedly played in a minor league game in his stocking feet because his baseball cleats were too tight.

Dick “Dr. Strangeglove” Stuart: The former first baseman could hit a baseball a long way, clubbing 228 home runs in his 10 seasons in the majors. On the downside, he had great difficulty stopping balls hit in his direction, once famously earning a standing ovation for catching a wind-swept hot dog wrapper on the fly during a game. His leaden glove bought him his nickname, which is a play on a famous character in an eponymous Stanley Kubrick film.

These are some of the best baseball nicknames of all time. Are there any that you think are missing?

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

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Ty Cobb, Babies and Puppies; Oh My!: The Baseball Historian’s Notes for the Week of March 8, 2015

With other sports and interests vying for their attention, it’s important to keep baseball alive with the younger generations. A great way to achieve this is through school teams—right from elementary school through college. Some programs have faded away over the years but in some rare instances there has been a revival, including at New York University.

After a 41-year hiatus, the Violets once again are fielding a baseball team. Never a true powerhouse, they did made the College World Series in 1956 and 1969, and count Ralph Branca as a successful alum. It goes to show that such programs don’t necessarily have to be about being dynasties. Instead, making memories and building on an historical legacy is more than enough.

*Baseball has lost another of its all-time greats with the death of former outfielder Minnie Minoso. The seven-time All Star was a native of Cuba, and played several seasons in the Negro Leagues before becoming the majors’ first black player in Chicago when he joined the White Sox in 1951. In 17 seasons (he also played for the Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Cardinals and Washington Senators), he hit a combined .298 with 186 home runs, 1,023 RBIs and 1,963 base hits. He is well known for being the only player to ever play in six different decades, with pinch-hitting opportunities in 1976 and 1980 helping him reach that milestone. He was 89.

*Former batting champion Alex Johnson has passed away at the age of 72. An outfielder, he played 13 seasons (1964-1976) for eight teams, and led the American League in hitting at .329 for the 1970 California Angels. A career .288 hitter, once his playing days were over he took over the trucking business founded by his father.

*Adding to the week’s melancholy roll call is Jeff McKnight, who recently passed away at the age of 52. A utility man who truly played all over the field, he spent parts of six seasons (1989-1994) in the majors with the New York Mets and Baltimore Orioles, hitting a combined .233 with five home runs in 218 games.

*The Michael Lewis book Moneyball chronicles the strategy of Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane in identifying talent, maximizing player value and building a team—which veered considerably from traditional standards. The 2002 Oakland draft class was featured prominently in the book, as those players’ skills were valued specifically because of how they fit the philosophy. Lewis’ wife Tabitha Soren photographically chronicled these players, and have been updated in true “where are they now” style in this terrific ESPN piece titled Faces of a Revolution.

*In the early 1980s there were few athletes as popular as Los Angeles Dodgers’ left-handed pitcher Fernando Valenzuela. With 99 wins by the time he was 25, and a distinct panache on the mound, kids around the world would likely do whatever he told them—including eating a well-balanced healthy breakfast. This Spanish-language commercial for Cornflakes features the popular southpaw pitching cereal in his native language for his many acolytes.

*Security is a point of major emphasis at major league ballparks around the country. Unfortunately, society is in a place where anything can happen at any time and precautions must be implemented to provide the safest experience for everyone. This wasn’t always the case. As David Pincus of Sports Illustrated writes, Bernard Doyle was accidentally shot to death at the Polo Grounds during a 1950 New York Giants game by a juvenile fan firing a handgun from a neighboring rooftop. Not only did the game go on without interruption but fans actually clamored to fill the dead man’s seat after his body was carried out of the stadium.

*Joe Niekro was one of the best knuckleball pitchers of all time, accumulating 221 wins during a 22-year major league career. While he was a master of the fluttery pitch, he may have also had some tricks up his sleeves or in his pockets. He was ejected from a 1987 game against the California Angels after umpires found an emery board in his uniform pants. Although he claimed innocence when it came to scuffing the ball, he was subsequently hit with a 10-game suspension for the incident.

*Grantland’s Jonah Kerri has a new book out on the Montreal Expos titled  Up, Up, & Away: The Kid, The Hawk, Rock, Vladi, Pedro, Le Grand Orange, Youppi!, The Crazy Business of Baseball, and the Ill-fated but Unforgettable Montreal Expos. Many moments and players are covered but someone who was given special attention was former outfielder Vladimir Guerrero. This excerpt will remove any doubt that he was one of the greatest and most unique players to ever grace a diamond.

*Kevin Mitchell will always be remembered most for his bat on the merits of 234 career home runs in 13 big league seasons. However, it’s tough to argue against his greatest moment actually came in the field. In 1989, while playing for the San Francisco Giants, he made an amazing bare-handed catch to snare a slicing liner off the bat of the 
Cardinals’ Ozzie Smith. I still remember seeing it on This Week in Baseball. As Mel Allen would say, “How about that!

*Interleague play is a way of life in baseball these days. However, it wasn’t always the case. Started in 1997, it has proven popular with fans, as matchups are able to occur that would have previously been prevented by league alignments. Although it is less than 20 years old, the idea had been bandied about for quite a bit longer than that, as this 1960 newspaper article shows.

*There’s a new documentary film called Stealing Home out there about the efforts of a small group of volunteers to reclaim the ground where demolished Detroit Stadium used to stand.

*Hall of Fame outfielder Ty Cobb is well known for his reputation of being a hard man. However, he also had a softer side, as this photo of him posing with a young child and a red wagon full of puppies will attest. 

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

Friday, March 6, 2015

Boston Red Sox Top Prospects: A Brief Recent History

In recent years, the Boston Red Sox have annually had one of the strongest farm systems in baseball. This should probably not come as a big surprise, given the substantial resources the organization has at its disposal when it comes to player development.

Baseball America is the foremost publication available to baseball junkies when it comes to rating, reviewing and reporting on all the different prospects for the various teams. While the Red Sox have traditionally had a number of highly-regarded young players, have they always panned out and become major league stars?

Let’s look back at a list of Baseball America’s top Red Sox prospect for each of the past 15 years, as it’s an intriguing exercise to see who lived up to expectations, who didn’t, and who is still a work in progress. If anything, it tells you how fallible predicting success for prospects can be, but also how some players are so talented they truly are “can’t miss.”

The Boston Red Sox’s Top Prospect by Year for the Last 15 Years:

Dernell Stenson, Outfielder/First Baseman- 1999 & 2001: The powerfully built left-handed slugger immediately thrilled Red Sox fans. Drafted in the third round in 1996, it was just a year after Mo Vaughn, a similarly built player, had won the American League MVP while playing first base with Boston. Stenson didn’t disappoint with his bat, mashing 59 home runs in his first three full-season minor league campaigns. However, he struggled in the field, including a whopping 34 errors at first in 1999 while at Triple-A.

Unfortunately, Stenson never made it to the majors with Boston. He was released in the offseason following the 2002 campaign and was subsequently picked up by the Cincinnati Reds. Following a strong 2003 season in the minors, he earned a major league call up late in the year, more than holding his own, hitting .247 with three home runs and 13 RBIs in 37 games.

Just as Stenson’s career was finally taking off, tragedy struck. In November, 2003, he was robbed and murdered in Arizona, passing away at the young age of 25.

Steve Lomasney, Catcher- 2000: A low point for the overall health of the Boston system, Lomasney was a local product (Peabody, MA) and legendary high school athlete who was drafted in the fifth round in 1995. The right-handed hitter developed power almost immediately but that was the one skill that truly stood out. In 1998 he was the Red Sox’s Minor League Player of the Year, hitting .239 with 22 home runs for High Single-A Sarasota.

He was summoned to Boston for his big league debut late in the season in 1999, appearing in one game against the Baltimore Orioles—striking out in both of his plate appearances.

With Jason Varitek and Scott Hatteberg in the fold, Lomasney hit a roadblock in the organization. He continued in the minors, but suffered a severe eye injury in 2001 and never fully recovered. He lasted in the Boston system through the 2002 season, and then played in the minors for three other teams before retiring after the 2006 season. He posted career minor league marks of a .229 batting average with 93 home runs. He also threw out 27 percent of runners attempting to steal. He is currently an instructor at a baseball and softball academy.

Seung Song, Pitcher- 2002: The right-hander from South Korea signed with the Red Sox as an international free agent in 1999 for $800,000. He was immediately successful, going 8-4 with a 1.90 ERA and 135 strikeouts in 123.1 innings in 2001.
Song never made it to the majors but did impact their big league roster, as he and fellow pitching prospect Sun-Woo Kim were traded at the trade deadline to the Montreal Expos for outfielder Cliff Floyd in 2002.

Song continued with varying degrees of success in the systems of Montreal, San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals until returning to play in Korea in 2007. He is still active, having just completed a 2014 season that saw him go 8-11 with a 5.98 ERA in 24 games for the Lotte Giants. Now 34, he has 140 career victories between the minors and Korea. Although he never made it with the Red Sox, his 16 professional seasons (and counting) show his staying power.

Hanley Ramirez, Shortstop- 2003-05: A much-anticipated prospect, he struck out in two at-bats in Boston in his debut in 2005 before being shipped off in a trade that offseason with the Florida Marlins that netted pitcher Josh Beckett and third baseman Mike Lowell. Ramirez won the 2006 National League Rookie of the Year and has been one of baseball’s biggest stars since, hitting a combined .300 with 191 home runs, 654 RBIs, 264 stolen bases and three All-Star selections in his 10 major league seasons.

With potential redemption on the line, Ramirez will get a chance to make good in Beantown. He recently inked a lucrative free-agent contract with the Sox and enters the 2015 season as one of their most important players, not to mention their highest paid (annual contract value) of all time.

Andy Marte, Third Baseman- 2006: There was great excitement in Boston in the autumn of 2005 after the Atlanta Braves traded Marte to Boston in exchange for shortstop Edgar Renteria. After all, the then 22-year-old was coming off a season at Triple-A where he had hit .275 with 20 home runs.

 Interestingly, Marte never played a single game in the Boston organization, as he was traded to the Cleveland Indians prior to the start of spring training in 2006 in a deal that returned outfielder Coco Crisp among others to the Red Sox.

Marte has never truly panned out as the player many once though he would become, and has bounced around with a number of teams. He has hit .282 with 182 home runs in the minors, and a combined .218 with 21 home runs in parts of seven major league seasons. Most recently, he signed a lucrative one-year deal to play in Korea in 2015.

Jacoby Ellsbury, Outfielder- 2007: A 2005 first-round draft choice, the left-handed hitter experienced extreme ups and downs with the team. In his seven seasons playing for the Red Sox, the team won two World Series with Ellsbury playing a pivotal role both times.

In between a rash of injuries that caused him to miss the majority of two seasons (2010 and 2012), he was an outstanding leadoff man whose production peaked in 2011 when he hit .321 with 32 home runs, 105 RBIs and 39 stolen bases—finishing second in the MVP voting.

Following the 2013 season, Ellsbury left via free agency to sign a mammoth $153 million contract with the rival New York Yankees. He finished his Red Sox career with a .297 batting average, 65 home runs and 241 stolen bases in 715 games.

Clay Buchholz, Pitcher- 2008: Although he has been one of the few prospects who has graduated to the majors and made significant contributions to the Red Sox, the right-hander has done so among continuous ups and downs. The ups have included a no-hitter in his second MLB start, and a dominant 2013 season that saw him go 12-1 with a 1.74 ERA. The downs have been missing time every season because of nagging injuries, and also not yet having consecutive above-average seasons. All told, he is a combined 66-44 with a 3.92 ERA in parts of eight years. Still just 30 and signed to a team-friendly deal that could keep him in Boston until at least 2017, he still has time to build on his legacy.

Lars Anderson, First Baseman- 2009: The only reason the left-handed hitter fell to the 18th round of the 2006 draft was because of signability concerns. However, the Red Sox offer of an $825,000 signing bonus convinced him to forego college at Berkeley.

Anderson excelled immediately, hitting .292 and .317 in his first two minor league seasons, drawing comparisons to established first basemen who could also hit like Adrian Gonzalez. However, his power peaked with the 18 homers he hit in 2008—the majority coming while playing in the hitter’s paradise of Lancaster in the California League.

He received a handful of brief appearances with the Red Sox in 2010-12, appearing in a total of 30 games where he hit .167 with four RBIs in his 48 at-bats. Traded to the Cleveland Indians in 2012 for pitcher Steven Wright, he bounced around several organizations’ minor leagues and was still active in the system of the Chicago Cubs as of this past season. In eight minor league seasons, he has hit a combined .269 with 84 home runs.

One of his former managers, Gabe Kapler, once wrote about the physical and intellectual talents of the former prospect, and Anderson himself has even gotten in on the writing game, posting this article about sustainability earlier in 2014.

Ryan Westmoreland, Outfielder- 2010: The outfielder was already unusually polished when he was drafted out of high school in the fifth round in 2008. A lifelong fan of the team, his selection was the culmination of a long-time wish come true. He only increased the excitement surrounding his potential by hitting .296 with seven home runs and 35 RBIs in 60 short-season games in his first professional season in 2009. Sadly, it proved to be his only season, as he was diagnosed with cavernous malformation, a brain condition, prior to the 2010 season.

After multiple surgeries and working tirelessly to return to playing, Westmoreland officially retired from baseball in 2013. He has since embarked in obtaining his college degree and is still held in high regard by the Red Sox and their fans, who not only appreciate his indomitable spirit and work ethic but also the memory of what might have been.

Casey Kelly, Pitcher- 2011: Originally drafted as a shortstop (but also as a talented pitcher) in the first round of the 2008 draft, the right-handed Kelly played his first season and a half in the field before converting to the mound full-time. Although raw, he was immediately regarded as a top pitching prospect and was an integral piece in a December, 2010 trade with the San Diego Padres that brought first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to Boston.

Kelly debuted with the Padres in 2012, going 2-3 with a 6.21 ERA in six starts. He missed the entire 2013 season because of Tommy John surgery, but came back at the tail end this past year and looked good in the four games he threw in the minors (2.21 ERA). Still just 25, he still has time to live up to his previous status as a top prospect.

Will Middlebrooks, Third Baseman- 2012: Another tough sign, the Red Sox threw a lot of money at Middlebrooks following his fifth-round selection in 2007 to convince the terrific athlete to pass up going to college. He made steady progress in the minors and appeared to be the team’s next superstar after producing a .288 batting average, 15 home runs and 54 RBIs in 75 games as a rookie with Boston in 2012. Unfortunately, a broken wrist ended his season early.

Since that time, he has been unable to recapture his previous form. Battling injuries and waning production, he has combined for a .213 batting average, 19 home runs and 169 strikeouts in 157 games over the past two seasons. He will look to get a fresh start with a new team, as he was traded to the San Diego Padres this offseason.

Xander Bogaerts, Shortstop- 2013-14: Signed as a 16-year-old out of Aruba, the anticipation of the right-handed hitter has only increased as he has matured and progressed in his development. Profiling as a similar player to Hanley Ramirez—minus the speed—Bogaerts appears to be the team’s shortstop of the future.

He debuted towards the end of the 2013 season, and ultimately played a pivotal role in that year’s playoffs, batting an impressive .296. Playing both short and third in 2014, he had a rocky year but finished up at .240 with 12 home runs in 144 games. Just 22, it would be a surprise if he isn’t given a chance to blossom even further in Boston, now that a permanent third baseman was acquired in the form of free agent Pablo Sandoval.

Blake Swihart, Catcher- 2015: A catcher that can both hit (.293/13/64 in 2014) and field (46 percent caught stealing in 2014), the 22-year-old switch-hitter is currently viewed as the future at the position for the Sox. A pure athlete out of high school in New Mexico, the team decided to make him a catcher—and that decision has paid off in spades thus far. Unless he gets traded, which seems unlikely at this point, he should have an opportunity to make an impact in Boston in the next year or two.

Statistics via

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

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Earl Weaver Teaches the Art of Umpire Arguing: The Baseball Historian’s Notes for the Week of March 1, 2015

Los Angeles Angels’ slugger Josh Hamilton has had a roller coaster career. The former first overall draft pick has fought through addiction to forge an abbreviated All-Star career in the majors. Unfortunately, word came down this past week that the 33-year-old had suffered a relapse with drugs and alcohol and is facing a lengthy ban.

Hamilton should be a cautionary tale for everyone, both young and old. No matter how talented or what amazing opportunities are available, nobody is immune from going down such dark paths. Addiction is a disease, and one that is able to dig its claws in like no other. He will hopefully be able to fight back like he has before but even if he does there is no way to reclaim the portions of his life and career that have already passed by.

And now, on to the notes for the week…

*Former outfielder Jim King has died at the age of 82. The left-handed hitter played in 11 major league seasons between 1955 and 1967 for six different teams, achieving his greatest success with the Washington Senators. He hit a combined .240 with 117 home runs in 1,125 games.

*Another passing to report in former journeyman pitcher Don Johnson at the age of 88. The right-hander had parts of seven seasons in the majors with five different teams, going a combined 27-38 with a 4.78 ERA in 198 games (70 starts). His best season came with the 1954 Chicago White Sox, as he was 8-7 with a 3.13 ERA and three shutouts.

*The Splendid Splinter, Ted Williams, was one of the greatest hitters baseball has ever known, spending his entire 19-season career with the Boston Red Sox. His death in 2002 created sensational headlines, not just because of the passing of a legend but because of his participation in Cryogenics, which has kept his head frozen in the hopes of future revival. The 30-for-30 short film, An Immortal Man, is a tremendous look at the controversy and his enduring legacy.

*Few players were as beloved as St. Louis Cardinals great Stan Musial. This clip provides both video and audio of the sweet-swinging lefty’s final big league at-bat, which ended his legendary career with 3,630 base hits and a .331 batting average.

*Minor league baseball has been a presence in Pawtucket, Rhode Island for decades, including the last 42 years as the Triple-A affiliate of the Red Sox. It was recently announced that connection is coming to an end, as the team has been bought by a group of investors who plan to relocate to nearby Providence in 2017. It will be a tough loss not only for the city and its economy but also because of the history it represents. Many future major leaguers and seminal baseball moments have graced McCoy Stadium over the years. The New York Times’ Dan Barry recently reviewed the team’s past and the change that is ahead.

*More than 100 years have passed since the occurrence of one of baseball’s greatest mysteries. During spring training in 1907, Red Sox (Then called the Americans) player-manager Chick Stahl committed suicide by drinking carbolic acid. He had accumulated a .305 batting average over 10 big league seasons and was about to begin his first full season as skipper before his untimely death at the age of 34. The Naples Herald’s Glenn Miller has more on this sad story.

*Babe Ruth wasn’t just the best-known ballplayer of his lifetime and a national hero. He was also a showman who was involved in many entertainment pursuits off the field. This photo shows his work in the 1927 movie Babe Comes Home. He played Babe Dugan, a star player with Los Angeles Angels—not exactly a far stretch from real life.

*Although right-handed hitter Joey Meyer was one of the best slugging prospects in the 1980s, he played just two seasons in the majors—both with the Milwaukee Brewers. He didn’t pan out the way many might have expected but he is still remembered well in minor league circles. In particular, he hit one ridiculously long home run in Denver in 1987 that still defies belief.

*Baseball is a game that can be conquered through the use of many discreet advantages. One of them is the art of pitch framing, which is delved into in some depth by Grantland’s Ben Lindbergh. In particular, former catcher Brad Ausmus and Hall of Fame pitcher Dennis Eckersley are cited as two masters of this precise art.

*In addition to hitting lots of home runs, former Baltimore Orioles slugger Boog Powell was a talented pitchman. This 1978 television ad for Miller Lite Beer displays those talents, as long as you don’t mind the mean-spirited humor directed at the umpire.

*It’s hard to believe but apparently Hall-of-Fame pitcher Addie Joss was discovered by “Professor Henry Lewis,” a performer whose profession was playing pool with his nose and other non-hand body parts. Baseball History Daily has the full story here. The professor was never paid the small bonus promised for his discovery but presumably went on to sniff out a living by virtue of his schnozz.

*Finally, during his Hall-of-Fame career with the Orioles, manager Earl Weaver was nearly as well known for his arguing with umpires as he was for helming annual contenders. It’s tough to teach such skills but this clip shows how he once tried to school Bob Uecker in the art of really giving it to the men in blue.

Statistics via

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