Top 100 Baseball Blog

Monday, April 27, 2015

Boston Red Sox: 10 Thoughts About The Start of Their 2015 Season

The Boston Red Sox are now nearly an eighth of the way through the 2015 regular season. With a record of 10-9, they have been decidedly uneven thus far, and much remains to be seen as to what they can and can’t accomplish by the time October rolls around. Although it is admittedly early, here are ten thoughts that have come to mind in watching the team in the early going.

-New left fielder Hanley Ramirez is just a professional hitter. He has been far and away the best player on the offensive side of the ball for Boston. With eight of his 21 hits having cleared the fences, it’s looking like playing his home games in cozy Fenway Park may help him raise his power numbers (although six of his homers have been on the road) even more than the 15-20 you can typically depend on from him.

-Will 40-year-old closer Kohi Uehara make it through the entire season without losing his job? Although he has had just one truly bad outing so far, there are alarming warning signs. Never a hard thrower to begin with, his fastball has declined significantly, with the average velocity on his heater in 2015 clocking in at 86.1 MPH according to FanGraphs. Similarly, the site shows he has thrown his fastball on just 15.3 percent of his offerings this year, which is about a third of his previous lowest rate. It’s reasonable to extrapolate that he, or perhaps the team, doesn’t have much confidence in that pitch right now.

-While on the topic of velocity, what’s the deal with starter Justin Masterson? The big righty has sat in the low 90s for much of his career but is logging a career-low 87.2 MPH fastball average in the early going according to FanGraphs. Many pitchers take the early part of their season to get their arms tuned up, but with Masterson’s injury woes last year, his continued drop in velocity might be a red flag. SBNation’s Justin Schultz explored this topic in depth last year.

-At one time, 25-year-old right-hander Matt Barnes was the top starting pitching prospect in the Red Sox’s system. However, he has worked exclusively out of the bullpen in two brief major league call-ups during the past two years, including this past week. It seems like it would behoove the team to see what they may have with him as a reliever. His mid-90s fastball and biting slider might just be what their relief corps (which lacks power arms) could use.

-Designated hitter David Ortiz has been striking out at the rate of once a game this year. While many players routinely post similar or higher rates this is noteworthy for him because he has not been this prolific at getting punched out since 2010 when his overall numbers were down and many believed he was nearing the end of his career. He subsequently made some adjustments in his approach and enjoyed several fine seasons since. At 39, he is in the waning years of his career and it has to be wondered if he is in decline and how many adjustments he may have left in him.

-Since being traded to Boston last summer, Allen Craig has combined for 16 hits in 120 at-bats, which computes to a miserable .133 average. That stint also includes 43 strikeouts and just three RBIs. He has never been able to regain his prior All-Star level production, and getting 2-3 at-bats a week with the Red Sox is not going to help remedy that. Barring needing him to fill in for a significant injury, it may be getting time to think about finding him a new start elsewhere.

-One pitcher who seems to be back to his old tricks is left-handed reliever Craig Breslow. After a stellar 2013 season, he bombed in 2014 to the tune of a 5.96 ERA and a 1.86 WHIP. It appears that the southpaw has tightened up his arsenal and is throwing his fastball and changeup more than he ever has previously, as shown by FanGraphs. The results have been 11 scoreless innings over his first seven appearances out of the bullpen, and being the early frontrunner for most reliable of all Boston relievers.

-Youngsters Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts have had varying degrees of success this season but the talents both flash indicate the team has two long-term impact players on their roster. Both have shown impressive plate discipline for players their age (both 22) and the fact they are getting lots of playing time will only speed up their development.

-The next prospect that needs similar treatment to the aforementioned Bogaerts and Betts is outfielder Rusney Castillo. Although the Cuban defector has been injured, the team did not pay him over $70 million to stay long in his current location of Triple-A Pawtucket. Right field has been a revolving door so far this year in Boston, so now that he nearly back healthy, it would seemingly make little sense to keep him down on the farm much longer.

-Finally, the Red Sox appear to have a lot of intriguing options at Triple-A in addition to Castillo should the need to augment their roster arise. Catcher Blake Swihart and outfielders Jackie Bradley Jr. and Bryce Brentz are swinging hot bats. Left-handed starters Eduardo Rodriguez and Brian Johnson have been almost unhittable in their first three starts. Even though fellow southpaw Henry Owens has uncharacteristic control problems, he has been more of an enemy to himself than any opposing hitters. Having an excess of young talent like this is an enviable problem for any big league team.

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Sunday, April 26, 2015

New Mexico’s Pueblo Baseball League: A Review

Although other sports may get more viewers on television or fare better in straw polls about popularity, make no mistake about it, baseball is the National Pastime and an integral part of the history of the United States. The game has impacted countless regions of the country and its people over the years. It is through careful record keeping and the collection of pictures and other primary documents that we are able to preserve what that has truly meant. A recent contribution to the effort is New Mexico’s Pueblo Baseball League by James D. Baker, Herbert Howell and Marie A. Cordero (from Arcadia Publishing’s Images of Baseball series).

When one thinks of baseball an initial image that may come to mind is the lush green grass of the diamond. However, that isn’t necessary to foster a raging baseball fever, as evidenced by how the game has flourished in New Mexico’s pueblos with their Native Americans residents for more than a century. Each summer, games dot the landscape of the Land of Enchantment and have become an integral part of Native culture.

New Mexico’s Pueblo Baseball League offers 128 pages of black and white photographs documenting the history of the game and the league. Brief descriptions provides context to give a little better understanding of who the Pueblo people are and why baseball has become part of their DNA.

Some of the highlights are the photos of teams and individuals of note from bygone times in the league. Additionally, the Pueblo/Navajo All Star Game is a significant event celebrating the passion for baseball while simultaneously serving as a well-attended fund raiser played at the home park for the Albuquerque Isotopes, the Triple-A minor league affiliate of the Colorado Rockies.

Most books on baseball history enhance their material by including pictures and anecdotes of nationally recognized Hall-of-Fame players and moments. There is none of that here, as this is regional baseball at its best. Additional photos or information on the most famous Pueblo players and games would have been welcome but it is understandable that such material may not have been readily available. Along similar lines there could have also been a bit more emphasis on the actual game action, as many of the photos are scenic or people who are out of uniform.

It’s refreshing to see the way that the community embraces baseball in the Pueblos. From playing to umpiring to being a spectator, there is something for everyone. In many ways it mirrors the role the game played nationally earlier last century, when it was the end-all, be-all of American leisure time.

As a historian of baseball, a primary goal is finding something that you have not seen before, or at the least, held little knowledge. New Mexico’s Pueblo Baseball League is a revelation in that regard. It serves as a good reminder of how important baseball can still be to community and that there is no need for million dollar salaries and the bright lights of prime time television broadcasts to serve as validation. This is an intriguing chapter of baseball history, and one that is a welcome addition to the genre. 

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

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Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Fight of Their Lives: A Review

Professional baseball and its players are marked by individual moments that act like bricks to build lasting legacies. They are most commonly memorable teams, heroic plays and legendary displays of skill. Unfortunately, they aren’t always positive, as John Roseboro and Juan Marichal can attest. Despite their statuses as two of the best players to ever step on a diamond, their baseball identities are indelibly linked because of a violent confrontation they had during a 1965 game. However legacies can be changed, and that happened in this instance as detailed in John Rosengren’s book, The Fight of Their Lives: How Juan Marichal and John Roseboro Turned Baseball’s Ugliest Brawl into a Story of Forgiveness and Redemption (The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group; Lyon’s Press;

On August 22, 1965, The San Francisco Giants hosted the Los Angeles Dodgers, as the two teams battled for supremacy in the race for the National League pennant. Marichal, pitching for the Giants, had a throw from Roseboro, the Dodgers’ catcher, buzz by his head. Perhaps the worst brawl Major League Baseball has ever seen ensued over the next tense minutes. When it was over, punches had been thrown and Marichal had struck Roseboro over the head with his bat, creating jarring images that resonate to this day.

Although Roseboro retired as a widely-respected multiple All-Star selection, and Marichal eventually was inducted in the Hall of Fame, the incident haunted both men. Rosegren’s work (which was published last year in hard cover and has just been released in paperback) is a comprehensive examination of the incident, not only covering the clash, but exhaustively detailing how both men got to their particular boiling points that day and how their actions subsequently impacted them.

As with any fight, the proverbial saying of “it takes two to tango” aptly applied to the Marichal/Roseboro clash. Rosengren smartly gives each man their own space in his story, which makes it all the more interesting to see how they arrived at their ultimate collision point.

Once the stereotypical reasons for any baseball fight (gamesmanship, competitive spirits and testosterone) are stripped away from the incident, there are still a number of interesting factors that contributed to this moment of baseball infamy. Roseboro, an African American, had suffered through racial indignities both privately and professionally. The same applied to Marichal, a native of the Dominican Republic. In both instances, fierce pride fueled how they carried themselves on a daily basis.

Rosengren also writes of how the role of wide-spread violence and unrest from that summer can’t be ignored. The Watts riots took place where Roseboro lived and had just started to subside at the time of the fight. Additionally, The Dominican Republic was in the midst of a bloody revolution, and Marichal was constantly worried about the safety of his many family members who lived in the country. To say that both men may have possibly been on edge on the day of the fateful game could be a major understatement.

After the detailed backgrounds of both men, The Fight of Our Lives takes the reader through a minute-by-minute account of the fight and then the fall out, which was severe, especially for Marichal, who was largely defined by his role in the incident for many years.

Fortunately, like all good stories, this one has a happy ending. As the years passed, both men, fierce rivals even before their violent encounter, gradually reconciled and in the biggest of surprises became true friends. This is where Rosengren truly shines, as such reconciliations are often a trope used to tie up such stories with a neat little bow. To the contrary, this story is one of actual redemption.

It would be an oversight to not mention how well sourced this book is. The theme of baseball history, which can be so grounded in anecdotes, demands such detail to cement its authenticity. The bibliography and list of citations gives any reader interested in following up with more research on this story a fantastic road map to start that journey.

Baseball legacies really are built brick by brick but as Rosengren shows, sometimes damaged foundations can be repaired under proper circumstances. There are two sides to every story and there is always a possibility for redemption. The connection between Juan Marichal and John Roseboro had an ugly beginning but a beautiful end—and instead of being remembered for one of baseball’s ugliest incidents it can now be filed as one of its best stories.

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

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Sunday, April 12, 2015

Major League Baseball As Seen From Outer Space: The Baseball Historian’s Notes for the Week of April 12, 2015

Another baseball season has just gotten underway this week, finally releasing fans from the purgatory of the offseason. For those who truly love the game, this is truly a special time of year. In a famous monologue from the film Field of Dreams, actor James Earl Jones perfectly captures the way people are drawn to baseball. Now that the sport is in full swing again, that familiar connection is creeping back into souls across the world, and not a moment too soon.

And now, on to the notes for the week…

*Right-handed pitcher Harley Hisner had the most bittersweet of careers.  In a late-season game in 1951, he made his major league debut with the Boston Red Sox, striking out the first batter he faced (Mickey Mantle), going six innings in an eventual 3-0 loss to the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Unfortunately, he never made it back to the Show despite his solid performance, and wound up retiring after completing his seventh minor league season in 1953. Sadly, he recently passed away at the age of 88. Although he had the briefest taste of baseball at the highest level, he made the most of the experience and passed along his love of the game by acting as a youth coach for years after he stopped playing.

*Don Zimmer passed away last summer after spending over 60 years in baseball. It’s unfathomable to consider what he saw and experienced during all that time but his wife Soot has a pretty good idea. This touching story describes how Mrs. Zimmer spent years detailing her husband’s career through scrapbooking. It’s a fitting and unique tribute to someone who has gone down as one of the most treasured figures in the history of the game.

*Pitcher Dock Ellis was the wild child of baseball during his 12-year major league career. The right-hander was talented, heavily into drugs and alcohol and could be erratic in his demeanor. This was never truer than a 1974 game against the Cincinnati Reds when he intentionally hit the first three batters while pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Before he recorded an out, his manager removed him from the game, unsure of how far his hurler was going to go with his beanball agenda. The full story is the stuff of baseball lore.

*Courtesy of a head’s up from @RonJuckett comes this piece by J. Gordon Hylton from the Marquette University Law School Faculty Blog about how the city of Milwaukee lost the Braves franchise in 1966. It’s an interesting look on how it all went down from a legal perspective. Although the city ultimately ended up with the Brewers, at the time it was quite the bitter pill for the community to swallow.

*Nolan Ryan is still the king of strikeouts, holding the major league record with 5,714 during his 27 major league seasons. He also set the single-season mark with 383 punch outs in 1973 with the California Angels, and this candid photo shows him celebrating his achievement after his final start of that season where he struck out 16 Minnesota Twins batters.

*Having just started his 66th year with the Los Angeles Dodgers, legendary announcer Vin Scully is far from tired of his gig. The velvet-throated baseball denizen of diamond doings is still a fan of the game and loving every moment, as described in this Los Angeles Daily News article.

*As baseball has aged, there have been numerous advances in equipment and apparel. However, there have also been a number of ideas that failed to catch on. The reason this old patent for a “Baseball Catcher” didn’t become the next hot item is fairly self explanatory once you take a look.

*For a brief time in 1985, the New York Mets had the best prospect in baseball history in pitcher Sidd Fitch. Growing up an orphan raised by Buddhist monks in Tibet, the right-hander had a fastball purported to clock as high as 168 MPH, but he never ended up pitching in the majors. That of course is because he wasn’t real, but actually an invention from the mind of Sports Illustrated’s George Plimpton. This ESPN 30-for-30 short film and Grantland write-up by Bryan Curtis takes a look at the 30th anniversary of the phenom.

*Women have not yet broken the Major League Baseball gender barrier but there are undoubtedly players who have big league ability. One of the first widely recognized female talents was left-handed pitcher Jackie Mitchell, who as a 17-year-old struck out New York Yankees legends Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in a 1931 exhibition game. Over time, the feat has been heavily celebrated, scrutinized and analyzed.’s David Schoenfield has the story.

*Selected in the second round of the 1993 draft, left-handed pitcher Matt LaChappa was an up-and-coming prospect for the San Diego Padres. Sadly, while warming up for a game in 1996, the then 20-year-old suffered a heart attack that left him permanently confined to a wheel chair. Although his playing career ended, his connection with the franchise has continued through the years. USA Today’s Ted Berg recently reported that the former player has had his minor league contract renewed every year in the two decades since his career ended in part so he can continue receiving medical insurance. Such a heart-warming story is truly remarkable.

*Finally, you have to check out the story of astronaut Terry Virts, who has been taking pictures of Major League Baseball stadiums and posting them to his social media accounts while working on the International Space Station. It’s an entirely unique way to view baseball’s cherished venues and gives new meaning to the term “nosebleed seats.”

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Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Minneapolis Millers of the American Association: A Review

The big leagues may get the lion’s share of recognition but make no mistake about it; minor leagues have been the essential lifeblood of baseball since the game became a profession. Preserving the history of these leagues is just as important as the meticulous record keeping and story collecting of the majors. Fortunately, there are researchers doing fine work in this regard. Rex Hamann has produced one of the best most recent efforts, with his new book, The Minneapolis Millers of the American Association ($21.99, Arcadia Publishing. Available at local retailers, online bookstores, or through Arcadia Publishing at or (888) 313-2665).

Today, minor league baseball primarily functions as a farm system for cultivating major league ballplayers out of young prospects who have come from high school and college. However, its purpose was much different in the past, particularly during the lifetime of the Millers (1902-1960). With the majors primarily located on the East Coast, such teams helped fulfill the demand for baseball around the country by providing top-notch play. Not only did they utilize up-and-coming young players, but they also were a popular landing spot for former major leaguers whose talents may have slipped but still had something left in the gas tank.

Hamann has assembled a tremendous collection of vintage photographs encapsulating the history of the Millers. Ranging from player action shots to team photos to candid moments, there is a little of everything here. Each picture is accompanied with a brief description, which typically includes some statistics or an intriguing tidbit or two, making it an effortless way to learn the team history and see how many fascinating people and events passed through their nearly six-decade run.

At 127 pages, this is not a lengthy read but there is a lot packed. The photos are striking and tell the first part of each story, while Hamann’s commentary ties it all together. If Major League Baseball hadn’t come to Minnesota in the form of the Twins in 1961, it is hard to imagine that the Millers wouldn’t still be plugging away as a popular and successful franchise.

It’s interesting to see the wide swath of players and personalities who were connected to the Millers over the years. For prospects, the likes of Ted Williams and Willie Mays made successful stops there before vaulting to legendary careers on the national stage. But for every once-in-a-lifetime youngster like them, there were hundreds whose careers peaked during the hot summer months they spent playing baseball in Minneapolis.

On the other end of the spectrum, numerous quality veterans played out the string on their careers. Negro League great third baseman Ray Dandridge and first baseman George “High Pockets” Kelly each played some of their final professional games in a Minneapolis uniform before their eventual retirements and enshrinement in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Naturally, not everyone who passed through Minneapolis has remained part of baseball’s collective memory but that doesn’t make their stories any less interesting. Outfielder Henri Rondeau hit .295 during his career as an outfielder but his greatest feat as described by Hamann was his saving the life of a young girl whose clothing had caught fire in a fireworks accident.

Red Downs had 13 professional seasons as a heavy-hitting second baseman, including 1909 with the Millers. Unfortunately, we find out that in retirement his life took a downward turn, particularly during the Great Depression, as he was apprehended for robbing a Los Angeles jewelry store in 1932 and subsequently served a prison sentence.

There is nothing fancy with this work of Hamann, but that isn’t an insult. To the contrary, he has accumulated a team history that has more than enough detail to draw in baseball fans wanting to learn more about this former pillar of the minor leagues. Whether your interest is baseball or history, this amply covers both and I suspect anyone who picks it up will be pleased on all accounts.

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

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