Top 100 Baseball Blog

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Cardinals Way: A Review

To the uninformed, the game of major league baseball may look simplistic. You run; you throw; you hit; and at the end of a game, a winner is determined. However, as fans know, an enormous amount of work goes into each franchise and how they cultivate and maintain their organization from year to year. Some teams have greater track records than others, and there are few that can match what the St. Louis Cardinals have done over the years. Howard Megdal has thrown the curtain back and provided a glimpse behind the scenes at what makes the team click with his recent work, The Cardinals Way: How One Team Embraced Tradition and Moneyball at the Same Time (Thomas Dunne Books- an Imprint of St. Martin’s Press).

The Cardinals are probably the least ballyhooed of all the major sports franchises with their level of success. In existence for well over a century, St. Louis has won 11 World Series; rarely going lengthy stretches where they have not been in contention. Although they may not always get as much publicity as others for the work they put into their team, they are widely respected for how they go about their business, especially for their most recent model that has maintained their winning ways.

Michael Lewis’ 2004 Moneyball was a bestselling and groundbreaking look at how the Oakland A’s embrace analytics and other ways of evaluating talent beyond typical scouting to field a contender. For all intents and purposes, The Cardinals Way is the St. Louis Moneyball. But don’t dismiss it as a copycat work, as the Cardinals have just as unique an approach as their American League counterpart when it comes to how they do things.

Megdal breaks down some of the major people and disciplines that the Cardinals have used in recent years to achieve their great success. One of the first noticeable things is their impressive continuity; right down to the way some current staff can be linked all the way back to former General Manager Branch Rickey, who forged a Hall-of-Fame career with the team from 1919-1942 with innovation and insight that was leaps and bounds ahead of his contemporaries.

The Cardinals are currently renowned for their use of both old school player scouting and coaching along with the newer push for analytics (think WAR and VORP). Some teams have found it difficult to balance what can often be such diametrically opposed philosophies, but St. Louis has found a way to balance the two to great effect.

There are a number of individuals who have been key to the success of the Cardinals. There’s George Kissell, the god-like coach, who spent over 60 years with the team (after playing in the minors for them) knowing just what buttons to push to get the most out of and develop an amazing number of young players. There’s also Bill DeWitt Jr., the current team owner, whose father was also a baseball executive and was allowed to learn at the feet of some of the best minds in baseball when he was growing up.

Megdal digs deep in showing how the Cardinals invest a painstaking amount of resources and time in putting their team together. Fans will likely be enthralled by the blow-by-blow descriptions of how the draft war room can play out, as scouts and analytics staff debate which players to take and why.

Not everything with the Cardinals is always positive, and Megdal doesn’t hold back in exploring those sides as well. The death of prized prospect Oscar Taveras in 2014 is perhaps the most sobering part of the book, while the recent “hacking scandal,” where a St. Louis employee was accused of illegally accessing the electronic files of Jeff Luhnow (current GM of the Houston Astros and former Cardinals’ front office staffer) is a recent embarrassment.

Unlike some baseball books, The Cardinals Way may be hard-pressed to find wide readership outside of baseball circles, and perhaps even outside of Cardinals circles. That is not a reflection on the quality of the book, which is very well researched and written, but rather the acknowledgement that it is deep enough that some prior knowledge of the franchise is almost required reading before diving into this gem.

Discovering how the Cardinals have managed to be so consistently successful is absolutely intriguing. St. Louis fans should hope that with Megdal doing such a good job of establishing a blueprint that the cat hasn’t been let out of the bag.

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

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Sunday, March 27, 2016

Larry McLean's Unusual Baseball Contract Demand

Haggling over contracts is nothing new in professional baseball. For years, players and management have gone back and forth over getting the perceived upper hand when it comes to determining worth. In the days before free agency and player representation, teams could more or less dictate the terms, which could lead to some pretty unhappy exchanges and counter proposals. Perhaps none were as bizarre as hard-drinking catcher Larry McLean, who tried to negotiate the payment of 25 cents for every drink he refused during the 1911 season with the Cincinnati Reds.

McLean was a towering (6’5”, 230-pound catcher), who broke into the majors with the Boston Americans in 1901. He eventually gained a reputation as a good-hitting and fielding receiver with a penchant for the bottle. To say he had a taste for the drink and trouble would be an understatement. He was involved in saloon brawls during his playing career and was eventually killed in one in 1921 at the age of 39, when he and a friend mixed it up with a bartender who happened to have a gun with him behind the counter at his near beer joint.

Despite his troubles, McLean’s talent kept him in the game for 13 years. His career came to an end following the 1915 season with the New York Giants after he got into a violent free-for-all at the team hotel with manager John McGraw and a dozen other participants. The donnybrook only ended after Dick Kinsella, a Giants scout, broke a chair over McLean’s head.

“I am done with Larry McLean,” McGraw said the following day. “He will never play with New York again.” He was true to his word, and the burly receiver never played another professional game. But anyways, back to the story at hand.

1910 was the best season of McLean’s career. He appeared in a career-high 127 games, batting .298 with 71 RBIs, which were good for ninth in the National League. Justifiably, he felt that he was due a better contract than the previous year’s, which had included a clause requiring him to pay the team $25 for every drink he had during the season. Although the potential was there for him to have been in steep debt by the end of the year, it’s unknown how much, if any pay, he was docked for indulging in libations.

Based on his big year, the catcher decided to try and turn the table on the Reds, telling reporters, “I will play for the Reds only under the terms of the contract I have made out. Last year they made me sign a fool contract after I had a little trouble at Hot Springs (their spring training site). This year they will sign my contracts or not at all. I want 25 cents for every drink I refuse.”

McLean wasn’t finished, “I’ll pay a man $50 a week just to be with me all the time and keep a tab on how many drinks I refuse, and I’ll forfeit all claims to any salary if I take one drink during the playing season.”

“I figure my salary would be about $25,000 (In 1911, the top-paid players in the game, Ty Cobb and Nap Lajoie, only made $9,000) a year on this basis, and think I’m worth that to the club. I’m tired of being dictated to, and will now do some dictating. Since I have made the announcement of the only terms I will sign under, I would have made $89, just by turning down offers to take a tumble off the aqua aeroplane, but nix for me. I’m going to put my contract to Mr. [August]Herrmann (the team owner) as soon as I can and see what he says.”

Not surprisingly, McLean wound up playing under the Reds’ terms once again during the 1911 season. He had another fine year, batting .287, but finally wore out his welcome the next year, even getting to the point where Cincinnati suspended him before the end of the 1912 season and then had a hard time finding a taker for him when they attempted to rid themselves of him that offseason.

Unfortunately, McLean was a troubled soul who only stayed in the game as long as he did because teams found his production on the field outweighed the trouble he caused off it. While his proposed 1911 contract got quite a few laughs, in the end it was emblematic of a man who could have probably benefited from such a ridiculous clause.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Three Sleeper Boston Red Sox Prospects for 2016

The Boston Red Sox enter the 2016 season with a revamped major league roster, having landed some significant talent this past offseason. At the same time they have been able to maintain a well-stocked farm system that no less an authority than Baseball America has ranked as fourth-best in baseball this year. While many will be familiar with some of their better known prospects, their young talent pool is so deep that there are many who have largely flown under the radar thus far in their young careers but may start to get more recognition.

Here are just a few of the Red Sox prospects who haven’t gotten nearly as much press as some others in the system but may see that change in a major way in 2016.

Sam Travis, First Base: A second-round pick in 2014, the right-handed hitter formed a collegiate version of the Bash Brothers with Indiana University teammate Kyle Schwarber before both were drafted in the early going two years ago. Not a classic slugger, Travis is better described as a professional hitter. He has already played at four different levels in his first two years, reaching as high as Double-A mid-way through last season. In 198 professional games, he has combined to hit .310 with 16 home runs, 122 RBIs and a .371 OBP.

His rise to prominence may have already begun, as he has been the star of Boston’s camp, hitting better than .500 this spring and looking more like a seasoned veteran than the 22-year-old that he is. Unfortunately, there’s virtually no chance that he will start the season in the majors, given the depth in front of him. However, if he continues his impressive and consistent production, it won’t be long before he forces his way into the conversation for a promotion to Boston.

Luis Alexander Basabe, Outfield: The Red Sox have a potential four-tool player in the switch hitter. Signed for $450,000 out of Venezuela in 2012 as a 16-year-old, he has understandably been eased along in his first three professional seasons. He spent all of 2015 with the short season Lowell Spinners and although he didn’t turn 19 until the final weeks of the season, he hit .243 with seven home runs, 23 RBIs and 15 stolen bases in 56 games. Most impressively, he also drew 32 walks, which is a great sign for a player that young.

In addition to his power and speed, Basabe is a strong defender with a good arm in center field. The major hole in his game is his ability to make contact, as he struck out 67 times last year and has 184 whiffs in his 831 professional plate appearances. He still has a ways to go in his development, so it’s entirely possible he can improve in this regard, but even if he doesn’t he has enough skills to translate into him being a very valuable player.

Travis Lakins, Pitcher: Following his career at Ohio State, the left-hander was selected in the sixth round of the 2015 draft. Although he debuted last year, fans don’t have much to go on when scouting the stat line, as he only made a lone appearance for Lowell, striking out three of the seven batters he faced in his two-inning stint (he walked a batter but did not allow a hit).

Scouting reports indicate Lakins, who will turn 22 in July, throws a low-90s fastball and has a changeup and curveball that could become above average offerings. With the potential for three average to above average pitches, his future appears to be in the rotation. It’s not clear where he will start this year in the minors, but wherever it is, his college polish makes it likely that he could see a promotion or two during the year if he produces the way many expect.

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Sunday, March 20, 2016

Playing With Tigers: A Review

Memoires (both fictional and real) of baseball players have always been a popular sub genre in the literature and film of the sport. Bull Durham and Ball Four are among the most well known, but the beauty is that since they are all told from a unique perspective, there’s always a fresh set of stories and experiences to share. One of the most recent is Playing with Tigers: A Minor League Chronicle of the Sixties (University of Nebraska Press) by George Gmelch.

Gmelch was a first baseman from California who played three minor league seasons in the 1960s for the Detroit Tigers (never rising above Single-A) and then a couple of years in the Canadian independent leagues. On the surface, one might think that since he never came close to reaching the majors there can’t be much of a story here. Those people would be wrong. Playing with Tigers is not only about his baseball experiences but also the role the game played in the coming of age of a young man during a rapidly changing time in American history.

This is not a standard baseball memoire, replete with the recounting of big games. Sure, there is some of that, but Gmelch, who became an anthropologist after his playing days were over, uses his academic experience to help frame his story in a different way than most. The result is a combination of his recollections along with excerpts from the journal he kept as a young man.

While the author had an obvious desire to make the major leagues, he also admits to how he felt as his career progressed, including seeing his fire wane as he developed new interests. The often unspoken competition that comes with playing minor league baseball is explored in depth. In high school and college, top-notch players are the best or among the best they play with and against. However, when they become professionals the talent gap widens significantly or exceeds them altogether. Reading about how many well-regarded prospects Gmelch played with who didn’t pan out for reasons ranging from results to injuries is fascinating. Just like today, each season played out in a way that can be best described as survival of the fittest. Precious few had the combination of talent, health and opportunity to make it all the way to the end—the major leagues.

Surprisingly, it is often forgotten that most minor league players are so young; some just out of high school. In many ways their introduction to professional baseball is also their entry into the real world and isn’t always the smoothest path. In particular, Gmelch talks candidly about his pursuit of and education when it came to sex. Like many ball players, finding willing partners wasn’t necessarily difficult. However, he doesn’t just go over a list of favorite conquests. He speaks freely of his inexperience and immaturity, which at one point led to an unplanned baby that he and his then-partner ended up giving up for adoption.

Although he does talk to some of his peers, adding more of their observations would have made this book even stronger. In some places (particularly when talking about other players), it felt like Gmelch relied too heavily on his own recollections and feelings. While this is obviously his memoir, independent observations would have fleshed out some of his stories even more.

For baseball fans, this book gives a great look at what life was like for players in the low minors and even in Canada during the 1960s. Set against the backdrop of the social issues of the time, there is a lot to digest, particularly given the number of stops the author made during his career.

George Gmelch is someone readers have likely never heard of before, and in the grand scheme of things his baseball career registered but a rather modest blip. That being said, he has quite a few interesting things to say with his baseball/anthropology hybrid book that is rather unique in its scope. He may not have made it as a player but if this work is any indication, he may end up making a greater impact with his pen than with his bat.

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

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Sunday, March 13, 2016

Bugs Raymond: A Baseball Legend

Professional baseball is rife with legends and ciphers that have popped up over the years. Although most of them may not reach the level of a Sidd Finch, there have been many whose stories have vacillated between the humorous and the tragic. Bugs Raymond was an outstanding pitcher who fits into both categories; whose escapades that became legendary even as he battled alcoholism and wound up murdered at the age of 30.

Born Arthur Lawrence Raymond in 1882 Chicago, little is known about his early life. His nickname of Bugs came from “bug house,” which was slang of the time for an insane asylum, and was an apt description of his frequent over the top behavior. He developed a drinking problem at an early age but was still able to also develop into a top-notch pitcher.

The right-hander joined the Waterloo Microbes of the Iowa League of Professional Baseball Clubs in 1904 and won 19 games. That was more than enough to garner the attention of the major leagues, and he was acquired by Ed Barrow of the Detroit Tigers before the season ended. With the team in the second division, the 22-year-old was given an opportunity to see what he could do. He appeared in five games, posting a 3.07 ERA in 14.2 innings. His only decision was a loss, and his drinking likely led to his offseason sale to Atlanta in the Sally League.

Raymond pitched in the minor leagues over the next three years, enjoying mounting success on the back of a highly-regarded spitball. In 1907, while with the Charleston Sea Gulls, he won an eye-popping 35 games of the 51 in which he appeared, logging 335 innings. Despite his continued wild behavior (his unconscious body was allegedly once seen being transported in a wheelbarrow pushed by his manager), his results were so astounding that his contract was purchased by the St. Louis Cardinals.

Finally sticking in the majors, Raymond continued to pitch extremely well for someone who also battled a severe alcohol problem. He was 15-25 in 1908 for the Cardinals but had a 2.03 ERA and 145 strikeouts, which was good for fourth in the National League.
Traded that offseason to the New York Giants for future Hall of Famer Roger 
Bresnahan, Raymond continued his cycle of success and struggle with his new team. He won 18 games in 1909 but continued to be completely unreliable because of his behavior and drinking. Not surprisingly, he was frequently at odds with manager John McGraw (no saint himself).

In July, 1910, the pitcher’s behavior got so bad that McGraw gave him a train ticket and sent him home, saying, “I’m through with Raymond. I tried everything to tame him, and he kept getting worse. He put the club to a big expense, and when we kept him sober he couldn’t pitch. Many persons have advised me that he could pitch better ball, or at least would pitch no worse, if he were kept in pickle, but the New York team isn’t going to stand for that sort of work. If we cannot win with sober men we will lose rather than to exploit such a character as a leading light of the game.”

McGraw continued, “No manager would have gone so far with Raymond as I did. Therefore, I’m not going to trade him. Probably nobody wants him. But if he isn’t of any use to me he isn’t worth anything to anybody else, and this game is better off without him. He’s pitched his last game for me!”

As it turned out, Raymond hadn’t quite pitched his last game for Mugsy and was brought back the following year upon his promised best behavior. Unfortunately, he was unable to turn over a new leaf and soon earned a permanent ticket off the team midway through the 1911 season. He never appeared in the major leagues again. Even when he had been able to pitch his stamina wasn’t the same as other pitchers on the staff, sometimes necessitating relievers to finish his games. As one writer wrote, “Bugs was a great starter but a poor finisher. He seldom finished anything but a drink.”

For his major league career, Raymond was a combined 45-57 with a 2.49 ERA in 136 games (95 starts). He also tossed nine shutouts and was thought of well enough that he even earned a Hall of Fame vote on the second annual ballot in 1937.

Sadly, Raymond’s life spiraled even more deeply out of control following his departure from the Giants. When he was sober enough, which wasn’t often, he found work pitching in semi-pro games. It all came to a sudden end on September 7, 1912 in Chicago when his lifeless body was found in a dingy hotel. Sadly, he left behind his wife and a child.

It was originally believed that he had succumbed to a combination of heart trouble and a heat wave that had plagued that area of the country. However, a subsequent autopsy revealed something altogether different. Raymond had a fractured skull and had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage.

The following week, 23 year-old Fred Cigranz was arrested in connection to his death and promptly confessed. He indicated he had been at a baseball game and had been struck by a piece of flower pot that Raymond, a spectator, had thrown at him. It later came out that an unknown person had first thrown the shard at Raymond, who thought he was retaliating in kind. Although the Cigranz and Raymond had known each other for years, the enraged younger man attacked the down-on-his-luck pitcher, including kicking him in the head. He was hospitalized for several days but eventually released, obviously not receiving the treatment he needed. Frank Raymond, his brother, ultimately tipped off police as to the sequence of events.

Cigranz lamented to police during his confession that “I’ve known him for 15 years and I would not have hurt him bad for anything.” Frank also told police that the flower pot incident was not his brother’s only recent dust up. Just days prior, the two had been involved in a fight where Bugs was hit over the head with a stick by one of their opponents. Although Cigranz took the blame for the death, what ultimately killed the doomed pitcher in this age of limited science is anyone’s guess.

It was also revealed that Raymond’s wife had left him sometime earlier. No doubt, their troubles were caused by his drinking but were also exacerbated by the death of a young daughter the previous year from influenza. Since leaving the Giants he had not landed on his feet. His occasional amateur games garnered him $10 a pop. He had also wired McGraw to see if he could get his old skipper’s sympathy one last time but the only reply he received was a telegram simply saying, “I have enough troubles.”

The number of stories and legends related to Raymond are many. While some may simply be anecdotal, others are based in fact. Here are some of the most memorable:

-While pitching a game with the Cardinals, he was trounced by the Pittsburgh Pirates and didn’t even bother to change from his uniform after being removed. He walked straight out of Exposition Park in Pittsburgh “in his baseball togs, stopping at every wet goods emporium on the way.” At one of the bars, he slammed his glove on the counter, ordered a beer and announced, “This is on the house! You know me, old pal. I’m Bugs Raymond, the pitcher.” He reportedly eventually made his way back to his team’s hotel but was in such an inebriated state and had so angered his manager, John McCloskey, that he suffered a bad beating at the hands of his skipper.

-This allegedly played out in a similar fashion with McGraw. In 1909, in was reported that Raymond was beset upon by his manager following some bad behavior on a road trip. McGraw told reporters, “Raymond got a little ‘strong’ on the train and needed correction. I did not want to fine him, so I administered a little chastisement.” When next seen, Raymond was sporting a split lip and presumably acting a little tamer.

-While with the Cardinals in 1907, he was struck by a car that was initially reported had killed him. Always seeming to have brushes with injury and near death, he also nearly lost a finger once when attempting to stop an electric fan with his bare hand.

-Raymond was notorious for his love of bananas, and even occasionally took some out to the mound with him and ate between batters (likely just in the minors and semi-pro games). Although he may have enjoyed consuming the fruit, the main reason he liked them so much was that he used the sticky material inside the peel to make his ball move—even leading that pitch to be named his “banana ball.”

-While pitching in the Sally League, Raymond went missing from his team one day during the pennant drive. He was found at a local circus but no entreaties could get him to budge. As he explained, “The circus only comes to town once a year and there is a ball game every day. I just can’t miss the circus.” He was sold shortly thereafter.

-In 1909, Raymond bet his fellow rotation mate Christy Mathewson $50 that he would end up with more wins on the season. Raymond did win 18 games but wagering against Mathewson, the best pitcher on the planet at the time, was just not a smart idea, as he handily took the money by ringing up 25 victories of his own.

-Foreshadowing his tragic death, Raymond was struck by a Les Backman pitch during a 1909 game that knocked him unconscious. His teammates carried him to the bench and laid him out. Fortunately, he eventually came to and was no worse for the wear.

-In late summer of 1910, Raymond nearly lost his life in a train accident while traveling to Litchfield, Connecticut to pitch for a local team. His train smashed into several freight cars just outside of the station. Out of three people injured, his were the most serious, as he suffered a broken pitching arm and cut and bruised leg. Luckily, he was healed enough to pitch the following year.

-Raymond’s drinking problem was so well known that a newspaper once ran an article with the headline “Bugs Raymond Refuses Drink.” It detailed the pitcher’s attempts to be “cured” of his alcoholism by enrolling at a sanitarium and getting injections of drugs designed to curb his urges. All that led to was a temporary lapse and a new cigarette habit, which he picked up while trying to figure out how to while away his newfound time.

-In the winter following the 1910 season, Raymond made headlines by signing on to wrestle professionally in Chicago.

-In April, 1911, a fire broke out at the Giants home of the Polo Grounds. Somehow, Raymond was one of the first on the scene and was later reported to have said, “’When I was warming up yesterday, I had a premonition of this happening. There go the bats,’ sighed Raymond, as the players’ bench caught fire.”

-Hall-of-Fame pitcher Rube Waddell is notorious for being one of baseball’s all-time bad boys. Even he couldn’t believe the exploits of Raymond. When asked by one reporter, he took his fellow hurler to task, stating, “It’s a shame that fellow doesn’t take better care of himself. He would be a wonder if he would just keep in condition and pay strict attention to business.”

-Bill Byron, who umpired in the National League during Raymond’s career, contributed to the legend with a story that was published in a 1927 newspaper account. He asserted that following a game, Raymond asked him to go to dinner. He only agreed to the usually frowned-upon fraternization because the pitcher told him he simply wanted to stay out of trouble so he would be fit to pitch in the next day’s scheduled doubleheader. Byron agreed, and while they didn’t have drinks, the evening led to Raymond astride a whirling merry-go-round horse and breaking the thumb on his throwing hand after attempting to grab a brass ring that would have won him a free ride.

-Rumor has it that Raymond once bet legendary writer Grantland Rice he could eat an entire turkey, drink a full bottle of Scotch, walk two miles to the ballpark and then pitch a shutout. Naturally, Raymond not only won, but entertained the scribe on their hike to the field by throwing rocks at birds stupid enough to get within striking distance.

-The Giants also employed detectives or “keepers” to follow Raymond around in an attempt to keep him on the straight and narrow. One time, the pitcher and his tail disappeared for several days and were only found after McGraw employed a different detective agency, who tracked the pair down to a local saloon where they were going head to head in a drinking contest.

-Another way the Giants attempted to slow Raymond’s journey down the bottle was by parsing out his paycheck. Legend has it that also backfired one day when McGraw gave him a ball and told him to go out to the bullpen and warm up. Later, the player was nowhere to be found. It was only after the game that he was located, still dressed in his uniform, at a tavern with a bunch of recently drained beer steins that had been purchased from the proceeds of the ball he had sold to a fan in the stands.

Raymond truly was one of baseball’s all-time great characters. While a lot of his behavior as a player was humorous, its connection to drinking made it tragic in hindsight. Nevertheless, he contributed greatly to the rich tapestry of the history of the game and should always be remembered.

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Friday, March 11, 2016

Baseball's Fun Problem

Baseball has a “fun” problem. The game noticeably stands apart from other professional leagues with its reputation for longer, slower-moving games and expectations for more stoic behavior on the field. Sports are a leading source of entertainment but baseball lags behind their counterparts in many ways when it comes to sometimes being perceived as stuffy and boring. This was personified by recent comments made by Hall-of-Fame reliever Goose Gossage, blasting behavior he thinks is ruining the game.

Speaking to ESPN, Gossage made remarks lamenting about, among other things, what he perceives to be over-the top behavior in baseball. He even went as far as to call current Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista a “disgrace to the game,” presumably referring to the slugger’s emphatic bat flip after hitting a momentous home run in the playoffs last fall as his primary transgression.

Playing the game “the right way” is a mantra echoed loudly any time a player steps across the imaginary line of what is and isn’t proper baseball behavior. The problem is that appropriate and inappropriate baseball behavior is often blurred or downright hypocritical. In case you are a bit rusty on these unofficial rules, here is a quick primer:

-It is not okay to “show up” the pitcher after hitting a home run by tossing your bat away with gusto, taking a moment to watch the ball clear the fence, or taking an extra second or two while circling the bases.

-It is okay for a pitcher to intentionally hit a batter with a pitch because he has hit well against him in the past, or perhaps “showed him up” in a previous at bat. A codicil is that it is also okay for a batter to charge the mound and attempt to start a physical fight with a pitcher if they don’t like having been hit by a pitch.

-It is not okay to excessively celebrate, such as pumping a fist after getting a big strikeout or clapping your hands while rounding the bases after a home run. This is considered “bush league.”

-It is okay to shove “shaving cream pies” in teammates’ faces while they are conducting interviews with national media outlets. It is also okay to make rookies dress up in all manner of costumes and make them wear them out in public.

-It is not okay to steal a base if your team is up by a few runs later in a game.

-It is okay to hit a home run if your team is up by a few runs later in a game.

The idea that so many actions in baseball can be an affront to the opposition is silly and really just a thinly veiled correlation to threatened masculinity. Don’t suppress player expression by throwing unofficial rules at them. If a player does something that the opposition doesn’t like, get back at the old fashioned way in sports—by winning. If a batter pimps a long home run, don’t hit him with a fastball the next time up. Strike him out and give a nice fist pump to mark the occasion. If a batter bunts during a no-hitter, don’t loudly complain. Bear down and dominate that lineup!

In the current climate, where average MLB games last an average of nearly three hours, letting players express themselves a little bit more on the field would be a good thing. After all, if the players are having more fun, it stands to reason that the fans may enjoy themselves more as well.

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Sunday, March 6, 2016

Is Edwin Encarnacion the Key to Next Offseason for the Boston Red Sox?

The 2016 MLB season has just kicked off with the first spring training games of the year, yet it’s not too early to start looking forward to next year. As things currently stand, there is a lengthy list of players set to become free agents in 2017. While they possess varying skills and positions, there is one player in particular the Boston Red Sox should focus their attention on, and that is Edwin Encarnacion—who could be the key to next offseason as an excellent candidate to replace the departing David Ortiz.

During his 13 seasons in Boston, Ortiz has become one of the most beloved team legends of all time, smacking 445 home runs and being an integral part of three World Series winning teams. Although he has remained highly productive, he is also now 40 and announced this past offseason that the upcoming season will be his last. What he has brought to Beantown in terms of production, leadership and excitement is not easily replaced but the Sox, who are expected to be annual contenders, must try.

In theory, Boston could stick anyone in the DH position next year, including someone from their current roster. However, their best offensive players, excluding Ortiz, are ensconced in their defensive positions (think Mookie Betts; Xander Bogaerts; etc). The team also has veterans like Dustin Pedroia, David Price and Hanley Ramirez, but only one lineup anchor in Ortiz, who is liable to go deep in any at-bat versus righties or lefties. He has been the team’s masher; their biggest power threat, for years.  Given his pedigree, Encarnacion could be as seamless a transition a transition as a team could reasonably hope for a player with such dynamic lineup presence and realistic Hall-of-Fame aspirations.

At 33, Encarnacion is a veteran of 11 major league seasons and about to enter his eighth with the Toronto Blue Jays. The right-handed hitter has experience playing third base, first base and the corner outfield positions but has seen increasing time at designated hitter more recently. He has hit .266 with 268 home runs during his career but has been at his most productive over the past four years when he has averaged 38 home runs, 106 RBIs and produced an annual OPS+ between 145-153; demonstrating remarkable consistency.

Looking beyond the production, consistency is what makes Encarnacion most appealing. He may be approaching the age when some players see production falling off but his age 29-32 seasons have been remarkably similar and also the best of his career. During the later stages of Ortiz’s career there has been occasional hand-wringing over the possibility of a precipitous decline. While he doesn’t produce the same monster numbers of his prime, his drop off has been slight and he remains a premium hitter.

With the average $15 million per season the Red Sox have been paying Ortiz in recent years about to come off the books, they already have a sizable chunk of change coming loose that could be the basis of a nice contract offer to Encarnacion. Not that the team could reasonably plead poverty anyways but money should not be that big of a deal in this case. With the Toronto slugger turning 34 before the start of next season, any deal would have to be reasonable, especially in length, but Boston has gained a recent reputation for sweetening shorter-term contracts with higher average salaries in order to entice players to sign.

Similar to Ortiz, Encarnacion hits no matter who is throwing to him, He has a career .835 OPS against right-handers and a .877 mark again southpaws. He has also hit well at Fenway Park, boasting a career .283 batting average and 10 home runs in 40 games. In line with the patience the Red Sox preach to their hitters, he has a discerning eye (.351 career OBP) and is not the free swinger one might imagine a slugger of his caliber to be, as he has only exceeded 100 strikeouts in a season once before (2008).

No matter how much the Red Sox or any other rival team may be interested in Encarnacion, it’s possible he may never make it to free agency. The Blue Jays are obviously interested in retaining the talented slugger and have already made initial contact about an extension. However, there is no guarantee that a deal may get done, and with this likely being his last chance at big money, he may want to test the waters before putting pen to paper.

The new season that is about to open may make it hard to start thinking about next year already but that is something important for all teams to do. The Red Sox may soon be saying goodbye to one of the most productive players in team history but it’s hard to imagine a better solution that finding a way to bring Edwin Encarnacion aboard as his replacement.

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Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Glenn Wilson and His Journey Through Baseball

Only a small percentage of baseball players who sign or are drafted end up playing in the major leagues. Therefore, when a prospect pans out and goes on to have a solid career, it’s quite the accomplishment. When outfielder Glenn Wilson became a professional player, he began with high expectations but more than lived up to them during his decade as a big leaguer.

After playing for Sam Houston State in college, the right-handed Wilson was drafted with the 18th overall pick in the first round of the 1980 draft by the Philadelphia Phillies. He was taken just ahead of other highly-touted youngsters like Terry Francona and Billy Beane, who would both go on to have more success on the administrative side of the game than on the field.

After tearing up the minors for two years, Wilson was summoned to the Tigers to start the 1982 season and had a tremendous rookie campaign, hitting .292 with 12 home runs in 84 games. His first major league hit was a double off Ron Guidry and the New York Yankees, while his first homer came off Dave Frost and the Kansas City Royals.

A solid all-around player, Wilson was best known for his cannon arm (109 career assists from the outfield) and for running a gas station while his career was in full swing. Prior to the start of the 1984 season he was the centerpiece of the trade that sent him to the Philadelphia Phillies for that year’s eventual American League Cy Young winner, Willie Hernandez, among others. The outfielder also went on to play for the Seattle Mariners, Pittsburgh Pirates and Houston Astros before calling it a career following the 1993 season.

In 1,201 career games, he hit a combined .265 with 98 home runs and 521 RBIs. His best season came in 1985 with the Phillies, as he hit .275 with 14 home runs and 102 RBIs; earning an All Star selection.

Since retiring as a player, Wilson has gone on to do a variety of things, including a stint as a manager in the independent leagues. He also wrote a book titled Headed Home, which details his journey to his spirituality. Recently, he agreed to answer some questions about his career.

Glenn Wilson Interview:

Who was your favorite athlete when you were growing up, and why?: My favorite player was Joe Namath. I was not a baseball fan. He is the reason for me wearing 12 when available.

Can you describe your draft experience with the Tigers in 1980?: Being drafted in the first round was the most exciting thing ever.

Your first major league hit came off Ron Guidry and the New York Yankees in 1982. What do you remember about that moment?: After the hit off Guidry, he stepped off the mound and looked at me on second base and gave me a congratulatory nod.

In your opinion, who was the most talented player you ever played with or against?: Barry Bonds was hands down the greatest hitter I ever played with or saw. Ken Caminiti was the greatest infielder. I was the greatest outfielder. Lol

What is your favorite moment from your baseball career?: My favorite moment came in Wrigley.  I was at 91 RBIs with nine games to go in 1985. I hit a grand slam and a solo homer in that game and knew then I would get 100. Actually, 102.

Prior to the start of the 1984 season, you were traded to the Phillies. What is being traded like?: Being traded from Detroit stunk. I had been their number one pick and had two pretty solid years. Then I remembered the Phillies had just been in the World Series. That first year was a tough adjustment.  I only spent five days with them in spring training. I never felt comfortable in ‘84. Plus, the Tigers were running away with their division.

Please talk a little about what it was like to play for manager Sparky Anderson?: I hated Sparky Anderson and he hated me. So it was a good trade because we would have come to blows.

Do you mind sharing why you and Sparky didn’t get along?: I think, number one, Sparky never liked rookies. Plus, we both had big egos. You know how sometimes when you first meet someone you can just tell they don't like you? That was how I felt. Plus, not one time after a good play or home run did he just pat me on the back. But he would always stop me and explain how you could have done this or that. If you read my book I go into better detail about our relationship. He took some what I felt were unfair shots at me on TV and in the papers. So I got him back using those same sources. Once he started me in ‘83 on the road in the home opener in Minnesota and he got wind a TV crew was going to follow me around at my apartment and driving to the home opener. I had a good series in Minnesota but when I got to the ball park my name was not in the lineup. Obviously, I was pissed but remembered the cameras were rolling so I had to play it off like no big deal.  I did, but when the reporter asked me how I felt I said, I feel ‘fine, Sparky just makes out the lineup and I have no control of that. He is not God, just a manager.’ He got me back later by not starting me in my home state knowing I would have family and friends there. Those are just a few of our feuds. There are many more in my book.

If there is anything you could go back and do differently about your baseball career, what would that be?: Anything I would do different? Not have an agent.

What are you up to since retiring as a player?: Since my playing career ended, I have tried many things. I was not very good at any of them, except managing independent ball, where three of my four years my teams went to the championship.

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