Top 100 Baseball Blog

Monday, March 26, 2018

2018 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees' Highs and Lows

The National Baseball Hall of Fame boasts a robust 2018 induction class, with six former players being enshrined. Jack Morris and Alan Trammell, who was tapped by the Veteran’s Committee, and Jim Thome, Chipper Jones, Vlad Guerrero and Trevor Hoffman, who were elected by the writer’s ballot will all have brand spanking new plaques in Cooperstown this summer. They had many ups but also had some lows. Let’s take a look at who they owned during their careers and those they faced that they would have rather just seen them go away.

Vlad Guerrero: Vlad the Impaler must have licked his lips every time he saw Joey Hamilton on the pitcher’s mound. He had eight hits in 13 career at-bats with three walks, five doubles and a home run. The right-handed Hamilton was a serviceable starter who won 74 games in a 10-year career, but probably wished he had a different career every time he had to face Guerrero.

On the other hand, left-hander Al Leiter had the slugger’s number. He permitted just five hits in 44 at-bats for a measly .114 batting average. He did give up one home run, but struck him out seven times as cruel retribution.

Chipper Jones: Being a switch hitter, Jones could go up to the plate with confidence regardless of what side the pitcher was throwing from. Right-hander Armando Reynoso might have well been throwing beach balls, as he surrendered 14 hits, including two home runs, in 24 at-bats. He never did strike him out, but did give up seven walks.

The pitcher who gave Jones fits was Saul Rivera. He mustered just two hits in 22 plate appearances against him. Although he drew two walks, he struck out five times and could never figure out this little-known reliever, who pitched primarily for the Washington Nationals.

Jim Thome: There is little doubt that the left-handed slugger struck fear in the heart in just about every pitcher he faced during his illustrious 22-year career. 612 home runs and 1,699 RBIs will do that. This included the legendary Roger Clemens, who could only hold him to a .355 batting average and eight home runs in their 73 career at bats facing each other.

Another Texas-born pitcher dominated Thome. John Lackey faced off against him 22 times, and other than four walks, he retired him every other time. This included seven strikeouts, to wrap up a complete domination of their rivalry.

Trevor Hoffman: Divisional rival Todd Helton of the Colorado Rockies absolutely wore out Hoffman over the years. He had 13 hits in 25 career at-bats. This included three double and a home run, which meant that no game against the Padres was out of reach if he was batting against their closer.

Jeff Reed had a 17-year major league career as a backup catcher. However, he looked more like a little leaguer when batting against Hoffman. No doubt heavily relying on his nasty changeup, the closer permitted a lone walk in 13 plate appearances by Reed, while striking him out eight times.

Jack Morris: Wally Joyner was a fine first baseman during his career, collecting a .289 batting average over 16 seasons. He really ramped up his production against Morris, to the tune of 21 hits in 50 at bats, which was good for a .420 average. He also drew nine walks while striking out just once, meaning he reached base 64 percent of the time when facing off against this Hall-of-Famer.

When it came to Morris, the anti-Joyner was poor Ken Phelps. The left-handed batter had good pop but a career batting average of just .239. He managed a lone single in 31 at-bats, while striking out 13 times against his primary nemesis. If he had never met Morris, his career batting average would have been three points higher at .242 .

Alan Trammell: Left-hander Ed Vande Berg pitched for seven years in the majors, but must have felt he belonged elsewhere every time he faced off against the legendary shortstop. He allowed nine hits (including four home runs) in 16 at bats, which should have qualified as an assault and battery.

Vande Berg’s opposite was long reliever and spot start Sid Monge. Trammell went up to the plate to face him 15 times and each time, including three times by way of the strikeout, went back to the dugout without putting the ball in play or taking a base. 

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Sunday, March 18, 2018

Revisiting an Interview with Branch Rickey

An interview can reveal a lot about its subject as long as the right questions are asked. There is little more fascinating than coming across such sources that had largely disappeared into the ether. One of the most interesting men in baseball history was Branch Rickey, the forward-thinking Hall-of-Fame front office man (he also played and managed), who among other notable contributions helped paved the way to the major leagues for Jackie Robinson. This interview with Davis J. Walsh, which occurred around 1955, resides in the Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Branch Rickey Papers. I will share some of the parts I found most interesting, along with some of my own commentary in italics.

On his role in bringing Robinson to the majors:  “I am deeply gratified if it has had any effect at all upon solving even in the slightest detail our race problem in this country - it has come out I think agreeably and it's good that it was done - I'm glad I did it - but I don't know how to go into the matter to discuss it with any fairness at all - there were many questions involved there, in the solution of it and it’s a very long story - I think that the negro in baseball has come into a prominent place in the life of baseball in this country and I don't believe that there will be any League in the United States that will not be willing to employ negro players within the next year or so - I look for a complete break of the color line in the Southern Association in the year 1956.”

Pushing for Robinson to join his Brooklyn Dodgers was met by a lot of resistance—from fans, those on other teams and front offices, and even within their own organization. However, the reward was great, too.  Aside from the social implications, integrating baseball opened up new avenues of attracting fans and pools of talent with which to replenish “Dem Bums.” It was a slow push, but one that ultimately paid off and set the country and professional sports on a different course.

On whether he was relieved that Robinson turned out to be a good player: “I was very positive about that before I employed him - that I had to be sure about.”

Going against the grain the way he did, Rickey had to literally be certain about the ability and character of Robinson. Anyone who didn’t meet those criteria would have completely ruined the venture. With so many people desperate to undermine his inclusion, there could be no room for doubt.

On why he pushed to integrate baseball: “The utter injustice of it always was in my mind - in St. Louis a negro was not permitted to buy his way into the Grandstand - you know that - and it has only been in recent years that he has been permitted to go into the Grandstand and of course there was no negro player in baseball - I felt very deeply about that thing all my life and within a month after I went to Brooklyn I want to Mr. George McLaughlin (President of the Brooklyn Trust Company, who lent money to the Dodgers) and had a talk with him about and found he was sympathetic with my views about it.”

The Dodgers would have never been able to survive what it took to get Robinson on the team if it they didn’t have financial backing. Money is the name of the game, and the fact that McLaughlin was willing to back Rickey’s plan despite the distinct possibility that it could have cost him is significant. It’s interesting that today almost nobody knows the role he played in this.

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Sunday, March 4, 2018

Which Former Major League Players Have Become Stars in Korea?

Making it to the major leagues is a monumental task that is accomplished by a mere fraction of the players who are lucky enough to have professional careers. Getting there and staying there for any length of time is another matter altogether. For many, opportunity ends up being in other professional leagues.

Many know about the success some find in Japan, but fewer are aware that the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) is home to quite a few former major leaguers as well. Most recently, Eric Thames found success in returning to the majors after a wildly productive three-year stint in the KBO. Keep reading to for more information on some of the players who have moved across the ocean and are thriving in this lesser-known but popular baseball league.

Roger Bernadina, Outfielder: The now-33-year-old left-handed hitter batted a combined .236 with 28 home runs over parts of seven big league seasons with four teams. However, he seems to have hit his stride with the Kia Tigers, where he batted .320 with 27 home runs, 111 RBIs and 32 stolen bases in 139 games in 2017. He will be making more than $1 million in 2018, as he returns for another year.

Hector Noesi, Pitcher: The right-hander, who is a teammate of Bernadina, won 20 games with a 3.48 in 2017 after posting 15 wins the previous season. His 35-10 career record and 3.44 ERA in Korea is a far cry from his 12-31 mark and 5.30 ERA in parts of five major league seasons. Still just 31, it is a definite possibility that his work stateside is not yet done, but he will be back with the Tigers next season on a $2 million contract.

Nick Evans, Infielder/Outfielder: A classic “4-A player,” who hit .257 with 10 home runs in 177 games (2009-11; 2014) with two teams, he could never quite grab a starting job. Now 32, he has become a star for the Doosan Bears, for whom he hit .296 with 27 home runs and 90 RBIs that past year.

Michael Choice, Outfielder: A 2010 first-round draft choice, the 28-year-old right-handed hitter used to be one of the top prospects in baseball. However, his .188 batting average and nine home runs over three big league seasons; along with a propensity for striking out derailed his aspirations. He looked rejuvenated last year with the Nexen Heroes, swatting 17 home runs and 42 RBIs, while batting .307 in 46 games. He is under contract for $600,000 with them in 2018, but it would not be a surprise to see him return to the majors one day.

Xavier Scruggs, First Base/Outfielder: Similar to Choice, the right-handed slugger had plenty of power but not enough contact to stick in the majors. His .227 batting average and one home run in 50 games over three seasons did nothing to earn him a permanent job. However, he exploded on the scene for the NC Dinos this past year after signing a million dollar contract, hitting .300 with 35 home runs and 111 RBIs in 115 games.

Andy Burns, Third Baseman: Still just 27, the right-hander went hitless in seven plate appearances for the 2016 Toronto Blue Jays. With a regular big league job looking unlikely for 2017, he elected to take a $650,000, one-year deal with the Lotte Giants in 2017, which proved to be a shrewd decision. Appearing in 116 games, he hit .303 with 15 home runs and 57 RBIs; putting himself in a position to have potentially multiple options as he moves forward in his professional career.

Wilin Rosario, Catcher: The squat right-handed slugger hit .273 with 71 home runs in five seasons with the Colorado Rockies (2011-2015), but was a derailed by subpar defense—a must for any national League Catcher. His game has translated much better for the Hanwha Eagles, for whom he has been remarkably consistent the past two years. He hit .321 with 33 home runs and 120 RBIs in 127 games in 2016, and .339 with 37 home runs and 111 RBIs in 2017. Still just 29, he will be playing in Japan this season and could see himself back in the majors at some point because of his powerful bat.

Darin Ruf, Outfielder: Despite hitting 5 home runs in 286 games over five years with the Philadelphia Phillies, the right-handed slugger batted just .240 and whiffed in nearly a third of his at-bats. He immediately became a superstar upon joining the Samsung Lions in 2017, hitting .315 with 38 home runs and 124 RBIs in 134 games. He will be rejoining the team for the 2018 season, earning an impressive $1.5 million.

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Friday, March 2, 2018

Mickey Mantle's Forgotten Twin Brothers

In baseball, it’s rare for a player to be deified to the level of former New York Yankees outfielder Mickey Mantle, who could seemingly do it all on the field. However, few baseball fans are aware that he had two younger twin brothers, Roy and Ray, who also played professional ball, but never reached the same heights as the Mick.

Mantle was the idol of a generation of children that grew up watching the Yankees in the 1950s and 1960s. The five-tool talent hit a combined .298 with 536 home runs, while winning three MVP awards and helping his teams to eight World Series titles (in 12 appearances). If not for nagging injuries and a fondness for the nightlife, his numbers might have been even more impressive, as hard as that is to believe.

Thus, it is with little doubt, teams must have been extremely excited about Mantle’s twin brothers, who were five years his junior and were also prodigious on the baseball diamond as outfielders. Naturally, there was only one team they were probably ever going to go to, and that was the New York Yankees.

Both Roy (batted left) and Ray (batted right), who were born February 22, 1936, signed with the Bronx Bombers in 1954 after start turns playing ball for their high school in Commerce, Oklahoma. They were both also football stars, a sport that Mickey preferred they pursue collegiately, but it was not to be. Ray had attended Northeast Oklahoma A&M College but decided to give professional baseball a try. He hit .231 with five home runs in 97 games spanning parts of two seasons (1954-55) in the low minors before enlisting in the Army and giving up his baseball career. He moved to Las Vegas around 1970 and began a career in the casino industry while raising a son with his wife, Nancy.

Roy showed a bit more promise during his stint in pro ball. He played three seasons (1954-56) and hit a combined .273 with eight home runs. He made the 1955 All Star team as a member of the Monroe Sports, although his teammate Ray did not. In a classic case of what might have been he had to retire prematurely due to a leg injury. He also ultimately spent the bulk of his adult life in Las Vegas, working in the same industry as his twin.

Roy passed away from Hodgkins disease in 2001, while Ray died in 2013 from cancer at the age of 77. They did not achieve the same legendary status of their older brother, but did make a go at it in pro ball before deciding their futures lay elsewhere. It’s always a tall task to live up to an older sibling. While Ray and Roy started to follow in Mickey’s footsteps, it was an undertaking that would never have been possible, and the twins ended up making their mark on their world in other ways. 

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