Top 100 Baseball Blog

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Babe Ruth's Final Game as a Pitcher Was a Complete-Game Win Against the Boston Red Sox in 1933

Before becoming synonymous with slugging baseballs, the legendary Babe Ruth was an outstanding pitcher, who was on track for a Hall of Fame career form the mound before destiny came calling with the lumber. The Bambino became a full-time hitter following the 1919 season, when he hit a then record 29 home runs and was traded by the Boston Red Sox that offseason to the New York Yankees.

After joining the Yankees, Ruth went on to hit hundreds of home runs and win four World Series titles. However, he never fully gave up pitching, and occasionally toed the rubber every, with his last official appearance on the mound coming in 1933 when he pitched a complete game win at the age of 38 on the last day of the regular season; and just more than three years after his last pitching appearance.

In 1933 the Yankees were in an unfamiliar place for them; not in first. The Washington Senators ended up winning 99 games and taking the division by seven games over New York. Thus, on October first of that year, when the Yankees hosted the Red Sox for the final regular season game, the team had nothing significant at stake by letting Ruth take up his old occupation one last time.

Although Ruth hit .301 with 34 home runs, 104 RBIs and a league-leading 114 walks that season, it appeared he was finally in decline. After all, it was the lowest number of home runs he had hit in a full season since 1919, and his 1.023 OPS was below 1.100 for the first time in seven seasons.

The Red Sox were a second division team in 1933. They ended up at 63-86; only saved from last place by the even more putrid St. Louis Browns, who finished a full nine games behind them. Boston‘s problem was that they had no offensive firepower. Only one player (Roy Johnson) had double digit home runs, and then just barely with his 10. Unfortunately, their other problem was that they had no pitching firepower either, as only Bob Weiland (3.84) had an ERA below four.

The proverbial cherry was placed on Boston’s sundae that first day of October, as the rotund Ruth went out and tossed nine job-getting-done innings and beat his former team 6-5. A few notes about the outing, courtesy FanGraphs and Baseball Reference:

An approximate 25,000 fans showed up to see the spectacle. This was about five times the size of an average crowd at a Yankees game that season. It also represented nearly 10 percent of the entire Boston gate for the year (estimated 268,715 in 1933 attendance).

Ruth permitted 12 hits (11 singles and a double by the immortal George Stumpf). He walked three batters, but did not record any strikeouts.

New York outfielders were kept busy, as 21 of the 27 outs were recorded through the air.

Ruth helped his own cause by batting his customary cleanup and hitting his 34th home run of the season (and 686th of his career) in the bottom of the fifth inning.

The Yankees obviously had a far superior team to the Red Sox in 1933. Judging from the stat line alone, Ruth did not have to do much to keep his team in the game. 

Nevertheless, he earned the “W,” which was the 94th and final victory of his career—marking the final time he ever took to a major league pitching mound.

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Thursday, September 20, 2018

Jackie Bradley Jr.'s Consistent Inconsistency

Boston Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. has never become a star, but is a very useful player. He shines with his glove and has occasional bursts with his bat. However, this is the product of being one of the streakiest players in baseball. He goes for long stretches playing like a dud (with the bat) and then will catch fire and be close to elite for quite a spell. The second half of the 2018 season has been one of his better streaks, and the team will need him to sustain this as they head into the postseason with major expectations.

In parts of six seasons with Boston, Bradley has combined to hit .237 with 69 home runs and 290 RBIs. While he consistently plays Gold Glove-caliber defense, he has yet to put out a full season of consistent offense. He has traditionally started out strong and finished seasons on downward slides. Heading into this year his batting average/on base percentage/slugging splits for the first half of the season (in which he has been with Boston the majority of the year) versus the second half has looked like this:

2014 First Half-  .227/.305/.311
2014 Second Half- .126/.162/.153
2016 First Half- .296/.378/.548
2016 Second Half- .233/.315/.412
2017 First Half- .280/.363/.490
2017 Second Half- .204/.277/.302

In 2018 Bradley is hitting a modest .231 with 12 home runs, 57 RBIs and a career-high 16 stolen bases. Although he has experienced the same vastly different halves, he has bucked tradition and actually gotten better as this season has worn on:

2018 First Half- .210/.297/.345
2018 Second Half- /.267/.333/.485

The change in his 2018 fortunes is rather obvious, as he is hitting .349 when he puts the ball in play during the second half of the season, compared to a .265 mark during the first half. His .297 career BABIP suggests his current hot streak is based more on luck than skill, but that has the room to find more consistency with the bat.

This season has been all about inconsistency for Bradley. In addition to his first and second-half splits, he is hitting .183 against left-handed pitching versus .246 against righties. He is hitting a very respectable .274 at Fenway, but an anemic .190 on the road. He has also been almost non-existent in losses in which he has played this year, hitting .138 with no home runs and 3 RBIs in 43 such games.

Barring a major drop off in the closing weeks of the season, 2018 will mark the fourth straight season of Bradley contributing at least a 2.0 WAR (Baseball Reference). His high is 5.5 in 2016, and he is currently at 2.1 this year. Those numbers suggest that consistency is a major factor holding him back from knocking on the door of star (or at least All Star) status.

Bradley is 28, so the window for him to prove he is more than he appears to be now (a very useful, but streaky player) is gradually closing. The former first-round draft choice is one of the most engaging players the team has had in recent memory and obviously possesses a lot of talent. He will be looked upon to contribute to their current playoff run, but his ability to even out his game could make him in Boston for many years to come.

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Friday, September 14, 2018

Greg Litton: Baseball's Mr. Versatile

When discussing baseball prospects, versatility is not a skill that rises to the top. People want to know how fast someone can throw or how much powers they have more than whether they can do a lot of little things. However, this ability has served some players well and allowed them to have productive careers in the major leagues. A great example of this is Greg Litton.

Litton was the 10th overall selection in the 9184 MLB draft, selected out of Pensacola Junior College by the San Francisco Giants. A second baseman, he performed solidly in the minors, but had his path blocked to the majors by veteran Robby Thompson, who debuted in 1986 and finished second in the National league Rookie of the Year voting.

Finally, in 1989, the right-handed Litton got the call to San Francisco. Thompson was entrenched as the starter, so the rookie had to find other ways to find the field. He did this by playing all over the field—eventually playing at every position at least once besides center field. This versatility led to a six-year major league career with the Giants, Seattle Mariners and Boston Red Sox (His last season in the majors was 1994 with Boston).

Litton’s best season was in 1993 with the Mariners. He appeared in 72 games, hitting .299 with three home runs and 25 RBIs. For his career, he appeared in a total of 374 games at the big league level, batting a combined .241 with 13 home runs and 97 RBIs.

He has continued to be versatile in his post baseball life. Keep reading for more about his baseball career and what he is up to now.

Greg Litton Interview

Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?: Pete Rose was my idol because he wasn't the most talented but went all out every play and was willing to do whatever it took to win, not make himself look better.

Can you describe your draft experience with the San Francisco Giants in 1984- How did you find out you had been selected?: Funny cause I don't really remember. I knew I was gonna get drafted that year and was probably on the golf course.

Who was your favorite coach or manager, and why?: Lou Pinella. He was extremely emotional, but managed the game well, used his bench extremely well and kept all of us sharp by playing us on a somewhat regular basis.  That helped us do a better job when we were needed.  

What do you remember most about your major league debut?: Getting plunked in the knee by Greg Maddux after giving up a bomb to Kevin Mitchell in the 8th inning that put us ahead and then Rick "Big Daddy" Reuschel, a 20-year veteran, knocked Shawon Dunston on his butt leading off the 9th, protecting me.  That was awesome.

In your opinion, who was the most talented player you ever played with or against? What made them stand out so much?: Ken Griffey Jr. or Alex Rodriquez were a toss-up; both incredibly talented and a head above any other player I played with or against.

What is the toughest part about playing professional baseball that most people may not realize?: How long a 162 game season in 182 days is with all the travel and a six-week spring training with only one day off on top of that. 

Who was the toughest, nastiest pitcher you ever faced?: My least favorite pitcher to face if I needed a hit to save my life was Ramon Martinez. I couldn't see the ball off him until it was halfway home and it was 94+ mph with movement.

You played every position in the majors (except center field?); how did you develop such versatility?: I worked my butt off on fielding ground balls and catching fly balls my whole life, but just paying attention to the game I learned about the other positions.

What are you up to since retiring as a player?: I became a graduate Diamond Grader and Appraiser from GIA (Gemological Institute of America) after ball and was a partner with a good friend in a Jewelry shop for about 10 years, then trained and became a Professional Key Note speaker and have been doing that for 12+ years, I was an account executive in the credit card processing industry for about 10 years and now I'm doing residential mortgages.

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

Friday, September 7, 2018

Minor League Baseball Announces its August Players of the Month

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Minor League Baseball today announced the Player of the Month Award winners for each of the 16 leagues for the month of August. Each winner will receive an award from Minor League Baseball in recognition of the honor. 

Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders (Yankees) right-hander Michael King went 3-0 with a 1.09 ERA in five starts in August (his first five starts at the Triple-A level). In his 33.1 innings of work, King allowed 17 hits and walked four while striking out 27. On Aug. 29, King was perfect through six innings against Syracuse, but did not factor in the decision. King, 23, was originally selected by Miami in the 12th round of the 2016 First-Year Player Draft out of Boston College. 

Fresno Grizzlies (Astros) outfielder Kyle Tucker led the Pacific Coast League in average (.471), on-base percentage (.542), slugging (.943) and OPS (1.485), while finishing third in home runs (10), runs (23), total bases (66) and fourth in RBI (27). Tucker, 21, was selected by Houston in the first round of the 2015 First-Year Player Draft out of Plant High School in Tampa, Florida. 

New Hampshire Fisher Cats (Blue Jays) catcher Max Pentecost batted .375 in August and led the Eastern League in slugging (.650) and OPS (1.031). He finished second in average and tied for fourth in home runs (six). Pentecost, 25, was selected by Toronto in the first round of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft out of Kennesaw State University. 

Montgomery Biscuits (Rays) second baseman Nick Solak batted .305 in August and led the Southern League in on-base percentage (.404), slugging (.537) and OPS (.941), while finishing third in home runs (five) and total bases (44) and fourth in runs scored (17). Solak, 23, was originally selected by the Yankees in the second round of the 2016 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of Louisville. 

Midland RockHounds (Athletics) outfielder Skye Bolt led the Texas League in average (.351), extra-base hits (18), total bases (68), home runs (eight), slugging (.723) and OPS (1.125). He finished second in doubles (nine), third in RBI (19), fourth in hits (33) and fifth in on-base percentage (.402) and runs (18). Bolt recorded 11 multi-hit games in August. Bolt, 24, was selected by Oakland in the fourth round of the 2015 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of North Carolina. 

Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (Dodgers) outfielder Carlos Rincon batted .304 in August and led professional baseball (Major Leagues and Minor Leagues) in home runs (14) and RBI (30). Rincon led the California League in runs (30), extra-base hits (22), total bases (78), slugging (.848) and OPS (1.266). Rincon, 20, was signed by the Dodgers out of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic on July 2, 2015. 

Buies Creek Astros outfielder J.J. Matijevic led the Carolina League in extra-base hits (16), total bases (57), doubles (nine), home runs (seven) and RBI (23). He was third in runs (20) and slugging (.548) and recorded nine multi-hit games in August. Matijevic, 22, was selected by Houston in Competitive Balance Round B of the 2017 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of Arizona.

Tampa Tarpons (Yankees) outfielder Dom Thompson-Williams batted .333 in August and led the Florida State League in extra-base hits (16), total bases (71), RBI (30) and OPS (1.121). He finished second in runs (23), home runs (nine), on-base percentage (.425) and slugging (.696). His 34 hits were fourth most in the league. Thompson-Williams, 23, was selected by New York in the fifth round of the 2016 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of South Carolina. 

Quad Cities River Bandits (Astros) right-hander Chad Donato went 6-0 with a 1.23 ERA in six starts in August. Donato led the Midwest League in wins (six), strikeouts (46), batting average against (.154) and WHIP (0.71). He allowed 19 hits over 36.2 innings. Donato did not allow more than five hits in any of his six starts and allowed two runs over his last four starts (25.2 innings). Donato, 23, was selected by Houston in the 11th round of the 2016 First-Year Player Draft out of West Virginia University. 

Asheville Tourists (Rockies) outfielder Casey Golden batted .316 in August and led the South Atlantic League in runs (24), extra-base hits (18), total bases (68), home runs (nine), RBI (26), slugging (.716), OPS (1.147) and hit by pitch (nine). Golden was fourth in on-base percentage (.431) and recorded nine multi-hit games in August. Golden, 24, was selected by Colorado in the 20th round of the 2017 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of North Carolina-Wilmington.

Aberdeen Ironbirds (Orioles) shortstop Adam Hall led the New York-Penn League in average (.390), on-base percentage (.462), OPS (.987) and stolen bases (15). He was second in runs scored (20) and third in slugging (.524). Hall hit safely in 19 consecutive games from Aug. 4- 28. Hall, 19, was selected by Baltimore in the second round of the 2017 First-Year Player Draft out of A.B. Lucas Secondary School in London, Ontario, Canada. 

Spokane Indians (Rangers) first baseman Curtis Terry led the Northwest League in hits (37), runs (26), RBI (24), on-base percentage (.504), OPS (1.119) and hit by pitch (seven). He finished second in average (.385), total bases (59), doubles (11) and slugging (.615) and third in extra-base hits (15) and fourth in walks (16). Terry posted 11 multi-hit games and seven multi-RBI games in August. Terry, 21, was selected by Texas in the 13th round of the 2015 First-Year Player Draft out of Archer High School in Lawrenceville, Georgia. 

Johnson City Cardinals outfielder Leandro Cedeno batted .337 in August and led the Appalachian League in home runs (seven), RBI (27), extra-base hits (17), total bases (67), doubles (nine) and slugging percentage (.644). He was third in OPS (1.076) and fourth in hits (34). Cedeno, 20, was signed by St. Louis out of Guatire, Venezuela, on Aug. 29, 2014. 

Billings Mustangs (Reds) outfielder Drew Mount led the Pioneer Baseball League in average (.413), hits (43), doubles (11) and RBI (28), and was second in on-base percentage (.460) and third in total bases (63). Mount posted 14 multi-hit games in August, including six three-hit games and a four-hit game. Mount, 22, was selected by Cincinnati in the 16th round of the 2018 First-Year Player Draft out of Kansas State University. 

Gulf Coast Cardinals outfielder Jhon Torres led the Gulf Coast League in total bases (43), slugging percentage (.683) and OPS (1.176) and was second in the league in hits (25), extra-base hits (10) and on-base percentage (.493). He finished third in average (.397) and fourth in doubles (six), home runs (four) and RBI (14). Torres, 18, was originally signed by Cleveland out of Sincelejo, Colombia, on July 24, 2016. 

Arizona Padres second baseman Lee Solomon batted .364 with six doubles, three homers and 11 RBI over 13 Arizona League games in August. Solomon, 22, was selected by San Diego in the 25th round of the 2018 First-Year Player Draft out of Lipscomb University.

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Wednesday, September 5, 2018

From the Dugout to the Trenches: Baseball During the Great War

The sport of baseball flourishes today with millions of fans around the world enjoying the Major Leagues every season. However, big league baseball had a number of obstacles to overcome to get where they were, with an early one being the “Great War”—World War I. The intersection of the game and the first true global conflict is detailed in fascinating detail in Jim Leeke’s From the Dugout to the Trenches: Baseball During the Great War (University of Nebraska Press, 2017. 238 pp).
Baseball has traditionally held the identity as “America’s Game,” Which was a problematic factor when the war broke out. Most owners and players wanted the game to go forward, but patriotism was fervent around the country and concessions had to be made. Leeke does a wonderful job in detailing the part that the majors played to ensure their allegiance to country was made known and didn’t alienate them from the fan base they had worked so hard to gain.
Although the majority of players did not serve in the military, many players held “essential duty” government jobs, which was often as basic as playing for a manufacturer’s company baseball team. Ultimately, more than a hundred major leaguers saw active duty, with a number dying while in service. The politics of it all were part of a greater debate on duty and what was the right way to handle baseball while the war rages across the globe.
A unique way that Major League Baseball was able to project its patriotism was through its use of turning teams into drilling units. Teams hired military drill masters to teach players who to drill like a proper Army unit, using baseball bats instead of actual guns. In many cases they became quite good and participated in contest to raise money for the war effort.
Leeke has strongly researched his subject and it shows throughout. He replays the various twists and turns that happened throughout baseball, as the majors struggled to justify remaining open during the struggle, while other lesser leagues had to close seasons early or simply went out of business for lack of product.
From the Dugouts to the Trenches is a fascinating read that ties baseball to the larger societal issues of the time. This should be a must-add for any serious baseball historian’s library and will likely only increase the curiosity of readers into this particular time frame in baseball history.

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

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