Top 100 Baseball Blog

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Examining Bryce Harper's Free-Agent Contract With the Philadelphia Phillies

A major source of lingering drama in Major League Baseball has been resolved with the news that star free-agent outfielder Bryce Harper has agreed to a 13-year, $330 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. With Spring Training already in full swing, the announcement sets the sport on its ear, as a major domino has fallen and changed the power dynamic among anticipated 2019 contenders.

As much as nearly a third of a billion dollars can be considered disappointing, one could argue that being the case for this contract—purely from a hype perspective. In the months and even years leading up to Harper’s free agency, numbers like $400 million, $500 million and $40 million a year had been speculatively tossed around. They may have actually come to fruition if not for the inconsistency the 26-year-old Harper has shown during his seven year career.

A LeBronian type prospect since before he could legally drive, Harper has varied from maddeningly inconsistent to breath taking. He has already missed 40 or more games in a season due to injury three times; seen his yearly WAR jump wildly (5.2, 3.7, 1.1. 10.0, 1.5, 4.7 and 1.3- in chronological order); and won the 2015 National League MVP Award at 22 with a commanding performance. When he has been at his best he has been a generational type of talent, and when he hasn’t he has been merely good.

The contract with the Phillies is an interesting study in compromise. He has been given a straight no-trade clause, but also has no player opt-out options during the entirety of the deal. The $25+ million he will earn annually pales in comparison to other recent deals like stars Manny Machado and Nolan Arenado. On the other hand, the $330 million he will make over the life of his contract is the largest contractual amount in the history of professional sports, let alone baseball, and includes no deferred payments.

Overall, it seems like a solid deal for both sides. Harper is a tantalizing talent who is still young enough that thinking he still has another gear or two that have not yet been tapped is entirely possible. The Phillies, for their part, have landed their star after being strongly connected to him and Machado, who they missed out on, throughout the off season. They had already built a solid roster of good young homegrown talent and veterans that included a number of other signings this winter. There is more than enough of a base in place that Harper doesn’t need to assume the entire weight of expectations on his shoulders.

The Phillies were already considered strong contenders in the National League East this season. Obviously, their latest addition will only increase their chances. Harper and his career 162-game averages of .279 with 32 home runs, 91 RBIs and a .388 OBP will go along way toward striking the fear into opponents.

The Phillies are on the hook for a lot of money. However, this seems like it could be the rare deal that’s relatively equal for both sides. While it will take Harper to near his 40th birthday, the possibility exists that he could greatly outperform its annual average value earlier on, so his salary in his older and presumably declining years would be more of a reasonable trade off.

Now that Harper has landed all that’s needed is to have the Phillies’ new shiny toy don his uniform and take the field. The possibilities of what will happen next are many and varied. Regardless if you’re a fan of the player or the team, it will certainly be interesting to see if this marriage results in championships and a defined legacy that ends at the Baseball Hall of Fame or if they fail to meet their full potential.

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Monday, February 25, 2019

How a Runaway Taxi Temporarily Saved Casey Stengel's Managing Job

Before he became the legendary skipper of the New York Yankees, winning 10 pennants and seven World Series, Casey Stengel was a pretty good outfielder for 14 big league seasons and a second division manager for the Brooklyn Dodgers and Boston Braves. So uninspiring was his leadership of the Braves, that in 1943 he missed more than a quarter of the season after being run down by a wayward taxi, leading one local journalist to quip, “The man who did the most for baseball in Boston in 1943 was the motorist who ran Stengel down two days before the opening game and kept him away from the Braves for two months.”

Stengel hit a combined .284 with 60 home runs and 535 RBIs for six different teams between 1912 and 1925. He was a character, but got along well with players, helping him become a manager once he was no longer able to make a living with his bat and glove. He was first hired by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1934, but after three straight years finishing fifth or worse it was time for him to find a new job. That opportunity came in 1938 with the Boston Bees/Braves. Although bereft of stars other than outfielder Wally Berger, he steered the team to a 77-75 fifth-place finish in his first season with them. Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there.

Four consecutive finishes (1939-1942) in seventh place led to Stengel’s employment being in a major doubt. An unfortunate intervention in the form of being hit by a car temporarily stayed his termination.

Just prior to the start of the 1943 season Stengel was attempting to cross a street near the team hotel in rainy Boston when he was struck by a taxi. The driver, Thomas Hastings, was kind enough to take the injured man to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, where he initially was placed in the maternity ward due to a shortage of available beds. A diagnosis of a badly broken leg and ensuing staph infection led to a six-week hospitalization for the maligned skipper. The injury was so bad that amputation was considered for a time. Ultimately, it did heal, but left him with a limp for the rest of his life.

During the 46 games Stengel missed, Bob Coleman stepped in and admirably led the team to a 21-25 record. Many had fun at the injured manager’s plight, sending him cards and gifts at the hospital that were addressed to “Casey Stengel: Psych Ward.”

For his part, Stengel was his typical offbeat self while recovering. Just before leaving the hospital, he told reporters, “I guess the boys played over their heads early in the season just to give me something to sing about on my hospital cot…  If we have those close and extra-inning games when the team comes home, you’ll see me in there swinging at the umpires with my crutches and my right-leg cast.”

Upon Stengel’s return to the bench, he managed the team to a 47-60 record the rest of the way. While the sixth-place finish was an improvement on previous years, that and the sympathy from the injury was not enough to endear him in Beantown. Seeing the writing on the wall, Stengel resigned from his position on January 27, 1944 and went home to California to reassess his options. The Braves hired his replacement—Bob Coleman, who would last through the All-Star Game of the 1945 season.

It wouldn’t be until 1949 that Stengel landed another major league managing gig. However, this new job was with the Yankees and propelled him into immortality. Although an errant taxi and unadoring Boston fans nearly curtailed his career, he pushed through it and ended up a baseball managing legend.

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Monday, February 18, 2019

Minor League Baseball Reveals Full Schedule of Games and Date of Unveiling Day for 2019 Copa de la Diversión

Season-long event series returns more than doubling number of teams and game dates 

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., Feb. 18, 2019 — Minor League Baseball™ (MiLB™) today unveiled the 397-game schedule for its second annual Copa de la Diversión® (Fun Cup™) event series, taking place during the 2019 season. Following an incredibly successful 2018 campaign when Copa de la Diversión (“Copa”)-participating teams authentically connected with their Latinx communities, resulting in dramatic increases in attendance, merchandise sales and commercial partnership revenue, this year’s participating teams look to continue that momentum. 

The 2019 season will see 72 teams transform their brands to join in Copa’s mission to authentically connect MiLB teams with their diverse communities, and embrace and celebrate the culture and values that resonate most with Latinx fans nationwide. 

April 5 marks the first of the nearly 400 Copa-designated games scheduled for 2019, with Columbus officially debuting Copa’s sophomore season at 6:05 p.m. ET. Highlighting the 2019 schedule is the Copa home opener for 2018 Copa champion Mariachis de Nuevo México (Albuquerque Isotopes), on Saturday, April 6, against fellow Copa participant Abejas de Salt Lake (Salt Lake Bees). 

“The growth we’re seeing in team participation for Copa is outstanding,” said Kurt Hunzeker, Vice President of Marketing Strategy and Research for Minor League Baseball. “To see this authentic engagement with our Latinx fans in MiLB communities across the country is very exciting. We like to say that you don’t attend a Minor League Baseball game, you feel it. To extend that feeling to a previously underserved fan base is remarkable.” 

The Copa 2019 schedule release comes on the heels of announcements made in late 2018. In November, MiLB announced an agreement with ECHO Incorporated making it the “Official Outdoor Power Tool of MiLB” and the “Official Outdoor Power Tool of Copa de la Diversión” (“Herramienta Oficial de la Copa de la Diversión”). Additionally, MiLB announced in December a partnership with the Lupus Foundation of America (LFA) to become an “Official Charity of MiLB Copa de la Diversión,” marking the first-ever philanthropic partner tied specifically to MiLB's Latinx fan engagement initiative. 

Copa “Unveiling Day,” slated for March 18, will showcase all 72 identities and logos via a coast-to-coast social media campaign as teams reveal their Copa-specific, culturally-relevant on-field identities. Additionally, full merchandise for each Copa team will be made available exclusively at each participating Copa team’s ballpark and on teams’ retail store sites. 

Visit for more information on Copa de la Diversión.

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

Friday, February 15, 2019

Jalal Leach: A Giant Testament to Perseverance

When baseball players sign their first professional contract they have stars in their eyes and no doubts in their mind as they are certain they will play in the major leagues. Unfortunately, the majority of these young men see their careers end short of their goal. However, a small number make it, which is a monumental accomplishment regardless if they go on to set records or have a total of one big league hit like former outfielder Jalal Leach.

Leach, a left-handed thrower and hitter, began his career by being taken in the seventh round of the 1990 draft by the New York Yankees. Future franchise stalwarts like Andy Pettitte, Shane Spencer and Jorge Posada were all also drafted that year by the team, but they all went after Leach, who was highly regarded out of Pepperdine University.

He progressed through the system, posting solid numbers wherever he played. He did a lot of things well. A typical season was 1993 in Double-A, where he hit .282 with 14 home runs, 79 RBIs and 15 stolen bases. Unfortunately for him the New York outfield was stacked with the likes of Bernie Williams and Paul O’Neill, making him more of a luxury than a necessity.

For whatever reason the Yankees never gave Leach a chance at the major league level and he was scooped up in the minor league draft by the Montreal Expos following the 1995 season. He continued his solid play for them, but bounced around to the Seattle Mariners and multiple stints with the Philadelphia Phillies and San Francisco Giants.

In a testament to his determination, Leach finished a typically productive year in 2001 at Triple-A for the Giants, hitting .285 with 16 home runs and 70 RBIs in 130 games when he finally received the ultimate reward in his 12th professional season. The Giants brought him up in the midst of Barry Bonds’ historic chase that ultimately reached a record 73 home runs. The September call up played sparingly, but finally got his first taste of the majors. He flied out to right in his very first at bat, against Curt Schilling, and went on to have a total of 12 plate appearances the rest of the way where he chalked up an RBI single and two walks.

Leach never played in the majors again but played through the 2004 season in the high minors, independent ball and the Mexican League. In 15 minor league seasons he posted excellent numbers—a .287 batting average with 132 home runs, 741 RBIs, 185 stolen bases and 1,517 hits. He has gone on to continue working in the game, running his own baseball school and currently working for the Miami Marlins. Keep reading as he reflects on his successful career that continues to this day.

Jalal Leach Interview

Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?: Reggie Jackson.

Can you describe your draft experience with the New York Yankees in 1990- How did you find out you had been selected?: Back then the draft was done via the phone.

Given your success in the minor leagues, how frustrated did you feel about not getting Major League opportunities?: It was a part of the job. There were plenty of guys like me in the boat.

What do you remember about your one Major League hit (an RBI single off Octavio Dotel and the Houston Astros)?: I figured Dotel was going to throw many plenty of fastballs because I wasn’t getting frequent playing time.

In your opinion, who was the most talented player you ever played with or against? What made them stand out so much?: Barry Bonds. He was the smartest player I played with.

What is your favorite moment from your baseball career?: I guess you could say getting called to the big leagues, but I really enjoyed the entire time.

Your major league experience came in the midst of the Barry Bonds 73 home run season; what was it like making the jump and going immediately into that circus?: To my recollection it really wasn’t that bad because we were still in contention.

What was your experience like playing professional ball in Mexico?: It’s baseball, but down in Mexico they were known for throwing breaking balls.

Who was the best manager/coach you ever had, and why?: My impactful coaches were Bob Selna, Little League coach; Paul Ferrbouf, high school basketball coach; Andy Lopez, college baseball coach; Dusty Baker, manager with the Giants. All these men were influential in molding me as a person as well as a player.

What are you up to since retiring as a player?: Owned a baseball school in Sacramento for 16 years ( and I’m now the Pacific Rim Coordinator for Miami Marlins.

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

Sunday, February 10, 2019

2019 Boston Red Sox Non-Roster Invitees to Watch

Winter may be showing no signs of slowing down, but the impending 2019 Major League Baseball season, is about to kick off with the commencement of spring training. The Boston Red Sox are riding high coming off their dominant 2018 season that culminated with a resounding World Series victory. Outside of their bullpen there aren’t many roster questions. However, like any team, they bring a number of non-roster invitees each spring to camp, who may well end up playing a valuable role in the upcoming season. Let’s take a look at some of the most interesting non-roster players this year.

Gorkys Hernandez, Outfielder: The 31-year-old right-hander is nothing to get excited about. However, he plays all three outfield position adequately and would be able to hold his own if Boston’s already stacked outfield (spearheaded by 2018 American League MVP Mookie Betts) were beset by injuries.

A light-hitting speedster in the past, Hernandez never received regular work in the majors until the past two years, where he has played as a partial regular with the San Francisco Giants, accumulating 724 at bats during that time. He no long possesses the same speed that saw him steal as many as 54 bases in a single minor league season. However, he has come into some power, as evidenced by the career-high 15 home runs (almost doubling his previous high of eight) he hit last year to go along with a .234 batting average and 40 RBIs in 414 at bats. Signed to a minor league deal, he is a solid insurance policy for the team with lofty expectations like the Red Sox.

Zach Putnam, Relief Pitcher: With Boston’s 2019 bullpen facing many questions, it’s possible that opportunities could exist for those who are barely on the radar at this point. One such candidate is the 31-year-old right-handed Putnam. He missed the entire 2018 season recovering from Tommy John Surgery and is joining Boston on a minor league deal.
Putnam spent the previous four seasons before his surgery with the Chicago White Sox. An unfortunate close acquaintance with injuries, he has pitched well when he is able to take the mound. During his tenure in the Windy City, he was a combined 9-6 with a 2.71 ERA and six saves in 130 relief appearances. He struck out 149 in 139.1 innings, while yielding 56 walks and just 108 hits.

Never a hard thrower, his average fastball velocity has typically been around 90 MPH. He relies on a split-finger pitch that he throws more than half the time. That has all contributed to him getting a lot of swings and misses and softer contact. If, and that is a big if, he can come in healthy he could be a pleasant surprise in middle relief.

Carson Smith, Relief Pitcher: Excitement was high when Boston obtained the right-hander after a standout 2015 season with the Seattle Mariners in the Wade Miley trade. That season, just 25 years of age, he had posted a 2.31 ERA with 13 saves in 70 relief appearances with 92 strikeouts in 70 innings. In the three years since, significant injuries have limited him to a 2.66 ERA in just 29 appearances, spanning 23.2 innings with the Red Sox.

Possessing a fastball in the low 90s and a wipeout slider, he could go a long way to shoring up the pen if he could only stay healthy. He was outrighted off Boston’s 40-man roster after the World Series, but the team remains intrigued enough by his potential to have brought him back to give him another crack to fulfill the confidence they showed in him when he was first acquired. Don’t hold your breath on Smith’s health, as he will not play in any spring games and it could be a while before he sees the field due to his most recent recovery. However, don’t be surprised if he pops up at some point later in the year and proves himself to be an asset down the stretch.

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Sunday, February 3, 2019

Baseball Hall of Fame Voting Peculiarities of the Past

The 2019 Baseball Hall of Fame election results were recently announced, with Mariano Rivera, Mike Mussina and Edgar Martinez all receiving the requisite number of votes. In particular, Rivera gained national headlines by becoming the first person to be named on 100 percent of the ballots that were cast. While he was a wonderful pitcher and completely deserving of the honor it is intriguing to consider with so many baseball legends of the past who were previously inducted that this was the first unanimous choice (Ken Griffey Jr. held the previous record by being named on 99.3 percent- 437/440- of ballots in 2016).

Taking a look back at some of the upper echelon Hall of Famers reveals some interesting information on their paths to Cooperstown, and in some cases causing bewilderment when wondering how voters could have possibly seen them as anything other than an all-time great.

Willie Mays: With a .302 career batting average to go along with 660 home runs and legendary prowess in the field, the former outfielder is widely seen as a top-three player of all time. However, in 1979, when he was elected in his first year of eligibility, he was named on 94.7 percent of ballots (409 of 432). The fact that 23 voters could not see their way to check the box next to his name seems unbelievable. Not known for being particularly verbose with the press, the lack of votes may have been a rebuke to chide him for such perceived impertinence.

Joe DiMaggio: The Yankee Clipper is synonymous with excellence and is also regarded as an all-time great because of his .325 batting average and leadership position on nine World Series-winning squads with the New York Yankees among many other attributes. Unfortunately, this did not play out with Hall of Fame eligibility. He was actually not voted in until his fourth time on the ballot (1955), and even then, garnered “just” 88.8 percent of votes. He started off surprisingly tepid in his efforts for the Hall, as he got just 44.3 percent of votes in his first year of post-retirement eligibility in 1953. A primary cause for this may have been that his 13-year playing career was relatively short, although he sacrificed three full years due to military service.

Warren Spahn: Perhaps the most consistently best left-handed starting pitcher of all time, he won 363 games with a 3.09 ERA over 21 seasons. He won at least 20 games in a season a ridiculous 13 times, although that surprisingly resulted in just one Cy Young Award. He even missed three full seasons due to military service. He was voted into the Hall in his first season of eligibility, but received a shockingly low 83.2 percent of the vote, as 64 writers decided to leave him off their ballots. Interestingly, it wasn’t because it was an especially hard ballot, as he ended up being the only person selected that year. However, his lack of awards and post season success are possible contributors to such negligence.

Jackie Robinson: The pioneering Robinson, who officially integrated major league baseball had a breathtaking 10-year career. While his numbers (.311 with 137 home runs and 197 stolen bases) are modest for baseball bean counters, he is a no-brainer selection when taken into account with the challenges he faced and the standards he set. He was elected in his first year of eligibility (1962), but just slipped in with 77.5 percent of the vote, as 36 of the 160 voters did not believe he was worthy of the honor. Clearly, he had to contend with some of the same racism with the voting process that he encountered as a player.

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