Top 100 Baseball Blog

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Bill Buckner: Redefining a Remarkable Career

After battling dementia, baseball stalwart Bill Buckner passed away this past weekend at the age of 69. Having spent parts of 22 seasons in the major leagues, he will forever be one of the most recognizable names in the game. While many immediately think of him because of one misplayed ball made on the biggest of stages, his legacy deserves to be much, much more.

Buckner played for five teams between 1969 and 1990. During that time he accumulated 2,517 games played, a .289 batting average, 174 home runs, 1,208 RBIs and 2,705 base hits. The left-handed first baseman (he also played a little outfield early in his career) also stole 183 bases, scored 1,077 runs and struck out just 453 times in 10,037 career plate 
appearances—including no more than 39 in any given season. He made an All-Star team, won a batting title in 1980, had two top-ten MVP finishes and received votes three other times. That all being said, one play came to define him in the minds of baseball fans.

In Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, Buckner, playing first for the Boston Red Sox had a slowly hit ground ball by Mookie Wilson of the New York Mets go under his glove and through his legs to force a Game 7, which was ultimately taken by New York. Although the play didn’t lose the World Series for the Red Sox, Buckner was saddled (quite unfairly) with the blame and frequently found himself as the subject of guffaws and derision. 

In death, a person typically receives a bounty of fond remembrances. This will also happen in the case of “Billy Buck.” While he is quite deserving of this, it’s also well past due to change the arc of his baseball story and remove the burden of the 1986 World Series. He became a convenient poster boy for a quite unfortunate moment, but that moment was not the entire game or the whole Series. He was so much more than that miserable October night more than 30 years ago, and that should be what defines his baseball career.

In 1986 Buckner was 36 and in his third season with the Red Sox. Despite nagging injuries, he still appeared in 153 regular-season games and hit .267 with 18 home runs and 102 RBIs. A sore back and bad Achilles heels forced him to wear special black high tops that helped him stay upright, but didn’t stop him from regularly taking the field. To be clear, if this was a player in 2019, they would have been shut down long before. However, Buckner, kept suiting up and was certainly not going to stop once his team made the playoffs and advanced to the World Series.

The Red Sox famously believed they had the Series in the bag late in Game 6, even going so far as to having cases of champagne wheeled into their clubhouse in anticipation of being able to celebrate their first title since 1918. Heading into the bottom of the 10th inning them held a 5-3 lead. After recording the first two outs of the inning, Boston’s Calvin Schiraldi became unhinged, relinquishing three straight singles before giving way to Bob Stanley, who threw a wild pitch and then gave up Wilson’s famous grounder.

Buckner, visibly stooped and hobbled with his bad back and feet, had the misfortune of being the face of the final play of the game. He shouldn’t have even been in that position to begin with. In Boston’s previous three victories in the Series, Dave Stapleton had been summoned as a late-inning defensive replacement at first. Perhaps manager John McNamara wanted his gritty veteran to be on the field to enjoy the feeling when the team clinched; perhaps it was poor managing; perhaps it was something else. For whatever reason, the more agile defender stayed on the bench and the rest became history.

Buckner never snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. The Red Sox had already allowed the Mets to tie the game before Wilson’s dribbler. He also banged out two hits, scored a run and played an errorless first base as Boston got pounded 8-5 in the deciding Game 7.
In the final years of his career, Buckner bounced around between Boston, the California Angels and Kansas City Royals. After 22 games with the Red Sox in 1990, he was released and called it a career at the age of 40. Because of the blowback he continued to receive, it was literally years before he could show himself in Beantown again. 

To have given his team everything his failing body had in 1986 to help them get in position for a championship, only to see those efforts erased by one play must have been an acidic pill to swallow. Buckner is now gone. By all accounts he was a good man, a good teammate and a damned good ball player. This should be his legacy in and out of baseball. The grounder was simply one play in a remarkable career.

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

I have also authored a number of books (eBook and paperback) on topics of baseball that are available on Amazon.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Emmy-Nominated Author Granville Wyche Burgess Discusses His New Book The Last At-Bat of Shoeless Joe

Emmy-Nominated Author Granville Wyche Burgess has written a new historical fiction book, titled The Last At-Bat of Shoeless Joe (Chickadee Prince Books, May 1, 2019).

Coinciding with the 100th anniversary of the Black Sox scandal, The Last At Bat of Shoeless Joe re-imagines the final days of disgraced baseball legend Joe Jackson and his relationship with a young ballplayer trying to escape the tough mill life in Greenville, South Carolina with a ball and his glove.

Ken Davidoff, baseball columnist for The New York Post, writes "The Last At-Bat of Shoeless Joe brilliantly bakes wish fulfillment into a period piece. A gripping story that is both illuminating and emotional, it'll hook you early and won't let go. Great for baseball fans, and even true-crime enthusiasts, of all ages."

Burgess recently answered some questions about his newest work and his thoughts on Joe Jackson and baseball. What gave you the idea to write The Last At-Bat of Shoeless Joe, and do so in the vein of historical fiction?: When I played baseball as a youth in 1950’s Greenville, SC, as an all-field no-hit second baseman, nobody ever mentioned that Joe Jackson, whom many considered the “greatest natural hitter of all time,” lived in my hometown! Such was animus towards Shoeless Joe because of the Black Sox scandal. I think Joe himself wanted to keep a low profile. Years later, when I read about the scandal, I became convinced of Joe’s innocence and wanted to put the truth, as I saw it, out into the world. An added plus: I love baseball, I think it’s a great game!
I originally wrote this story as a screenplay. Baseball is a very visual game and the baseball sequences can be very exciting when filmed, with cutting between shots greatly enhancing the action. I also was drawn to the fact that no movie has ever been made about the Textile Baseball League, which was the precursor of the minor leagues and had a very quirky and amusing culture. Or course, writing the story as a novel allowed me to delve more deeply into character, which has its own rewards.
I wrote THE LAST AT-BAT OF SHOELESS JOE as historical fiction because I love history. I majored in History at Princeton University. I created an educational nonprofit, Quill Entertainment Company, whose mission is “Teaching America’s Heritage Through Story and Song.” We have performed our musicals drawn from American history before thousands of students and families as well as producing musicals like BATTLECRY, about the Battle of Gettysburg, and COMMON GROUND, about the remarkable friendship between Frederic Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, for general audiences. I enjoy turning history into drama, whether on the stage or on the page, so it was quite natural—and immensely enjoyable—for me to weave the history of the Black Sox Scandal into my fictional account of a young ballplayer who wants to become the next Shoeless Joe Jackson.
What is your background with baseball?: For some reason, when I was growing up in Greenville, SC, in the 50’s, the Brooklyn Dodgers games were broadcast on the radio. I have an older brother, Frank, (to whom my novel is dedicated) who loved baseball, so naturally I loved it, too. I played Little League ball for the Lions Club—second base, just like Frank. I wasn’t a very good fielder. One play sticks in my mind: a batter hit an infield fly and I remember seeing the ball heading my way over the top of my glove and then I remember being on the ground because the ball bonked me on the head. But we didn’t have a backup infielder, so time was called while I was allowed to go to the water fountain and drink, and then I was put back in the game. Naturally, the very next batter hit a blooper right at me. I remember to this day how my hands quivered in fear. The ball hit the middle of my glove, but I didn’t have the presence of mind to close it, so the ball fell to the ground. Those were two of the many errors I made that day.
That was it for my days in organized baseball. But I continued to play stick ball in high school, and I was a “social chairman” kind of guy so I organized a lot of pickup games along the way. When I was an actor in New York City, I played for Actors Equity, the actors’ union softball team. And, of course, I always followed the game and loved the team wherever I lived: the Red Sox, the Phillies, and, now, the Mets.
Did you have any personal experiences with Joe or his family?: I was only 4 years old when Joe died so I didn’t know him, or, as I’ve said, even know about him. He and Katie had no children, so there was really no family to whom I could talk. Alas, I have no personal experiences with Joe or his family.
Are any of the fictional characters in the book based on anyone in real life?: All of the fictional characters are really an amalgam of people I have known in real life. I suppose the closest thing to a character drawn from someone in real life is Piggy, the inept and frightened ballplayer. I did have a friend growing up whom, in the casually cruel way of kids, was called Piggy. Crusher is based on another friend against whom I played ball. He was bigger than the rest of us and he was a pitcher who could really throw hard, which made him very scary to bat against. He was a nice guy, however, not the ego-driven Crusher of my novel.
What are your thoughts on how the Black Sox scandal and Joe Jackson are portrayed in modern popular culture?: There have been several movies about the Scandal and Joe. EIGHT MEN OUT and FIELD OF DREAMS, come to mind. The former seemed to take the tack that Joe was guilty of conspiring the throw the World Series, and the latter was a fantasy that had little to do with the real Joe, although its popularity certainly thrust Joe back into the public consciousness. They are both excellent movies.
I believe Joe was innocent, so of course I am going to disagree with any portrayal that paints him as guilty. Without going into detail, I think his Series average of .375 (the highest), his no errors, and his 12 hits, a record that lasted until 1964, show a man who played to win. As for the Scandal, there were definitely players who conspired with gamblers to cheat for money. But let’s not forget: two juries found Joe and other players innocent. If Kennesaw Mountain Landis hadn’t declared them all banished from baseball for life, we probably would never have given the Scandal much thought.
If I have any gripe about how Joe is portrayed in today’s modern culture it is that I don’t think any of it succeeds at humanizing him, at showing his pluses and minuses, at emphasizing not whether he was a cheater or a hero, but whether he was someone who loved his wife, loved his community, and, ultimately, loved the game. This is what I have tried to do in my novel: bring to life not a ballplayer involved in a scandal, but a man involved in living.
Are there other baseball figures you are drawn to and would like to write about?: There are a ton of interesting baseball stories. I’ve always loved Satchel Paige, but he’s been written about often. I am also drawn to the man who made being second famous: Larry Dolby, who was the second African-American to break the color barrier, joining the Cleveland Indians just a few months after Jackie Robinson, and becoming the second African-American baseball manager.

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

I have also authored a number of books (eBook and paperback) an topics of baseball that are available on Amazon

Friday, May 17, 2019

Impact Relief Pitchers That Got Away from the Boston Red Sox

After an odious start to the 2019 season, the Boston Red Sox have slowly climbed their way back to a level of play expected from them after winning the 2018 World Series. Some areas of concern, like very hittable starting pitching and a lack of timely hitting seems to have largely taken care of itself. However, one area that still remains a major concern is the bullpen. Although hindsight is 20-20, there are a number of relievers excelling this season on different teams, who started out in the Boston organization and are now having their departures from the Hub cause major regret.

Boston’s bullpen ERA currently sits at 3.88, which is the ninth-best mark in baseball. However, they have given up an alarming number of home runs; lack a consistent left-hander and a closer with any significant prior experience; and have little depth. Here are some of the pitchers that Boston let go of in recent years who never latched on with the Red Sox but have turned into relief stalwarts elsewhere.

Ryan Pressly: Boston made the right-hander an 11th-round draft choice in 2007. Working as a starter in the minors, he was solid, but unspectacular and went to the Minnesota Twins via the Rule-5 Draft in 2012. He spent the next five and a half years pitching exclusively out of Minnesota’s bullpen. In 281 games, he posted a 3.75 ERA and was generally a good 10-11th man on a staff. However, following a mid-season trade to the Houston Astros last year, he became unhittable. The 30-year-old throws a fastball that averages 96 MPH, which is 2 MPH higher than when he was a rookie. He also sports a devastating curveball that he throws more than a third of the time. Since joining the Astros, he has appeared in 43 games, allowing just 20 hits and 3 walks in 43.2 innings, while posting a microscopic 0.43 ERA and striking out 52 batters.

Ty Buttrey:  Expectations were high on the right-hander when he was a fourth-round choice in 2012 as a starter out of high school. Solid results in the minors were accomplished around ongoing injuries, which resulted in his eventual transition to the bullpen. He went to the Los Angeles Angels in last year’s Ian Kinsler trade and was quickly brought up to help the team’s relief efforts. Now 26, he has been lights out since, including a 0.86 ERA in 19 games this season, and 26 strikeouts in 21 innings. He is also yet to allow a major league home runs through his first 37.1 innings. Featuring a fastball that averages better than 96 MPH and a good curve, he may be a closer in the making.

Chris Martin: The left-hander was signed as a minor league free agent by Boston following spring training in 2011. He spent the next three years in the organization, and despite positive results, was never summoned to the big-league club. He has bounced around since leaving but seems to have found a home with the Texas Rangers. The 33-year-old is now in his second year with the team and has been one of the most consistent members of their bullpen this season, with a 2.76 ERA and a save in 16 appearances, all while striking out better than a batter per inning.

Jalen Beeks: Given how last season ended for the Red Sox, it’s hard to fault them for trading the left-handed prospect to the Tampa Bay Rays for Nathan Eovaldi. Although it may be one of those rare deals that may work out for both teams, there’s little doubt Boston wouldn’t mind having Beeks back. Pitching as a long man in Tampa’s “Opener” pitching strategy, he has amassed 32 innings in 11 relief appearances this year, striking out more than a batter per inning and posting a 2.25 ERA. He is also an impressive 8-0 in his 23 career relief appearances with his new team. Still just 25, he appears to have just gotten started.

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

I have also authored a number of books (eBook and paperback) an topics of baseball that are available on Amazon

Monday, May 13, 2019

The 5 Best Shortstops in the History of the Boston Red Sox- Excerpt From The Top-5 of the Boston Red Sox

The Boston Red Sox are one of the most popular and successful teams in the history of Major League Baseball. There has always been significant debate over who exactly are their best players of all time. I recently published The Top-5 of the Boston Red Sox: Ranking and Reviewing the Best Players by Position in Team History in both eBook and paperback form. This book will end all the arguing, as it definitively ranks and reviews the top-five players at every position in Red Sox history. 

Here is an excerpt discussing the shortstop position.

Parent built his career off his superior defensive skills, but he had a solid bat and was a solid all-around player for the inaugural Red Sox and for a number of years afterwards. He played in the franchise’s first 413 games before taking his first day off, displaying his iron man side despite barely being 150 pounds soaking wet.

His best season, which was in 1903, coincided with Boston winning the pennant and ultimately the first World Series. That season he hit .304 with four homers, 17 triples, 24 stolen bases and 80 RBIs.
Parent’s final major contribution to the Red Sox came when he recommended that the team sign one of his teammates with the Baltimore Orioles in 1914; a young pitcher named George Herman Ruth.

4… Rico Petrocelli: Played with Boston 1963-1976, .251, 1,352 base hits, 210 home runs and 773 RBIs

Petrocelli played his entire big-league career with Boston. Although he only played shortstop for the first half he did enough during those years to merit placement on this list. He not only was an offensive force, but had a stellar glove, leading the league in fielding percentage twice.

The right-handed hitter made his major league debut at the age of 20 and was already an established regular for the 1967 Impossible Dream that made it to the World Series. He peaked in 1970 when he hit .297 with a then-record 40 home runs (for a shortstop) with 97 RBIs.

He shifted to third base in 1971 and played out the rest of his career at the hot corner. After retirement he worked in announcing and in minor league managing. He has also remained close to the Red Sox due to his work with the Boston Jimmy Fund charity.

3… Johnny Pesky: Played with Boston 1942-1953, .313, 1,277 base hits, 13 home runs and 361 RBIs

You know you’ve made an impact on a team when part of the stadium where they play is named after you. The eponymous right field “Pesky Foul Pole” at Fenway Park is named after the left-handed hitting shortstop for his notoriety of wrapping home run(s) around it, which is ironic given how few dingers he hit during his career. Of his 17 career home runs, six of them came at Fenway. Only one of them wrapped around the pole, but it helped pitcher teammate Mel Parnell win the game, who coined the name for the pole, which caught on.

Despite the lack of power, Pesky was a cog in Boston’s offense. He posted a .401 OBP during his time in Boston and scored at least 100 runs in every full season with them except one (when he had 93). He was also a fine fielder, forming a double play partnership with second baseman Bobby Doerr.
Pesky finished third in MVP voting his rookie season, hitting .331 with a league-leading 205 hits, two home runs and 51 RBIs. He then missed the next three seasons because of his military service in World War II. He bounced back, despite the missed time, by hitting .335 and leading the league in hits, on his way to finishing fourth in MVP.

After his retirement as a player, he served the Red Sox as an announcer, coach and goodwill ambassador for decades leading up to his death at the age of 93 in 2012. His number six was retired by the team in 2008.

2… Joe Cronin: Played with Boston 1935-1945, .300, 1,168 base hits, 119 home runs and 737 RBIs

Cronin was a star wunderkind with the Washington Senators, who became a player-manager at the tender age of 26 in 1933. Somehow, the Red Sox were able to convince the Washington owner, who was Cronin’s father-in-law, to send him to Boston in a trade for shortstop Lyn Lary and $225,000 prior to the 1935 season.

Cronin played for the Red Sox until 1945 and managed them through the 1947 season. During that time, he made five All Star teams, but failed to take them to the postseason. His best year came in 1938 when he hit .325 with 17 home runs, 94 RBIs and a league-leading 51 doubles. As a manager he lead the team to a 88-61 record and second-place finish, which was a pretty good effort for someone who was 31 at the time.

He was a strong defender earlier in his career but had regressed significantly by the time he came to the Red Sox and had become a little thicker physically. Following the end of his stint as Boston manager, he assumed the role of team General Manager and eventually was named the American League President. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1956 in his 11th year on the ballot.

1… Nomar Garciaparra: Played with Boston 1996-2004, .323, 1,281 base hits, 178 home runs and 690 RBIs

Like a meteor, Garciaparra burst on to the scene in a flash of brilliance.  In his first four full seasons he won Rookie of the Year (1997), made three All Star teams, won two batting titles and finished in the top-10 in MVP voting four times. Between 1998-2000 he hit .323, .357 and .372, crushing the ball all over Fenway Park from the right side of the plate.

He also had power, hitting as many as 35 home runs in one season (1998) and was a solid fielder with a strong arm. He particularly enjoyed hitting at Fenway, as he dominated opposing pitchers to the tune of a .338 batting average in 502 career games there. A fan favorite who caused fans to scream “Nomah” every time he strode to the plate, he was well-know for his constant adjustment of batting gloves between pitches and for his fastidious approach to hitting.

Bitterly, his departure from the team in a 2004 mid-season trade with the Chicago Cubs as he had declined with age and mounting injuries (he played less than 100 games in a season five times in his career) was an ignominious ending to the former icon. Ironically, the players brought back in the deal were essential for the team winning the World Series later that year; the franchise’s first championship in 86 years.

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

I have also authored a number of books (eBook and paperback) an topics of baseball that are available on Amazon

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Minor League Baseball Announces April Uncle Ray’s Players of the Month

Four outfielders, three infielders, two pitchers and a catcher claim April honors 

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., May 7, 2019 — Minor League Baseball today announced the Uncle Ray’s Player of the Month Award winners for each of the 10 leagues for the month of April. In recognition of the honor, each winner will receive an award from Minor League Baseball and Uncle Ray’s, the “Official Potato Chip of Minor League Baseball.” 

Louisville Bats (Reds) third baseman Josh VanMeter led the International League in hits (34), home runs (11), runs (24), RBI (28), total bases (72), slugging percentage (.758) and OPS (1.204) and was fifth in batting average (.358). VanMeter recorded nine multi-hit games, including a five-hit game on April 26 against Norfolk and a four-hit game April 29 at Toledo. VanMeter, 24, was originally selected by San Diego in the fifth round of the 2013 First-Year Player Draft out of Norwell High School in Norwell, Indiana. 

Round Rock Express (Astros) outfielder Yordan Alvarez batted .347 in April and led the Pacific Coast League in home runs (11), was second in RBI (29), slugging percentage (.867) and OPS (1.310), and fourth in total bases (65). Alvarez, 21, was originally signed by Los Angeles (NL) out of Las Tunas, Cuba, on July 15, 2016. 

Harrisburg Senators (Nationals) outfielder Rhett Wiseman batted .321 in April and led the Eastern League in home runs (nine), RBI (22) and total bases (60) and was second in slugging percentage (.741) and OPS (1.121). Wiseman hit safely in 14 of the Senators’ first 15 games and hit safely in 18 of 23 games in April. Wiseman, 24, was selected by Washington in the third round of the 2015 First-Year Player Draft out of Vanderbilt University. 

Biloxi Shuckers (Brewers) infielder Weston Wilson led the Southern League in runs (20), total bases (52), slugging percentage (.591) and OPS (.971). He finished second in home runs (six) and RBI (18) and tied for fifth in hits (26) and doubles (six). Wilson, 24, was selected by Milwaukee in the 17th round of the 2016 First-Year Player Draft out of Clemson University. 

Tulsa Drillers (Dodgers) second baseman Omar Estevez led the Texas League in batting average (.385), hits (30) and doubles (eight) and was third in on-base percentage (.449) in OPS (1.014) and fourth in total bases (44) and slugging percentage (.564). Estevez posted four straight multi-hit games to start the year and had 11 total for the month. Estevez, 21, was signed by Los Angeles out of Matanzas, Cuba, on Nov. 21, 2015. 

Modesto Nuts (Mariners) right-hander Ljay Newsome went 4-1 with a 1.47 ERA (36.2 IP, 6 ER) in six starts. Newsome’s 36.2 innings pitched and 54 strikeouts led Minor League Baseball, while his four wins led the California League and his 1.47 ERA and 0.85 WHIP were also tops in the league among pitchers with four or more starts. In his lone loss, Newsome did not allow an earned run. Newsome, 22, was selected by the Mariners in the 26th round of the 2015 First-Year Player Draft out of Chopticon High School in Morganza, Maryland. 

Winston-Salem Dash (White Sox) outfielder Luis Robert led the Carolina League in batting average (.453), home runs (eight), RBI (24), triples (three), extra-base hits (16), total bases (69), on-base percentage (.512), slugging percentage (.920) and OPS (1.432). Robert, who was promoted to Double-A Birmingham on April 30, posted 12 multi-hit games in April. A native of Havana, Cuba, the 21-year old was signed by the White Sox as a free agent on May 27, 2017. 

Palm Beach Cardinals outfielder Justin Toerner led the Florida State League in average (.394), runs (20), on-base percentage (.531) and OPS (1.081). He finished third in slugging percentage (.549) and fourth in hits (28) and RBI (16). He recorded eight multi-hit games and hit safely in 17 of his 21 games. Toerner, 22, was selected by St. Louis in the 28th round of the 2018 First-Year Player Draft out of California State University, Northridge. 

Peoria Chiefs (Cardinals) right-hander Tommy Parsons went 3-0 with a 0.30 ERA (30.0 IP, 1 ER) in four starts to claim Midwest League Player of the Month honors. Parsons held opponents to a league-best .106 batting average and allowed just 11 hits in his league-best 30.0 innings of work. He threw a nine inning, two-hit shutout on April 22 against Quad Cities, the only complete game in the Midwest League in April. Parsons, 23, was signed by St. Louis as a free agent out of Adrian College in Adrian, Michigan, on June 12, 2018. 

Hickory Crawdads (Rangers) catcher Sam Huff led Minor League Baseball with 12 home runs in April and led the South Atlantic League in total bases (66), slugging percentage (.825), OPS (1.190). His 18 runs scored in April were third in the league. Huff homered in both games of an April 20 doubleheader, homered in four straight games April 23–26 and finished the month homering in the final two games on April 28 and April 30. Huff, 21, was selected by Texas in the seventh round of the 2016 First-Year Player Draft out of Arcadia High School in Phoenix, Arizona.

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

I have also authored a number of books (eBook and paperback) an topics of baseball that are available on Amazon

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Mike Trombley Did It All as a Major League Pitcher

Right-handed pitcher Mike Trombley wasn’t a particularly high draft choice,  but was in the major leagues with four years of being drafted. He ended up filling every role on a pitching staff during his ensuing quality 11-year career.

Following a solid career with Duke University, Trombley was taken in the 14th round of the 1989 draft by the Minnesota Twins. A starter, he moved quickly in the system, winning 14 games in 1990 and another 12 in 1991. After going 10-8 with a 3.65 ERA in the first two thirds of the season in 1992, he was called up to the Twins, who had won the World Series the year before and were on the hunt for another pennant (They ended up winning 90 games and finishing second).

Trombley cemented his place with the team during the remainder of the 1992 season. He appeared in 10 games (making seven starts) and was 3-2 with a 3.30 ERA. He had a memorable debut on August 19th, pitching a scoreless seventh inning against the Cleveland Indians, which included a strikeout of speedy leadoff man Kenny Lofton.

In the coming years, Trombley toggled between starting and relieving, before finally settling into the bullpen for good in 1996. He took on yet another role in 1999 when he became the Twins’ closer after Rick Aguilera was traded to the Chicago Cubs in late May. He finished 2-8 with a 4.33 ERA and 24 saves in 75 games for a Minnesota team that lost 97 games.

That offseason, he parlayed his performance by signing a free-agent contract with the Baltimore Orioles. After pitching for them and the Los Angeles Dodgers, he returned to the Twins in 2002 for five games, in what turned out to be his final major league season. He finished with career totals of 509 games (36 starts), a 37-47 record, 44 saves and a 4.48 ERA.

These days Trombley works in financial planning and enjoying his family. Keep reading for his recollections of his time in baseball.

Mike Trombley Interview:

Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why? Carlton Fisk. I was born in 1967 and just as I started following baseball the Red Sox played in the World Series in 1975 versus the Reds. Fisk’s home run in Game 6 clinched it for me. He was also a New England guy, as was I.

Can you please describe what your draft experience was like, being taken in the 14th round by the Twins in 1989?: I was very happy to be drafted in the 14th round by the Twins out of Duke University in '89. I was never a big prospect and was very fortunate to get the scouts attention. 

How did you find out that you had first been called up the big leagues, and what was your reaction?: I was playing for the Portland Beavers in the Pacific Coast League. We were playing in Calgary. I was not pitching that day and played golf that morning with a few guys on the team. As I returned, my manager Scotty Ullger told me I was flying to Cleveland the next day to meet the Twins there to play the Indians. I was beyond excited and thankful.

What do you remember most about your major league debut (against the Cleveland Indians, and striking out Kenny Lofton)?: It was in old Municipal Stadium in Cleveland.  I don't remember too many details about that outing, as I was extremely nervous. I remember being in a daze on the mound wondering what the heck I was doing out there on an MLB mound. Somehow, I got three outs.

In your opinion, who was the most underrated player you ever played with or against, and on the other side who was the most talented player you ever played with or against?: There were a few guys that come to mind when I think of underrated . I'm going with guys I saw every day. Chuck Knoblauch, Shane Mack and Torii Hunter. If I had to pick one I'd go with Shane Mack. The other guys got a little more attention than Shane. He was a tremendous player. I’d say the most talented player all around was Ken Griffey Jr. Could do it all!!

What is your favorite moment from your baseball career?: Tough one. I’d say it was a combination of several.  I was the right man at the right time in many games. I saw four guys get their 3000th hit -Dave Winfield, Eddie Murray, Paul Molitor and Cal Ripken Jr. (I gave up Murray’s 3000th hit). I also was lucky enough to see four no-hitters too; Scott Erickson, David Wells, Eric Milton and Hideo Nomo (Wells’ was a perfect game). I also was with the Dodgers (in San Francisco) when Barry Bonds set the single season home run record in 2001, and in San Diego (with Dodgers) when Rickey Henderson broke the all-time runs scored record in 2001. How lucky was I to see all those games live?!

Did you prefer starting or relieving, and why was that?:  When I was young I preferred starting but enjoyed being a reliever much more as I got older. I was much better suited to pitch out of the bullpen as I could pitch almost every day. 

Who was your favorite coach or manager, and what made them your choice?: I was lucky to have great managers and coaches all through my career. All good people. If I had to choose one I'd say Tom Kelly. I had him for seven years in Minnesota. I learned a lot from him on how to be big leaguer. 

What, if anything, would you have done differently in your baseball career?: Not a lot. As I said, I was never a big prospect or high draft pick. I really appreciated my time in baseball and felt very fortunate to be there. I took it all in. I will say that I probably could have played a few more years but my kids were growing up and I made the decision to stop to be around my family more. 

What are you up to these days?: I am the owner/managing partner of a financial planning company, Trombley Associates in western Massachusetts. I've said before that I was a financial advisor long before I was a professional baseball player (and probably better at it too). I still play a lot of golf and help young baseball players when I can. I've been married to my Duke University sweetheart for 27 years and have three kids; daughter Tory 24; son Kyle 21; and daughter Alex 17.

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

I have also authored a number of books (eBook and paperback) an topics of baseball that are available on Amazon

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Rafael Devers: Boston Red Sox Third Baseman is in the Midst of a Major Breakout

The disappointing start to the 2019 season for the Boston Red Sox has dominated the minds of fans and followers alike. After all, coming off a magical 2018 campaign that saw a jaw-dropping 108 regular-season victories and an impressive jaunt through the playoffs that resulted in a World Series title leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. Now that the wins are starting to come more frequently, perhaps attention can be turned to more positive things, such as the noticeable improvement by young third baseman Rafael Devers.

Some may have read that last sentence, hear the proverbial record scratch and shouted, “What!?” Nearly a fifth of the way through the season, Devers has yet to hit his first home run and is on pace to finish with 42 RBIs. He has also committed a whopping eight errors. But, like many things in life, you have to peel back some of these less attractive attributes and see that the 22-year-old has actually made significant strides and is poised for a break out that will likely be coming sooner rather than later.

The most readily noticeable improvement from Devers has been in his physical well-being. Listed last year at 237 pounds, he was heavy and not in top conditioning, which was frequently pointed out. He took the criticism to heart and determined not to follow the path of his predecessor, Pablo “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval, completely overhauled his lifestyle and training during the offseason. He reported to camp noticeably slimmer and in much better shape. Has anyone noticed the four bases he has already stolen, which leads the team? Despite the high number of errors, stats that measure a player’s range in the field indicate he is getting to more balls than he has ever done previously in his career, no doubt a byproduct of his slimmer self.

Coming into May 2nd, the left-handed hitter was batting .302 with a .388 on-base percentage. Breaking down those numbers further provide further proof of the youngster’s maturation as a player. FanGraphs shows him with an 11.5 percent walk rate and a 16.4 percent strikeout rate. This is a marked improvement over last year’s rates of 7.8 percent and 24.7 percent. Any time a player can cut their strikeouts by a third and simultaneously nearly double their walk rate in the span of a year, you should take notice.

Although it hasn’t translated to balls going over the fence, Devers is also hitting the ball with more authority than ever. His line drive percentage of 26.7 is leaps and bounds beyond his 15.2 figure in 2018. Additionally, his soft contact rate has regressed from 20.5 percent to 16.1 percent. These are all signs that point to a coming surge in extra base hits and home runs. A better approach and striking the ball harder are never bad things when it comes to hitting.

Fastballs used to be Devers’ kryptonite, relatively speaking. In terms of production against the various pitch types he faces, speed gave him the most trouble last year. Keeping in line with all his other adjustments, he is now doing his most damage against the heater, according to FanGraphs’ pitch values.

It appears the biggest factor in what will lead to Devers truly breaking out will be him getting the ball in the air more. He is hitting two and a half ground balls for every one he is putting in the air, which is twice as much as last year. shows his average launch angle when the ball comes off his bat and into play is at 6.1 degrees, which is less than half of the MLB average of 12.7. Once he figures this out it will be really interesting to see what the Red Sox have on their hands.

It’s easy to point out glaring flaws in a baseball player, such as errors or a lack of home runs. However, it would be patently unfair to not recognize when such significant improvements have been made across multiple facets of their game—and from such a young player to boot. You’ve been warned. Devers has started showing signs of the impact player he is capable of becoming, but there is much more coming, so don’t be surprised when he gets there.

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

I have also authored a number of books (eBook and paperback) an topics of baseball that are available on Amazon