Top 100 Baseball Blog

Sunday, September 29, 2019

The Chicago Black Sox: What Might Have Been

The 1919 Chicago White Sox (aka Black Sox) were the one of the most famous and infamous teams of all time. After going 88-52 in the regular season, they rolled into the World Series to face off against the Cincinnati Reds as heavy favorites, but surprisingly looked clumsy and disinterested in the field; ultimately losing five games to three. It wasn’t long before it was alleged that eight of their players had known about/participated in a plot with gamblers to throw the Series. Although the culpability of those eight players has been debated over time, and they were acquitted in court, they were all permanently banned from baseball following the 1920 season—careers of varying ability cut short for their accused transgressions. But how good were these players and what would their futures have looked like if their careers had not been ended? Let’s take a look.

Swede Risberg, Shortstop- A supposed ringleader of the World Series plot, Risberg was a decent fielder, but not very good with the bat (83 careers OPS). An even 6’0”, he was a converted first baseman and big at the time for shortstop. However, he posted positive dWAR in each of his last two seasons. At 25, he was the youngest of the eight players when they were banned following the 1920 season. Since he played when shortstops had lower expectations offensively, he might have had a career that was long in length, but short on production.

Chick Gandil, First Base- The former bare-knuckle boxer was a large muscular man (6’1” and 190 pounds), who never produced the way you might expect from someone of his stature. In nine big-league seasons, spanning 1,147 games, he hit .277 with just 11 home runs. Even during the Deadball Era, those numbers are pretty underwhelming for a first sacker. 31 at the time of his banning, his career was already in decline. After having led the Washington Senators in RBIs for four straight years (1912-1915), 1920 was his fourth consecutive season of having less than a 100 OPS (league-average offensive production is 100 OPS). He was also a below average defender, who at 32, was likely looking at the end of his career anyways.

Buck Weaver, Third Base- Perhaps one of the most overrated players of the group. Some have suggested that he may have been a candidate for the Hall of Fame if not for his punishment. However, the 21.2 WAR he accrued through his first nine seasons indicate that was not the reality. That being said, he was a superior defender, who was coming into his won with the bat. His final season was his best at the plate, as the 30-year-old hit .331 with 208 hits, 102 runs scored and 74 RBIs in 1920.  He has always been one of the more popular Black Sox, as he hit .324 in the World Series, was banned because of his knowledge of the plot and not his participation. He unsuccessfully appealed for reinstatement multiple times throughout the remainder of his life.

Joe Jackson, Outfielder- The left-handed batter was easily the best player of the group. His .356 career batting average is still third-best of all time. Quiet and illiterate, he was never the most popular player, especially with his peers, however, fans loved watching his wickedly effective left-handed swing. Although he turned 33 during the 1920 season, he still finished with it being one of his best; hitting .382 with 218 hits, 12 home runs, a league-leading 20 triples and 121 RBIs. Although it was said his “glove was the place where triples went to die,” his career -6.1 dWAR suggest that was more anecdotal than truth. His 62.2 career WAR combined with still being in a productive phase of his career would have made him a near-certain Hall of Famer.

Happy Felsch, Outfielder- Perhaps the greatest example of “what might have been,” Felsch was 29 and coming off his best season when he was banned. In 1920, he hit .338 with 40 doubles, 15 triples, 14 home runs, and 115 RBIs. His rugged athletic build would have made him an excellent candidate to transition well to the lively ball era. With a 19.3 WAR and 123 OPS+ when his career ended, he could have possibly ended up as a fringe Hall of Fame candidate if his play continued to progress well and be sustained deep into his career.

Fred McMullin, Infield- The career backup was subpar offensively (85 OPS+) and just average defensively. He was a roster filler, who could step in if needed and acquit himself, but drew minimum salary. He his just .256 with a lone home run and 72 RBIs across 304 career games in six seasons when his career ended at the age of 28. He had just two plate appearances in the 1919 World Series (singling in one of them) and was only included in the plot/money taking because of his friendship with teammates like Risberg.

Eddie Cicotte, Pitcher- The sore-armed junk baller seemed to get better with age. After going 29-7 with a 1.82 ERA in 1919, he followed that up with 21 more wins in 1920 at the age of 36.  With 209 career victories, a 2.38 ERA and a 57.3 WAR, he would have been a strong candidate for the Hall of Fame had he been able to finish out his career naturally. The 90 wins and 111 complete games he threw in his final four seasons are a testament to the late success he found, due in large part to a shine ball and knuckler that all helped keep batters off stride. Even pitching in the Deadball Era, he was extremely stingy when it came to allowing home runs; coughing up just 32 in 14 years. He even went the entire 1914 season, spanning 269.1 innings, without a long ball.

Lefty Williams, Pitcher- Although he won a combined 45 games between 1919-1920, the tiny southpaw was more solid than star in quality. 27 at the time of his banishment, he had a career 82-48 record and 3.13 ERA. However, his 99 ERA+ (100 is average) show that he was essentially average when it came to his production. With pitching always being at a premium, there would have no shortage of opportunities for Williams to have had a lengthy career. Assuming steady health and ability, he would have been a good candidate to hit the 150-victory threshold if his career had continued uninterrupted.

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.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County Offers 3 Events for 100th anniversary of the Black Sox Scandal


-    Cal Crim was Cincinnati’s super-cop – part Batman, part Sherlock Holmes. He was so popular that in 1901, when wounded in a shootout with “Foley the Goat,” the citizens of Cincinnati chipped in to pay off his mortgage. Crim collared the murderers of poor Pearl Bryan and the Turkey King of Winchester, Kentucky. And it was Crim who unraveled the plot behind the 1919 Black Sox scandal. In celebration of the 100th anniversary of one of the single most infamous events in sports history, join us as renowned local historian Greg Hand, regular contributor to Cincinnati Magazine and WCPO-TV’s “Cincy Lifestyle” show, discusses the events that led to the unraveling of the Black Sox’s plot to throw the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. Free. Registration not required.

o   Wednesday, October 02, 2019
§   7:00 PM - 8:00 PM
§  Downtown Main Library
§  Main Library - Genealogy & Local History Program Space

      Join us for a jaunt around Cincinnati hosted by the Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County and American Legacy Tours exploring the places and historic events that shaped the infamous Black Sox Scandal of 1919. Our city’s side of this otherwise well-documented story is often overlooked, and this walking tour sheds light on its lesser known facts, locations, and people. The walk itself, which encompasses a flat ¾ of a mile path, is wheelchair accessible. 

Tour starts in the atrium at the Downtown Main Library at 9:45 am, where you’ll learn about great resources the library offers sport history buffs, and how you can use our MakerSpace to create high quality posters of newspaper headlines from all your favorite teams’ big wins! Tour ends on Fountain Square at roughly noon. Wear comfortable shoes!

Free. Registration required. Questions? Email
o   Saturday, October 05, 2019
§  9:45 AM - 12:00 PM
§  Downtown Main Library Atrium

-     During the first week of October 1919, the World Series took place between the Cincinnati Reds and the Chicago White Sox. The Reds would go on to win the championship after eight games. However, the series was later investigated due to a scandal involving the Chicago team. Join Reds historians Greg Rhodes and Greg Gajus for a discussion on Cincinnati’s side of the events during the series and the fallout afterwards. Historic 1919 World series-related artifacts and treasures from the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum will be on display at the program. Free. No registration required.

o   Saturday, October 05, 2019
§  3:00 PM - 4:00 PM
§  Downtown Main Library
§  Main Library - Reading Garden Lounge

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.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Mookie Betts: Why the Boston Red Sox May Be About to Make a Big Mistake

If recent reports are to be believed, the Boston Red Sox may be about to make a major mistake this upcoming offseason. At least it will be if they decide to part ways with their star right fielder, Mookie Betts.

The Sox, coming off a dominant 108-win and World Series-winning 2018 season, belly flopped into 2019 with a bloated payroll that has veered into luxury tax territory, and is ending with diminished results outside the postseason. Hamstrung by a roster dotted with fat contracts and a minor league system largely barren of talent, it was reported earlier this month that the team intends to listen for trade offers for Betts, the reigning American League MVP and a free agent following the 2020 season.

With a 2019 payroll of over $240 million, Boston is on track to receive a bill for $13.05 million in luxury tax this offseason—the equivalent of a solid veteran starting player’s salary. Additionally, the money coming off the books will likely be matched, if not exceeded, by what will need to be spent giving out raises and arbitration, and what is sure to be a limited free agent shopping list.

With money obviously tight, it really couldn’t be a worse time for the Red Sox to have Betts entering his year-before-free agency season. The soon-to-be 27-year-old is one of the consensus two or three best players in the game and would be well within his rights to ask for and receive a contract that exceeds a total value of $300 million—in line with pacts like stars Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado have signed this past year.

Betts is a proven commodity, who has mastered playing in Boston, already won a championship and is in line to be an all-time Hub sports great, a la Larry Bird, Tom Brady Bobby Orr and Ted Williams. He is affable, charitable, a hit with the fans and can play some pretty damned good ball. Despite his diminutive size, he is a true five-tool player, who has won an MVP award in 2018 and finished in the top six two other times (with a third possibly coming later this year). He also has four All Star nods and three Gold Gloves (again, another is likely a little later this fall).

2019 has been decried as somewhat of an “off year” for Betts. Appearing in 145 games, he has hit .291 with 29 home runs, 78 RBIs, 15 stolen bases, 95 walks and a league-leading 131 runs scored—all while playing the perhaps the best outfield defense in the game. His 6.5 WAR puts him eighth in all of baseball for position players.

In addition to his obvious physical talents, the affable Betts is criminally underutilized in marketing—both by the Red Sox and Major League Baseball. With Trout being a rather reticent face of the sport, Boston’s star has the benefit of personality, talent, success and playing in a major market. He is the type of person who connects with all demographics and should be viewed as the cornerstone that must be retained at all costs.

Yes, Betts scored $20 million in arbitration this past year and is a year away from securing a contract of ridiculous proportions. However, he deserves to get paid whatever the market yields and the Red Sox will be best served by figuring out how to keep him, rather than jettisoning him in an ill-designed attempt to create temporary financial relief.

Boston has wasted obscene gobs of cash in recent years. They are paying Rusney Castillo $72.5 million to essentially be a Triple-A fixture, and another $90 million for Pablo Sandoval to eat himself out of town after 161 games of well-below average production. Yes, it makes sense that they need to curb this kind of reckless spending. No, the remedy should not involve nickel and diming their best and most popular player in a generation or more out the door.

The absurdity of trading Betts instead of making every attempt to sign him is that the team would be receiving pennies on the dollar. With his free agency looming, no team is going to submit a trade package of any great significance to gain his services for a period that won’t be guaranteed for any longer than the 2020 season. Maybe the Red Sox could obtain some intriguing prospects; maybe they would even pan out. That’s quite the gamble, and frankly a sucker bet for a franchise like Boston, which has conditioned their fans to expect annual contention.

If you thought I would be presenting an alternate solution to the problem, you are sadly mistaken. I am not an accountant, and certainly not a master of MLB’s salaries and luxury taxation. One would hope that a team as successful and flush with money as the Red Sox could find another way than part with a player who not only puts then in the best position to contend, but also literally checks every box on what you would want from a superstar player to lead the franchise for the foreseeable future.

Let’s hope that the reports that the Red Sox will consider trading Betts is a smokescreen or a contract negotiation ploy. If not, it will be a grave mistake, and one that the team may be hard-pressed to recover from quickly. The possible reality of it all is shocking to contemplate and a disappointing end to an even more disappointing season. 

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.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Jamie Lavarnway- Ryan Lavarnway's Partner in His Baseball Journey

The life of a professional baseball player is a continuous roller coaster of ups and downs. Great successes, bitter disappointments, nomadic living and uncertain futures are all part of the experience. These are not just enjoyed and anguished over by the player; those closest to them are right next to them in the passenger seat for the wild journey. Nobody knows this better than Jamie Lavaranway, the wife of long-time catcher Ryan Lavarnway.

The Lavarnways have been together for years and seen about as much as a couple involved in professional baseball might see. A former athlete herself, Jamie is no stranger to the pressures and intricacies of the game. As you might expect, she has incredibly unique insight as to what life is like for a baseball family.

Ryan is in his 12th professional season and was originally selected in the sixth round of the 2008 draft by the Boston Red Sox. Since that time, he has played for nine organizations and over 20 individual teams. He has spent parts of eight seasons in the majors, with six different teams. In total, he has appeared in 151 games, hitting .211 with nine home runs and 50 RBIs.

Most recently, he is with the Cincinnati Reds organization, appearing in five big-league games thus far in 2019, blasting two homers and driving in seven in that short stint.

Recently, with Ryan’s season winding down, I was able to catch up with Jamie, who shared some wonderful insight into her husband’s career and her experience as his partner in the great adventure that is professional baseball.

What was your experience with baseball prior to meeting Ryan?: I grew up playing softball, so I certainly understood the game of baseball well. I'm from Colorado and will always root for the Rockies, but I didn't understand many of the insides of the business of baseball until after we had started dating.

What are the primary challenges of having a spouse who plays professional baseball?: The biggest challenge is the unpredictable nature of baseball. We have been members of eight organizations since 2015, and more teams than that along the way. Having to find new places to live every season (sometimes multiple times a season!) is always the biggest challenge. I can't remember the last time we ended one season and started the next season with the same team. Making new friends, trying to establish some sort of life in a new city, that's the hardest part. 

What is one city Ryan has played in that you wish you didn't have to leave?: Ugh, there are actually quite a few! The one benefit of being on so many teams is getting to live in so many new places! Portland (Maine), Pawtucket, and Nashville have been my favorites. I worked in each of those cities and really loved all of them. Working in most cities we have been in has been a great way for me to build a life in a city outside of baseball. 

What do you think about fans- the good, the bad and the ugly?: For the most part I think that fans are really supportive and it's fun to interact with them. In organizations like Boston, even when the fans hate you, at least they hate you because they love the Red Sox so much. I completely understand that! Ryan and I try to make ourselves available to people and we both try to be involved with community work in the organization we are playing in. The ugly side usually comes online where people will say things to you that they would never say to your face. I think people often forget that these players aren't just a cog in a machine- DFAs, releases, and poor play can mean the end of an income and stability for a family. Players (and their spouses) are very aware of when they aren't playing well, and they don't like when it happens any more than a fan does!

What is life like for you during a season?: For the first seven or so years we were dating and married, I worked in the home city that we played in. I went to culinary school and have worked in a kitchen since graduating and moving to be on the road with Ryan. As I mentioned above, I really love working and having a life outside of baseball in each new city we lived in. A few years ago, I missed every call up that Ryan had because of my work schedule, and after that season I stopped working. You never know when the last time I going to be, and I don't want to miss it! 

The thing that people don't always realize when a player is promoted, demoted, traded, DFA'd is that they are usually on a plane within a few hours. They get just a moment’s notice to pack up their things- and that is assuming they are playing at home and not on the road! When those calls come, I am the one who packs the car, drives our belongings and pup to the new place. A transition in the season means finding a new place to live and all of the logistics that come with that. 

What is your favorite memory so far of Ryan's career?: I'm not sure what I would have said a few months ago, but his debut in Cincinnati is something I will remember forever. I missed the game he had in Baltimore (while playing with the Red Sox) where he had a similar outstanding performance, so to be there in person was really exciting!

Has it been difficult to pursue your own professional and personal interests given the nomadic nature of professional baseball?: Absolutely. I have pretty much had to put "having a career" on hold until baseball is over. I know that everyone does it differently, but for us, the priority is to be together as much as possible. I have worked for a number of years when it made sense, in our home city, but years like this (four teams, three organizations) make it very tough! There is plenty of time after baseball is over to have a traditional career path. I have done a number of side projects when they made sense with my schedule- I had a food blog for a number of years - I also volunteered with Big Fluffy Dog Rescue in Nashville and did remote work for them for the better part of two years. Unfortunately when our schedule/organization/planned travel changes, it makes keeping commitments difficult.

How many games do you attend and what, if any, involvement do you have with the teams?: I think most baseball wives have a similar trajectory- when you're young you're at every game, early, whether your boyfriend is playing is irrelevant. Now that we are almost 10 years in, I go to the games that Ryan plays, but I usually show up later in the game. Ryan always tells teammates they can find me in the stands because I'm the one reading a book most innings. 

How many different places have you lived with Ryan?: Oh my..... let's count! 
1) Portland, ME
2) Fort Myers, FL 
3) Pawtucket, RI 
4) Boston, MA 
5) Sarasota, FL 
6) Baltimore, MD 
7) Gwinnett, GA 
8) Atlanta, GA 
9) Orlando, FL 
10) Manchester, NH
11) Nashville, TN 
12) Bradenton, FL 
13) Indianapolis, IN 
14) Tampa, FL 
15) Scranton, PA 
16) Denver, CO 
17) Los Angeles, CA 

That would be the number of places we have "lived" - paid rent, had a job, spent some significant time. There are many, many more places and teams that we have played on, but the duration didn't feel like we lived in those cities. That list probably adds another five-plus places to the list! 

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.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Boston Red Sox: Positive Signs for the Future

Barring a minor miracle, the Boston Red Sox will follow up on their historic 2018 World Series-winning season by missing the playoffs after uneven and even disinterested-appearing play in 2019. Despite such disappointment, there are a number of positives that emerged this year and can be taken forward as positive signs for the future.

The emergence of Rafael Devers: Still just 22, the third baseman took off like a shot this season after his first two years in the majors were rife with flashes of promise and frustrating lapses. So significant was his development, that he is a legitimate MVP candidate, getting himself into the literal best shape of his life and responding with a .314 batting average, 29 home runs, 107 RBIs, 49 doubles and 116 runs scored thus far. This has rewarded the team’s decision to hold on to him when he could have been included in previous trades, and gives them something to fall back on if star outfielder Mookie Betts ends up leaving in the near future.

Christian Vazquez seized the starting catcher role: The Red Sox have struggled to find a primary catcher since the days of Jason Varitek.  Although the pitching staff still shows better overall numbers with Sandy Leon behind the plate, Vazquez, who has been with the organization since 2008 finally grabbed the starter’s job and never let go. He keeps base runners at bat with his rocket arm, still throwing out more runners than league average, and has hit .270 with 19 home runs; production that should be surprising to even the most optimistic fan.

Is Brandon Workman the closer of the future: Riddled by injuries for years, the right-hander finally had a season of health and has emerged as a viable long-term closer candidate. He has been nearly unhittable this year, going 9-1 with 11 saves and a 2.14 ERA in 64 appearances. The paltry 26 hits and one home run he has allowed in 63 innings has been offset by 39 walks, which seem to be his only current Achilles heel. He won’t be a free agent until 2021, so while the team definitely needs to re-evaluate their bullpen for next year, they may well already have their closer in place.

Michael Chavis may be long-term solution at first base: With Mitch Moreland 33 and a free agent this offseason, Boston needs to figure out what they are doing at first base. The solution that seems to have presented itself is the 23-year-old Chavis. Although he is currently injured, he made a case for himself earlier this year, hitting .254 with 18 home runs and 58 RBIs in 95 games. The right-handed hitter set himself apart with his aggressive play in the field and tape-measure home runs. To be truly successful, he will need to work on cutting down his strikeouts, as he has punched out 127 times in 347 at-bats. However, he is young, cheap and seemingly has room to grow, so it won’t be a surprise if the position is turned over to him on a full-time basis next season.

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.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

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

14 organizations represented by August winners 

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., Sept. 5, 2019 — Minor League Baseball™ (MiLB™) today announced the Uncle Ray’s Player of the Month Award winners for each of the 16 leagues for the month of August. 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.” 

Norfolk Tides (Orioles) right-hander Chandler Shepherd led the International League in ERA (1.62), WHIP (0.90) and batting average against (.181). He was 3-1 in five starts for the Tides, and on Aug. 13, he was promoted to Baltimore where he allowed one run in four innings. After being optioned back to Norfolk, Shepherd threw a seven-inning complete game in the second half of a doubleheader on Aug. 24. Shepherd, 27, was originally selected by the Boston Red Sox in the 13th round of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of Kentucky. 

Memphis Redbirds (Cardinals) right-hander Daniel Ponce de Leon went 4-0 with a 0.93 ERA in five starts for Memphis. Ponce de Leon led the Pacific Coast League in strikeouts (39), ERA (0.93), WHIP (0.90) and batting average against (.131). Ponce de Leon allowed just three runs in his five starts and started the month with 23 consecutive scoreless innings. Ponce de Leon, 27, was selected by St. Louis in the ninth round of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft out of Embry-Riddle College. 

Hartford Yard Goats (Rockies) catcher Tyler Nevin led the Eastern League in home runs (eight), RBI (24), doubles (11), total bases (67), slugging percentage (.609) and OPS (.972). He finished fourth in hits (32), produced 10 multi-hit games and homered in four straight games Aug. 27–29. Nevin, 22, was selected by Colorado in Competitive Balance Round A of the 2015 First-Year Player Draft out of Poway High School in Poway, California. 

Jackson Generals (Diamondbacks) catcher Daulton Varsho led the Southern League in average (.391), hits (31), slugging percentage (.707), OPS (1.143), runs scored (26) and total bases (65). He finished fourth in on-base percentage (.436). Varsho recorded 10 multi-hit games in August. Varsho, 23, was selected by Arizona in Competitive Balance Round B of the first round of the 2017 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.   

Tulsa Drillers (Dodgers) catcher Connor Wong led the Texas League in eight offensive categories: batting average (.412), hits (40), total bases (72), home runs (nine), RBI (26), on-base percentage (.463), slugging percentage (.742), and OPS (1.205). He put together an 11-game hit streak from Aug. 16–27, during which he recorded seven multi-hit games. In total, Wong put up 13 multi-hit games during the month of August. Wong, 23, was selected by Los Angeles in the third round of the 2017 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of Houston. 

Lancaster JetHawks (Rockies) shortstop Ryan Vilade led the California League in batting average (.368), hits (43) and total bases (72), placed second in runs (28), slugging percentage (.615) and OPS (1.027), and finished third in home runs (seven) and on-base percentage (.412). During an Aug. 21 contest, he knocked in three runs and collected seven bases by recording a home run and a triple in a 2-for-3 effort that also featured two walks. Vilade, 20, was selected by Colorado in the second round of the 2017 First-Year Player Draft out of Stillwater High School in Stillwater, Oklahoma. 

Potomac Nationals left-hander Carson Teel was 2-1 in five starts and led the Carolina League in ERA (0.87) and WHIP (0.90). He finished second in batting average against (.198) and did not allow a run in three of his five starts. In his two no-decisions, he left one game with a lead and left the other in a scoreless tie. Teel, 23, was selected by Washington in the 16th round of the 2018 First-Year Player Draft out of Oklahoma State University. 

Palm Beach Cardinals first baseman Luken Baker led the Florida State League in slugging percentage (.654), OPS (1.067) and doubles (11), was second in batting average (.346) and home runs (four) and finished fifth in on-base percentage (.413). With 11 doubles, one triple and four home runs, more than half of Baker’s August hits were for extra bases, and he reached safely in 21 of 23 games in August. Baker, 22, was selected by St. Louis in the second round of the 2018 First-Year Player Draft out of Texas Christian University. 

Clinton LumberKings (Marlins) outfielder Peyton Burdick batted .337 while leading the league in runs (26), RBI (30), on-base percentage (.458), slugging percentage (.632) and OPS (1.090). He finished second in home runs (six) and third in total bases (60). On Aug. 12, Burdick finished a 10-game hit streak with a two-home run game during which he batted in six of Clinton’s seven total runs. Burdick, 22, was selected by Miami in the third round of the 2019 First-Year Player Draft out of Wright State University. 
Greensboro Grasshoppers (Pirates) center fielder Jonah Davis hit .318 and led the South Atlantic League league in runs (24), total bases (70), home runs (10) and slugging percentage (.654) while finishing second in OPS (1.037) and third in hits (34). He began the month with an eight-game hit streak from Aug. 1–10, which included six multi-hit games. On Aug. 17, Davis was a triple shy of the cycle in a 3-for-4 effort that also featured a sacrifice bunt. Davis, 22, was selected by Colorado in the 15th round of the 2018 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of California, Berkeley. 
Mahoning Valley Scrappers (Indians) catcher Bryan Lavastida led the New York-Penn League in batting average (.413), hits (38) and on-base percentage (.486), was second in doubles (eight) and OPS (1.040) and third in slugging percentage (.554). He posted only two games in August during which he did not reach base, beginning the month with a 19-game on-base streak from Aug. 1–24. Lavastida recorded 14 multi-hit games, and he walked (13) more times than he struck out (10). Lavastida, 20, was selected by Cleveland in the 15th round of the 2018 First-Year Player Draft out of Hillsborough Community College. 

Hillsboro Hops (Diamondbacks) first baseman Tristin English led the Northwest League in five categories: batting average (.349), runs (19), home runs (five), slugging percentage (.616) and OPS (1.040). He finished second in total bases (53) and RBI (18) and placed third in on-base percentage (.424). English recorded only two games in which he did not reach base safely, and he finished the month on an 11-game on-base streak that began Aug. 18. English, 22, was selected by Arizona in the third round of the 2019 First-Year Player Draft out of Georgia Tech. 

Burlington Royals first baseman Vinnie Pasquantino led the Appalachian League in home runs (five), total bases (58), slugging percentage (.690) and OPS (1.130) while batting a second-place .381. He also placed fourth in runs (18), RBI (22) and on-base percentage (.440), and he walked (10) more times than he struck out (eight). On Aug. 11, Pasquantino went 5-for-5 with two doubles, two triples and two RBI. He later put together an 11-game on-base streak from Aug. 15–27. Pasquantino, 21, was selected by Kansas City in the 11th round of the 2019 First-Year Player Draft out of Old Dominion University. 

Orem Owlz (Angels) shortstop Jeremiah Jackson batted .338 while leading the Pioneer League in total bases (58), home runs (9), slugging percentage (.784) and OPS (1.203) and finishing second in RBI (21). On Aug. 12, he went 3-for-6 with two home runs and four RBI. Three days later, on Aug. 15, Jackson went 3-for-5 with three home runs and five RBI, raising his slugging percentage from .606 to .650 in one game. Jackson, 19, was selected by Los Angeles in the second round of the 2018 First-Year Player Draft out of St. Luke’s Episcopal School in Mobile, Alabama. 

AZL Rangers catcher Heriberto Hernandez batted .329 in August and led the Arizona League in home runs (seven), total bases (53), slugging percentage (.726) and was second in RBI (20) and OPS (1.114). Hernandez homered in five straight games Aug. 4–8, and recorded 10 multi-hit games in August. Hernandez, 19, was signed by Texas out of Bonao, Dominican Republic, on Dec. 13, 2017. He was promoted to Spokane on Aug. 26. 

GCL Tigers West outfielder Kerry Carpenter led the Gulf Coast League in eight major categories, including slugging percentage (.749), OPS (1.224), runs (22), hits (31), total bases (63), doubles (10), home runs (six), and RBI (21). Carpenter recorded nine multi-hit games in 21 contests, and 18 of his 31 hits in August were for extra bases. In his last three games, he went 5-for-12 with three runs, two doubles, three home runs and seven RBI. Carpenter, 22, was selected by Detroit in the 19th round of the 2019 First-Year Player Draft out of Virginia Tech.

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.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Author Charles Leerhsen and the Dramatic Way He Changed the Legacy of Baseball Legend Ty Cobb

Nearly a century after playing his final big-league game, outfielder Ty Cobb is still considered among the best players to ever set foot on a diamond. He also has one of the worst reputations, as a caustic and virulent racist, who succeeded despite erratic behavior and hatred. However, as author Charles Leerhsen discovered when writing his groundbreaking book Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty, a lot of what was thought to be “commonly known” about the baseball legend is not actually supported in fact—with a major exception being his skill as a player.

In a 24-year playing career spent with the Detroit Tigers (1905-1926) and Philadelphia Athletics (1927-1928), Cobb hit an all-time best .366. He also had 4,189 base hits, 112 home runs, 1,944 RBIs and 897 stolen bases. He consistently played the game several gears faster and more aggressive than anyone else, catching opponents slack jawed time and time again as he tore around the bases and in the outfield in a way nobody else could replicate. Not surprisingly, he was part of the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s first class in 1936.

Despite his achievements as a player, he has been linked for years to petulant, violent and racist behavior; in sum a personality that made him strongly disliked by teammates and opponents alike. Multiple books have been written about him in the past, touting the same story lines, but Leerhsen dug deep with his research and discovered that much of this was the result of numerous inaccurate details and claims included by author Al Stump in his two books about Cobb; likely in a desire to sell more copies.

Leerhsen found that Cobb was indeed an intense individual, who was prone to entitled behavior and occasional violent outbursts when provoked, but that he also loved children, was a shrewd businessman and generous philanthropist. While he wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, he also wasn’t universally hated as general memory seems to recollect. Most importantly, the record does not support the charges of racism that have so long been attached to his name. To the contrary, he is on the record supporting integration of baseball. This book doesn’t argue as much that Cobb wasn’t a racist as much as available evidence doesn’t show that he was.

A Terrible Beauty is an impressive body of work that forces the reader to completely re-evaluate the way they think about the complicated Cobb, who even today should be considered one of the top five or ten players of all time. As it turns out, stories and rumors are often more fun and easier to digest. Unfortunately, they can distort reality, which appears to have been the case with Cobb.

Recently, I caught up with Leerhsen to discuss his career and his book that has turned the legacy of a baseball legend on its ear.

What was your involvement in baseball growing up, and did you have a favorite player?: I grew up in the South Bronx, in a neighborhood that was a long walk from both Yankee Stadium and the Polo Grounds. I was always a National League fan— first Giants (as an eight-year-old I saw their last home game in New York) and then Mets (I also saw their last game at the Polo Grounds). I went to a couple of dozen games every year and spent many mornings outside the players entrance at Yankee Stadium trying to get autographs (there was no NL team in NY during my prime autograph-hunting years). My favorite player was Willie Mays.

What was your inspiration to becoming a professional writer?: I don’t know. My father sold parts over the counter for the Mack Truck Company and my mother was a waitress. There were no writers in my family (though my parents read a lot of newspapers). But for as long as I can remember I was fascinated with books, liked to hang out in the public library, etc.

What prompted you to write about Ty Cobb?: I was casting about for a book topic and after writing about a racehorse and the first Indy 500 I wanted to try a subject that had a large built-in following as well as fans who were readers. I thought baseball would be less of an uphill battle. I like to read and write biographies and so I searched for a subject who was well known but who hadn’t had a major book written about him for a long time. Cobb fit the bill.

Is Al Stump solely responsible for Cobb's negative reputation?: No. He is largely but not solely responsible. He had a lot of help from the rank and file baseball fans who embroidered on his lies and made up some of their own—and from the other writers who lazily passed along both the original Stump lies and the fan-manufactured lies.

Why has the real story of Cobb eluded so many historians?: Because the false version has so much appeal that no one wanted to look beyond it and go far back in baseball history to a time when there was very little film and broadcast evidence and you had to dig for the nuanced truth. The false version is so powerful because it’s titillating and because it makes the tellers of the tales feel superior.

What other prominent players do you believe have been misconstrued over time?: Offhand, I don’t know. I didn’t know Cobb was misunderstood until after I had a book contract and had started to do the research.

Is there any particular baseball figure or event that you would like to research and write about, but haven't to date?: I feel guilty saying this, but nothing comes immediately to mind. The subjects that would interest me most have all been taken. My friend Kostya Kennedy already wrote a great book about Pete Rose. He and Richard Ben Cramer wrote excellent books about Joe DiMaggio. And Jane Leavy wrote much-lauded books about Mickey Mantle and Sandy Koufax. Now that I think of it, there might be a great, surprising book to be written about Barry Bonds—which goes to the question of other misunderstood players, above. But like most baseball books it probably wouldn’t sell enough copies to make it financially feasible for a professional writer.

How much push back did you receive for presenting the Ty Cobb that you uncovered?: A fair amount. The push back comes mostly from people who haven’t read the book and seen the evidence. People cherish the myths that they learned as children, often from their parents. Some think that by defending Cobb I am minimizing the amount of racism in baseball, which was not at all my intent. When it comes to racism, baseball has a sick and sorry history. In my book I’m focused on one man about whom many false things have been said.

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.