The Washington Nationals had a stranglehold on the National League East during Spring Training, at least on paper. The rest of the division was vying for a Wild Card spot at best. When the season started the Nationals turned into a paper tiger, while the Phillies and Braves vaulted to the top of the East as their rebuilding efforts bear fruit. Few people expected either team to play this well into mid-September.
Leading the Braves resurgence is a consummate professional. The breakout season by rookie duo of Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuña, and another outstanding season from perennial All Star in Freddie Freeman have gotten much of the attention. However, it is the veteran Nick Markakis leading the charge in Atlanta.
It is past time to appreciate and honor the consistency of Nick Markakis. Markakis is leading baseball in hits, and leading the National League in sacrifice flies and is tied for the National League lead in doubles. He is a compiler, like Craig Biggio. Compilers are rarely given the respect they deserve as they grind, often under the radar. Markakis rarely misses a game, playing an average of 155 games each season. He has played fewer than 147 games in a season only once in his 13 year career.
This season he ranks in the top 10 in baseball in Batting Average, Plate Appearances, At Bats, Games Played, Hits (leads all of baseball), Singles, Doubles, Times of Base, Sacrifice Flies, Intentional Walks, and At Bats per Strikeout. While these stats do not make him a super star in the eyes of fans, teams know a player like Markakis is critical to their success.
Nick Markakis consistently puts the ball in play. Could he quietly be grinding his way towards Cooperstown? (Hyosub Shin/ HShin@ajc.com)
2018 is not an outlier for Markakis, he has been a force his entire career. He has eight seasons with 170 or more hits. He averages 182 hits per season, yet has never had a 200 hit season. He will finish close to 200 hits yet again as he has 174 hits with two weeks left to play. Markakis has nine seasons with 30 or more doubles and five seasons with 40 or more doubles. He already has 40 doubles this season, above his 39 doubles in an average season. He has scored 75 runs, hit 14 home runs, and drawn 63 walks which are around an average season for him. His .306 batting average is the best of his career, he will have his third season hitting above .300, yet his career .289 average shows his consistency at the plate. Markakis has struck out 70 times, well below his average of 93 per season. His career 6.8 At Bats per Strikeout is well below the Major League average of 4.6. A career .359 OBP, with .371 this season. He has never been a power bat, but he puts the ball in play and sets the table for the power bats behind him in the line up.
Markakis finished sixth in the crowded 2006 American League Rookie of the Year. He is a two time Gold Glove winner, 2011 and 2014, winning both awards without committing an error in over 1,300 innings in the field each season. He was voted to his first All Star game this season. He played the most games and collected the most hits before playing in his first All Star game in baseball history.
Grinding away, Markakis is quietly sneaking up on 3,000 hits. He currently has 2,226 hits. If he can remain healthy and continue collecting an average of 182 hits every year, Markakis would reach the mystical 3,000 hit mark before his 40th birthday. This would present the baseball writers with an intriguing question. Does collecting 3,000 hits automatically make you are a Hall of Famer? A few more good seasons by Markakis could force the baseball writers to confront this question.
Much of what Markakis provides Atlanta is not found in the stats. His veteran leadership has helped the young Braves rise to the top of the division earlier than expected. Veteran leadership is disappearing as teams are unwilling to pay veteran prices for players past their primes. In Markakis, the Braves have a veteran leader in the clubhouse and on the field. Time will tell how far his leadership can lead Atlanta and how valuable he is on the free agent market after the season.
There are several ways to define greatness. No single definition will satisfy everyone’s understanding of the word. One definition of greatness in baseball, and in life, is doing the unthinkable while also doing the basic things extremely well. There are several super star players in baseball at the moment, but Mike Trout rises above the others for his greatness and his ability to do the basic things well.
Greatness in a career, not just a singular moment, requires the ability to continually place yourself among other great players. In his first five full seasons in the Majors, Mike Trout has established himself as a consistent and reliable player for the Angels. There have not been any wild swings, up or down, in his statistics. He has scored more than 100 runs, collected at least 172 hits, hit 27 home runs, and hit 27 doubles in every full season. He has played in at least 157 games every season over the last four seasons. His consistency looks like this:
Mike Trout makes the extraordinary seem commonplace. (Mark J. Terrill/ Associated Press)
This consistency, season after season, has led Trout to never finish lower than second in the American League MVP voting. He has received a vote on 148 MVP ballots in his first five seasons, out of a possible 148. Trout won the MVP Award in 2014 and 2016. He finished second to Miguel Cabrera in both 2012 and 2013, and to Josh Donaldson in 2015. In his rookie season, Trout received all 28 first place votes for the 2012 AL Rookie of Year Award, far outdistancing runner up Yoenis Cespedes.
The Rookie of the Year Award, two AL MVP Awards, and five Silver Slugger Awards are quickly filling up Trout’s awards case. In some ways, the awards mask Trout’s dominance. He has drawn at least 83 walks in each of the last four seasons, twice leading the league with 110 in 2013 and 116 in 2016. This while sharing the Angels lineup with Albert Pujols. Trout’s discipline at the plate has meant a .405 career OBP. Yes, Trout does strikeout more than he probably should (136 times or more in every season), there are two things to remember. First, his walk rate is increasing while his strikeout rate is decreasing, so he is still learning. Second, Mike Trout is 25 years old. He is still a young ball player.
Despite all his ability on the field, Trout does not receive the appropriate fanfare he should. He is one of the most visible players in the sport, yet he could be so much more. There are three things that have dampened his rise to supreme super stardom. Above all baseball is a team sport. No individual can truly carry an entire team for a season like a player can in basketball or football. If Mike Trout were to get hurt, the Angels could replace him and still remain competitive. If LeBron James or Tom Brady were injured their team’s season is probably over. This understood, Trout has played on an Angels team that has not consistently competed in the American League West. In his first five full seasons, the Angels have finished as follows: 2012 89-73 (3rd AL West), 2013 78-84 (3rd AL West), 2014 98-64 (1st AL West, swept in ALDS), 2015 85-77 (3rd AL West), and 2016 74-88 (4th AL West). In baseball, great players need to be on competitive teams if they are to achieve the recognition their talents deserve.
The most common comparison for Mike Trout is to Mickey Mantle, and it is easy to see why. (www.nydailynews.com)
The second issue is that Trout plays on the West Coast. East coast bias is a real thing, and here is one of the main reasons why. Night games in California during the week start too late for people living on the East Coast or in the Midwest to stay up and watch. It is tough to watch a three hour game that starts at 10pm, when you have to be at work by 8am the next morning. Unfortunately, Friday and Saturday nights are really the only time for players like Trout to shine at home before the national audience. Trout and the Angels are also fighting for an audience in Los Angeles. After the eastern half of the country has gone to bed, there are still plenty of baseball fans awake to watch Trout, if they so chose. The Dodgers’ return to competing for a World Series title has meant less attention on the Angels as they seek their own return to consistently competing for the post season. Anaheim will always be the second team in Los Angeles, in part because Angels Stadium is 25 miles from downtown and Dodgers Stadium is two miles from downtown. Anyone who has ever tried to travel 25 miles in Los Angeles traffic can tell you that reaching Anaheim in time for an Angels game often requires divine intervention.
Trout’s greatness is one of a remarkable craftsman. His play makes him a superstar, yet his consistency year after year has him steadily climbing closer to the all time greats. Players like Hank Aaron and Derek Jeter are craftsmen. Aaron hit 25 home runs in all but one season from 1955 to 1973, yet never hit more than 47 home runs in a single season. Jeter averaged 191 hits for 18 of his 20 seasons in the Majors, leading the league in hits twice (1999 and 2012). It is not always easy to see the greatness of these compilers early on in their careers, it is the consistency over an entire career that raises these players from great to legendary. Predicting the future of any player is impossible because the game of baseball is unpredictable. Injuries are the hardest thing to predict. What sort of career would Mickey Mantle have had if he could have stayed healthy? Mantle is already a legendary player, but did he reach his potential? We will never know.
Mike Trout’s talent should help him rise to the top in baseball and in Los Angeles. (Mark J. Terrill/ Associated Press)
The greatness of Mike Trout cannot be ignored but it is only occasionally celebrated. He is a superstar, yet few people understand the company Trout is in through his first five full seasons in the Majors. Comparing Trout by age has meant comparisons at age 20 to Vada Pinson, Frank Robinson at age 21, and Mickey Mantle from age 22 through 24. The top ten similar batters through their age 24 season are Mickey Mantle, Ken Griffey Jr., Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Mel Ott, Miguel Cabrera, Orlando Cepeda, Vada Pinson, Al Kaline, and Jimmie Foxx. Every comparison except for Vada Pinson is a Hall of Fame player, without question. Mickey Mantle is the most common comparison, and the longer these comparisons continue the higher Trout rises in baseball’s pantheon.
Mike Trout’s greatness is known throughout baseball, yet he remains undervalued. A talent like Trout may only appear on the diamond once in a generation. Barring injury or some other unforeseen issue we have many more seasons to enjoy Trout and his greatness. Make sure you take time to watch Trout play, even if it means staying up late or fighting through Los Angeles traffic. Greatness should be appreciated, and looking back you will not remember how tired you were the next morning or sitting in traffic forever but that you were able to watch one of the legends of the game in action.
Baseball lifers are bridges that connect different eras and players to each other. The majorifoty of players, coaches, and managers spend just a few years in the Majors before their time is over. Not everyone walks away from the game willingly, often due to injury or poor performance. Then there are those that spend their lives living, breathing, and working in baseball. These baseball lifers come to the game young and leave when they are old. One such baseball lifer is Connie Mack and we may never see a lifer of his significance ever again..
Cornelius McGillicuddy, shortened to Connie Mack in childhood, spent 65 years in baseball as a player and manager. He played for 11 seasons from 1886 to 1896 with three different teams: the Washington Nationals, the Buffalo Bisons of the Players League, and the Pittsburgh Pirates. A career .244 BA, Mack was primarily a catcher during the days when catchers truly took a beating. He logged 5,186 innings behind the plate and an additional 985 in the field. Mack led the Majors in a statistical category only three times during his playing career: two he would have rather not (1890- 20 HBP and 1887- 76 Passed Balls) and one he should be proud of accomplishing (1892- 47% CS (base stealers were 136 for 257)). While not a remarkable playing career, Mack parlayed his career on the field into one in managing.
Connie Mack saw it all in his life in baseball. (www.baseballhall.org)
Late in the 1894 season, Connie Mack was named the player-manager for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates went 149 and 134 under Mack, with a winning record each season, but fell short of ownership expectations. He was fired following the 1896 season. Retired as a player and recently fired from his Major League managing job, Connie Mack went to the minor leagues to manage and occasionally catch for the Milwaukee Brewers over the next four seasons.
In 1901, Connie Mack embarked upon his legendary career as the manager of the Philadelphia Athletics. He began managing the A’s in 1901 at the age of 38 and finally retired in 1950 at the age of 87. During Mack’s 50 years managing in Philadelphia, the A’s record was 3,582 and 3,814, a .484 Winning Percentage. The A’s won nine American League Pennants (1902, 1905, 1910, 1911, 1913, 1914, 1929, 1930, and 1931) and five World Series titles (1910, 1911, 1913, 1929, and 1930). Mack’s Winning Percentage can be misleading, as many agree he managed for 18 years too long. In his first 32 seasons in Philadelphia, the A’s went 2,517 and 2,253 with a .527 Winning Percentage. In the final 18 seasons of his career, the A’s went 1,065 and 1,561 with a .406 Winning Percentage. As he got older, Mack was unable to keep pace with the tactical and financial changes in baseball. The financial changes also meant that the A’s were no longer viable in Philadelphia, and by 1955 the team moved to Kansas City. Mack did not know when to walk away from the game. Like a player hanging on for too long, managers also have to know when their skills have declined and when it is time to call it a career.
Connie Mack wanted to win baseball games and build better men. (United States Library of Congress)
Connie Mack saw the development of baseball through the good times and the bad. From the early rough and tumble years in the late 1800’s to the Black Sox Scandal to the rise of Babe Ruth and the Yankees to integration. Mack saw it all from the dugout. He demanded from his players that they play to the best of their abilities, but he was not overbearing. Mack let his players be who they were, but he wanted them to be smart and make intelligent decisions when they were on the field. Unlike the other hardened men of the time, Mack went beyond the results on the diamond; he wanted his players to be better people. After the 1916 season, Mack created a Code of Conduct for his players.
- I will always play the game to the best of my ability.
- I will always play to win, but if I lose, I will not look for an excuse to detract from my opponent’s victory.
- I will never take an unfair advantage in order to win.
- I will always abide by the rules of the game—on the diamond as well as in my daily life.
- I will always conduct myself as a true sportsman—on and off the playing field.
- I will always strive for the good of the entire team rather than for my own glory.
- I will never gloat in victory or pity myself in defeat.
- I will do my utmost to keep myself clean—physically, mentally, and morally.
- I will always judge a teammate or an opponent as an individual and never on the basis of race or religion.
Mack’s rules came at a time when the Major Leagues excluded African-Americans. While not necessarily pushing for the reintegration of baseball, the Code of Conduct helped change baseball from a game played by rough men to a game that families could enjoy.
Connie Mack’s career has left an indelible mark on baseball. He was ahead of his time with his attitude about race, religion, and playing customs in baseball. He disliked small ball and would rather play for the big inning instead of sacrificing for a single run. The rise of playing for the big inning became more common when home runs became more plentiful. Mack however decided his team had a better chance to win when putting multiple runs in an inning rather than a single run here or there. In the first 35 years of his managerial career, few could argue otherwise.
Connie Mack is forever immortalized in Cooperstown. (www.phillymag.com)
In 1937, Connie Mack was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame even though he was actively managing. He would conclude his managerial career with the most wins (3,731), losses (3,948), games managed (7,755) for any manager in baseball history, and tied for second for most Pennants (9 with Joe McCarthy). He won 968 more games than John McGraw, who is second on the list for most career wins. Mack managed 2,658 more games than second place Tony LaRussa. If he had retired after the 1932 season, Mack’s .527 Winning Percentage would be higher than that of fellow Hall of Fame managers Tommy Lasorda, Red Schoendienst, Dick Williams, and Casey Stengel among others. If Connie Mack had only know when to walk away.
Understanding Connie Mack’s impact on the game of baseball goes beyond the numbers. He was with baseball during the good times and the bad. His story connects modern baseball to its historical roots. In 1886, 34-year-old Cap Anson was playing his 16th season of professional baseball and 31-year-old Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn was still pitching, just two seasons removed from winning 59 games for the Providence Grays. In 1950, Duke Snider was a fourth year outfielder for the Brooklyn Dodgers and Whitey Ford won the American League Rookie of the Year award with the Yankees. Connie Mack was the commonality between those events that took place over nearly a lifetime apart. This week marks the 60th anniversary of his death. Connie Mack saw just about everything there was to see in baseball. By connecting us to the past, let us not forget the baseball lifers in the game today who are important in helping maintain our perspective where the game has come from and where the game is going.