Teams tend to play one of two types of baseball, long ball or small ball. The rise of of analytics has shown sacrificing an out to advance a runner is not in a team’s best interest. Teams are shying away from small ball because, as Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine so eloquently put it, “Chicks dig the long ball.” The roar of the crowd is much different for a Home Run than a Sacrifice Hit, Sacrifice Bunt. Instant offense versus a building block towards a potential Run.
Baseball has changed since the small ball era of the early 20th Century. The small ball era helped produce Eddie Collins and his 512 career Sacrifice, 120 ahead of second place. Clayton Kershaw is the active leader with 108, 334th all time. Small ball produced Ray Chapman’s 1917 single season record of 67 Sacrifices. Bert Campaneris’ 40 Sacrifices in 1977 are the most since 1929. Home Runs have replaced the Sacrifice. Teams swing for the fences. They no longer get them on, get them over, get them in.
A slugger’s value comes from hitting a baseball over the fence, not tapping it in the infield. The top ten Home Run hitters of all time have hit 6,680 Home Runs. Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Alex Rodriguez, Willie Mays, Albert Pujols, Ken Griffey Jr., Jim Thome, Sammy Sosa, and Frank Robinson have played a combined 213 Major League seasons. Only Pujols is active, with two seasons left before Free Agency or retirement. Occasionally these long ball titans sacrifice themselves for the team.
In 22 seasons, Barry Bonds hit 762 Home Runs and laid down 4 Sacrifices. Hank Aaron played 23 seasons, hit 755 Home Runs with 21 Sacrifices. Babe Ruth hit 714 Home Runs in 22 seasons and laid down 113 Sacrifices, more than the rest of this elite group combined. Alex Rodriguez Sacrificed 16 times in 22 seasons, while hitting 696 Home Runs. Willie Mays played 22 seasons, hit 660 Home Runs, and dropped 13 Sacrifices. Albert Pujols has played 19 seasons, hit 656 Home Runs with 1 Sacrifice. Ken Griffey Jr. hit 630 Home Runs over 22 seasons and Sacrificed 8 times. Jim Thome and his 612 Home Runs laid down 1 Sacrifice in 22 seasons. Sammy Sosa had 17 Sacrifices in 18 seasons while blasting 609 Home Runs. Frank Robinson dropped 17 Sacrifices in 21 seasons, with 586 Home Runs. Even the greatest sluggers of all time Sacrifice.
Babe Ruth revolutionized baseball with his power, yet he still played in an era where players were expected to bunt to help their team win. (www.captainsblog.info)
In 213 combined seasons, the greatest Home Run hitters laid down 211 Sacrifices. In an average season they hit 31.36 Home Runs with 0.99 Sacrifices. Their average career was 668 Home Runs and 21.1 Sacrifices, 30.2 Home Runs per Sacrifice. Even ardent believers in small ball know these players should swing the bat.
Jim Thome and Albert Pujols each have just 1 career Sacrifice. Thome and Pujols are not Rickey Henderson. They have hit a 32 triples, 16 each, and stolen 133 bases, combined. Only Pujol’s 114 steals break to top 1,000. Both sluggers were designed to trot around the bases, not sprint.
On July 3, 1994, Indians Manager Mike Hargrove looked to extend Cleveland’s 2.5 game over the Chicago White Sox in the American League Central. In the Bottom of the 7th, in a 7-7 tie against the Minnesota Twins, Eddie Murray laced the third pitch to Right for a lead off single. Hargrove signaled his young Third Baseman to Sacrifice. After taking a strike from Mark Guthrie, the 23 year old Jim Thome bunted, moving Murray to Second. Thome reached on an error by Third Baseman Chip Hale. Twins Manager Tom Kelly then replaced Guthrie with Carl Willis. Sandy Alomar Jr. greeted Willis with a swinging bunt down, loading the bases. Paul Sorrento followed with an RBI Single to Right, driving in Murray. Wayne Kirby fouled out to Third. One out. Kenny Lofton hit a Sacrifice Fly to Center, scoring Thome with Alomar advancing to Third. Two outs. Omar Vizquel flied out to Center. Three outs. 9-7 Cleveland. Thome and the Indians won 10-9 in 11 Innings, sending the Jacobs Field crowd home happy.
Jim Thome hit baseballs a long way, his talents were not best used bunting. (www.cooperstowncred.com)
The importance of the game, and Thome’s Sacrifice, were lost as the 1994 season stopped on August 12th. Cleveland was 1 game behind Chicago when the Strike began. The Strike claimed the rest of the 1994.
The St. Louis Cardinals hosted the Chicago White Sox on June 16, 2001. The Chicago Cubs led the Cardinals by 6 games in the National League Central. In the Bottom of the 7th, White Sox pitcher Sean Lowe walked Placido Polanco on four pitches. J. D. Drew then Singled to Right. Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa looked to stretch the 6-3 lead. He signaled his Cleanup Hitter to bunt. In his 67th career game, Albert Pujols bunted the first pitch foul. On the second pitch, Pujols bunted the ball back to Lowe who threw to Second Baseman Ray Durham covering First. Polanco moved to Third and Drew to second. One out. Pujols has not Sacrificed again. Bobby Bonilla was Intentionally Walked to load the bases and replaced by Pinch Runner Jim Edmonds. Craig Paquette Singled to Right, scoring Polanco. Drew scored on an error by the Shortstop, Tony Graffanino. Edmonds stopped at Second. Edgar Renteria struck out looking as Edmonds stole Third and Paquette stole Second. Two outs. Mike Matheny grounded out to First. Three outs. St. Louis won 8-3.
Albert Pujols is one of the greatest right hand power hitters of all time, bunting is not his most dangerous weapon. (Dilip Vishwanat/ Getty Images)
The Cardinals lost to the Houston Astros on the final day of the Regular Season. Both teams finished 93-69. Houston was crowned Division champions by winning the season series 9 games to 7. St. Louis was the Wild Card. The Cardinals lost to the eventual World Series champion Arizona Diamondbacks in a decisive Game 5 in the Divisional Series.
Baseball is a team game played by individuals. Players field ground balls, pitch, and bat alone. No one can help you succeed, but you can help others succeed. Backing up throws, turning Double Plays, executing a relay all help a team win. And yes, occasionally even the greatest Home Run hitters Sacrifice for the team.
As baseball changes, Sacrifices by players capable of putting a baseball into orbit inches towards extinction. The Sacrifice is becoming a lost art as light hitting pitchers in the National League dominate and the Designated Hitter in the American League decimates the Sacrifice. A slugger bunting is now more rare than a Perfect Game. This generation’s greatest sluggers have Sacrificed just twice. If Mike Trout ever lays down a Sacrifice, soak in the moment. It will be the first of his career, and possibly the last time an all time great Home Run hitter Sacrifices himself.
People naturally try to avoid things they know will cause them pain. You only touch a hot stove once to understand it is not something you want to experience again. Getting hit by a baseball is not something people enjoy, it hurts. Baseballs can leave nasty bruises and broken bones if they hit a person just so. A batter’s natural reaction is to jump out of the way of the baseball when they believe the pitch is going to hit them. This is part of the reason most people have difficulty hitting a curveball. Your mind is telling you of the impending danger, yet you also know you need to hit the ball. The vast majority of people are never able to conquer this fear, stay in the box, and drive a curveball.
Baseball is a hard game played by hard people. It takes a toll on your body. Among those who are able to withstand the fear induced by curveballs is an even more select group, these players are those who turn getting hit by a pitch into an art form and a weapon. A run counts the same if you hit a home run or if you get hit by a pitch and then come around to score. These brave souls sacrifice their bodies to get on base. They are sacrificing themselves for the good of the team.
The official rule governing the hit by pitch (HBP), 5.05(b)(2), states:
“(b) The batter becomes a runner and is entitled to first base without liability to be put out (provided he advances to and touches first base) when:
(2) He is touched by a pitched ball which he is not attempting to hit unless (A) The ball is in the strike zone when it touches the batter, or (B) The batter makes no attempt to avoid being touched by the ball.”
It is the second part of the rule, “The batter makes no attempt to avoid being touched by the ball”, which often leads to heated debates about whether a batter attempted to avoid being hit by the pitch. Ultimately it is a judgement call by the umpire. This has lead to some players becoming creative in an attempt to be hit by the pitch. Some players are not afraid to be hit by a pitch and will subtly go out of their way to get hit.
The hit by pitch king is Hughie Jennings. He was hit by a pitch 287 times during his career. Jennings led the National League in HBP five consecutive seasons, 1894-1898. He was hit 51 times during the 1896 season, which remains the single season record. Jennings followed up his record setting season by being hit 46 times in 1897 and 1898, which are still the third and fourth highest single season HBP totals. Career record require longevity, Jennings played in the majors in 18 seasons, his last was in 1918 at the age of 49. However, he appeared in six or fewer games during his final six seasons, during which he had only one HBP. Jennings averaged 36 HBP per 162 games. All those bruises from being hit raised Jennings’ career OBP from .357 to .391. Was it all worth it? It is hard to judge but Jennings is forever enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. You be the judge.
The art of the HBP was not a weapon only during the dead ball era, it is alive and well today. Baseball could be in its Golden Age of the HBP. Eight of the top 20 in the career HBP rankings have played in Major League Baseball since 2002. The art and weaponization of the HBP was championed by Craig Biggio and today continues to be carried on by Chase Utley and Anthony Rizzo.
Chase Utley will take a pitch to the shoulder if it means getting on base. (Jenny Goldstick and Gemma Kaneko/ MLB.com)
Craig Biggio made a career out of doing whatever was necessary to win a baseball game. He willingness to transition from catching to the outfield to second base to help the team with his defense skills wherever they were needed on the diamond. When it came to the offensive side of Biggio’s game he understood his job was to get on base ahead of teammates like Jeff Bagwell. Driving the ball and hustling out of the box or using his elbow guard, and the rest of his body, to reach first base did not matter to Biggio. During his 20 year Major League career, Biggio was hit 285 times, just two behind the all time record. He led the National League five times in HBP. He was hit by a pitch 16 times per every 162 games played during his career. This durability and toughness are what helped Biggio be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The same sort of durability and toughness Biggio displayed throughout his Hall of Fame career is seen in Chase Utley. Utley is playing his 16th Major League season and has been hit by a pitch 200 times. He is the active leader in HBP, he ranks eighth all time, and first all time among left handed batters. Utley’s willingness to use hit body to get on base has seen him lead the National League three times in this painful category. Averaging 17 hit by pitches per 162 games played, Utley has put together a career that will get him some serious consideration for the Baseball Hall of Fame.
It hurts, but Anthony Rizzo uses hit body to get on base. (www.sportsonearth.com)
The old guard of players like Biggio and Utley have shown the younger generation of players the value of using their body to reach first base. Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo is positioning himself to make a legitimate run at the upper echelons of the record book. In his eighth Major League season, Rizzo has already been hit by 106 pitches, which ties him with Barry Bonds for 74th all time. He is currently ranked 22nd all time for left handed batters. Rizzo could threaten to break into the top 50 all time by the end of this season. He is averaging 18 hit by pitches per 162 games played, and as he enters his prime Rizzo is demonstrating his durability and toughness. Rizzo will turn 29 in August, he should have many more seasons of practicing this painful art ahead of him.
There is an art to getting hit by a pitch. Sometimes it is unavoidable, other times a batter attempts to avoid a fastball to the head. Some players willingly stick a leg or shoulder out on a hanging curveball to reach first base. No one enjoys unnecessary pain. However, baseball is a hard game played by hard people, at every levels. The willingness to endure pain to help the team win is a skill few possess. There are a select few who are willing and able be hit by a pitch if it means helping the team. Rizzo and the next generation of HBP artists need to remember one thing. Whatever you do, do not rub it.
The Winning Run will be turning five years old this year, which means we should technically be halfway to receiving an official Hall of Fame vote from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA). Instead of waiting until we are voting for real, why not get some Hall of Fame voting practice in to work out the bugs.
There are 34 former players listed on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot this year. 15 players are returning to the ballot after receiving at least 5% of the vote during last year’s balloting. There are 19 new players appearing for the first time. Trimming the vote down from 34 players to no more than 10 is not an easy task. Some players are easier to exclude than other but there are about 15 players who demand a hard look and who are not easily removed.
Will Lee Smith finally be elected in his final year on the ballot? (www.si.com)
As I have stated previously, I despise the use of PEDs in baseball and all other sports. Players, like Manny Ramirez, who have tested positive for these banned substances made my job a little easier to cull the list to just 10 players. On my ballot you are removed from consideration when you are suspended. Players like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were also quickly removed from my list due to their own PED connections. Yes neither player ever failed a test, but the evidence of their use of PEDs is too great for me to consider their candidacy.
The process of reaching my list of ten players meant looking at players who sustained greatness. Having a few great seasons and a decade of mediocre seasons does not mean you get into Cooperstown. Players also had to have an impact on the game, such as redefining a position or raising a team’s profile. The National Baseball Hall of Fame should only enshrine the best of the best.
|Jeff Bagwell||Jeff Kent||
|Casey Blake||Derrek Lee||Freddy Sanchez|
|Edgar Martinez||Curt Schilling|
|Fred McGriff||Gary Sheffield|
|Orlando Cabrera||Melvin Mora||
|Mike Mussina||Sammy Sosa|
|Roger Clemens||Magglio Ordonez||Matt Stairs|
|J.D. Drew||Jorge Posada||Jason Varitek|
|Tim Raines||Billy Wagner|
|Carlos Guillen||Manny Ramirez||Tim Wakefield|
|Trevor Hoffman||Edgar Renteria||
Will Fred McGriff and his 493 home runs make it to Cooperstown? (www.espn.com)
Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are the saddest cases concerning Hall of Fame voting and the steroid era. Both players had the talent and skill to be Hall of Famers without the chemical assistance of PEDs. Bonds is truly one of the greatest hitters to ever step into a batter’s box and Clemens is arguably one of the greatest pitchers ever, often compared to Walter Johnson. They would undoubtedly be in Cooperstown now if they had chosen to stay clear of PEDs. They were able to sustain their peaks and lengthen their careers through unnatural means, but at what cost? Players like Sammy Sosa, also on the ballot this year, did not have the talent to ascend to the Hall of Fame without PEDs.
Voting for the Hall of Fame, even if unofficially, is a difficult process. Many players deserve consideration for enshrinement in Cooperstown through their accomplishments on the diamond. The cases for enshrining many players who are not in the Hall of Fame are valid. However, the case that a player elected to the Hall of Fame is undeserving means the bar for gaining election to Cooperstown must remain high. Many players come close, but only the best earn admission into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
At the beginning of the 2015 season, it looked like the Washington Nationals put together a true World Series contender, if not overall favorite to win it all. The rest of the NL East did not seem like they would even be in the running for a Wild Card spot. Instead, the favorite has a late season collapse and a young rotation tears it up to make a World Series contender out of a dark horse. The NL East doesn’t lack talent but during this offseason many teams gave up a lot of talent, acting like wildebeest carcasses on the Serengeti getting picked apart by vultures.
Don Mattingly should have a longer leash in Miami than he did in Los Angeles. (www.yougabsports.com)
The Marlins resigning Giancarlo Stanton didn’t happen in the offseason but picking up new coaching in Don Mattingly and Barry Bonds did. Frankly, it’s a big thing. Mattingly had a good thing going in LA but the Dodgers’ ownership got impatient (You know what I think about impatience for the jackpot while creating excellence. If not, go here – BL). Say what you will about Bonds but he knows how to hit with the sort of patience that got him on base…a lot. Stanton’s contract gave him options in case the Marlins ownership decide to wrench hearts of the fanbase again. However, this move might be a signal for good things to come. If they win another championship, let’s hope the third time’s the charm that things keep going instead of seeing another fire sale. Otherwise that’s strike three and Marlins fans should try to get a high speed train built to Tampa to see baseball.
Neil Walker should give the Mets a boost on defense up the middle of the diamond. (Charles LeClaire- US PRESSWIRE)
The Mets had some interior defense and consistent hitting problems during the playoffs. This was still an issue even when they had Ruben Tejada. So picking up Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera brings some depth to the roster so they won’t be caught flat-footed in the future. Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and Noah Syndergaard all seemed to get blown up through the heart of the infield by the Royals. Walker and Cabrera also bring some steady batting to the lineup. This move addressed the Mets’ biggest weaknesses from the playoffs. It just didn’t do it in particularly spectacular fashion.
BL – From preseason favorite to dysfunctional mess, the Washington Nationals made the right move in dropping manager Matt Williams who may have gotten a swollen head from being awarded 2014 NL Manager of the Year. This is team oozing talent but unable to tie it together. I don’t think a manager who is taciturn and uncommunicative with the media is a bad thing. The players getting similar treatment and being unable to fathom Williams’s grand strategy is terrible though. Not sure Dusty Baker is the right fit for a city full of political analysts (armchair and professional) either. What we’re probably going to see next season from the Nats is the baseball equivalent of Britney Spears’s recovery from a mental breakdown – lots of WTF moments and hope that things will be put back together again.
Drew Storen was pushed aside by the Nationals in favor of Jonathan Papelbon, which was part of Washington’s self destruction in 2015. (www.washingtonpost.com)
DJ – Bryce Harper has finally arrived. All the hype and fanfare finally was finally shown to be worth it. The Nationals have the talent but their biggest obstacles to success was team unity. The fracas between Bryce Harper and Jonathan Papelbon is just the most public visual example of the breakdown inside the locker room. The acquisition of Papelbon from the Phillies solidified a position the Nationals already had set with Drew Storen. The arrival of Papelbon was to shorten the game with Storen in the 8th inning and Papelbon in the 9th inning. However, the trade did little other than anger Storen and cause issues in the bullpen. Making unnecessary trades hurt the Nationals in 2015. Storen has been traded to the Blue Jays for Ben Revere, which ends the closer debate and helps to solidify the outfield with the departure of Denard Span. The Nationals need to focus on making trades that make sense toward enabling a stronger sense of the team, not showcase individual talents. I thought we all learned this in little league, I guess not.
BL – No more Shelby Miller. Goodbye to Andrelton Simmons. The Atlanta Braves are cleaning house. This might be the best time for them to do this. The NL East will probably have a rocky 2016 season as the Marlins and Nationals get adjusted to new management and the Mets try not to Mets their season. The Braves need some hitting and I hope they get it.
Shelby Miller pitched great in 2015 but got little run support from the Braves offense. (www.abcnews.go.com)
DJ – Shelby Miller was great for the Braves last season, however he rarely got any run support to backup his great pitching. The only major offensive statistic Atlanta was better than their opponents was they struck out fewer times. Atlanta is fully rebuilding. They have traded Adrelton Simmons and Shelby Miller among others in exchange for lots of minor league pitching prospects. Atlanta is trying to regain the magic of their run in the 1990’s and early 2000’s as a factory for producing homegrown pitching. New General Manager John Coppolella has signed players like Kelly Johnson and Jim Johnson to one year contracts, which come the trade deadline they could potentially be used to trade for even more prospects. Atlanta cannot afford to spend big on free agents, they tried this before and it led them to having to completely rebuild. Stockpiling prospects and draft picks is their ticket back to the playoffs.
BL – Honestly, the Phillies didn’t need Ken Giles because there’s no point in having a standout closer when you can keep yourself in games to warrant one. Odubel Herrera seems to have some intangible quality that could be dangerous if he could make it more consistent. Ryan Howard doesn’t seem to have much left and I have doubts about Cliff Lee coming back strong from injury. If Lee stays, it would be nice if he and Howard leave a better legacy by helping the younger guys develop into major league caliber players. Surprisingly, there’s a good balance of youth and experience on this team but the pieces aren’t fitting together well. I think it’s an indication of bad locker room leadership but can that really be the only thing they need?
2016 could be Ryan Howard’s last season in Philadelphia, his leadership on the field and in the clubhouse could cement his legacy as a Phillie. (www.thegoodphight.com)
DJ – The Phillies did not finish dead last in the standings for all of MLB in 2015 by accident. They did manage to avoid losing 100 games, finishing with a 63-99 record. This however was most likely due to their playing in the NL East, arguably the worst division in baseball. Improving the Phillies is fairly simple, they need to field the ball when it is put into play. Phillies pitchers allowed the most hits (1,592) and finished second in MLB in both WHIP (1.448) and ERA (4.69). Allowing the opposition to continuously get on base is not a recipe for success. Not all the blame can be attributed to the pitching staff. Philadelphia defensively finished with the second worst fielding percentage in MLB (.981) and committed the fourth most errors (117). This led the Phillies to finishing second in average runs allowed per game (4.99). A team cannot expect to win many games when they are allowing nearly five runs per game. The Phillies are rebuilding, but an easy way to start the climb is simply catch the ball when it is put into play. Building on the fundamentals is always a smart choice.
BL & DJ
The New York Yankees signed Chase Headley to a 4 year contract worth $52 million. This solidifies the Yankees at third through 2018. When the deal was announced, ESPN’s Buster Olney made the observation that this meant the Yankees did not have an everyday role for Alex Rodriguez. The 2015 Yankees would have a lineup of CF Jacoby Ellsbury, LF Brett Gardner, 2B Martin Prado, 3B Chase Headley, DH Carlos Beltran, C Brian McCann, 1B Mark Teixeira, RF Chris Young, SS Didi Gregorius.
Notice anyone missing from the Yankee lineup? What about Alex Rodriguez? Where will Rodriguez fit into the Yankees plans for 2015 and beyond? At this point in his career, Rodriguez has three options as far as playing. He can continue at third, move to first, or be the DH.
At third, Rodriguez will most likely serve as the backup for Headley. As a switch hitter, Headley will not yield at bats to Rodriguez based upon match ups. However, even if Headley were to get hurt or needs a day off, the Yankees could have moved Prado from second to third to keep the defense in the infield solid and give some time at second to young Jose Pirela. Prado’s trade to the Marlins means Pirela or Brendan Ryan will be at second. I believe the Yankees should put Pirela at second and have Ryan as the infield back up. The Yankees need some sort of youth movement if they are to continue playing competitively moving forward. Honestly, as Rodriguez approaches his 40-year-old season, after a year away from the game, and the preceding year cut short by yet another hip injury, it is doubtful Rodriguez still has the range to play an average third base defensively. Third seems does not look like a home, even temporarily, for Rodriguez.
At first base, Rodriguez would either be the backup to Mark Teixeira or platoon with him. I would vote to avoid the platoon. When healthy, Teixeira is a major asset to the Yankees and their success. A potential hindrance for Rodriguez at first could be if the Yankees try to begin transitioning Brian McCann from behind the plate to first, which they should. Teixeira only has two years remaining on his contract, so the Yankees will have to begin the process of finding his replacement either from their system, through trade or free agency, or from their roster. The Yankees need the most from their investment in McCann and continuing to catch will reduce his playing time and effectiveness. As a lefty, McCann’s power to the right field porch should give him an edge over Rodriguez. Again, Rodriguez’s hips and age, plus the move to a new position could greatly hinder his ability to play an average first base defensively.
As the DH, Rodriguez is facing some stiff competition. Carlos Beltran seems to be the preferred DH for the Yankees. Beltran is a switch hitter, this he will not be pinch hit for due to matchups late in games. Even when Beltran plays the outfield to give Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, or Chris Young a day off this does not mean there is an opening at DH. Any of these outfielders could be the DH instead of Beltran. Additionally, when Beltran needs a day off, McCann could DH, so could Teixeira, and Headley. Rodriguez has to six players to jump over to claim at bats as the DH. Strangely, this is his best option for at bats.
These three positions do not leave Rodriguez many opportunities to play every day. At this point in his career the likelihood of Rodriguez’s health allows him to play every day are growing smaller and smaller. He has essentially missed the past two seasons; it may be difficult for Rodriguez to rebound. He played 44 games in 2013 due to injury and served a suspension for all of the 2014 season. In addition to the aches and pains of entering his 40-year-old season, Rodriguez has undergone multiple hip surgeries. This has hampered his speed, range, and his ability to stay on the field. Rodriguez is showing his age and the impact of 20 seasons in Major League Baseball.
Rodriguez is not the same player he once was before his troubles with his hip, a PED suspension, and his popularity taking a nosedive. He has not hit above .276 since 2009. Rodriguez has played an average of 110 games a season since 2008, without playing more than 138 in any season, excluding his suspension for all of 2014. During his last three seasons played (2011-2013), Rodriguez has no more than 18 home runs and 62 RBIs in a season. His Offensive WAR has gone down every year since 2007, from a high of 9.5 to 0.8. Only once since 2005 has Rodriguez been above a 1.0 Defensive WAR, with four of those seasons being in the negative. He has only been over a 2.0 Defensive WAR once, in 2000 at 2.3. Clearly, his skills have deteriorated.
Alex Rodriguez was once one of the best players in all of Major League Baseball. However, growing older, injuries, PED use and suspension, and becoming the face of what is wrong with the game have left Rodriguez as a tired act. He is in the swan song of his career, and he has becoming the most polarizing figure in the game. Rodriguez is approaching some of the most hallowed numbers in the sport, which should create a buzz about the 2015 season. Instead, his march into history pains those who love this game. He sits 61 hits shy of 3,000. He is 6 home runs away from tying Willie Mays, 60 away from Babe Ruth, and 101 away from Hank Aaron. He currently has a career batting average of .299, if he has one more good year at the plate he could assure himself a .300 career batting average. He is 81 runs short of scoring 2,000 for his career. He is 31 RBI short of 2,000 for his career. All of these statistics place Rodriguez in the upper echelon of baseball history, but primarily through his own doing, many in baseball simply want him to go away.
Alex Rodriguez has served his time. Regardless if you think he should have gotten more or less time, or wish he had received a permanent ban from the game, Rodriguez will not be the last player to cut corners to gain an advantage over his competition. Hopefully, Rodriguez will be the final chapter of the Steroid era on the field. Rodriguez is a sad figure, much in the same way Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens have become. These players had Hall of Fame caliber talent, but they tried to hang on to their skills through various forms of cheating, and in so doing so they have ruined their legacies. Alex Rodriguez has earned more than $356 million, and unless he and the Yankees can reach an agreement to part ways, his earnings will surpass $400 million, which is the most career earnings in baseball history. Derek Jeter earned $265 million, the second highest career earnings in baseball history, the difference in the legacies of Rodriguez and Jeter are night and day. Will the extra $100 to $150 million Rodriguez will earn be worth it?
The return of Alex Rodriguez will soon be upon us, whether we like it or not. There does not seem to be many at bats awaiting him with the Yankees as he attempts to chase down some of the biggest names in baseball history. Does Rodriguez belong in the same conversation as the greats like Mays, Ruth, Aaron, Clemente, Gehrig, Williams? Statistically yes. On the field he has proven for 20 seasons he has Hall of Fame caliber skills and can do it all with the bat. No player ever accidentally amasses the sort of numbers he has collected.
Does Rodriguez belong alongside these Hall of Famers in terms of class? Not even close. He has cheated multiple times, and continues to play the victim. You can argue he is no better than Mays and his reported use of amphetamines, but what makes Rodriguez different is the amphetamines do not alter your abilities, steroids do. He admitted to using PEDs from 2001 through 2003. While we can debate whether one believes that after 2003 Rodriguez discontinued his use of PEDs, what is not up for debate is his admission to using them during these three seasons. These also, consequently were the most prolific three year span of his career. In 2010, Rodriguez was connected to Canadian doctor Anthony Galea, who at best has a checkered past with the law enforcement for providing and administering PEDs to elite athletes. The latest run in for Rodriguez has been through his association with Biogenesis and Anthony Bosch. While Rodriguez never failed a drug test, Commissioner Bud Selig suspended Rodriguez for 211 games, later reduced to the 2014 season. Major League Baseball suspended Rodriguez:
“for use and possession of numerous forms of prohibited performance-enhancing substances…over the course of multiple years” and “for attempting to cover-up his violations of the Program by engaging in a course of conduct intended to obstruct and frustrate the Office of the Commissioner’s investigation.”
The crime gets you in trouble; the cover up is what tears you down. Rodriguez later admitted to the Drug Enforcement Administration that he had indeed used PEDs. Rodriguez has a pattern of cheating, even after the installation of the Major League Baseball Drug Policy. Everyone makes mistakes, however Rodriguez does not seem to have learned from his mistakes.
It seems three strikes does not mean Alex Rodriguez is out. He has three seasons remaining on his contract with the Yankees. He has become so toxic within baseball, and outside of baseball, that after the 2017 season his career with baseball as a whole is almost certainly over. Unless the Yankees can work out a deal with Rodriguez to buy out the remainder of his contract, or his hips force his retirement, it is unlikely he will leave before his contract is up. Alex Rodriguez is a survivor, through it all he continues to come back for more. What a shame that this sort of resiliency is wasted on Rodriguez. There are so many great people in and around baseball; unfortunately, Rodriguez has the ability to survive regardless of the damage he does to the game. He takes the headline away from the people and events, which make baseball the great sport it is.
40 years ago today, April 8, 1974, Hank Aaron surpassed Babe Ruth as the all-time home run king with his 715th career home run. The most revered record in Major League Baseball, perhaps in sports, passed from arguably the greatest player ever to a man who faced increasing racism with every home run he hit as he approached Ruth. The grace which Aaron displayed in the face of the ever increasing threats and media pressure showed the true character of the man. He was, and remains, a well-spoken and confident man, but you would never confuse his confidence for arrogance, he let his greatness speak for itself. Hank Aaron remains one of the great ambassadors for the game of baseball.
Aaron’s 715th home run is one of the most memorable moments in baseball history. The packed house at old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium with the Atlanta Braves playing the visiting Los Angeles Dodgers before a crowd of 53,775. Al Downing pitching for the Dodgers. The high kick and Downing delivered to Hank Aaron. The ball flying over the ball over the left-centerfield fence with the quick and easy swing. Announcer Milo Hamilton and Vin Scully each giving their own infamous call of the home run. Braves centerfielder Dusty Baker pointing towards the fence as he rose from a knee on the on-deck circle. Dodger leftfielder Bill Buckner climbing the wall trying to make a play. Braves relief pitcher Tom House catching the ball, and eventually returning it to Aaron. Davey Lopes, the Dodgers second baseman, and Bill Russell, the Dodgers shortstop, congratulating him as he rounded second base. The two fans running onto the field and running along with Aaron as he headed for third. The mob of people who greeted Aaron at home plate, the bear hug his mother gave him. The short, yet eloquent speech,
~“Thank God it’s over.”
While I was not even born yet when this happened, I have seen and heard about Aaron’s 715th home run enough to feel like I was there. Just watching a video of it gives me a bit of butterflies in my stomach. It is a truly magical moment in baseball history.
The man who broke Aaron’s record had a very different experience as he marched towards the record. The closer Barry Bonds came to hitting 756, the louder the noise become regarding his use of performance-enhancing drugs. More and more debate about whether he should even be, playing or if he should be suspended for his transgressions, or if his accomplishments should have an asterisk next to them. Yes Aaron faced an onslaught of racism, and no doubt Bonds did too from similarly ignorant people, although it seems less so which showed the progress of American society during the in the 33 years which Aaron held the record. However, I believe much of the ridicule and animosity against Bonds was due to his own actions. Aaron is by no means a perfect person, but Bonds epitomizes the steroid era and its assault on the record books. This for many baseball fans was, and is, unforgiveable.
Bonds is the all-time home run record holder, I do not dispute this. I was alive when it happened, so you would think I would remember more of the details of his breaking Hank Aaron’s record. It happened less than seven years ago, so it has not been that long ago. However, if I were to be put on the spot all I could tell you is the game was played in San Francisco in 2007. Not much else.
The story of Bonds’ historic night is much less romantic. On August 7, 2007 Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron’s record during the Giants game against the Washington Nationals. He hit the home run off of Nationals pitcher Mike Bacsik, before a crowd of 43,154. Bengie Molina was on deck. It was not nearly the same celebration of the game and its records which Aaron passing Ruth elicited. Bonds passing Aaron should be a moment that is played over and over again by Major League Baseball, but it is not. Putting it mildly, Bonds is a polarizing figure in baseball, ask Jeff Kent. His mere presence at Giants Spring Training this year set off a media frenzy about whether he should be there. He was also asked again about his performance-enhancing drug use, which he still tap dances around. Bonds will never be the beloved figure that Aaron is; it is just not in his personality.
Where does this leave us? In my opinion the Home Run King remains Hank Aaron, even though Barry Bonds has hit more home runs. The performance-enhancing drug cloud which surrounded Bonds’ career, especially after he became a San Francisco Giant, has led to cries for him to be stripped of his records. I am strongly against the use of PEDs, and believe those who are found guilty of using them should be punished, as I have previously stated here. Throwing someone out of baseball is not the same as removing their records and statistics from the game. Pete Rose was thrown out of baseball, but his records remain. Pose like Bonds is an integral part of baseball history which should not be forgotten, good or bad. Bonds, judging by the 36.2% and 34.7% of votes he received in his first two years of eligibility for election to the Baseball Hall of Fame, will never receive the ultimate honor of being enshrined with the immortals of baseball. This will have to suffice as his punishment.
Like Pete Rose, Bonds will be remembered but never honored in Cooperstown for his accomplishments. The argument against removing Bonds from the record book is simple, if you start with him, where do you stop? Do you remove Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, what about Leo Durocher for his relationship with known gamblers, or Ty Cobb for his pronounced racism, and the list goes on and on. If baseball does decide to throw all these players, coaches, and other associates of baseball out, who plays the judge and jury? This is an entire other debate. You can ban someone from baseball, but you cannot change what they did. It would alter the outcomes of games, and there would be no end to revising the history of the game. Revising history makes the record book a mockery and without any value to be reverenced. Bonds and the steroid era are a part of the history of baseball, not necessarily a good part, but nonetheless it is a part that should be remembered.
Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds are two very different people. Aaron goes about his business with a quiet confidence and people truly listen when he speaks, as they have respect for his insights and opinions. Bonds has always had more flair and more of a demonstrative personality, which has rubbed many people the wrong way, just ask Bonds’ Pirates Manager Jim Leyland. People tend to only listen when Bonds speaks because they are waiting for a confession, not because they respect him. Neither Aaron’s or Bonds’ approach are completely right or wrong, they are just different. Both players were among the elite when they played. Both were clearly Hall of Fame caliber players, however Bonds chose to hang on to his youthful strength a little longer than father time would naturally allow. While Major League Baseball and the Players Union have in recent years become serious about weeding out the cheaters in the game, Bonds was like many players before him and after him seeking an advantage. Some players use a corked bat, like Sammy Sosa, or a foreign substance on the baseball, like Gaylord Perry, Bonds used performance-enhancing drugs. While I wish all sports could rid themselves of these drugs, the past is the past. It happened. Baseball, and sports in general, has two choices. They can remember the past, both good and bad, and learn from it. The other option is to revise or erase the past and over time repeat the same mistakes. There are two options, but only one should ever be taken. It is best to remember the past and its blemishes and to work to never repeat those mistakes.
40 years ago, Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’ record for most career home runs in Major League Baseball. While Aaron no longer holds the record he is still the Home Run King. Simply having the most of something does not make you the king of something in sports; rather you are the record holder. Cy Young holds the record for most career wins, but he is not the King of Pitching. Arguments can be made for Sandy Koufax, Christy Mathewson, Tom Seaver, and a few others. The title of King is reserved for those who are among the elites, yet also receive the reverence of the fans. Aaron had the record and lost it. However, Bonds has not been enthroned as the Home Run King because he lacks the admiration from the fans, and I doubt he ever will, and he has only himself to blame.
The baseball is curiously often forgotten when people discuss, watch, and play baseball. It is the third wheel between the pitcher and the batter, or the pitcher and the catcher. Only a select few people actually focus on the ball. The norm is to focus on what players are able to do with the ball by throwing, hitting, and catching the ball. Correcting this is part of what The Baseball: Stunts, Scandals, and Secrets Beneath the Stitches by Zack Hample seeks to address. Regardless if you are a lifelong baseball fanatic or a casual fan, this book is written with all baseball fans in mind. It does not become as nerdy as Bill James‘ Historical Baseball Abstract, nor is it as basic as Gail Gibbons‘ My Baseball Book. Hample finds the happy median between being too dense for the casual fan and too simple for the die hard fan.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading the history and the oddities of the baseball. Breaking down how the balls are made and how they have changed over time provides a glimpse into the history of the sport. It allowed me to connect different players and events together that I knew about previously, but not how they were related. I also learned new information and tidbits, which is always exciting. The book goes into what happened to some famous and some infamous baseballs, such as Barry Bonds‘ home run balls and the Steve Bartman ball. The short, but wonderful lives of normal game used baseballs are also explored. How a simple baseball, one which nearly every fan in attendance at a game can afford to purchase, can turn a grown man into a 5 year old boy when it goes into the stands and lands near him. While reading the book about how and where balls end up with fans, I was continually reminded of watching Atlanta Braves games on television growing up and the late, great Skip Carey informing the audience that a fan from Peachtree City had come away with the foul ball. Had the fan from Peachtree City known where to align themselves or was it pure luck that they caught the foul ball?
The pure entertainment of the book begins with Hample‘s description of how to secure your own baseball. From being at the game when the gates open for batting practice to understanding the psychology of getting a player to toss you a ball, there seems to be no limit on how a person can catch a Major League baseball. I will admit that much of what Hample says to do I would never do, not because I think it is wrong or that it is beneath me, but because I go to games to watch the game. Shifting in the bleachers or in the outfield based upon your study of the pitcher and hitter could be fun during batting practice, but during a game I think it could become tiresome. I do not mean to say that this approach to catching a baseball is wrong, it is just not how I prefer to enjoy my day at the ball park.
Hample’s writing does not give off a “this is how you have to do it” feel, rather he is simply sharing his experience with other want to be ball hawks. He seems to understand that most people will not do what he does to catch a baseball and he is perfectly fine with that. This is part of the appeal of this book. Every reader can takeaway something different and use it to either improve their odds of catching a baseball at a game or simply learning more about the history of the baseball and the sport. Baseball means different things to different people. It can be a summer afternoon or evening in the stands with a hot dog, or playing in the street until you can no longer see the ball, or simply watching or listening to a game nearly every night with family. There is no correct way to watch a baseball game, just as there is no correct batting stance. Each person has a unique view of baseball, and The Baseball is an excellent example of how one person views the game and his sharing everything he has learned about the sport and how he enjoys it.