Spring Training and the first few weeks of the regular season are always a time of double takes for baseball fans. Every off season players change teams, by trade or free agency, and it takes some getting use to. This season is no different.
There are three types of reactions to players in a new uniform in the early weeks and months of baseball. First is the big free agent signings. Second are the forgotten players that moved teams. Third are the players who will forever be linked to their old team.
There are the big names that changed teams, and while you know it happened it is still strange when you see it in real life. We all know Giancarlo Stanton was traded to the Yankees, yet it will take some time getting use to seeing him in pinstripes instead of the bright orange of Miami. The buzz around the damage he and Aaron Judge can do together is about all Yankee fans have talked about since the trade happened. Likewise, the signing of Yu Darvish was a major victory for the Cubs. His arrival in Chicago will help the Cubs remain the team to beat in the National League Central and in contention for the World Series for years to come. However, seeing Darvish in a Cubs uniform is weird.
Giancarlo Stanton in Yankee pinstripes still looks odd. (Newsday/ Thomas A. Ferrara)
The forgotten free agents and traded players are often the difference makers for their new team. The Marlins trading Stanton meant many people stopped watching Miami and all but forgot Christian Yelich begged to leave South Florida and was traded to the Brewers. So much drama in Miami means the Marlins trading Dee Gordon to the Mariners early in the off season was forgotten by most. The Brewers have relatively quietly built one of the great outfields in baseball when they signed free agent Lorenzo Cain. The breakup of the Royals seemed to grab the headlines instead of where the majority of those players went. The Phillies signing Carlos Santana away from the Indians could be the jump start that franchise needs to return to relevancy, much in the way the Nationals began their rise after signing Jayson Werth. In Queens, the Mets signing Todd Frazier away from the Yankees gives the Mets flexibility at first and third, by protecting the team if David Wright and Adrian Gonzalez are unable to return to form. The Twins, like the Brewers, have quietly amassed talent and look to be ready to be serious threats in 2018. Minnesota signed Michael Pineda, who when healthy will be a major asset to the Twins pitching staff.
The final group of players forever linked to their old team. Andrew McCutchen will forever wear the black and gold of the Pirates. His arrival in San Francisco was the logical choice for a rebuilding Pittsburgh team and for the Giants who want to win now. McCutchen is 31 years old and should have several good years left. Evan Longoria is the first Rays player to have a lasting impact in franchise history. Yes David Price, Melvin (B.J.) Upton, and Carl Crawford were tremendous players for Tampa, but there should be no argument that Longoria is the player the Rays build their team around for years. Trading him to the Giants does not change the fact that he will forever be thought of as a Tampa Bay Rays.
Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria in a Giants uniform is, in a word, weird. (Ben Margot, Associated Press)
Eric Hosmer and Adrian Gonzalez leaving the Royals and Dodgers respectively will forever be linked to those franchises because they led the charge in their revivals. Hosmer signing with the Padres mean Kansas City lost their leader, among others, and it is time to rebuild. When the Dodgers traded Adrian Gonzalez to Atlanta, only for the Braves to release him two days later, marked the end of a chapter in Dodgers history. Los Angeles traded for Gonzalez from Boston when they were rebuilding after the disaster that was the Frank McCourt ownership. Gonzalez helped bring the fans back and show the team was serious about winning. Gonzalez gave Los Angeles most of his best baseball, his arrival in Queens should help the Mets, however he will be remembered for his time in Dodger blue.
Certain players should only wear certain uniforms. The early stages of each baseball season are when we all adjust to seeing players in new uniforms. Like seeing Babe Ruth in a Boston Braves uniform or Willie Mays in a Mets uniform, players are remembered with certain uniforms on. Every off season players change cities and uniforms. It always takes some getting use to, but eventually we adjust and return our focus to the game instead of the player in an odd uniform.
It is time to set some resolutions for 2016 and some teams have decided to start early on their resolutions with some big off-season moves. We thought it might be nice to give a quick recap of what we think are the top 2 moves in each division so far and what the other teams need to do in order to position themselves best for long-term success. We’re starting from the west and giving the nod to the NL as the elder statesman of MLB.
The two big moves in the NL West so far were made by the Giants and the Diamondbacks with the signings of Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, and Zack Greinke respectively. Both of these teams have the hitting and fielding necessary to win games and all that they need is a rotation that could keep games from having NFL box scores.
Jeff Samardzija does not back down from anyone or anything. He will throw punches and eat innings for the good of the team. (AP Photo/Andrew A. Nelles)
The bigger move here is the Giants getting Cueto and Samardzija because, with Madison Bumgardner as their ace, there won’t be many easy games in a 7-game series. Looks like the Giants want to keep the even year cycle going into the 2016 season.
The Diamondbacks, with a lineup mostly under 30, can anchor a rotation with Greinke for a season or two as they piece together a powerhouse rotation. Maybe it’s a bit biased but Shelby Miller is better than you might think and with the run support he can get from the D-Backs’ lineup, should make him a solid #2.
Shelby Miller was excellent in baseball history in 2015. Only a Braves team being torn down around him was able to overcome his excellence on the mound. (www.statliners.com)
Now we’re not saying that there haven’t been other moves worth noting, but the two we’ve discussed change the dynamics of the division. At the beginning of the 2015 season, the NL West looked like a matchup between the Dodgers and the Giants. The rest of the division was going to be an afterthought. Now the Giants look like they’ve taken the catbird seat with the D-Backs as the biggest threat to unseat them. That said…
Los Angeles Dodgers
BL – I think the Dodgers need to balance themselves out and get themselves a good core group. It seems like they’ve got good hitters who don’t have the legs to field and the younger guys can’t make consistent contact. The best place to start would be revamping their infield fast…like should have been done yesterday.
Is Yasiel Puig destined to become a Dodgers legend or will he be moved to break up the outfield log jam? (www.gardygoesyardy.com)
DJ – The Dodgers have to focus on getting value instead of overpaying for everyone. Their payroll is shrinking some so they cannot continue to spend like the George Steinbrenner Yankees of old. The Dodgers need to decide who is the future of their outfield. Joc Pederson, Yasiel Puig, Andre Ethier, and Carl Crawford make for a crowded outfield. Each of these players plays best when they are in the lineup everyday. The Dodgers Front Office must decide if they will take the financial hit of paying Crawford or Ethier to go away, or risk trading away a decade or more of All Star play by moving Pederson or Puig.
BL – The Rockies lost nearly a quarter of their games in 2015 by substantial margins (4+ runs and 38 games to be precise). Colorado could use a lot more consistent pitching to keep games close. Keeping some scoring margins manageable means having a consistent defense to keep things under control but that might mean letting go of some hitting to get that. The focus should stay on improving the rotation and bullpen in order to make it easier on the defense. Losing John Axford might hurt them in the long run but a closer should only be the icing on the cake.
Nolan Arenado’s perennial Gold Glove defense is overshadowed by hit skill with the bat. (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)
DJ – The Rockies need power from their first baseman. Combined the Rockies first basemen hit 17 HR with 78 RBI. Ben Paulsen played 88 games at first and hit 8 HR with 38 RBI. Colorado needs more power to drive in runs. Nolan Arenado and Carlos Gonzalez both had monster years. If the Rockies can land a first baseman that can add a bit more power to the line up the Rockies could overcome many of their other struggles.
San Diego Padres
BL – The Padres need some sports psychiatry and not just for the players but the managers and front office as well. There’s plenty of talent on this team but it’s simply not working together well. Craig Kimbrel was brought in too early when there were other issues for the team to sort out. There’s a lot of money locked up in the outfield and pitching staff. Best thing for them to do is sort out a plan and stick with it.
Kevin Quackenbush and the rest of the Padres bullpen were severly overused in 2015. San Diego starters needs to do better in 2016. (www.friarsonbase.com)
DJ- The Padres were a mess and it showed in the pitching. The starting rotation only had one starting pitcher average at least 6 innings pitched per start, James Shields. This left the San Diego bullpen with too many innings to chew up. San Diego overworked their relievers. Five relief pitchers appeared in at least 53 games; Brandon Maurer (53 games), Shawn Kelley (53 games), Kevin Quackenbush (57 games), Craig Kimbrel (61 games), and Joaquin Benoit (67 games). No bullpen can survive this workload over the course of a season. If the Padres want to be better in 2016, it all starts with putting together a starting rotation that can go deeper in games.
BL and DJ
Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, and the other men and women who worked tirelessly to not only create a space for African-Americans to play baseball, but also to successfully integrate Major League Baseball, are critical to the sports success. African-American players have never made up a majority of the players in Major League Baseball; topping out at 19% according to SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) member and researcher Mark Armour. However, only 8.5% of the players on Major League rosters were African-American on Opening Day in 2013. The dwindling numbers were a call to action for baseball to stop the loss of interest in the game by the African-American community.
Major League Baseball has taken action. The creation of Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) and MLB Urban Youth Academy have been instrumental in bringing baseball to kids who might otherwise be prevented from playing due to a host of obstacles. John Young, a former Major League Baseball player and scout, started RBI in 1989 in Los Angeles. RBI aims to give disadvantaged youth an opportunity to learn and enjoy the game of baseball. Initially RBI was directed at 13 to 16 year olds, with the aim of both expanding the baseball talent pool in urban areas and creating a positive place for kids to learn and grow both mentally and physically away from the streets. Today, RBI has expanded to include all kids from age 5 to 19 and the organization operates in more than 200 cities, reaching more than 200,000 urban boys and girls.
The MLB Urban Youth Academy (UYA) began in 2006 in Compton, California. UYA seeks to instruct and groom baseball and softball players through open workouts. Participants are taught fundamentals, theories in baseball, and their education in the classroom that extend beyond baseball. UYA seeks to prepare urban students for playing beyond high school, either in college or professionally. Like RBI, UYA focuses on opening up the game of baseball to urban youth, and those who might otherwise not have the opportunity to play the game.
The efforts of Major League Baseball to increase the participation of African-Americans in baseball are paying dividends. In the 26 years since its founding, RBI has sent several players to the Majors. RBI alumni include CC Sabathia, Jimmy Rollins, Coco Crisp, James Loney, Carl Crawford, BJ (Melvin Jr.) Upton, Justin Upton, Julio Borbon, Efren Navarro, Rickey Romero, Yovani Gallardo, Chris Young, and James McDonald. While this list of RBI alumni who have played in the Majors is not pages long, it does speak to the success of the program. These 13 Major League players are only a part of the success. It is not out of the question that for each player who makes the Majors there is another who played in the Minors, bringing the total to 26. Easily more than 100 alumni could be current or former collegiate baseball or softball players, and countless more could have stayed in school throughout high school so they could play baseball or softball. RBI and UYA have positively influenced countless young men and women. The proof of RBI and UYA’s success has gone beyond the baseball or softball diamond, and into the lives of the alumni. The alumni have gained self-confidence, physical fitness, life skills, and an education that can propel them to greater heights.
Andrew McCutchen of the Pittsburgh Pirates is one among many African-American players that RBI and UYA participants can see themselves in and aspire to emulate. RBI and UYA are addressing the problems that traditionally create obstacles to African-Americans. McCutchen wrote in The Players Tribune about the biggest hurdle he faced, money. Youth baseball has become expensive, as travel teams have become how players garner attention. The expenses to be a member of the team, the travel costs, and so on prevent players who come from families who are not financially well off. In McCutchen’s case, he was able to gain the assistance of people who put him in the right place at the right time. However, not everyone will be as lucky as McCutchen. How many great players is baseball losing due to the financial barrier that disadvantaged youth cannot overcome?
Major League Baseball is addressing the decline in African-American participation in baseball. While it will take time to reverse, RBI and UYA are producing results on and off the field. Efforts must continue to open up the game of baseball to disadvantaged youth and to provide role models in and around the game to these kids. The next generation of African-American baseball fans and players is dependent upon everyone involved with baseball continuing the legacy of Jackie Robinson in which everyone has the opportunity to play baseball regardless of their ethnic, economic, or social background.
You can observe a lot just by watching. ~Yogi Berra
The same can be said for listening and reading. Last week was the anniversary of Bill James publishing his Historical Baseball Abstract. Understanding the impact of his work and the creation of sabermetrics, which have changed how teams evaluate players and provided everyone with a greater understanding of how teams win games. Reading more about Bill James and found that he was a 2010 inductee the Irish American Baseball Hall of Fame. So naturally, I started researching the Irish American Baseball Hall of Fame, as I had never heard of it before.
The Irish American Baseball Hall of Fame was established in 2008. It is located inside Foley’s NY Bar & Restaurant across the street from the Empire State Building in Manhattan. Visitors must use door handles that are wooden baseball bats to enter Foley’s. Once inside the majority of the wall and ceiling space is covered with baseball memorabilia. The memorability ranges from photographs, signed baseballs, jerseys, signs, to bobbleheads, and any other baseball related item imaginable. While there is a lot to see, the displayed memorabilia is not jumbled together, making each item easy to view and interesting.
The inside of Foley’s looks like Mr. Mertles’ home in The Sandlot, only with better lighting. There are pictures of Reggie Jackson’s third home run in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series. Pete Rose fighting Bud Harrelson of the New York Mets during Game 3 of the 1973 National League Championship Series. You have Alex Rodriguez’s 600th home run ball. A Carl Crawford Boston Red Sox jersey hangs from the ceiling. A bobblehead of Orbit, the Houston Astros mascot is on display as well. The list of items displayed by Foley’s continues around the restaurant. It would be easy to spend a full day looking at everything, without repeating.
As quirky as the Irish American Baseball Hall of Fame might sound, and might truly be, it is still important for both baseball and America. It connects the past with people like Manager Connie Mack to the present with nominees like current Met Michael Cuddyer and everywhere in between with Dodgers announcer Vin Scully. It also reminds us that America is a country of immigrants. We have come from all over the world to make America our home. On the diamond, it does not matter if you or your ancestors came from Ireland, Japan, Venezuela, Kenya, or if you are a mixture of cultures. What matters is whether you can play America’s pastime. Every group has its own history in America, but when these histories are put together they create the history of America. The Irish American Baseball Hall of Fame simply tells the Irish story of their place in baseball and in America.
The most exciting play in baseball is the triple. Rarely is a triple a forgone conclusion. Usually it is a crazy dash around the bases, while the fans and teammates yell for the batter to run faster and to either stop at second base or to slide into third. A triple suddenly changes the complexion of an inning and of a game. The pitcher can be sailing along and with one pitch can go from relaxed and pitching from the wind up to having a distraction on third who makes you shorten your windup from the stretch. The triple is a game changer.
The way that baseball is played and how fields are laid out has reduced the triple to an rarity. The home run has replaced the triple as the means of pushing across multiple runners with one swing and changing the fortunes of a team. The triple has become a lost art. The game changes as time passes, different strategies and approaches are adopted. Pitchers no longer are expected to pitch complete games nearly ever time they take the mound. Instead pitching into the 7th inning is considered a good outing. Batters no longer content to hit singles and then rely on stolen bases or the hit and run to get them around the bases. Baseball changes and different aspects of the game change. Unfortunately the triple has become less of a weapon used by teams, and it has reduced the prevalence of the most exciting play in baseball.
Understanding how baseball has changed and how the triple has become less and less utilized you simply need to look at how modern players stack up against players from baseball’s past. Sam Crawford holds the record for most career triples with 309. The remaining of the top 5 in career triples are Ty Cobb with 295, Honus Wagner with 252, Jake Beckley with 244, and Roger Connor with 233. The active leader in triples in Carl Crawford with 117 triples, this is good enough for 103rd all time. Crawford is at best on the back side of his prime, and at worst he is on the back side of his career as a whole. Rounding out the top 5 among the active leaders for career triples are Jose Reyes with 111 triples, he ranks 123rd all time. Jimmy Rollins has 107 triples which is good enough for 138th all time. Juan Pierre is fourth among active players with 94 triples, he is 189th all time. Rounding out the top 5 of active players with career triples is Ichiro Suzuki with 83, which has him with the 256th most career triples. None of these players have much of a chance to threaten the career record. Age and time will eventually catch up to all of them, thus protecting Sam Crawford and his record. It is easy to argue the career triples record is safer than nearly every baseball record, including Joe DiMaggio‘s 56 game hit streak.
The difficulty of the career record may be out of reach due to the changing of how baseball is played. However reaching the top 5 for most triples in a season is more attainable, although breaking the single season record maybe completely out of reach. Chief Wilson holds the single season triple record with 36 in 1912. David Orr is tied for second with 31 triples in 1886, which was tied by Heine Reitz in 1894. Perry Werden hit 29 triples in 1893. Rounding out the top 5 for most triples in a single season are Harry Davis in 1897 and Sam Thompson in 1894 with 28 triples. The heyday of the triple was during the dead ball era, and there have been only a few players who have had even a single season with a high number of triples. They have become more and more rare as time has passed. Since 1994 only four players have had a single single where they hit 20 or more triples: Curtis Granderson with 23 triples in 2007, Lance Johnson with 21 triples in 1996, Christian Guzman with 20 triples in 2000, and Jimmy Rollins with 20 triples in 2007.
Baseball fans should appreciate the players who can round the bases at top speed to go from batter to 90 feet away from scoring. The triple has become a rare event in baseball and it should be treasured when it does happen. The changing of the game has protected Sam Crawford’s and Chief Wilson’s records from being broken. While I personally love seeing triples, the evolution of baseball is good for the game as it continually reinvents itself. The premium placed on power in today’s game will mean the triple will become less common. Players are bigger and stronger, which usually means they are not nearly as fast. This reduction of speed means there will be plenty of doubles and home runs, but the triple and stolen base will be a little less common and when they are used they should excite fans and players even more.
The triple is becoming a lost art. While it is unfortunate that part of baseball’s history is becoming more and more rare, it is just part of the evolution of the game. The triple may be a thing of the past, it still has a place in the modern game. Playing small ball will never go out of style, and because of that the triple will remain an exciting part of baseball forever. The triple is not completely lost, it is just in the background and shows itself on occasion, and when it does it will ignite baseball fans everywhere.