Tagged: Chipper Jones

Score Book

Scoring a baseball game requires paper, something to write with, following the action on the field, and knowing what to write on the score sheet. We enjoy everything related to baseball, not just watching and playing. We indulge in baseball books, poems, music, and films. In reviewing them we cannot use a normal 1 to 10 ratings system. Even this we must make about baseball. 

Here is our ratings system to understand our opinions about our previous reviews and moving forward.

  1. Golden Sombrero
  2. Strikeout
  3. Walk
  4. Hit By Pitch
  5. Single
  6. Double
  7. Triple
  8. Home Run
  9. Grand Slam
  10. Walk-Off Grand Slam
Scorecard
The is no wrong way to score a baseball game, so long as you can read and understand what happened in the game. (The Winning Run/ BL)

Here are our past reviews and ratings. 

Books

Film

Music

  • My Oh My by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (Single)

Poetry

Moving forward we will use this ratings system in our reviews. We do not always agree, but the scoring is the opinion of the reviewer. Everyone wants to hit a Walk-Off Grand Slam, but not everyone will. Hopefully we find our own versions of Bill Mazeroski off the diamond. 

DJ

Ballplayer

Chipper Jones was the face of the Atlanta Braves during their run of consecutive Division titles in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. The pitching trio of Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, and Tom Glavine were equally important, but Chipper was on the field everyday. If the Braves needed a big hit, Chipper was the guy they wanted, especially against the Mets.

Chipper Jones’ memoir Ballplayer written with Carroll Rogers Walton rewinds the Hall of Fame career of one of the greatest switch hitters to ever step on a baseball field. Hard work meant never settling for good, it meant understanding the results would come after listening to his coaches, putting in the work, and preparing for success. The highs and the lows of his career are laid out for everyone to inspect. Chipper does not sugar coat anything. This refreshing take, even in addressing his much publicized infidelity, only adds to the respect he earned during his career. He could have avoided discussing the financial woes he faced as a young player. He explains the physical toll of playing for so long. Readers come to understand injuries robbed Chipper  of long stretches of time and some of his abilities on the field, even after he recovered. There are no excuses in the book, just the facts and an understanding that life is not always perfect.

Ballplayer.jpg
Ballplayer gives an honest look inside Chipper Jones’ Hall of Fame career. (Penguin Books)

While his play on the diamond may have looked natural, Ballplayer shows you the hours, days, and years of practice it takes for even the most gifted athlete to make it in the Major Leagues. Players are too often viewed as robotic until they make a mistake. Baseball and the life playing in the Major Leagues requires is stressful. The constant travel, few days off, missed family time, and the physical and emotional strain of the game is too much for most people. Baseball players have the same issues we do, except they live under a microscope. Baseball is a hard game played by hard people, this should never be forgotten.

The loyalty Chipper gave to the Braves was reciprocal. He never chased more money through free agency, instead staying with the team that believed in him as a high schooler in Jacksonville. Loyalty to the game, respecting his teammates and opponents, striving to make himself and others better is what separates those who play the game and those who have an impact. Baseball gives you back what you put in, and Chipper Jones gave a lot of himself to the game.

Ballplayer is an excellent read for anyone who loves baseball. Chipper lets you inside his Hall of Fame career, on and off the field. He tells it like it is, never trying to make himself look better. The honesty is obvious as you read. Those who watched the Braves’ dominance will be flooded with memories of Chipper charging a ground ball and flipping it to first, his toe tap as a fastball screams towards the plate, the beginning of Crazy Train as he walks to the plate. Chipper Jones is among the greatest players to ever play baseball, and yet his memoir shows the humility necessary to successfully play a game filled with so much failure.

DJ

The First Player Taken

The First Year Player Draft, better known today as the Major League Baseball Draft is upon us once again. Every team is searching for the next great player and every player believes they can become that player. Unlike the other major North American sports, especially basketball and football, the players drafted this week will not have an immediate impact on their new team. Instead the best players will spend several years in the minor leagues before they reach the Majors.

The path to the Majors has not always started with the draft. Before 1965, every team was able to sign any amateur player they wished. This allowed teams like the Yankees in the lead up to their run in the 1950’s to sign the best players through better scouting, and in some cases simply offering more money to a player than another team could offer. This not only stockpiled the Yankees farm system, but kept these players away from other teams.

072808-rickmonday
Rick Monday, the first player every selected in the MLB Draft. (www.asuwebdevilarchive.edu)

Major League Baseball created the First Year Player Draft in 1965 to create a more level playing field. Since then, the draft has gone through several changes through the years to its current configuration. However, the story behind these changes and tweaks are for another post on another day.

The draft is an inexact science which makes drafting well seem like winning the lottery. Ken Griffey Jr. was the first overall pick in the 1987 Draft and, to date, he is the only first overall pick to gain election to Cooperstown. Griffey should be joined shortly by Chipper Jones and potentially Alex Rodriguez; although I am not sure the voters are ready to welcome Rodriguez with open arms. It took 23 drafts before any team with the top pick was able to land a super star that was worthy of enshrinement in Cooperstown. If drafting was so easy, every team with the top overall selection would always turn out to be the next Bryce Harper, Adrian Gonzalez, or David Price instead of Steve Chilcott, Brien Taylor, or Matt Bush. Predicting the future is never easy.

Brien Taylor
Brien Taylor never played higher than AA due to a shoulder injury that derailed his career. (Star-Ledger)

The Kansas City Athletics held the top overall selection for the 1965 Draft after finishing the 1964 season with a record of 57-105. Kansas City selected Center Fielder Rick Monday out of Arizona State. Monday was selected ahead of Hall of Famers Johnny Bench, Nolan Ryan, and Tom Seaver. Although he is not enshrined in Cooperstown, Rick Monday did enjoy a solid career. He played 19 seasons with the Kansas City/Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Chicago Cubs. Offensively, Monday was a solid player, posting a career line of:

G
PA
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
SB
BB
SO
BA
OBP
SLG
1986
7162
6136
950
1619
248
64
241
775
98
924
1513
.264
.361
.443

Defensively Monday played primarily Center and Right Field, and sparingly in Left Field and at First Base. Again, Monday was a solid player in the field throughout his career, with a defensive career line of:

G Inn Ch PO A E DP Fld%
1742 14267.1 4177 3978 118 81 45 .981

However, Rick Monday did not have the Hall of Fame caliber career the Athletics were hopeful for when they drafted him. Fortunately, Kansas City did not strikeout with their first selection. Monday received two votes (0.5%) in his first year of eligibility for the Hall of Fame and then was removed from the ballot. Plenty of players have long careers, yet never receive any votes for enshrinement in Cooperstown. A single or double is always better than an out.

070412 braves CC6
Chipper Jones is one of the greatest switch hitters of all time, and he will soon join Ken Griffey Jr. in Cooperstown. (Curtis Compton/AJC.com)

The most memorable moment of Rick Monday’s career occurred on April 25, 1976. The play had nothing to do with baseball, yet is remembered as perhaps the greatest play in baseball history. Monday and the Cubs were playing the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Two fans jumped on the field in the middle of an at bat, ran into left Center Field and knelt down beside an American flag they had brought with them. The flag was doused in lighter fluid and the two people were attempting to set the flag on fire. Monday ran from his position in Center Field and snagged the flag away from the fans turned protestors and continued to run with the flag until he reached Dodger pitcher Doug Rau. Monday gave Rau the flag for safe keeping. The protesters, who turned out to be a father and his 11 year old son, were arrested, the father was charged with trespassing, placed on probation, and fined. The exact reason for the attempted flag burning remains unknown, though many theories exist. When Monday came to the plate for his next at bat he received a standing ovation from the Dodger crowd and the message board inside the stadium flashed, “Rick Monday…You Made A Great Play.” Many would argue the greatest in baseball history.

Rick Monday Flag
Rick Monday’s dash prevented the American flag from being burned on the field at Dodger Stadium. (James Roark)

Rick Monday was the first baseball player ever drafted. Thousands of hopeful amateur players have followed in his footsteps. Every player who has followed Monday has sought to fulfill their potential on the diamond and reach to pinnacle of the sport. Only a select few have made it to the top, and only a select few of those select few have impacted the game in such a way that they are enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The Kansas City Athletics did not swing and miss with Rick Monday. The ability to project a player’s development several years down the road is no easy task. Players fail to reach the Major Leagues due to injuries, lacking the ability to continue to develop like a team projected, personal issues, and a million other reasons. Surviving the minor leagues and reaching the top of the sport is no easy task.

Monday had a long and productive Major League career. He was not the best player to come out of the inaugural Major League Baseball Draft, but he also was not a disappointment. The most memorable moment of his career occurred on the baseball field, but had nothing to do with baseball. Whether it was due to his time with the Marines, his sense of national pride, or simply doing what was right, Monday left an indelible memory in his dash to prevent the burning of an American flag. When asked about his dash for the flag and it being what he is remembered for Monday responded, “If I am remembered only as a guy that stood in the way of two guys trying to desecrate an American flag at a Major League Baseball game, and protect the rights and freedoms that flag represents for all of us, that’s not a bad thing to be remembered for.” I could not agree more.

DJ

The Glorious Future

So much time and energy is spent talking about the mistakes teams make when drafting with the first overall pick in sports. The players who never turn into the superstars that many envisioned. The bulk of the time is spent in commiserating about such mistakes because it is rare for teams to use the top pick to select the best player in the draft when all is said and done. The Seattle Mariners with Ken Griffey Jr. and Atlanta Braves with Chipper Jones built a franchise around their top picks. The Houston Astros are doing the same with multiple top picks. The Washington Nationals had the first overall pick twice and have been successful both times with drafting Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. No team will feel sorry for the Nationals’ success. However Washington is quickly approaching the difficult part of drafting well, paying to retain the talent.

Bryce Harper has found a spot few athletes find, people either love him or hate him. There are few people who feel ambivalent about him. Harper’s intensity on the field, chasing every ball hit to him in the outfield, crashing into walls, diving to make a catch, crushing home runs is the textbook definition of playing the game hard and, for many, the right way. That intensity seems to laugh at the notion of getting injured, Harper just wants to win and will do anything to help his team do it. What fan or team would not want a player who brings this sort of intensity to the game, along with elite skills? However, despite his great play on the field, plenty of people do not love Harper. He rubs people the wrong way. Harper brings his own flair to the game and the national media loves him. He has not been bashful in talking about the need for baseball to reenergize, nor is he afraid to tell reporters that their question is “a clown question bro.” The most recent incident was his ejection for arguing balls and strikes from the dugout. He then ran back on the field to celebrate a Nationals walk off victory. Simply coming back onto the field after his ejection was a violation of the rules, which got him a one game suspension and a fine. Yet Harper went even further by getting the umpire’s attention by yelling, “HEY, DUCK YOU!” (edited for the family audience). Every player, coach, announcer, umpire, and fan knows you cannot argue balls and strikes. Regardless whether the umpire was right or wrong, Harper knew arguing would get him ejected. Plenty of players and coaches are ejected for arguing, but once the argument is over, it is over. There is no reason to continue the argument. The umpire was not even paying attention to Harper when he ran back out on to the field, rather it was Harper who got the attention of the umpire to continue the argument. There is plenty to love and hate about Bryce Harper.

Stephen Strasburg
The Nationals paid Stephen Strasburg, which sets the table for Washington to pay Bryce Harper. (www.washingtonpost.com)

Clearly the Nationals and Washington fans love Bryce Harper. The franchise wants to keep him in Washington for as long as they can. Harper does not reach free agency until 2019. This gives the Nationals a little time to figure out how they will retain his services for what will be a mammoth contract. Harper’s current contract runs through 2017, and is for two years, $7.5 million; clearly a bargain for his skills. Entering the 2016 season Bryce Harper is 23 years old, yet this is his 5th season in the Majors. In his first four seasons, Harper has been impressive. Offensively his stats look like this:

G
PA
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
SB
BB
SO
BA
OBP
SLG
OPS
510
2143
1830
328
528
98
15
97
248
37
279
449
.289
.384
.517
.902

Defensively, Harper has a career .976 Fielding %, with 39 Assists, and 24 Errors in 1,039 chances. He is not a one trick pony, he is an all-around great player.

His skills on the diamond and the stats he has amassed during his young career have garnered Bryce Harper plenty of accolades. He is a three time All-Star (2012, 2013, 2015), the 2012 National League Rookie of the Year, the 2015 National League Hank Aaron Award winner, he won a Silver Slugger in 2015, and was voted the 2015 National League MVP. Not bad for the first four years of a career, regardless of age.

Bryce Harper Blood
Bryce Harper’s desire to win can lead to him injuring himself, but even then Harper will not let up his intensity on the field. (www.nydailynews.com)

The sky seems to be the limit for Bryce Harper on the diamond. His name is already being compared to some of the greatest players who have ever played the game: Frank Robinson, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Orlando Cepeda, among others. A player like Harper does not come around often, but the Washington Nationals now have the daunting task of outbidding the rest of Major League Baseball to retain his services. The Nationals put major money down on Stephen Strasburg with his seven year, $175 million contract, the highest ever for a pitcher who has undergone Tommy John surgery. Scott Boras, agent for both Strasburg and Harper, does not give discounts and will potentially use the Strasburg negotiations as a warm up for the Harper negotiations.

Bryce Harper and the Washington Nationals have roughly six options as Harper approaches and reaches free agency in 2019. Two of these possible options can be tossed out without much discussion: the Nationals allowing allow Harper to simply walk away as a free agent or signing Harper to a two or three year contract. Allowing Harper to walk away without getting anything in return will not happen for obvious reasons, he is the most valuable commodity in baseball, the Front Office’s’ job is to get a return on its investment. Second, the Nationals will also not sign Harper to a short term deal, because they do not want to simply kick the can down the road a few years into Harper’s prime, ultimately costing themselves even more money. The third option is to trade Harper. This is unlikely but injuries, internal issues between Harper and the organization, and/or a decline in production could see Harper traded away for multiple players in return. The Nationals could also trade Harper if they realize they will not be able to re-sign him. If the latter happens, Washington can almost name its price for Harper.

Mike Trout Smile
Mike Trout is poised to become a free agent in his prime, that contract could make anyone smile. (www.usatoday.com)

The final three options are the most likely. Bryce Harper could sign a contract similar to Mike Trout, Giancarlo Stanton, or Alex Rodriguez. The Angels signed Mike Trout to a six year, $144.5 million contract; averaging $24 million per season. Trout will be 28 years old when the contract ends, meaning he will hit free agency in his prime. This medium length contract gives Trout the assurance that he is not stuck with the Angels if they continue to not progress towards winning a World Series. It also gives Trout another opportunity to sign a huge contract as the value of contracts continue to grow, hard to blame a player for making as much money as they can during their playing career.

The second type of contract Harper could sign would be similar to Giancarlo Stanton’s contract with the Marlins. Stanton signed for 13 years and $325 million. However, Stanton has a player opt out clause after year six (2020) that could make him a free agent entering his age 31 season. This style of contract gives Stanton, or Harper, the security of a long term contract regardless of production or injury, yet also allows them to reenter the free agent market should they believe their skills are or soon will be under paid. This also keeps teams accountable to continue building a contender, one that is competing for a World Series. The Marlins are not known for building and maintaining a winning team, if Miami goes through yet another fire sale and only Stanton is left he has the ability get out of town instead of spending his best years on a team perpetually rebuilding.

Giancarlo Stanton
Giamcarlo Stanton gives the Marlins a foundation to build around, but he can leave Miami if  the team is not winning. (www.bleacherreport.com)

The final option for the Nationals is to sign Harper to a contract similar to the contract Alex Rodriguez signed with both the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees; specifically Rodriguez’s contract for 10 years, $252.87 million with the Yankees. The contract was for the peak of Rodriguez’s career and guaranteed him a long career regardless of injury, lack of production, or in Rodriguez’s case PED suspension. The Yankees were never going to tear the team down and rebuild, it is not how they do baseball in the Bronx, instead they went after big free agents. However nearly every other team does or will rebuild at some point, signing a long contract can tie a player to a team for the peak years of their careers will no options for getting away from a team going nowhere.

Currently the best contract for Bryce Harper to sign would be one similar to Giancarlo Stanton. It protects Harper should he injure himself, such as Alex Rodriguez and his hips, or his production flames out for some non-injury reason. The contract would also enable Harper to pressure the Nationals to build and maintain a World Series contending team. No player, especially one as fiery as Harper wants to spend their career continually coming into Spring Training knowing that their team has no chance to make the playoffs, much less win a World Series. Ensuring there is an opt out clause in the contract would mean hitting free agency in his prime, and netting Harper yet another monster contract; if he so chooses.  

ARod
Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees have seen the good times and bad together. (www.newyork.cbslocal.com)

We can only speculate what the money will be for Harper and who will be paying him. The Strasburg contract signals to Harper that Washington is serious about winning and retaining homegrown talent. While the Nationals probably overpaid for Strasburg, primarily due to injury concerns, it shows the team is willing to pay for what it wants. The Nationals’ current front office is not the Yankees of George Steinbrenner or the Dodgers of a few years ago, they do not have an endless supply of money. Paying Harper will require the team to reallocate money from expiring contracts to pay Harper what will most likely be the largest contract in history both in terms of pay per season and overall. Harper signing a Giancarlo Stanton-like contract in 2019, or slightly before, will raise the bar for the second contract that he could sign if he opts out in his prime. It’s hard to conceive a situation where he doesn’t. If Harper were to sign a 10 year, $400 million contract in 2019 when he is 26 years old and then opt out after five or six seasons, he would return to the free agent market at 31 or 32 years old. This dramatically increases the importance of the first contract Harper signs because it will set the table for the second. There would be teams willing to give a 31 year old a long-term deal. Josh Hamilton, with all his personal struggles got five years, $114 million at 32 years old. Albert Pujols got 10 years, $240 million at 32 years old. Robinson Cano also got 10 years, $240 million at 31 years old. Harper should easily be able to sign a new contract for another 10 years and $400 million, if not more money. While Hamilton, Pujols, and Cano all signed with American League teams, thus enabling them to DH later in their careers, Harper could choose to remain in the National League and not use the DH like Barry Bonds, minus the PEDs. The competitor in Harper would most likely want to see if he could beat the legends of the game like Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, and Ted Williams using the same rules they played under; not padding his stats as a DH late in his career.

Assuming Harper wants to stay in Washington, how would the Nationals afford to pay Harper the largest contract in baseball history? The money would come from three current Nationals players who will reach free agency before Harper: Jayson Werth, Daniel Murphy, and Gio Gonzalez. Jayson Werth’s seven year, $126 million contract with the Nationals ends after 2017. Werth will be paid $21 million per year in the final three seasons of the deal. He will be a free agent entering his age 39 season, doubtful Werth will see another large contract. Daniel Murphy will reach free agency at the end of the 2018 season. There is usually not a ton of demand for a 34 year old second basemen, especially one making $17.5 million in the final year of his contract. The Nationals should be able to develop a respectable outfielder and second basemen between now and 2019. Gio Gonzalez will enter free agency after the 2018 season, when he is 32 years old. Gonzalez could be the price Washington has to pay to re-sign Harper. He is an excellent pitcher, but a player like Harper is a rarity and a team ought to do everything it can to retain such a special player. $12 million a year will be a discount for a pitcher like Gonzalez, who can get more as a free agent assuming he is healthy.

Bryce Harper Catch
Bryce Harper will run through a wall if it means helping his team win. (www.si.com)

The Nationals can lay the foundation for a deal with Harper by simply shifting the $21 million from Werth, $17.5 million from Murphy, and $12 million from Gonzalez to pay Harper. Letting two aging players go in Werth and Murphy would free up $38.5 million a season. The increasing salaries could make the $38.5 million a season within a reasonable jump in pay for an elite player. The Scott Boras factor could require a little more money, thus forcing the Nationals to choose between Harper and Gio Gonzalez, which should not be difficult. $50.5 million per season should be plenty for Washington to retain Bryce Harper, if Harper wants to remain with the Nationals.

$40 million per season ought to entice Harper, and any other baseball player, to remain in Washington. The Nationals would give up three players for one, which would be the smart move for the franchise. The Nationals will also be paying Harper somewhere between $5 and $10 million in his final season before free agency. Washington should be able to develop at least one of the three pieces it will lose to sign Harper. A young outfielder or a young starting pitcher or second baseman should develop in their farm system. The homegrown player should cost no more than $3 million per season, and even this is at the extreme. This would leave between $14 and $19 million for the Nationals to go out and sign a free agent starting pitcher and position player, both of which are possible.

The money will follow Harper wherever he chooses to continue his career once he reaches free agency. Despite all the things so many people hate about Harper, the Nationals love him and want to keep him in Washington at least through the peak of his career. Few players are compared to Frank Robinson, Hank Aaron, Ken Griffey Jr., and a slew of other Hall of Fame players at any point in their careers. Harper is 23 years old and is entering his fifth season in the Majors. He is truly a special player, one that the Nationals should do everything within their power to re-sign as he approaches free agency.

DJ

Dad

September 30th is a special day every year.  It is the final day of the real “regular season” before the beginning of crazy October baseball.  It is in my mind the true beginning of cooler weather being here to stay, which never makes me happy.  It is my Dad’s birthday.

My Dad, more than anyone else, instilled the love of baseball in me.  Growing up outside of Atlanta there was always a rhythm to life.  During the baseball season we watched the Braves games on television almost every night, if we were driving somewhere we would turn on the radio and listen to the game, if the Braves were out west we would check the newspaper for the score the next morning.  Skip Caray, Pete van Wieren, Joe Simpson, and Don Sutton were the voices of this rhythm and our bond.  While others lionized the Braves announcers for their openly cheering for the Braves and for some of the offbeat and strange things they would say, it was just part of it for us.  We laughed at and with them, scratched our heads, and cheered like mad regardless.

The whole gang cheering for the Gwinnett Braves. (The Winning Run)

The whole gang cheering for the Gwinnett Braves. (The Winning Run)

The conversation was and always is how are the Braves doing?  My Dad suffered through the terrible years of the Braves once they moved to Atlanta in 1966.  It is only in the past few years that I have had to grow to understand what it is like to cheer for a team that does not have a chance to make the playoffs.  We rode the highest highs together of the Braves dominance through the 1990’s together.  There are few better feelings in my life than watching a full Braves game with my Dad and once they win, him turning off the television and saying “…and time for me to go to bed.”  There is nothing magical about those words, but at the same time, there is.  It is as if the day is complete and all is right in the world.

My Dad grew up in Stone Mountain, Georgia and played on his high school team, the Stone Mountain High School Pirates.  I do not know much about my Dad’s high school baseball career, beyond that he was on the team.  I think I remember him telling once that the doctor always told him to be careful because of a heart condition he was born with.  I should have asked him years ago, but I never have.  Time to change that.

A few years ago, my brother, Jesse, was looking through the attic and found an old team picture of my Dad when he was on the Stone Mountain Pirates.  He framed it and gave it to my Dad as a gift.  The picture now proudly hangs on the wall in the living room at my parents’ house.  We cropped my Dad from that picture and have him in full uniform as the profile picture for The Winning Run’s twitter page.  It is a little grainy, but it does not matter, it is perfect.  My Dad, the baseball player.

My Dad, Stone Mountain Pirates baseball player. (The Winning Run)

My Dad, Stone Mountain Pirates baseball player. (The Winning Run)

Growing up I wanted to play baseball non-stop, still do.  If anyone would pitch to me great, if not I would figure out a way to play even if it was just me.  Swinging a bat, throwing a ball.  I could and still do spend hours doing these most fundamental baseball activities.  Both my parents would pitch to me in the backyard, usually tennis balls so we did not break a window, or at the local school with its field, always baseballs to really launch the balls, and I would hit and hit and hit until their arms gave out, it got dark, or it was time to eat.  Rarely if ever was it my decision to stop.  I have always been more of a line drive or slap hitter than a slugger.  I have more speed than muscle so you adapt your skills to the field and make the most of them.  These backyard baseball games were amazing.  My Dad, for whatever reason, always seemed to be a ball magnet when he pitched to me.  Yes, he would catch some comebackers, but more often than not, they would hit him and bounce off.  Again, there was a reason we used tennis balls.  Even now, as I sit seven hours away from him I can hear the noise he would make when the ball would hit him.  Every time I would ask if he was ok and he usually was, and I would get back in the batter’s box and we would do it all over again.

I did not learn how to play baseball from a local coach, I learned from playing with my parents and brother.  I learned from watching the Braves games with my Dad.  I had already graduated with my Master’s degree before I ever hit a baseball off a tee.  I have no memory of learning to hit, or throw, or field a ground ball, or catch a fly ball.  These are basic life skills that I was seemingly born knowing how to do, although most likely taught but I have no memory of learning.  I did not begin to play organized baseball until late elementary school.  Even then, playing was just for fun.  Baseball was and is a game, take what you do seriously but if you make a mistake no worries it is a game.  My Dad worked hard in those years, supporting the family, working six days a week.  He always came to my games when he could.  My baseball games that he was not able to come to always ended with a phone call to him once we got home.  Every call was about how was the game, how did I play, did we win, did I have fun.  I know he wanted to be at my games, but I also understand that he was doing what he had to do.  I have grown to appreciate this more and more as I have grown older.

Me, Jesse, our Dad, and our girlfriends at our cousins wedding last year. (The Winning Run)

Me, Jesse, our girlfriends, and our Dad at our cousins wedding last year. (The Winning Run)

Wearing my emotions on my sleeve is something I inherited from my Dad.  If we see something that we think is dumb or if someone tells us to do something we do not agree with, odds are we will let them know it.  This has definitely led to some interesting stories over the years, and plenty of laughs.  During the Braves run of dominance, and especially at the end of it, I can always remember my Dad mumbling under his breath about how bad they were playing, the worse the game, the more the mumbling.  It always annoyed me.  I had never had to live and cheer through the rough times for the Braves.  I lived and died with each game, but now that the Braves are no longer the dominant team they once were, I am beginning to understand those mumbles.  I still watch the Braves play almost nightly, but when the game gets late and they are just unable to play fundamentally sound baseball I find myself wandering to other games.  I change the channel to another more interesting game; my Dad did not have another game to change to when I was growing up.  It was the Braves game or nothing, and with a baseball crazy son like myself he had no choice but to sit through the misery of a terrible game while also spending time with me.  My faith in the Braves could be torturous.

My Dad has always been one of my biggest cheerleaders in life.  Rarely has he told me what to do.  He has always told me to do what makes me happy and to do my best at it.  When I was in school, my parents expected the best from me, but if a B was the best I could do, then they were fine with that so long as I had done my best.  When I got the crazy idea to start traveling to Sub-Saharan Africa nearly every summer, my Dad always asked what he could do to help make it happen.  It was never a vacation for me, I went to intern and work in places that were often only in the news because of the terrible things that happened there.  I do not know if my Dad or my Mom will ever grasp what has called me to that part of the world, but they never stopped me, rather they always encouraged me to do what made me happy and to do my best.

There is nothing better than watching a baseball game on television or in person with my Dad, aside from playing baseball with him.  Watching a game with him means examining almost every pitch.  Complaining about certain umpires and borderline strike calls.  Lamenting having to watch the game with national announcers when the local broadcast is blacked out.  Marveling at the amazing plays, lately usually it is Andrelton Simmons but when I was growing up it was Andruw Jones.  Above all, it means simply being with my Dad.

My Dad, undiscovered switch hitter. (The Winning Run)

My Dad, undiscovered switch hitter. (The Winning Run)

A month or so ago when I was last home, my girlfriend and I had gone for a walk at the local park and were going to hit a few baseballs on the field to help break in her new glove.  My Dad met us after he got off work.  August in Georgia is never friendly to anyone who is not accustomed to the heat and humidity turning the air into something bordering on soup.  After a while, my girlfriend retreated to the shade and it was just my Dad and me on a small little league field pitching tennis balls to one another.  In what seemed like a few seconds and several hours all at the same time, we just played baseball.  He pitched, I hit.  I pitched, he hit.  I felt like a kid again, especially proud when I launched an old tennis ball well beyond the outfield fence into the woods, never to be seen again despite trying to go find it.  I tried to hit a home run batting left-handed, but even more so than from the right side I am a pure line drive and slap hitter.  My Dad pulled nearly everything I threw to him and clumped them all together ever so nicely.  Then my Dad decided to try to hit from the left side, something he had never tried before.  Suddenly, he turned into Chipper Jones or Mickey Mantle.  He started to spray the ball more and will a little more power.  We were both baffled and with every hit we got a little more giggly.

Happy Birthday Dad. I love you.

DJ

Missed Opportunity

Growing up around Atlanta in the 1990’s there was plenty of great baseball games and players to watch.  Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, and Chipper Jones were all Hall of Fame players.  Andruw Jones, Otis Nixon, Javy Lopez, and so many more were great players to watch.  These riches on the diamond were amazing, but as time has gone by the realization of how great it was to watch these players night after night has set in.  Fans across the country might only have a few chances each season to see these players and they understood that you should take the time to slow down and appreciate them.

The understanding that I need to slow down and watch when a great player passes through town has sunk in more as I get older.  Appreciating the greatest of a player goes beyond the highlight reel plays.  It is watching how they approach each pitch throughout a game, both at the plate and in the field.  There are only a select few players in baseball that can capture my attention even when they are not making great plays.  Players who make me stop and watch just in case they do something amazing.

Derek Jeter  was the definition of New York style cool and class. (www.jenhoffer.sportsblog.com)

Derek Jeter was the definition of New York style cool and class. (www.jenhoffer.sportsblog.com)

These stop what you are doing and watch players are the elite few.  Some I have had the pleasure of watching in person, others I missed my opportunity to watch their greatness.  When I was living in New York for graduate school and the few years after, I was lucky enough to see Derek Jeter play on a few occasions.  Jeter was never the best hitter, but he was good one.  He did not have the most power, the biggest arm, or greatest fielding range, but he commanded everything inside Yankee Stadium.  While only getting to see Jeter in the later part of his career, it was still special to see one of the few players who was respected across baseball without exception.  It takes a special player to be respected by Red Sox fans even though he was a lifelong Yankee that broke Boston’s heart on so many occasions.  Watching Jeter play consumed a majority of my time at Yankee Stadium.  I watched how he moved with every pitch and how he was the man on the field and yet everyone knew in their heart that he was never the most talented.  Derek Jeter could do everything on a baseball diamond, but it was what did not show up in the box score, which set him apart from everyone else.

I usually went to Mets games simply because the tickets were cheaper, however when I did venture up to the Bronx and Yankee Stadium it was special.  Even inside the new Yankee Stadium the history of the Yankees resonates.  Watching two players who will and should be first ballot Hall of Famers, Jeter and Ichiro, plus my favorite player in Andruw Jones meant the 2012 Yankees were the best for me.  Watching Jones patrol the outfield with the Braves growing up spoiled me.  If it was catchable, he seemed to always catch it.  The 2012 Yankees meant I got to relieve a bit of my childhood with Andruw Jones, watch the coolest man in baseball in Derek Jeter, and watch one of the greatest pure hitters of all time in Ichiro.

Ichiro continues to be a magician with a bat in hit hands. (www.metsmerizedonline.com)

Ichiro continues to be a magician with a bat in hit hands. (www.metsmerizedonline.com)

The beauty of Ichiro’s swing and his athleticism at the plate are what always caught my eye.  He seemed, and still seems, like a magician at the plate.  He never seems to be fooled on a pitch; he might swing and miss but never look awful in doing it.  Ichiro is to me what a baseball player ought to be.  He can beat you with power, though he rarely displays it.  He can put the ball in play and then beat you with his speed.  Then on defense, he can chase down fly balls with the best of them.  If runners are on base they advance at their own risk, as Ichiro is blessed with a cannon for an arm.  Ichiro has all five tools, though he keeps his power hidden until it is absolutely necessary.  Watching Ichiro hit is the closest I will ever come to watching a hitter on the same level like a Ted Williams, Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio, or Honus Wagner.  Watching Ichiro and Jeter play were and are a return to my childhood.  A return to when baseball was simple and the players were larger than life; the baseball that was and forever will be my first love.

I have not gotten to see every player I wanted to see play in person, though I did on television.  The two biggest players that I did not get to see play in person that I will forever be sad about are Ken Griffey Jr. and Vladimir Guerrero.  Yes, I saw both players on television, but not in person.  There is a big difference in appreciating how great a player is when you see them not through a camera lens, but with your own eyes.

Ken Griffey Jr. was the coolest man on the diamond plus he had the sweetest swing in the game. (www.tapiture.com)

Ken Griffey Jr. was the coolest man on the diamond plus he had the sweetest swing in the game. (www.tapiture.com)

The two most obvious reasons I never saw Ken Griffey Jr. play in person are that he played in Seattle and Cincinnati and I lived in Atlanta.  This meant at best his team would come to Atlanta once a year.  Interleague play did not start until 1997.  This meant seven seasons of Griffey’s 22-year career were already gone.  Then there were the last three years in Seattle before he moved on to the Cincinnati Reds.  There were some opportunities to see Griffey play in Atlanta during interleague at some point with the Mariners, but I went to only two or three games a year growing up.  So not great odds, plus we usually went to the less popular games with the slightly cheaper tickets and the smaller crowds.  I loved going to games, but looking back, I wish I had seen Griffey.  His time with the Reds meant he only came to town one time a season, and sadly there were several lost seasons in Cincinnati due to injuries.  Griffey was, and remains, the prototype for what it means to be cool on a baseball field.  Jeter was New York cool, suave.  Griffey was fun, exciting, and electric.  His wiggling batting stance is still mimicked by people today, though admittedly no one else, even in softball leagues can ever hope to hit a ball like he did.  Griffey could amaze you and do things that just did not make sense for a player his size.  You expected Frank Thomas and Albert Belle to hit the ball a mile, but Griffey at worst hit the ball as far as they did, plus he could run like the wind.  Ken Griffey Jr. was a once every few generations type player and I missed him.  As great as his highlight reel is, I can only imagine how great it would have been to see him play in person.

Missing several opportunities to see Ken Griffey Jr. makes sense, not seeing Vladimir Guerrero play does not.  Guerrero spent 8 of his 16 seasons with the Montreal Expos.  Playing in the National League East with the Braves meant I had plenty of opportunities to watch him play, but for whatever reason I never did.  It was not from a lack of interest, I just never seemed to go to Turner Field when the Expos were in town.  Not sure why, just the way it worked out.  Guerrero was a lot like Andruw Jones, great power and speed and a howitzer for an arm.  The main difference between Guerrero and Jones was that Guerrero was a more complete hitter and Jones played for Atlanta, not against them.  Vladimir Guerrero never met a pitch he could not hit.  It reminded me of playing baseball in the street with my brother and friends.  If it was within reach, you swung, partly so you did not have to go pick it up and partly because it may be the best pitch you will see.  Guerrero never seemed to care if the pitch was a foot outside and head high, he could serve it into the outfield.  He could also bloop a ball into short left field after the pitch bounced in front of the plate.  Ichiro is a magician in the batter’s box in the sense that he can almost place where he hits the ball.  Guerrero is a difference sort of magician as he can hit nearly everything thrown towards the plate, and hit it well.  The other thing I missed was seeing Guerrero unleash his arm.  There are few players with arms that stop the opponent from even attempting to take an extra base; Rick Ankiel and Jeff Francoeur are the players in recent years that come to mind regarding the fear their arms put into the minds of opposing base runners.  Perhaps Vladimir Guerrero was not the best player in terms of doing the conventional things on a diamond the best, though he did them extremely well.  What I missed the most in not seeing Guerrero play in person is his ability to leave fans speechless.  He could hit or throw a baseball a mile, or single on a pitch that most players could not even reach.  Vladimir Guerrero took the sort of baseball that I grew up playing to the Major Leagues and still made it look as amazing as it felt.

Vladimir Guerrero never met a pitch he could not hit or a runner he could not throw out. (www.prosportsblogging.com)

Vladimir Guerrero never met a pitch he could not hit or a runner he could not throw out. (www.prosportsblogging.com)

The opportunity to see something unique and amazing at a baseball game exists every time the gates open.  You could see Matt Cain throw a Perfect Game (as Jesse did in San Francisco), watch the final game at old Yankee Stadium (as John, Jesse, and I did in 2008), or just see a fun game like I have on so many occasions.  Baseball is a team sport played by individuals.  These individuals are what make the game great.  Players of all size can find success on a baseball diamond, whether they are Jose Altuve at 5’6”, Randy Johnson at 6’10”, or Jonathan Broxton at 300 lbs.  Great players come in every physical form possible and they are all capable to doing something amazing.  Most of us do not have the financial ability to go to every game, but we should all make the time when these elite, once in a generation type players come to town.  Continuing to put off going to see Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, Aroldis Chapman, and others will be a sad memory.  There is no guarantee they will do something amazing at the game you attend, but you will still be able to say you saw them play.  No one cares if the one game you saw Sandy Koufax pitch he did not win the game, you still got to see Koufax pitch.  Do not miss your opportunity to see great players in person.  We can all watch highlight reels, but watching in person is always special and you will remember it better than any video.

DJ

Building the Future

This year’s Major League Baseball First Years Players Draft marks the 50th year of the draft.  While the MLB Draft does not receive the same fanfare as the drafts for the other major sports, it is equally important.  The major difference is the arrival of those selected to the parent clubs is not immediate, and in many cases never happens.  The first overall pick in the draft can be a bust, and the last pick in the 40th and final round could turn out to be an All Star.  It is a slow motion venture that teams do not know the results from until years later.

The inaugural draft was held in 1965.  The Kansas City Athletics used the first overall pick to select outfielder Rick Monday out of Arizona State University.  He would go on to have a 19 year career with the Kansas City/ Oakland Athletics, Chicago Cubs, and Los Angeles Dodgers.  Monday was a September call up for the Athletics in 1966 and played in two All Star games (1968 and 1978).  Monday is most famous for his swiping an American flag away from two protesters who were trying to set it on fire on the field during the 4th inning of the Cubs-Dodger game on April 25, 1976 at Dodger Stadium.

The first 1st overall pick in MLB Draft history, Rick Monday of the Kansas City Athletics (www.asuwebdevilarchive.asu.edu)

The first 1st overall pick in MLB Draft history, Rick Monday of the Kansas City Athletics (www.asuwebdevilarchive.asu.edu)

The New York Mets held the second overall pick, and selected pitcher Les Rohr out of Billings West High School (Montana).  Rohr was also a September call up, making his Major League debut on September 19, 1967.  He earned the win against the Dodgers for the first of his two career wins (both coming in 1967).  Rohr pitched in 6 career games, compiling a 2-3 record with a 3.70 ERA in 24 1/3 innings.  He made his final Major League appearance on September 19, 1969, exactly two year after his debut.

The Houston Astros held the fourth overall pick in 1965, and selected shortstop Alex Barrett out of Atwater High School (California).  Barrett spent seven seasons in the minor leagues.  He played at every level possible in the minors, but never got the call to join the Astros in Houston.  Barrett’s career is like so many hopeful draft picks.  They believe in themselves, yet everyone is eventually told they can no longer play the game.  Some people are told in high school, some are told after more than 20 seasons in the Major Leagues, but at some point everyone is told they can no longer play.  It is rare for a player to leave under their own terms, it is often forced upon them rather than their own decision.

Vanderbilt Commodores won the 2014 College World Series and were crowned National Champions. Photo by Joe Howell.

2015 1st overall pick, Dansby Swanson from Vanderbilt University. (www.throughthefencebaseball.com)

The MLB Draft is how teams obtain many of the building blocks to build their team.  Look no further than the Houston Astros for a recent example or the Atlanta Braves for an example over the long term.  The Astros have restocked their farm system and turned themselves around from the doormat of all of baseball into one of the best teams in the American League so far in 2015.  The Astros had the first overall selection from 2012 through 2014.  Carlos Correa just made his Major League debut, and they have been able to avoid drafting a complete bust.  Their inability to sign Brady Aiken in 2014 meant the Astros picked second overall in 2015, in addition to their fifth overall selection, so they can still get a quality player out of a bad situation.

Every team aspires to emulate the Braves of the 1990’s and early 2000’s.  Winning 14 consecutive Division titles means a team will be selecting late in the draft.  Atlanta and Houston have signed some free agents, but they have not been the sole driving force behind both teams success.  Teams must scout, draft, and develop young talent well if they have any chance to sustain success.  Few teams have the deep pockets that the Yankees and Red Sox have, and even their ability to spend top dollar on free agents does not always equate itself to success as much of their success has been driven by home grown talent.  Teams need the ability to bring up their own talent from the minor leagues to fill in hole during the season.  Finding players like Chipper Jones or Ken Griffey Jr. (both first overall picked) is not always as easy as it would seem.  Mike Trout was the 25th overall pick in 2009, he is arguably the best player in all of baseball and most teams wish they could have a do over.  If it was easy to discern what players would make it to the Majors and which would not, there would be a longer list of top picks who went on to have Hall of Fame caliber careers than did not.  Currently there are no first overall picks enshrined in Cooperstown., Jones and Griffey will soon be the first.

2015 2nd overall pick Alex Bergman from LSU. (wwwbaseballamerica.com.)

2015 2nd overall pick, Alex Bergman from Louisiana State University. (wwwbaseballamerica.com.)

The MLB Draft is an inexact science.  Teams do and will make mistakes in their selections.  They select the best player available to fit their needs, but there is never a guarantee that a first round pick will become the player the team hopes they would.  There is no guarantee that the players selected this week will make it to the Majors, but their journey begins this week.  Teams and fans can catch a glimpse of their future, or what they hope is their future, this week when the dreams of hundreds of baseball players come true.

D