Tagged: Cooperstown

The Most Patient Man in Baseball

Baseball teaches patience. One of the worst things a baseball player can do is hurry. The harder you try, the less success you find on the diamond. Larry Walker might be the most patient man in baseball. He was elected to Cooperstown in his final year on the ballot. Walker will finally have his moment in the sun as he joins the Hall of Fame. Now he must wait again as the Covid-19 Pandemic has delayed his induction until 2021. He waited 10 years to be elected, now he has to wait one more. Even the retirement of his #33 by the Rockies was postponed due to the delayed Major League season. 

Larry Walker’s baseball resume is extensive. He is a 5 time All Star (1992, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001), 3 time Silver Slugger (1992, 1997, 1999), 7 time Gold Glove winner (1992, 1993, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2002), 3 time Batting Champion (1998, 1999, 2001), and the 1997 National League Most Valuable Player. Walker won the Tip O’Neill award 9 times (1987, 1990, 1992, 1994, 1995, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2002) as the Canadian baseball player “judged to have excelled in individual achievement and team contribution while adhering to the highest ideals of the game of baseball.”

Hall of Fame careers are built through season after season of consistency. In 17 Major League seasons Walker played for the Montreal Expos (1989-1994), Colorado Rockies (1995-2004), and St. Louis Cardinals (2004-2005). In 1,988 Games he collected 2,160 Hits, scored 1,355 Runs, 471 Doubles, 62 Triples, 383 Home Runs, 1,311 RBI, 230 Stolen Bases, 913 Walks (117 Intentional), 1,231 Strikeouts, 3,904 Total Bases, 138 Hit By Pitch, .313 BA, .400 OBP, .565 SLG, .965 OPS, and 141 OPS+. 

Larry Walker hits a two-run double
Larry Walker was a pure hitter but never gets the credit he deserves because of playing in Colorado during the Steroid Era. (Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Larry Walker was an elite hitter, especially during his peak. He rarely receives the credit he deserves for two reasons. First, his peak was during the height of the Steroid Era. His excellence was often overshadowed by juiced sluggers. Second, critics often credit much of his success to playing at altitude in Colorado. Examining Walker’s career Home/Road Splits does show he hit better at home. In  986 career home Games, Walker collected 1,193 Hits, including 268 Doubles, 39 Triples, and 215 Home Runs, with a .348 BA, .431 OBP, .637 SLG, 1.068 OPS, and 121 OPS+. In 1,002 career road Games, he collected 967 Hits, including 203 Doubles, 23 Triples, and 168 Home Runs, with a .278 BA, .370 OBP, .495 SLG, .865 OPS, and 80 OPS+. There is no denying Walker benefited from hitting at Coors Field. However, why should he be penalized for playing in Colorado? If playing for the Rockies disqualifies a player from the Hall of Fame, MLB should never have placed a team in Denver. Also, Walker played 7 of his 17 seasons away from Colorado.

Baseball is about more than what a player can do with the bat, they must use their glove too. Walker played 1,718 Games in Right Field. In 15,678.2 Innings he had 4,246 Chances, made 3,976 Putouts,  with 213 Assists, turned 92 Double Plays, and committed 57 Errors for a .987 Fielding %. Gold Gloves are rarely given to undeserving players, and winning 7 of them is proof Walker was more than a hitter.

1997 was Larry Walker’s best season. He won the National League Most Valuable Player award, becoming the first and so far only Rockies player to do so. Walker won in a landslide, beating second place Mike Piazza by almost 100 points and received 22 of 28 first place votes. In 153 Games Walker collected 208 Hits, including 46 Doubles, 4 Triples, 49 Home Runs, scored 143 Runs, 130 RBI, 33 Stolen Bases, 78 Walks (14 Intentional), 90 Strikeouts, 409 Total Bases, 14 Hit By Pitch, a .366 BA, .452 OBP, .720 SLG, 1.172 OPS, and 178 OPS+. He led the Senior Circuit in Home Runs, Total Bases, OBP, SLG, OPS, and finished second in BA only .006 behind Tony Gwynn

Dispelling the naysayers, Walker’s road numbers in 1997 were elite. In 75 Road Games, he collected 92 Hits, 16 Doubles, 29 Home Runs, scored 61 Runs, 62 RBI, 16 Stolen Bases, 42 Walks (7 Intentional), 56 Strikeouts, 5 Hit By Pitch, 195 Total Bases, .346 BA, .443 OBP, .733 SLG, 1.176 OPS, and 213 OPS+. While he hit 9 more Home Runs on the Road than at Home, in 3 fewer games, Walker’s numbers were even better at home. MVP’s have stats that jump out at you. Larry Walker played out of his mind on the road in 1997. He was on another planet at Coors Field.

Hall of Fame players are not always successful in the Postseason. Larry Walker reached the Postseason three times, in 1995 with Colorado and 2004 and 2005 at the end of his career with St. Louis. The Cardinals were swept by the Red Sox in Walker’s only World Series in 2004. In 28 career Postseason games, Walker hit .230, with 5 Doubles, 1 Triple, 7 Home Runs, 15 RBI, scored 18 Runs, 2 Stolen Bases, 16 Walks, 28 Strikeouts, with a .350 OBP. While he did not play his best in October, the majority of his Postseason play was at the end of his career as a part time player.

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Larry Walker was a Hall of Fame player and heard the news of his election to Cooperstown while wearing a legendary shirt. (@Rockies)

After retiring following the 2005 season Larry Walker began waiting the five years to be on the Hall of Fame ballot. The Maple Ridge, British Columbia native was inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame in 2007 and the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2009. He first appeared on the ballot for Cooperstown in 2011, receiving just 20.3% of the vote. Walker floated between 22.9% in 2012 and 10.2% in 2014 until 2017. The Hall of Fame looked just out of reach. In his final three years of eligibility, Walker’s fortunes changed. In 2018, his 8th year on the ballot, he received 34.1% of the vote. In 2019 he was up to 54.6%. 2020 was Walker’s 10th and final year on the ballot. If he was not elected his enshrinement would be determined by a future Veterans Committee, a long shot process at best. Derek Jeter was one vote shy of unanimous, receiving 396 of 397 votes. Walker needed 298 votes to make it to Cooperstown. When the results were revealed, Walker received 304 votes, 6 more than he needed. His place among the games legends was secure. He joins Ferguson Jenkins as the only Canadians elected to the Hall of Fame. Walker is also the first Rockies player enshrined.

Patience is key in baseball. Wait for your pitch, stay down on a ground ball, camp under a fly ball. Baseball is about waiting and no one understands this better than Larry Walker. He used every possible moment of the Hall of Fame election process to secure his place in Cooperstown. He cleared the bar by 6 votes. Now he has to wait a little longer due to the Covid-19 Pandemic for his day in the sun as he is inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

DJ

Come Back?

One by one the delaying, postponing, and/or canceling of baseball at every level has created an emptiness baseball fans have never felt. Spring Training was halted. The Regular Season was delayed. The college baseball season, including the College World Series, was canceled. The Little League World Series was canceled. Baseball’s return to the Summer Olympics was delayed, along with the rest of the Tokyo games, until 2021. Hall of Fame Weekend was postponed until next summer. The World Baseball Classic was postponed until 2023. Nearly every amateur baseball league from little league up to the Cape Cod League has either been delayed, postponed, or canceled. Baseball, like everything, has taken a beating from Covid-19. Some are eager to reopen society, while many others do not believe it is safe to do so. If Major League Baseball comes back this season will fans be allowed to attend games? Will fans want to attend games? What impact will the Pandemic have on the game?

There are so many unanswered questions about baseball right now. Dwelling on the problems and missing the game is heartbreaking. While we are selfishly eager for baseball’s return, many of us are also hesitant. We are caught between wanting to return to normal and not sure it is time to return to normal. There is nothing telling us when the perfect time for baseball’s return will be, however it is better to wait a little too long than to return too early. Returning early could restart the entire process. 

Orioles play the Chicago White Sox in an empty ball park
Empty stadiums could greet MLB’s return. (Jabin Botsford/ The Washington Post)

I do not know if or when baseball will return in 2020. I, like so many others, am following the advice of the public health experts who have devoted their lives to protecting humanity from things like Covid-19. What I do know is swinging a bat and throwing baseballs into a net is therapeutic. They are not a replacement for the game, but a band aid helping to keep me mentally healthy. 

As the weather turns warmer it is more difficult to replace the time and energy I normally devote to baseball. Warm weather means I am either umpiring, watching or listening to a game. Not this year. A summer without baseball is strange. The 1981 and 1994 Strikes did not give us an entire summer without baseball. Neither did World War I or World War II. Baseball did not stop for the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, which was a mistake. This is an unprecedented stop in the game. Knowing what is right is easy, doing what is right can be more challenging. I know it was the right decision to delay the start of the Major League season. This was an easy decision. What is more challenging is waiting for baseball’s return, and returning at the appropriate time. I am beyond eager for baseball to come back, but I want it to come back when it is safe.

DJ

Supporting Jackie

Every year baseball remembers Jackie Robinson and his herculean task of breaking baseball’s color barrier. Nothing can sufficiently repay Robinson for the abuse he endured. While he was the focal point of baseball’s integration he was not alone, other trail blazers followed him to integrate every team. Collectively they changed baseball and America forever. They shouldered the weight of integration with some help along the way.

Branch Rickey believed Jackie Robinson could handle the abuse the first African American player would face. Robinson endured abuse from fans and opposing players. Even the Dodger locker room was not a safe haven. When he arrived in Brooklyn several players began a petition stating their desire to be traded rather than play with Robinson. The petition sought to force Branch Rickey to end his attempt to integrate baseball. Several players signed the petition, but it was critical that the de facto team captain sign to show a united front against Robinson. There was little doubt he would sign, having grown up in Louisville, Kentucky, surely a southern man would refuse to play alongside Robinson.

Harold Henry “Pee Wee” Reese was a southern man, but he held no animosity towards anyone based upon their skin color. When approached by his teammates Reese refused to sign, killing the petition. The other Dodgers may not have liked Robinson, but the locker room was now free from the abuse raining down on the field. 

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Pee Wee Reese was a Hall of Fame Shortstop for the Brooklyn Dodgers and friend to Jackie Robinson. (National Baseball Library and Archives, Cooperstown, NY)

Reese was called up to Brooklyn in 1940 and remained with the Dodgers for his entire career, retiring after the Dodgers first season in Los Angeles in 1958. He served in the Navy during World War II, missing three seasons from 1943 to 1945. Upon returning from the Navy, Reese began his career in earnest. His greatest season was 1949. In 155 Games, Reese led the National League with 132 Runs scored, collected 172 Hits including 27 Doubles, 3 Triples, and 16 Home Runs. He had 73 RBI and stole 26 Bases. Reese walked 116 times with just 59 Strikeouts. He hit .279, with an .396 OBP, .410 SLG, .806 OPS, and an 113 OPS+. Reese was named team captain before the following season. 

Reese played 2,166 Games. He scored 1,338 Runs, collected 2,170 Hits including 330 Doubles, 80 Triples, and 126 Home Runs with 885 RBI. He stole 232 Bases, drew 1,210 Walks with 890 Strikeouts. He hit .269, with an .366 OBP, .377 SLG, .743 OPS, and an 99 OPS+. Shortstops were supposed to focus their attention on defense, but Reese was an elite offensive Shortstop. 

Reese played more than 2,000 games at Shortstop. He led National League Shortstops in Putouts in four seasons. Over 60 years after his retirement, Reese still has the 12th most Putous and 13th most Double Plays for Shortstops. He was a solid defender even using modern metrics having led all National League players in dWAR in 1942, 1947, 1948, and 1949. His 25.6 career dWAR is the 17th highest of all time, regardless of position. 

Pee Wee Reese was selected to 10 All Star Games and finished in the top 10 for MVP voting eight times. He led the Dodgers to seven World Series, all against the Yankees. Reese has the most World Series appearances with one team for a non-Yankee. Despite their success the Dodgers won only one World Series. Brooklyn lost in 1941, 1947, 1949, 1952, 1953, and 1956. Reese and Elston Howard have the most World Series defeats, six. Brooklyn won their lone World Series in 1955. Failure was not Reese’s fault. In 44 World Series Games, he scored 20 Runs, collected 46 Hits including 4 Doubles, 2 Triples, and 2 Home Runs with 16 RBI. He Stole 5 Bases, drew 18 Walks with 17 Strikeouts. He hit .272, with an .346 OBP, .349 SLG, and an .695 OPS. 

In 1984, the Veteran’s Committee selected Reese for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. The committee referenced his play and support of Jackie Robinson in their reasoning for his selection. No moment better underscores the support Reese gave Robinson than at Crosley Field in Cincinnati in 1947. Amid a deluge of abuse Reese put his arm around Robinson. The show of support told the crowd and opposing players that Reese supported his teammate and would defend his friend against the abuse. Some claim the event occurred in Boston against the Braves at Braves Field in 1948. Regardless where and when it occurred Reese helped ease the chaos surrounding baseball’s integration.

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Pee Wee Reese showing his support for Jackie Robinson was critical in helping Robinson and other African American players successfully integrate baseball. (Ron Cervenka)

Reese standing with his arm around Robinson is immortalized in bronze and granite outside MCU Park, home of the Brooklyn Cyclones. Reese could not deflect all the abuse directed at Robinson, but he could support him in public and private. A white player standing with Jackie Robinson was critical. The support coming from a southern man was monumental. Reese did not care what color Robinson was, they were teammates. Reese was asked if he was worried about losing his job prior to Robinson joining the Dodgers, If he’s man enough to take my job, I’m not gonna like it, but, dammit, black or white, he deserves it. Instead of replacing him, Robinson and Reese formed a dynamic Double Play combination. Reese joked with Robinson to ease some of the tension, he cared about Robinson the man beyond baseball. Their friendship lasted a lifetime, as Reese was a pallbearer at Jackie Robinson’s funeral. 

People are rarely successful on their own, they receive support along the way. Jackie Robinson faced unfathomable abuse as he integrated baseball. No one could shield him from the onslaught. However, people like Pee Wee Reese helped lighten the burden. On this Jackie Robinson Day let us remember Robinson’s great courage and sacrifice to improve baseball and America. Let us also not forget those who helped him achieve success, including his teammate and friend Pee Wee Reese. Small gestures can change history.

DJ

Mr. Tiger

Al Kaline passed away Monday at the age of 85. He played 22 seasons for the Detroit Tigers. He began his Major League career in June 1953 as an 18 year old and finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting in 1954. In 1955, Kaline won the American League Batting Title with a .340 BA, easily outpacing second place Vic Power’s .319 BA. Mr. Tiger remains the youngest player ever, 20, to win the American League Batting Title. He was one day younger than Ty Cobb when the Georgia Peach won the 1907 Batting Title. Kaline finished second behind Yogi Berra in the American League MVP voting. He finished in the top three of MVP voting four times but never won the award. 

The numbers show Al Kaline’s greatness on the diamond. In 22 seasons, Mr. Tiger played 2,834 Games, 10,116 At Bats, scored 1,622 Runs, collected 3,007 Hits, 498 Doubles, 75 Triples, 399 Home Runs, 1,582 RBI, Stole 137 Bases, 1,277 Walks, 1,020 Strikeouts, 55 HBP, .297 BA, .376 OBP, .480 SLG, .855 OPS, 134 OPS+. Kaline’s career 92.8 WAR still ranks 42nd over 40 seasons after he retired. His statistics were not heavily padded by the DH, which was created in 1973. Kaline was the Tigers DH in 1974, his final season. 

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Al Kaline was an all time great ball player, but an even better person. Mr. Tiger was baseball in Detroit. (Louis Requena/ MLB via Getty Images)

Kaline patrolled the outfield at Tiger Stadium. He won 10 Gold Gloves in an 11 year span, 1955-1967, playing primarily in Right. He was an 18 time All Star in 15 seasons, playing in both Midsummer Classics from 1959-1961. Kaline remained an elite player for much of his career. 

Greatness was not confined to the Regular Season. Kaline helped guide the Tigers to a World Series victory over Bob Gibson and the St. Louis Cardinals in 1968. He played in all 7 Games, in 29 At Bats he had 11 Hits, including 2 Doubles, 2 Home Runs, 8 RBI, scored 6 Runs, 1 HBP, .379 BA, .400 OBP, .655 SLG, and 1.055 OPS. Great players often rise to the occasion in the World Series. 

Al Kaline retired after the 1974 season. His 3,000 hits solidified his greatness. In 1980, Kaline received two of baseball’s highest honors. The Tigers retired his #6, the first Tiger to have his number retired; players did not wear numbers during Ty Cobb’s career. Mr. Tiger was also inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Kaline entered Cooperstown on the 1st ballot with 88.3% of the vote.  

The numbers and accolades are wonderful. However, the reaction from those who knew Al Kaline speaks about the man. Referring to him as Mr. Kaline, he had the love and respect of his peers, the city of Detroit, and all of baseball. There is no better tribute than an outpouring of love and affection for the man rather than his accomplishments. 

Rest easy Mr. Kaline, you are already missed.

DJ

Thanksgiving Baseball

Thanksgiving is most closely associated with football not baseball. The cool weather, football on television, and pick up games before the Thanksgiving meal. Baseball is over and Spring Training is months away. Thanksgiving is the best holiday, in my opinion. It is simple, come together with family and friends, enjoy each other’s company, and appreciate all the good in your life while stuffing yourself until you can barely move. The irony is obvious. 

My family’s Thanksgiving menu usually looks like this: turkey, ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, cranberry sauce, corn on the cob, macaroni and cheese, rice, dinner rolls, pudding, cookies, brownies, pies including apple, pumpkin, and rhubarb, followed by a nap. My brain wanders after the sudden halt of baseball. Lost in my thoughts, I wondered, could I create the ultimate Thanksgiving team out of players with food names? The players would return for one game in their prime. The only catch is their names must be on the menu. 

This Thanksgiving game will take place in Philadelphia on November 23, 1899 against the Phillies. The Phillies complete their best season playing in the Baker Bowl, finishing 94-58, third in the National League, 9 games behind the Brooklyn Superbas. Our menu team will  assume the identity of the Boston Beaneaters, there is no greater food inspired team name. 

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Every baseball field is beautiful. The Baker Bowl has been lost to history, but there is never a bad place to play baseball. (The Winning Run/ DJ)

Phillies owner John Rogers wants to capitalize on the teams’ success and put a few extra dollars in his pockets. Manager Bill Shettsline is looking for one more victory in his sophomore campaign with the Phillies. Shettsline submitted the following line up. 

Philadelphia Phillies Starting Lineup

2B: Nap Lajoie (Hall of Fame)

RF: Elmer Flick (Hall of Fame)

LF: Ed Delahanty (Hall of Fame)

1B: Duff Cooley

CF: Roy Thomas 

C: Ed McFarland

3B: Billy Lauder

SS: Monte Cross

SP: Wiley Piatt

Philadelphia Phillies Bench 

C: Klondike Douglass

1B: Billy Goeckel

2B: Joe Dolan, Harry Croft

3B: Red Owens

RF: Pearce Chiles

P: Red Donahue, Chick Fraser, Al Orth, Bill Bernhard, Jack Fifield, Bill Magee, George Wheeler

Partnering against the Phillies this Thanksgiving is future San Diego Padres owner Ray Kroc. Kroc and General Manager Billy Beane lured Philadelphia Athletics Manager Connie Mack to Boston. Mack submitted this line up: 

Boston Beaneaters Starting Lineup

RF: Billy Hamilton (Hall of Fame)

CF: Ty Cobb (Hall of Fame)

1B: Hank Greenberg (Hall of Fame)

LF: Jim Rice (Hall of Fame)

3B: Pie Traynor (Hall of Fame)

SS: Barry Larkin (Hall of Fame) 

C: Spud Davis 

2B: Cookie Rojas

SP: Rube Waddell (Hall of Fame)

Boston Beaneaters Bench

C: Mike Napoli 

1B: Stuffy McInnis

2B: Pumpsie Green

SS: Luke Appling (Hall of Fame)

RF: Sam Rice (Hall of Fame)

LF: Zack Wheat (Hall of Fame)

CF: Turkey Stearnes (Hall of Fame)

P: Smokey Joe Williams (Hall of Fame), Catfish Hunter (Hall of Fame), Bob Lemon (Hall of Fame), Rube Marquard (Hall of Fame), Rube Foster, Pud Galvin (Hall of Fame), Rollie Fingers (Hall of Fame), Jeurys Familia, Brownie Foreman

Baseball is unpredictable. The Beaneaters and their delicious lineup appear to have the edge over the Phillies. However, even the best teams lose. Simulating the game would never perfectly create such a game. Instead take a moment to appreciate the long history of baseball, the men who have played, their strange names, and be thankful for everything good in your life, especially baseball. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

DJ

Going Once…Going Twice…SOLD!!!

Nothing in life is stationary. Things get better or worse, increase or decrease. Baseball, like life, is constantly changing with rule tweaks, changes in players and personalities. The game in 2019 is similar to the game in 1979, however, for all the similarities there are many differences. Most baseball fans want a piece of baseball. Avid fans create their own version of Cooperstown. Some want a few pieces, others want an entire wall or room dedicated to baseball. 

Baseball fans cannot compete with Bob Crotty and his private baseball collection. The Green Diamond Gallery is the largest privately owned baseball collection in the world. At least until Saturday when a portion is auctioned off. Crotty is closing The Green Diamond Gallery due to changes in his own life. Crotty and his family spend less than half their time in Cincinnati, so operating the passion project became increasingly difficult.  Change is constant. 

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The Green Diamond Gallery was a magnificent collection of baseball history. (www.greendiamondgallery.com)

There are several auction stages over the next year, as a life time of collecting is sold off. In the auction’s first round the most expensive item is a 1960 Mickey Mantle jersey, which is expected to sell for at least $150,000. Those on a smaller budget should expect to pay $300 for a Catfish Hunter signed baseball. Bidders could walk away with seats from the Polo Grounds, valued at $2,000. You could take home Ivan Rodriguez’s Gold Glove Award from 2000 or 2004, each valued at $7,500. Plenty of baseball history is up for bidding, hopefully your bank account is too.

I felt terrible when I heard The Green Diamond Gallery was closing. I had the opportunity to visit at the invitation of a member and listen to then Baseball Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson speak. Walking through the museum was as impressive as Cooperstown or the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. One man spent his time and money collecting  the history of the game. Breaking up the collection is heartbreaking, however I hope each item goes to someone who loves baseball and will cherish each piece as much as I cherish my own version of Cooperstown. Individuals and museums might possess specific items, but the history of baseball belongs to every baseball fan. Happy bidding.

DJ

One for the Road

Globe Life Park in Arlington may not have the history of old Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park, but it has been home for the Texas Rangers over the last 26 summers. Memories with friends and family were made, though most are never known to the masses. In those summers, the Rangers made back to back World Series appearances in 2010 and 2011. Eight trips to October in all. Fans watched Hall of Famers Ivan Rodriguez and Adrian Beltre play. They watched Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez, and Josh Hamilton play, but each will not reach Cooperstown for individual issues complicating their eligibility to play. Other players like Juan Gonzalez, Ian Kinsler, Prince Fielder, and Michael Young hold a special place in the hearts of Ranger fans. Memories were made.

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Jesse, John, and I had the privilege to attend the final game at old Yankee Stadium. Baseball is beautiful. (The Winning Run/ JJ)

This weekend the Rangers close Globe Life Park and their season against the Yankees. Texas closes their second stadium since arriving from Washington in 1972. Closing out stadiums is becoming a habit for Jesse, John, and myself. Globe Life Park will be our third  fine game attended. We sat in the left field seats as the Braves closed Turner Field and moved to the suburbs and SunTrust Park in 2016. Our first, and forever greatest, final game was sitting in the right field bleachers for the final game at old Yankee Stadium in 2008. The Yankees missed the Postseason for the first time since 1993, the House that Ruth Built did not see one final October. The history of old Yankee Stadium is unmatched in baseball. Closing out old Yankee Stadium was bittersweet, attending the Mets final home stand at Shea Stadium was not. Low flying planes, Shea shaking as we walked around, and Mets fans doing the wave remain vivid in my memory. It is hard competing with old Yankee Stadium. 

Jesse, John, and I do attend games together when stadiums are not closing. A late night decision to drive 10 hours to watch the Pirates play at PNC Park was fantastic. Baseball creates memories that last a lifetime. Attending a game is always enjoyable. So once more we are hitting the road to say hello and goodbye to a baseball stadium, creating our own memories like so many fans before us. 

DJ

Lunar Prophecy 

“Mark my words a man will land on the moon before Gaylord Perry hits a home run.” 

Giants manager Alvin Dark’s response when Harry Jupiter of the San Francisco Examiner told him Gaylord Perry was looking good during batting practice in 1964. Perry, like most pitchers, was not a threat with the bat, just his arm. Pitchers are paid to get outs not hit baseballs. Few were ever better at pitching while having minimal ability to hit a baseball than Gaylord Perry

The Space Race was in high gear in 1964. Both the Soviet Union and the United States had achieved space flight and cosmonauts and astronauts were following Yuri Gagarin, Alan Shepard, and John Glenn into Space. President John F. Kennedy committed America to “achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” After Kennedy’s assassination, President Lyndon Johnson sought to fulfill the mission. Project Mercury was winding down as Project Gemini ramped up. Glenn’s three orbits of the earth two years earlier was light years behind Gordon Cooper’s day long Space flight. 

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Gaylord Perry was outstanding on the mound, winning 314 games. (National Baseball Hall of Fame)

Back on earth, 25 year old Gaylord Perry was establishing himself as a Major League pitcher. Entering his third season, Perry was 4-7 with a 4.46 ERA in 119 innings. Alvin Dark and the Giants were just two seasons removed from winning the National League Pennant. San Francisco was once again among the front runners for the Pennant and Dark needed every player to contribute in the field and at bat. Space was on everyone’s mind and Perry could not hit.

Gaylord Perry finished the 1964 season 12-11 with a 2.75 ERA in 206.1 innings, the best of his young career. However, Dark’s words about Perry’s hitting abilities appeared true. Perry went 3 for 56 at the plate, a .054 Batting Average, .071 OBP, .071 SLG, and .156 OPS. His -56 OPS+ was otherworldly, considering a 100 OPS+ means a player is league average. Gaylord Perry was 156% worse than an average Major League hitter.

Gaylord Perry pitched for 22 seasons for eight different teams, most notably the Giants. Perry won 314 games with a 3.11 ERA and 1.181 WHIP in 5,350 innings. He struck out 3,534 batters while throwing 303 Complete Games, including 53 Shutouts. Perry was elected to five All Star Games, and won a Cy Young Award in each league (1972 for Cleveland and 1978 for the Padres). He won 20 or more games five times. Throwing 10 or more Complete Games in 12 consecutive seasons. Perry’s durability on the mound allowed him to pitch 205+ innings in 15 consecutive seasons. Always taking his turn in the rotation, Perry pitched 300 innings six times, including four straight from 1972 to 1975. Perry was elected to Cooperstown in 1991 in his third year of eligibility. 

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Gaylord Perry would do anything to gain an advantage on a batter, including doctoring up a baseball. Umpire John Flaherty checks Perry for foreign substances in 1973. (Associated Press)

Success on the mound meant nothing for Gaylord Perry’s legendary anemic abilities with the bat. In 1,076 career At Bats, he collected only 141 Hits, 23 for extra bases, a .131 Batting Average. He scored 48 Runs, drove in 47 RBI, drew 22 walks, and struck out 369 times. Gaylord Perry posted a career .153 OBP, .164 SLG, .316 OPS, and -10 OPS+. He was a liability at the plate. 

1964 was Alvin Dark’s final season as Giants manager. He managed the Kansas City Athletics for two seasons before managing the Cleveland Indians. In 1969, five years after Dark’s proclamation to Harry Jupiter little had changed for Perry at the plate. Gaylord Perry, at this point in his career, was a .141 hitter now with no Home Runs. His four extra base hits were all doubles. 

Entering the game against the Dodgers on July 20, Perry’s season Batting Average was just .100. While the world waited for news of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, the Giants and Dodgers began their game at Candlestick Park. Not long after first pitch, at 1:18 PM Pacific Standard Time, Armstrong told the world “The Eagle has landed.” As Armstrong and Aldrin prepared to take the first steps on the moon, Perry surrendered three runs to Los Angeles in the top of the first. The scored remained 3-0 entering the bottom of the third, with Dodger starter Claude Osteen facing the minimum. Hal Lanier flew out to second baseman Ted Sizemore. Bob Barton followed by grounding out to Bill Sudakis at third. The San Francisco faithful had little hope as Gaylord Perry stepped to the plate. Shocking everyone, Perry drove Claude Osteen’s pitch over the outfield wall. Alvin Dark had no idea his proclamation five years earlier prove correct, but by just 30 minutes. Perry sparked a Giants comeback, as San Francisco defeated the rival Dodgers 7 to 3. Gaylord Perry pitched a Complete Game, allowing three Runs, six strikeouts, and no Home Runs. 

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Alvin Dark was mostly right about Gaylord Perry and the Moon landing. A man was on the Moon, when Perry hit his Home Run but had not walked on it. (NASA)

Gaylord Perry hit six career longballs. He hit one each season from 1969 to 1972. San Francisco traded Perry to Cleveland and after three and a half seasons, Cleveland sent him to the Rangers. Perry did not bat in the American League because of the Designated Hitter. Returning to the National League with the Padres in 1978, Perry needed a season to warm up before going deep again in 1979. He spent 1980 split between the Rangers and Yankees, before hitting his sixth and final Home Run for the Braves in 1981 at the age of 42. 

Known for his pitching and lackluster abilities at the plate, Gaylord Perry was destined for baseball greatness. It took a frustrated manager, an optimistic sportswriter, and the Space Race to create the perfect cosmic storm. Alvin Dark never dreamed he was foreshadowing Perry’s first career Home Run. Yet the stars and the moon aligned to create one of the most memorable moments in baseball history.

DJ

Moonshot

On May 25, 1961 President John F. Kennedy addressed a Joint Session of Congress with a Special Message To The Congress On Urgent National Needs. As every President does, Kennedy spoke of the pressing needs facing the nation and his plan to solve them. When the speech reached the ninth section, President Kennedy told Congress, “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” The Space Race began before Kennedy took office, but he pushed the race with the Soviets to the next level. The Soviets reached space first, but the moon was America’s opportunity to win. 

On July 20, 1969, 2,979 days after President Kennedy spoke to Congress, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed the Apollo Lunar Module Eagle in Tranquility Base as Michael Collins circled in lunar orbit in the Columbia Command Module. America achieved Kennedy’s goal of landing a man on the moon and return him safely to earth by the end of the decade.

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Wally Moon adjusted his swing to take advantage of the strange configuration at the Coliseum. (Los Angeles Times)

Back on earth, the Dodgers and the Giants have one of the most intense rivalries in baseball, regardless of the standings. In 1958, Dodger owner Walter O’Malley moved the team from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. Construction on Dodger Stadium would not begin until September 1959 forcing the Dodgers to play in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The Coliseum is home, most prominently, to the University of Southern California football team. Turning the Coliseum into a baseball field meant the fence in Leftfield was only 251 feet from home plate. A 41 foot tall screen was constructed, making Home Runs more difficult. Batters needed to loft the ball high above the screen for a Home Run, and no player is more remembered for this than Wally Moon and his Moonshots. 

Wally Moon broke into the Majors in 1954 with the St. Louis Cardinals, winning the Rookie of the Year Award over Ernie Banks and Hank Aaron. He was an All Star in 1957 before a disappointing 1958 season made him expendable. Moon and Phil Paine were traded to the Dodgers for Gino Cimoli. Moon played 12 seasons in the Majors, five in St. Louis and seven in Los Angeles. In 1,457 career Games, Moon hit .289, with a .371 OBP, .445 SLG, and .817 OPS. He scored 737 Runs, collected 1,399 Hits, 212 Doubles, 60 Triples, slugged 142 Home Runs, drove in 661 RBI, stole 89 bases, drew 644 walks, and struck out 591 times. He was a three time All Star, 1957 and twice in 1959, and won a Gold Glove in Leftfield in 1960. Moon won two World Series with the Dodgers, 1959 and 1965. His pinch hit ground out in Game 6 of the 1965 Fall Classic was his final game. Moon sat on the bench in Game 7, watching Sandy Koufax pitch a Complete Game shutout to secure the World Series victory. Wally Moon enjoyed a successful career, however he appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot just once, in 1971, receiving just two votes (0.6%) and falling off the ballot. 

Arriving in Los Angeles, Wally Moon was greeted by two things. The short, yet high porch in Leftfield and the rivalry with the Giants. Moon, hitting from the left side, understood he did not possess the power to launch baseballs out of the Coliseum to Rightfield, as the wall was 440 feet away. His career high in Home Runs was just 24. Moon adjusted his swing with Stan Musial’s help to hit balls to the opposite field. 

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The Coliseum created one of the strangest field configurations in baseball. (www.cbssports.com)

The Dodgers and Giants were locked in a pennant race as summer began to wane in 1959. San Francisco held a slim two game lead entering play at the Coliseum on August 31. Jack Sanford and Sandy Koufax were locked in a pitchers duel, allowing two runs each in the first eight innings. Koufax struck out the side on just 10 pitches in the top of the ninth. Sanford began the ninth by inducing a Maury Wills ground out. Koufax and Jim Gilliam hit back to back singles to Left. Giants manager Bill Rigney called in Al Worthington from the bullpen to end the threat. Worthington threw a first pitch strike to Wally Moon. His next pitch missed. On the third pitch, Moon lofted a deep fly ball to Left, clearing the screen. The Moonshot gave the Dodgers a 5 to 2 walk off victory. Los Angeles trailed the Giants by one game. 

The Dodgers won the 1959 National League Pennant, two games ahead of the Milwaukee Braves and four ahead of the third place Giants. Los Angeles defeated the Chicago White Sox in six games, winning the only World Series ever played at the Coliseum. Wally Moon’s Moonshot against the Giants came 634 days before President Kennedy presented his vision of sending a man to the moon and returning him safely to earth.

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The Moonshot took men to the moon and safely returned them back to earth. (NASA)

A walk off Home Run between bitter rivals foreshadowed the next stage of the Space Race. Wally Moon used the short porch in Leftfield at the Coliseum to his advantage. President Kennedy and NASA did the unimaginable, sending a man to the moon and back defeating the non-baseball playing Soviet Union. The United States won the Space Race with a few steps by Neil Armstrong, while Wally Moon helped to win the Pennant with one swing of his bat. Both were incredible Moonshots. 

Happy 50th anniversary of the Moon Landing.

DJ

The Luckiest Man

Lou Gehrig is remembered for three things: his greatness on the field, a speech, and the disease that claimed his life. He left a legacy in baseball and for those facing adversity, especially those battling ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Today is the 80th anniversary of Lou Gehrig Day at Yankee Stadium and Gehrig delivering baseball’s most famous speech. He did not focus on his problems, rather he spoke of the good in his life. A life cut short less than two years later. 

On the diamond, Lou Gehrig was a tremendous competitor, forming the toughest duo in baseball history with Babe Ruth. Gehrig played 17 seasons for the Yankees, 1923 to 1939. In 2,164 Games, Gehrig collected 2,721 Hits, 534 Doubles, 163 Triples, 493 Home Runs, 1,995 RBI, scored 1,888 Runs, Stole 102 Bases, drew 1,508 Walks, 790 Strike Outs, .340 BA, .447 OBP, .632 SLG, and 1.080 OPS. Gehrig’s career numbers ensured his enshrinement into Cooperstown, even without his special election in 1939.

Putting Lou Gehrig’s greatness into perspective, consider his all time rankings today. Gehrig ranks 64th in Hits with 2,271. He is 42nd in Doubles with 534 and 33rd in Triples with 163. His 493 Home Runs still ranks him 28th. His 1,995 RBI are seventh all time. Gehrig’s 1,190 extra base hits are 11th most and his 5,060 total bases are 19th all time. His 1,888 runs scored rank 12th all time. He walked 1,508 times, 17th most. A career .340 hitter, 16th best. His .447 OBP is fifth, his .632 SLG and 1.079 OPS both place him third all time. His 179 OPS+ ranks fourth and his 112.3 oWAR places him 14th. 80 years after his final game, Lou Gehrig remains an all time great. 

Hall of Fame numbers are not compiled in a few good seasons here and there, they come from excellence year after year. In Gehrig’s 17 seasons with the Yankees, he played fewer than 13 games in three seasons. Playing 14 full seasons before ALS robbed him of his abilities further shows Gehrig’s greatness. The Iron Horse registered eight seasons of 200 or more hits, leading the league in 1931. In 1927 and 1928 he led baseball in Doubles with 52 and 47 respectively. In 1926, his 20 triples paced baseball. Gehrig was the Home Run King three times (1931, 1934, and 1936). He was perfectly placed in Murderers’ Row, leading the league in RBI five times, driving in at least 109 in 13 consecutive seasons. He led baseball in Runs Scored four times, scoring 115 or more Runs in 13 consecutive seasons. The Iron Horse possessed both power and patience at the plate, drawing at least 100 Walks in 11 seasons, leading baseball on three occasions. Gehrig struck out a career high 84 times in 1927, he would never strike out more than 75 times in any other season. Gehrig hit .300 or better in 12 straight seasons, led the league in Slugging twice, OPS three times with 11 consecutive seasons above 1.000. He had five seasons with at least 400 total bases, leading baseball four times. In 1934, Gehrig won the American League Triple Crown with a .363 BA, 49 Home Runs, and 166 RBI. Shockingly he finished fifth in MVP voting behind a trio of Tigers (Mickey Cochrane, Charlie Gehringer, and Schoolboy Rowe) and teammate Lefty Gomez. Gehrig did win two MVP Awards (1927 and 1936), while finishing in the top five in six other seasons. The Iron Horse was always a MVP contender. 

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Lou Gehrig was one of the greatest players to ever step on a diamond. (Mark Rucker/ Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images)

The Yankees during the Gehrig years were seemingly in the World Series every October. Lou Gehrig played in seven Fall Classics. New York won six World Series with Gehrig (1927, 1928, 1932, 1936, 1937, and 1938), sweeping their National League opponents four times. Gehrig played in 34 Games with 119 At Bats. He collected 43 Hits, 8 Doubles, 3 Triples, 10 Home Runs, 35 RBI, and scored 30 Runs. He drew 26 walks against 17 Strikeouts. Gehrig hit .361, .483 OBP, .731 SLG, and 1.214 OPS. The Iron Horse helped the Yankees reach and win multiple World Series.

Despite his greatness on the diamond, Lou Gehrig is best remembered for the speech he gave on July 4, 1939, Lou Gehrig Day, as the Yankees honored him as he fought ALS. The Gettysburg Address of Baseball remains one of the most famous moments in baseball history. There is no known full recording of the speech, however we do have a partial recording and a transcript of Gehrig’s words.

“For the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.

When you look around, wouldn’t you consider it a privilege to associate yourself with such a fine looking men as they’re standing in uniform in this ballpark today? Sure, I’m lucky. Who wouldn’t consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I’m lucky.

When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift- that’s something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies- that’s something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter- that’s something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body- it’s a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed- that’s the finest I know.

So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for. Thank you.”

DJ