California has produced 2,338 Major League players, more than any other state; nearly 1,000 more than the second most productive state, New York. Only truly special players rise to the top in the Golden State. California’s greatest pitcher is Tom Seaver. His 106.02 career WAR ranks 8th among state leaders. The greatest position player is Barry Bonds, who ranks 2nd with 162.76 career WAR. Their combined 268.78 career WAR ranks California 3rd among all states and territories.
Tom Seaver for many was the perfect pitcher. He combined dominance with longevity. The Fresno native pitched 20 seasons in the Majors for the New York Mets (1967-1977, 1983), Cincinnati Reds (1977-1982), Chicago White Sox (1984-1986), and Boston Red Sox (1986). He won 311 Games, threw 231 Complete Games, 61 Shutouts, Struckout 3,640 batters, with a 2.86 ERA, 1.121 WHIP, and 127 ERA+. Seaver was the National League Rookie of the Year in 1967, a 12 time All Star, World Series champion with the 1969 Mets, won three National League ERA titles (1970-1971, 1973), three National League Cy Young Awards (1969, 1973, 1975), and was a first ball Hall of Famer in 1992.
There were so many great seasons in Tom Terrific’s career, it is difficult to pick which was his best. His three Cy Young seasons are the most logical, but his 1971 campaign is equally as dominant. Pitching for the 83 win Mets, he started 35 Games, threw 21 Complete Games, 4 Shutouts, in 286.1 Innings, allowed 61 Walks, while Strikingout 289 batters, posting a 20-10 record, 1.76 ERA, 0.946 WHIP, and 194 ERA+. Seaver was a tremendous pitcher, who despite all the accolades is still underrated.
Barry Bonds is one of the greatest hitters of all time. Ignoring the PEDs, Bonds could hit. Yes his peak and the distance he could hit a baseball were unnaturally extended, no drug can help you hit a round ball with a round bat squarely. Bonds is a first ballot Hall of Famer if not for the cloud of PEDs. The Riverside native’s resume is ridiculous. He was a 14 time All Star, won 8 Gold Gloves, 12 Silver Slugger Awards, two National League Batting Titles (2002, 2004), and a record 7 Most Valuable Player Awards (1990, 1992-1993, 2001-2004).
Bonds played 22 seasons for the Pittsburgh Pirates (1986-1992) and San Francisco Giants (1993-2007). He collected 2,935 Hits, 601 Doubles, 77 Triples, 762 Home Runs, 1,996 RBI, 2,227 Runs scored, 514 Stolen Bases, 2,558 Walks, 688 Intentional Walks, with a .298 BA, .444 OBP, .607 SLG, 1.051 OPS, and 182 OPS+. Bonds holds the Major League record for most Home Runs, Walks, and Intentional Walks. If not for his connection to PEDs and blackballing after surpassing Hank Aaron’s Home Run record he would have reached 3,000 Hits and increased his records.
Like Seaver, it is difficult to select Barry Bonds’ greatest season. However, 2004 is one of the most ridiculous seasons in baseball history and deserves some recognition. At 39 years old, Bonds played 147 Games with 617 Plate Appearances and 373 At Bats, 135 Hits, 27 Doubles, 3 Triples, 45 Home Runs, 101 RBI, 129 Runs scored, 6 Stolen Bases, 232 Walks, 120 Intentional Walks, 41 Strikeouts, with a .362 BA, .609 OBP, .812 SLG, 1.422 OPS, and 263 OPS+. He led the league in Walks, Intentional Walks, BA, OBP, SLG, OPS, and OPS+ on his way to his 7th MVP award. He set the single season record for both Walks and Intentional Walks. Bonds has the top three single season Walk totals (2001- 177 walks, 2002- 198 walks, and 2004- 232 walks). He also has the top three single season Intentional Walk totals, and six of the top ten (1st 2004- 120 IBB, 2nd 2002- 68 IBB, 3rd 2003- 61 IBB, 6th 1993 and 2007- 43 IBB, 9th 2006- 38 IBB). Teams were always terrified of Bonds swinging the bat, but in 2004 opposing teams refused to pitch to him, leaving voters little choice with their MVP votes.
California is a hot bed for baseball. Both Seaver and Bonds were first ballot Hall of Famers, unfortunately only one enjoyed the honor. The Golden State has produced the second most Hall of Fame players. The 24 California born Hall of Fame players are: Gary Carter, Frank Chance, Joe Cronin, Joe DiMaggio, Bobby Doerr, Don Drysdale, Dennis Eckersley, Lefty Gomez, Joe Gordon, Tony Gwynn, Chick Hafey, Harry Heilmann, Trevor Hoffman, Harry Hooper, Randy Johnson, George Kelly, Tony Lazzeri, Bob Lemon, Ernie Lombardi, Eddie Murray, Tom Seaver, Duke Snider, Alan Trammell, and Ted Williams. The Golden State also produced Hall of Fame Executive Pat Gillick and Umpire Doug Harvey. California has been wonderful to baseball.
The United States of Baseball is heading for higher ground. Next week we examine baseball in Colorado.
Teams tend to play one of two types of baseball, long ball or small ball. The rise of of analytics has shown sacrificing an out to advance a runner is not in a team’s best interest. Teams are shying away from small ball because, as Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine so eloquently put it, “Chicks dig the long ball.” The roar of the crowd is much different for a Home Run than a Sacrifice Hit, Sacrifice Bunt. Instant offense versus a building block towards a potential Run.
Baseball has changed since the small ball era of the early 20th Century. The small ball era helped produce Eddie Collins and his 512 career Sacrifice, 120 ahead of second place. Clayton Kershaw is the active leader with 108, 334th all time. Small ball produced Ray Chapman’s 1917 single season record of 67 Sacrifices. Bert Campaneris’ 40 Sacrifices in 1977 are the most since 1929. Home Runs have replaced the Sacrifice. Teams swing for the fences. They no longer get them on, get them over, get them in.
A slugger’s value comes from hitting a baseball over the fence, not tapping it in the infield. The top ten Home Run hitters of all time have hit 6,680 Home Runs. Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Alex Rodriguez, Willie Mays, Albert Pujols, Ken Griffey Jr., Jim Thome, Sammy Sosa, and Frank Robinson have played a combined 213 Major League seasons. Only Pujols is active, with two seasons left before Free Agency or retirement. Occasionally these long ball titans sacrifice themselves for the team.
In 22 seasons, Barry Bonds hit 762 Home Runs and laid down 4 Sacrifices. Hank Aaron played 23 seasons, hit 755 Home Runs with 21 Sacrifices. Babe Ruth hit 714 Home Runs in 22 seasons and laid down 113 Sacrifices, more than the rest of this elite group combined. Alex Rodriguez Sacrificed 16 times in 22 seasons, while hitting 696 Home Runs. Willie Mays played 22 seasons, hit 660 Home Runs, and dropped 13 Sacrifices. Albert Pujols has played 19 seasons, hit 656 Home Runs with 1 Sacrifice. Ken Griffey Jr. hit 630 Home Runs over 22 seasons and Sacrificed 8 times. Jim Thome and his 612 Home Runs laid down 1 Sacrifice in 22 seasons. Sammy Sosa had 17 Sacrifices in 18 seasons while blasting 609 Home Runs. Frank Robinson dropped 17 Sacrifices in 21 seasons, with 586 Home Runs. Even the greatest sluggers of all time Sacrifice.
Babe Ruth revolutionized baseball with his power, yet he still played in an era where players were expected to bunt to help their team win. (www.captainsblog.info)
In 213 combined seasons, the greatest Home Run hitters laid down 211 Sacrifices. In an average season they hit 31.36 Home Runs with 0.99 Sacrifices. Their average career was 668 Home Runs and 21.1 Sacrifices, 30.2 Home Runs per Sacrifice. Even ardent believers in small ball know these players should swing the bat.
Jim Thome and Albert Pujols each have just 1 career Sacrifice. Thome and Pujols are not Rickey Henderson. They have hit a 32 triples, 16 each, and stolen 133 bases, combined. Only Pujol’s 114 steals break to top 1,000. Both sluggers were designed to trot around the bases, not sprint.
On July 3, 1994, Indians Manager Mike Hargrove looked to extend Cleveland’s 2.5 game over the Chicago White Sox in the American League Central. In the Bottom of the 7th, in a 7-7 tie against the Minnesota Twins, Eddie Murray laced the third pitch to Right for a lead off single. Hargrove signaled his young Third Baseman to Sacrifice. After taking a strike from Mark Guthrie, the 23 year old Jim Thome bunted, moving Murray to Second. Thome reached on an error by Third Baseman Chip Hale. Twins Manager Tom Kelly then replaced Guthrie with Carl Willis. Sandy Alomar Jr. greeted Willis with a swinging bunt down, loading the bases. Paul Sorrento followed with an RBI Single to Right, driving in Murray. Wayne Kirby fouled out to Third. One out. Kenny Lofton hit a Sacrifice Fly to Center, scoring Thome with Alomar advancing to Third. Two outs. Omar Vizquel flied out to Center. Three outs. 9-7 Cleveland. Thome and the Indians won 10-9 in 11 Innings, sending the Jacobs Field crowd home happy.
Jim Thome hit baseballs a long way, his talents were not best used bunting. (www.cooperstowncred.com)
The importance of the game, and Thome’s Sacrifice, were lost as the 1994 season stopped on August 12th. Cleveland was 1 game behind Chicago when the Strike began. The Strike claimed the rest of the 1994.
The St. Louis Cardinals hosted the Chicago White Sox on June 16, 2001. The Chicago Cubs led the Cardinals by 6 games in the National League Central. In the Bottom of the 7th, White Sox pitcher Sean Lowe walked Placido Polanco on four pitches. J. D. Drew then Singled to Right. Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa looked to stretch the 6-3 lead. He signaled his Cleanup Hitter to bunt. In his 67th career game, Albert Pujols bunted the first pitch foul. On the second pitch, Pujols bunted the ball back to Lowe who threw to Second Baseman Ray Durham covering First. Polanco moved to Third and Drew to second. One out. Pujols has not Sacrificed again. Bobby Bonilla was Intentionally Walked to load the bases and replaced by Pinch Runner Jim Edmonds. Craig Paquette Singled to Right, scoring Polanco. Drew scored on an error by the Shortstop, Tony Graffanino. Edmonds stopped at Second. Edgar Renteria struck out looking as Edmonds stole Third and Paquette stole Second. Two outs. Mike Matheny grounded out to First. Three outs. St. Louis won 8-3.
Albert Pujols is one of the greatest right hand power hitters of all time, bunting is not his most dangerous weapon. (Dilip Vishwanat/ Getty Images)
The Cardinals lost to the Houston Astros on the final day of the Regular Season. Both teams finished 93-69. Houston was crowned Division champions by winning the season series 9 games to 7. St. Louis was the Wild Card. The Cardinals lost to the eventual World Series champion Arizona Diamondbacks in a decisive Game 5 in the Divisional Series.
Baseball is a team game played by individuals. Players field ground balls, pitch, and bat alone. No one can help you succeed, but you can help others succeed. Backing up throws, turning Double Plays, executing a relay all help a team win. And yes, occasionally even the greatest Home Run hitters Sacrifice for the team.
As baseball changes, Sacrifices by players capable of putting a baseball into orbit inches towards extinction. The Sacrifice is becoming a lost art as light hitting pitchers in the National League dominate and the Designated Hitter in the American League decimates the Sacrifice. A slugger bunting is now more rare than a Perfect Game. This generation’s greatest sluggers have Sacrificed just twice. If Mike Trout ever lays down a Sacrifice, soak in the moment. It will be the first of his career, and possibly the last time an all time great Home Run hitter Sacrifices himself.