Roberto Clemente was many things on a baseball field. A tremendous outfielder, outstanding leader, and natural born hitter. Despite his career being tragically cut short, only nine players have won more Batting Titles than Clemente’s four. It is a testament to Clemente’s skill with the bat.
The nine players out of nearly 20,000 players in Major League history to win more batting titles than the Great One are all in the Hall of Fame. Ty Cobb leads with 12 Batting Titles, a record unlikely to be equaled or broken. Tony Gwynn and Honus Wagner are tied for second with 8 titles. Rod Carew, Rogers Hornsby, and Stan Musial each collected 7. Ted Williams won 6 despite two pauses in his career for military service. Wade Boggs and Dan Brouthers won 5 titles. Clemente is tied with Cap Anson, Miguel Cabrera, Harry Heilmann, and Bill Madlock with four Batting Titles. Anson and Heilmann are in the Hall of Fame. Cabrera will join them when his career is over. Surprisingly, Madlock did not receive the minimum 5% in 1993, falling off the ballot in his first year of eligibility.
Winning multiple Batting Titles in your career is an impressive accomplishment. Clemente won his four titles in the span of seven seasons. He won his first Batting Title in 1961. In 146 Games, Clemente collected 201 Hits, 30 Doubles, 10 Triples, 23 Home Runs, drew 35 Walks with just 59 Strikeouts. He posted a .351 BA, .390 OBP, .559 SLG, .949 OPS, and 150 OPS+. Clemente was named to both All Star games that summer and finished fourth in the MVP voting. The 26 year old could not save Pittsburgh however, as the Pirates finished in 6th place, 75-79. While the team struggled, Clemente began his ascent to super stardom.
After two “down” seasons where he hit a mere .316, Clemente claimed his second Batting Title in 1964. Named an All Star for the fifth consecutive season, he played 155 Games, collected 211 Hits, 40 Doubles, 7 Triples, 12 Home Runs, with 51 Walks and 87 Strikeouts on his way to a .339 BA, .388 OBP, .484 SLG, .872 OPS, and 146 OPS+. Clemente led the National League in Hits, with career highs in Hits (211) and Doubles (40). The 29 year old finished ninth in MVP voting as the Pirates again struggled to a 6th place finish, 80-82.
Clemente won his second consecutive, and third overall, Batting Title in 1965. He played 152 Games, collected 194 Hits, 21 Doubles, 14 Triples, 10 Home Runs, with 43 Walks and 78 Strikeouts. He posted a .329 BA, .378 OBP, .463 SLG, .842 OPS, and 136 OPS+. His 194 Hits and .329 BA were the lowest of his four Batting Titles, while his 14 Triples were a career high. Once again Clemente finished in the top ten for the MVP, 8th. Pittsburgh played their first meaningful baseball late in the season since 1960, finishing third, 90-72.
1966 was another “down year” for Clemente’s Batting Average, dipping to .317, tied for fourth highest in the National League. Ultimately he traded a third consecutive Batting Title for the MVP award. In 1967 Clemente unsuccessfully defended his MVP award, finishing third. His Batting Average rebounded as he won his fourth and final Batting Title. In 147 Games, he collected 209 Hits, 26 Doubles, 10 Triples, and 23 Home Runs, drew 41 Walks with 103 Strikeouts. He posted a career high .357 BA, with a .400 OBP, .554 SLG, .954 OPS, and 171 OPS+. Clemente led the league in Hits for a second time. Despite his efforts the Pirates were a .500 team, 81-81, 6th in the National League.
Any player can have a great season, only elite players can maintain this level of play season after season. In his four Batting Title winning seasons Clemente averaged 150 Games played, 204 Hits, 29 Doubles, 10 Triples, 17 Home Runs, 43 Walks, 82 Strikeouts, .344 BA, .389 OBP, .514 SLG, and .903 OPS. This was the average. These four seasons gave Clemente roughly a quarter of his career Hits (815 of 3,000), Doubles (117 of 440), Triples (41 of 166), and Home Runs (68 of 240), as he hit .027 above his career .317 BA. Every player peaks, but Clemente peaked higher than Everest.
Clemente did not fade in the twilight of his career. He hit a combined .346 from 1969 to 1971, averaging 214 Hits per 162 Games played. Clemente finished second to Pete Rose for the Batting Title in 1969, just three points short of his fifth title, .348 to .345. Clemente played just 108 games in 1970, failing to qualify for the Batting Title. However, his .352 BA would have placed second behind Rico Carty’s .366, well ahead of Manny Sanguillen and Joe Torre’s .325. In 1971, Clemente hit .341 and finished fourth in the Batting Title. The 36 year year old could still hit. His Batting Average in each season from 1969 to 1971 was higher than his Batting Title winning Batting Averages in 1964 and 1965. Clemente remained among the best hitters in the league.
Only a select few are naturally gifted to hit a baseball and without a doubt Roberto Clemente was one of them. His abilities should be celebrated in the same breath as Aaron, Ruth, Cobb, Musial, and Williams. His number 21 should be retired across baseball for his accomplishments on the field and for what he meant to the game off the field. He was a true humanitarian and remains the icon for Puerto Rican and Caribbean players. Retire #21.
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.
People say he was less than a god but more than a man.”
-Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez, The Sandlot
Benny was talking about Babe Ruth, but the same sentiment applies to Ruth’s successor. The passing of Henry Aaron hit home like the loss of a family member. Mr. Aaron was revered across baseball, but in Atlanta it went further. He spoke and the city stopped. He was the President, Pope, and Movie Star rolled into one. The reflections on his life have barely focused on his baseball achievements, rather focusing on his humanity.
The stories around Aaron’s pursuit of Babe Ruth’s Home Run record are harrowing. The constant pressure as he surpassed an American icon was infinitely compounded by the horrific and vile racism that remains in America. The hatred and threats were directed at him and his family simply because he was African-American. Through it all Mr. Aaron maintained his dignity as a man, refusing to allow the hate to embitter him. No one should ever experience the worst of his fellow man because of a game. Few could have withstood the onslaught Aaron faced.
Henry Aaron eventually passed Babe Ruth, retiring with 755 Home Runs. He has since lost the record, yet remains the king to many. Mr. Aaron traveled to Korea to help the young KBO grow. He went to Japan to duel Sadaharu Oh in a Home Run Derby. He played in the Negro Leagues at the beginning of his career. He returned to Milwaukee with the Brewers to finish his career after leaving with the Braves for Atlanta. He worked in the Braves’ Front Office, not in a ceremonial position. He had private security because the color of his skin was seen as a threat to baseball history by the ignorant. Henry Aaron saw everything baseball could offer, good and bad.
Mr. Aaron’s grace on the field was no match for his grace off. He gave generously of his time, simply writing a check was out of the question. His name carried significance and he knew it. Mr. Aaron’s final act of service was receiving the Covid vaccine in public. He sought to cut through the distrust of the vaccine in the current polarized political climate and the mistrust, especially among African-Americans following their long history of mistreatment in the name of medical science. Henry Aaron never stopped working for the betterment of people. I never met him and do not have anything new to add to the outpouring of love. All I know is we should emulate people like Henry Aaron who spend their lives working for the betterment of their fellow man.
Rest In Peace Mr. Aaron.
United States of Baseball
After an abbreviated 2020 season, hopefully a normal 2021 season lies ahead of us. The loss of normalcy due to Covid has made us all appreciate the good in our lives and what brings us together. In this effort The Winning Run will examine the greatest players from every state of the United States. Each Wednesday we will examine each state’s best pitcher and position player based on career WAR.
This is not to diminish the contributions of non-American born players. They will have their own spotlight later. We hope you enjoy this journey through the United States of Baseball.
Alabama does not have a Major League team, but it has produced 341 Major League players. Success on the field has led 11 players from the Yellowhammer state to Cooperstown. The greatest Alabama pitcher is Don Sutton and the greatest position player is Willie Mays. Both players are enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Their combined 224.51 WAR, gives Alabama the sixth highest WAR.
Born in Clio, Alabama, Don Sutton is the town’s only Major Leaguer. He compiled 68.29 career WAR in 23 seasons pitching primarily for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He has the 18th highest WAR among pitching state leaders. Sutton made at least 31 starts in 20 seasons, with his best season coming in 1972. In 33 Starts, he went 19-9 with 18 Complete Games, 9 Shutouts, throwing 272.2 Innings, with a 2.08 ERA, 0.913 WHIP, and 162 ERA+. He was an All Star and finished fifth in National League Cy Young voting.
The 1972 season began five seasons of dominance. Sutton went 93-51, with a 2.73 ERA, 1.054 WHIP, and 125 ERA+ during his peak. He finished in the top five of Cy Young voting in each season.
The five seasons of dominance coupled with a long and healthy career enabled Sutton to join the illustrious 300 Win club. His 324 Wins are tied with Nolan Ryan for 14th most. He started 756 Games, threw 178 Complete Games, 58 Shutouts, in 5,282.1 Innings, with a 3.26 ERA, 1.142 WHIP, and 108 ERA+. Sutton won the 1980 National League ERA title with a 2.20 ERA.
Sutton retired after the 1988 season. He finished his career with the Dodgers following stints with the Angels, Brewers, Astros, and Athletics. He was elected to Cooperstown in 1998 with 81.6% of the vote in his fifth year of eligibility.
Westfield, Alabama has one Major Leaguer, the legendary Willie Mays. In 22 seasons, Mays compiled 156.22 career WAR for the Giants and Mets. He has the third highest WAR among position player state leaders. Nearly 50 years after his final game, Mays is still considered by many the greatest player ever.
Choosing the greatest season of Willie Mays’ career is impossible. His two MVP seasons are the easy choices, but 1955 was equally impressive. Mays’ first MVP season was 1954. In 151 Games, he collected 195 Hits, including 33 Doubles, 13 Triples, 41 Home Runs, 110 RBI, 119 Runs scored, with 8 Stolen Bases, 66 Walks, 57 Strikeouts, .345 BA, .411 OBP, .667 SLG, 1.078 OPS, and 175 OPS+. He led the league in Triples, BA, SLG, OBP, OPS, and OPS+. In 1955, Mays played 152 Games, collected 185 Hits, including 18 Doubles, 13 Triples, 51 Home Runs, 127 RBI, 123 Runs scored, 24 Stolen Bases, 79 Walks, 60 Strikeouts, .319 BA, .400 OBP, .659 SLG, 1.059 OPS, and 174 OPS+. He led the league in Triples, Home Runs, SLG, OPS, and OPS+ to finish fourth in MVP voting. A decade later, with the Giants now in San Francisco, Mays won his second MVP. He dominated in 1965, playing 157 Games, collecting 177 Hits, 21 Doubles, 3 Triples, 52 Home Runs, 112 RBI, 118 Runs scored, 9 Stolen Bases, 76 Walks, 71 Strikeouts, .317 BA, .398 OBP, .645 SLG, 1.043 OPS, and 185 OPS+. He led the league in Home Runs, OBP, SLG, OPS, and OPS+. In the ten seasons between MVPs, Mays finished outside of the top six in MVP voting once.
A Hall of Fame career is not built in a few good seasons, it requires consistent and sustained success. In 22 seasons, Mays collected 3,283 Hits, 523 Doubles, 140 Triples, 660 Home Runs, 1,903 RBI, 2,062 Runs scored, 338 Stolen Bases, 1,464 Walks, 1,526 Strikeouts, .304 BA, .384 OBP, .557 SLG, .941 OPS, and 156 OPS+. In addition to his MVPs, Mays won the 1951 National League Rookie of the Year, the 1954 World Series, the 1954 National League Batting title, 12 consecutive Gold Gloves, and was a 24 time All Star. In 1979, Mays was elected to Cooperstown in his first year of eligibility with 94.7% of the vote.
Beyond Sutton and Mays, 10 more Hall of Famers were born in Alabama: Hank Aaron, Monte Irvin, Heinie Manush, Willie McCovey, Satchel Paige, Joe Sewell, Ozzie Smith, Mule Suttles, Billy Williams, and Early Wynn. Alabama’s rich baseball history continues.
The next stop for the United States of Baseball is The Last Frontier, Alaska.
Social distancing and baseball does not work. Far too many Americans are not wearing masks or following social distancing rules. Little league games are an extension of society as the players, coaches, and fans act like there is not an ongoing global pandemic. The flippant approach to Covid by many is why the United States continues to struggle in its fight against Covid.
Social distancing and baseball also does not work because it prevents people from attending games, with good reason. Returning from a camping trip in Michigan sent us through Milwaukee. Having never been to Milwaukee, I wanted to stop at Miller Park to see the home of the Brewers. Camping is wonderful, it takes you out of cell service and allows you to relax. While driving to Miller Park, my wife looked up the Brewers schedule for that day, August 9th. The lack of service while camping meant I was out of the loop on each team’s status due to Covid.
Miller Park, home of the Milwaukee Brewers. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
The schedule read Brewers vs. Reds at Miller Park. Oh come on. I am in Milwaukee, standing outside the stadium while the Brewers play the Reds, with absolutely no chance to go inside. Living in Cincinnati I go to plenty of Reds games, but watching them play in Milwaukee would have been a great end to the camping trip.
Pretending no game was happening inside, I did my typical visit to a new stadium. Walk around, take pictures of the park, statues, and memorials around the stadium. The Brewers have roped off the stadium except for a few places, so I could not get especially close. My eternally patient wife stayed in the car with our daughter so I could have my 10 minutes of being a kid at the ballpark. As I walked around Miller Park a security guard came up on his bicycle and asked if he could help me. I told him I was just looking at the park as we passed through Milwaukee. We began to talk, from several feet away of course, as we are the only people outside the stadium. Eventually it gets brought up that I live in Cincinnati but am originally from Atlanta. This clearly peaks his interest and the conversation turns to Hank Aaron. “Would you like to see where home run 755 landed?” Absolutely. He whips his bike around, clearly excited, and tells me to follow. I jog back to the car and follow. My daughter is clearly over sitting in her car seat. My wife asks where we are going, so I told her. She says ok with a knowing tone, no reason to discuss things further, because…baseball. I park and walk over to my new friend. There, in the park lot is a plaque commemorating where the final home run of Hank Aaron’s hall of fame career landed.
Standing next to where Home Run #755 landed. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
The spot where Hank Aaron Home Run #755 landed. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
More pictures. I thank the security guard and we part ways. Back in the car I quickly text the other members of The Winning Run as my wife lovingly mocks me. Our daughter does not care, she is mad. Sorry kid, Dad is a baseball nut, hopefully you get used to it at some point.
As we drive out of Milwaukee I turn on the game. You have to listen to Bob Uecker when in Milwaukee. Baseball on the radio has a certain purity. The listener is completely reliant on the announcer to inform them of the happenings on the field. The announcer passes along information and the action plays out in the minds of fans.
I cannot remember what happened in the game, even though it was only a few days ago. What I do remember is listening to Bob Uecker discuss his favorite press boxes. Stories from old Comiskey Park, talking after the game with Bill Veeck. Trading stories about life, baseball, and players while Veeck taps the ashes of his cigar into his ashtray/ wooden leg. The Brewers traveling secretary calls Uecker to tell him the bus is leaving. Uecker tells him he will be down in a few minutes. Hours later Uecker went down to find the bus long gone back to Milwaukee. Never fear, Mr. Baseball would have a clubhouse guy for the White Sox drive him to Kenosha and the Wisconsin State Police drive him back to Milwaukee, either home or the ball park depending on game time in Milwaukee.
Bob Uecker also talked about working a nationally televised Twins game with Don Drysdale at Metropolitan Stadium. After the game Uecker and Drysdale go to the press box to relax. Drysdale is talking about sliding. The bartender says he can do a hook slide. The conversation continues until they clear out enough room and lay paper down to act as a base. The bartender does his best hook slide. Uecker and Drysdale are impressed, especially since the bartender had taken off his wooden leg before doing his hook slide. Bob Uecker seems to hang out with lots of people who have lost a leg.
Bob Uecker is the voice of Brewers baseball. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
As Mr. Baseball tells his stories there is a game going on in the background. Sometimes he relays the action, sometimes he does not. Ultimately I was happy to just listen to Uecker tell stories from his life in baseball as I drove out of Milwaukee.
I wish people listened to medical experts so I could have gone inside Miller Park to watch the Brewers play the Reds. However, being stuck on the outside gate gave me the opportunity to see and hear some baseball history. There is never a bad day at the ballpark. Wear a mask and social distance. We are all tired of the piped in crowd noise.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
All Star voting is over and the starters for the Mid-Summer Classic are set. On July 9th, Cleveland hosts the 90th MLB All Star Game with the best players taking the field, in theory. Baseball altered the election process this year for All Star starters. It is an important step towards ensuring the best players are All Stars each season.
MLB continues the mass voting fans are accustomed to, giving every player the opportunity to be elected. This year however the top three vote getters at each position faced a runoff for the right to start the All Star Game. This extra layer of voting helps guard against a pure popularity contest, forcing voters to reexamine players a second time. While it is not a perfect system, it is a step in the right direction. Players still need fan support, but the second round of voting helps prevent players like Aaron Judge from starting the All Star Game with just 32 games played for the Yankees this season. Judge is talented, but he is not an All Star this season; he finished fourth, just missing an undeserved All Star Game. Houston’s Carlos Correa finished third among American League Shortstops. He has placed 50 games this season, more than Judge, but not enough to earn the honor of starting the All Star Game. MLB ought to establish a minimum games played threshold for All Star voting eligibility.
Judge and Correa should play in many future All Star Games, just not this season. If the idea of the All Star Game is to have the best players on the field, some high priced talent will miss out. Manny Machado and Bryce Harper were not voted into the All Star Game by the fans. Big free agent contracts do not guarantee All Star Games. The fans elect who they want to play, but even this idea has been an issue in the past.
Tommy Pham raised a good point that All Star voting is unfair. MLB changed the voting process this season, but more may need to be done. (www.calltothepen.com)
Before the Big Red Machine began dominating baseball, it was the Cincinnati fans causing havoc. In 1957, Cincinnati fans so over stuffed the ballot box that seven Reds were elected to the All Star Game in St. Louis. Stan Musial was the only non-Reds starter. The farce forced Commissioner Ford Frick to step in, replacing two Reds players, Wally Post and Gus Bell, with Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. Frick went further, revoking the fan All Star vote until 1970.
Ballot stuffing continued in the computer age. In 1999 a computer programmer electronically stuffed the ballot for Boston’s Nomar Garciaparra. When discovered, Garciaparra lost 25,259 ill gotten votes, though he still started the All Star Game at Fenway Park over Derek Jeter.
The 2015 Kansas City Royals brought back memories of the 1957 Reds. Leading up to the All Star Game, fittingly played in Cincinnati. Eight Royals led at their respective positions. There was not a repeat of 1957, as Kansas City ultimately had four All Star starters. A single team having a stranglehold on the All Star Game may not be in the best interest of baseball, even if they win the World Series like the Royals in 2015.
The Mid-Summer Classic returns to Cleveland for the first time since 1997 and to an American League ballpark for the first time since Minnesota hosted in 2014. The All Star Game is an exhibition. Yes the winning league gets home field advantage in the World Series, but this only impacts two teams. I doubt the Orioles and Marlins representatives will fight with extra vigor to secure home field advantage should their team have a miraculous second half turn around. The All Star Game is about seeing the best in the game play together one night a year. Interleague play has somewhat diluted the intrigue of the All Star Game. National League fans can see Mike Trout and American League fans can see Nolan Arenado more than one night a year. Despite the waning of the All Star Game’s novelty, the game is still important for growing the game and the enjoyment of the fans.
MLB is right to tweak the All Star Game voting process. It will never be perfect. Some deserving players are snubbed each year, but this is better than a return to fans are having no vote. Baseball must keep the fans involved, but there are limits. A small portion of fans in the past ruined the fun of voting. MLB should continue to tweak the process from year to year. There will never be a perfect All Star Game, but the change to two rounds of voting is a good first step.
Baseball is America’s pastime. It is also a reflection of America. Anyone can rise to the top of the game. It doesn’t matter where you come from, only your ability on the field. You can be born the son of a saloon keeper in the Pigtown section of Baltimore, Maryland and grow up to become Babe Ruth. You can be born to poor African-American parents in Mobile, Alabama and grow up to break Babe Ruth’s home run record and establish yourself as Hank Aaron, the Home Run King. You can grow up in Commerce, Oklahoma and become Mickey Mantle, arguably the greatest switch hitter of all time. You can be the son of Italian immigrants and grow up in The Hill, St. Louis, Missouri and become Yogi Berra, one of the greatest catchers of all time. You can grow up in beautiful San Diego and become the greatest hitter of all time, as Ted Williams did. You can be a kid living in The Bronx, listening to the radio, wishing you were at the game and grow up to be Vin Scully, the greatest broadcaster ever.
Baseball can give people so much, yet it also has a shameful past. The exclusion of African-American players is indefensible. It will forever be a stain on the game. The resulting Negro Leagues are the truest American response to injustice. When faced with hatred and ignorance, players created their own leagues. Baseball in the Major Leagues and the Negro Leagues was never perfect. However, African-Americans fought for their rightful place as equals in America with every pitch, hit, catch, and throw. The Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City, Missouri continues to ensure this history, good and bad, is not forgotten.
Baseball is a reflection of what is good in America, but it can also reflect what is not good in America. (www.si.com)
Baseball, like America, is a melting pot. People from all over the world come here to play the game. Ichiro crossed the Pacific and become a legend in Japan and America. One of the greatest right handed hitter of all time, Miguel Cabrera, left his native Venezuela to leave opposing players and fans in awe at his skills with a bat. Peter Moylan had a second chance at baseball after working as a pharmaceutical salesman in his native Australia. Gift Ngoepe continues to create a path for other African born players, as the South African became the first African born player to appear in a Major League game. Baseball and America takes players from everywhere in the world as Ed Porray proved, he was born at sea.
America is a true melting pot. We are not a perfect nation. We have done horrible things to our own people, from the Native Americans to African-Americans to religious minorities to the LGBTQ community. We fight and argue for what we think is right, just like in baseball. The rules that govern how we play the game and live together need updating from time to time. Change is never easy, but it is necessary. We are stronger together when we are willing to judge people by their abilities on the field and in life, and not on preconceived ideas based upon where they are from, what language they speak, or what god they worship. The wonderful thing about being an American is there is no mold to follow. Only a select few of us, when you trace your family back, are from here. Instead of telling our teammates and fellow Americans to conform, why not listen to them and learn from them to make yourself better, and by extension our team and country better.
Happy Independence Day!
There are several ways to define greatness. No single definition will satisfy everyone’s understanding of the word. One definition of greatness in baseball, and in life, is doing the unthinkable while also doing the basic things extremely well. There are several super star players in baseball at the moment, but Mike Trout rises above the others for his greatness and his ability to do the basic things well.
Greatness in a career, not just a singular moment, requires the ability to continually place yourself among other great players. In his first five full seasons in the Majors, Mike Trout has established himself as a consistent and reliable player for the Angels. There have not been any wild swings, up or down, in his statistics. He has scored more than 100 runs, collected at least 172 hits, hit 27 home runs, and hit 27 doubles in every full season. He has played in at least 157 games every season over the last four seasons. His consistency looks like this:
Mike Trout makes the extraordinary seem commonplace. (Mark J. Terrill/ Associated Press)
This consistency, season after season, has led Trout to never finish lower than second in the American League MVP voting. He has received a vote on 148 MVP ballots in his first five seasons, out of a possible 148. Trout won the MVP Award in 2014 and 2016. He finished second to Miguel Cabrera in both 2012 and 2013, and to Josh Donaldson in 2015. In his rookie season, Trout received all 28 first place votes for the 2012 AL Rookie of Year Award, far outdistancing runner up Yoenis Cespedes.
The Rookie of the Year Award, two AL MVP Awards, and five Silver Slugger Awards are quickly filling up Trout’s awards case. In some ways, the awards mask Trout’s dominance. He has drawn at least 83 walks in each of the last four seasons, twice leading the league with 110 in 2013 and 116 in 2016. This while sharing the Angels lineup with Albert Pujols. Trout’s discipline at the plate has meant a .405 career OBP. Yes, Trout does strikeout more than he probably should (136 times or more in every season), there are two things to remember. First, his walk rate is increasing while his strikeout rate is decreasing, so he is still learning. Second, Mike Trout is 25 years old. He is still a young ball player.
Despite all his ability on the field, Trout does not receive the appropriate fanfare he should. He is one of the most visible players in the sport, yet he could be so much more. There are three things that have dampened his rise to supreme super stardom. Above all baseball is a team sport. No individual can truly carry an entire team for a season like a player can in basketball or football. If Mike Trout were to get hurt, the Angels could replace him and still remain competitive. If LeBron James or Tom Brady were injured their team’s season is probably over. This understood, Trout has played on an Angels team that has not consistently competed in the American League West. In his first five full seasons, the Angels have finished as follows: 2012 89-73 (3rd AL West), 2013 78-84 (3rd AL West), 2014 98-64 (1st AL West, swept in ALDS), 2015 85-77 (3rd AL West), and 2016 74-88 (4th AL West). In baseball, great players need to be on competitive teams if they are to achieve the recognition their talents deserve.
The most common comparison for Mike Trout is to Mickey Mantle, and it is easy to see why. (www.nydailynews.com)
The second issue is that Trout plays on the West Coast. East coast bias is a real thing, and here is one of the main reasons why. Night games in California during the week start too late for people living on the East Coast or in the Midwest to stay up and watch. It is tough to watch a three hour game that starts at 10pm, when you have to be at work by 8am the next morning. Unfortunately, Friday and Saturday nights are really the only time for players like Trout to shine at home before the national audience. Trout and the Angels are also fighting for an audience in Los Angeles. After the eastern half of the country has gone to bed, there are still plenty of baseball fans awake to watch Trout, if they so chose. The Dodgers’ return to competing for a World Series title has meant less attention on the Angels as they seek their own return to consistently competing for the post season. Anaheim will always be the second team in Los Angeles, in part because Angels Stadium is 25 miles from downtown and Dodgers Stadium is two miles from downtown. Anyone who has ever tried to travel 25 miles in Los Angeles traffic can tell you that reaching Anaheim in time for an Angels game often requires divine intervention.
Trout’s greatness is one of a remarkable craftsman. His play makes him a superstar, yet his consistency year after year has him steadily climbing closer to the all time greats. Players like Hank Aaron and Derek Jeter are craftsmen. Aaron hit 25 home runs in all but one season from 1955 to 1973, yet never hit more than 47 home runs in a single season. Jeter averaged 191 hits for 18 of his 20 seasons in the Majors, leading the league in hits twice (1999 and 2012). It is not always easy to see the greatness of these compilers early on in their careers, it is the consistency over an entire career that raises these players from great to legendary. Predicting the future of any player is impossible because the game of baseball is unpredictable. Injuries are the hardest thing to predict. What sort of career would Mickey Mantle have had if he could have stayed healthy? Mantle is already a legendary player, but did he reach his potential? We will never know.
Mike Trout’s talent should help him rise to the top in baseball and in Los Angeles. (Mark J. Terrill/ Associated Press)
The greatness of Mike Trout cannot be ignored but it is only occasionally celebrated. He is a superstar, yet few people understand the company Trout is in through his first five full seasons in the Majors. Comparing Trout by age has meant comparisons at age 20 to Vada Pinson, Frank Robinson at age 21, and Mickey Mantle from age 22 through 24. The top ten similar batters through their age 24 season are Mickey Mantle, Ken Griffey Jr., Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Mel Ott, Miguel Cabrera, Orlando Cepeda, Vada Pinson, Al Kaline, and Jimmie Foxx. Every comparison except for Vada Pinson is a Hall of Fame player, without question. Mickey Mantle is the most common comparison, and the longer these comparisons continue the higher Trout rises in baseball’s pantheon.
Mike Trout’s greatness is known throughout baseball, yet he remains undervalued. A talent like Trout may only appear on the diamond once in a generation. Barring injury or some other unforeseen issue we have many more seasons to enjoy Trout and his greatness. Make sure you take time to watch Trout play, even if it means staying up late or fighting through Los Angeles traffic. Greatness should be appreciated, and looking back you will not remember how tired you were the next morning or sitting in traffic forever but that you were able to watch one of the legends of the game in action.