Tagged: Hank Aaron

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.

Wally Moon.jpg
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. 

Coliseum
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.

Moon.jpeg
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

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The Best of the Best?

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
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.  

DJ

Baseball is as America is

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.

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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!

DJ

Mundane Greatness

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:

Career (2011-2016)

G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB HBP SF IBB
811 3558 2997 600 917 175 37 168 497 143 28 477 784 .306 .405 .557 .963 1670 48 36 46


Average Season

G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB HBP SF IBB
154 685 575 116 178 34 7 33 96 28 6 94 151 .310 .410 .564 .975 173 324 9 7 9

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

DJ

The Glorious Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DJ

Rookie of the Year?

You cannot steal first base.  A player has to hit the ball, walk, or get hit by the pitch to make it to first.  Once on first base, a player can steal any base, a fact that Billy Hamilton is proving on a nightly basis.

Pitchers pitch and hitters hit, baseball can be as simple as this.  However, two of the leading contenders for the National League Rookie of the Year award seem to be proving this wrong.  Joc Pederson of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs are tied for the most strikeouts in the National League this season.  The only player in Major League Baseball with more strikeouts is Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles.  Why are two players who fail to do their jobs the most leading the charge in winning an award that is designed for the best new player in the game?

Joc Pederson can hit a baseball a mile, but he needs to make more contact if he wants to be an elite player. (www.usatoday.com)

Joc Pederson can hit a baseball a mile, but he needs to make more contact if he wants to be an elite player. (www.usatoday.com)

Entering play on August 15th:

Joc Pederson has the following stat line:

G

PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG

OPS

113 464 378 56 83 18 1 22 45 74 137 0.220 0.359 0.447

0.806

BBRate 16.5%
K Rate 29.5%

Kris Bryant has the following stat line:

G

PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG

OPS

105 453 381 60 97 19 4 16 66 60 137 0.255 0.362 0.451

0.813

BBRate 13.3%
K Rate 30.2%
Kris Bryant has the ability to be the star the Cubs have been waiting for, but he needs to cut down on his strikeouts if he is to reach his potential. (www.northjersey.com)

Kris Bryant has the ability to be the star the Cubs have been waiting for, but he needs to cut down on his strikeouts if he is to reach his potential. (www.northjersey.com)

Both Pederson and Bryant are excellent players with extremely bright futures.  However, their consistent inability to put the bat on the ball should raise some concerns.  Both players are still young and are in their first full season in the Majors, so there is obviously plenty of time and room for improvement.  The idea of swing hard in case you hit something is fine on select pitches, but not during every at bat.  Swinging for the fences every time does not help a team as much as understanding when to back away from this approach.  The difference between hitting 30 and 40 home runs is at most 40 RBI (hitting 10 grand slams in a season has never happened, the most being 6, and the odds of shattering this record are astronomically small).  Could those maximum of 40 RBI be made up, and more than likely surpassed, by cutting down on the all or nothing type approach?

It is impossible to force the defense to make an error if the ball is not put in play.  Putting the ball in play means anything can happen.  The fielder can misjudge a fly ball, whiff on a grounder, make a poor throw, lose the ball in the lights or sun; the batter can move a runner over with a well-placed ground ball or fly ball.  None of this is possible if the batter does not put the ball in play.

In recent memory, Adam Dunn looms large as the king of the all or nothing swing.  Dunn hit 462 career home runs, but he also struck out 2,379 times.  Over his 14 year career Dunn’s 28.6% K Rate made him a liability for any team he played for that was not able to absorb the downside to his hitting abilities.  Dunn could change a game with one swing, but at what cost?  The all or nothing approach could kill rallies and scoring opportunities and shorten lineups.  The reward just does not seem to balance out with the benefit.  Dunn was an impact player for a long time; he averaged 33 HR, 83 RBI, 94 BB, 78 R a season.  However, those numbers are countered with a lifetime .237 BA and an average of 170 strikeouts a season.  Every season of his career he struck out more times than games played, not a recipe for long-term success.  Even his 15.8% career BB Rate is higher than that of Pederson and Bryant.  Adam Dunn, the most recent king of the all or nothing swing has a lower career strikeout percentage rate and higher walk rate than either Joc Pederson or Kris Bryant.

Adam Dunn is the most recent king of the all or nothing swing. (www.http://nowbatting9th.blogspot.com/)

Adam Dunn is the most recent king of the all or nothing swing. (www.http://nowbatting9th.blogspot.com/)

The Rookie of the Year award is supposed to reward the successful beginning of a players Major League career.  The idea that Joc Pederson and Kris Bryant appear to be the front runners to win the award in the National League is strange.  Yes, both players can hit the ball well beyond the outfield fence, but baseball is more than just a home run derby.  The acceptance of this approach is a return to the ideas of the steroid era, skip playing small ball and wait for the big three-run home run.  This approach is fine, as long as teams, fans, and players are willing to accept the fact that there will be fewer balls in play and strikeout totals from video games.

There is without a doubt a place within baseball for the sluggers, there is no denying that the game needs them.  However, not every player can or should try to be like Ken Griffey Jr. or Babe Ruth.  There is nothing wrong with hitting 20 to 25 home runs a year and having a batting average in the .280s, instead of hitting 30 home runs and batting around .240.  Those extra .040 points worth of batting average will almost certainly match and surpass the runs produced by the extra 5 to 10 home runs that the player lost by not swinging for the fences every time at bat.

Say what you will, but baseball is a team game.  The team needs each individual player to contribute if the team as a whole is going to be successful.  Joc Pederson and Kris Bryant have both played for successful teams so far in the Major League careers.  This has afforded them both the room to continue growing as professional hitters.  However, for both of them to reach their potential they will need to make more contact with the baseball.  This might require them hit fewer home runs.  This is a trade off for being a better all-around player.

Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig understood how to be both a slugger and a great hitter. (NY Post via the Babe Ruth Museum in Baltimore MD.)

Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig understood how to be both a slugger and a great hitter. (NY Post via the Babe Ruth Museum in Baltimore MD.)

The great players are not the ones who have all or nothing types of swings, rather they are the Babe Ruth’s, Lou Gehrig’s, Hank Aaron’s, Willie Mays‘, and Miguel Cabrera’s of the world.  These are the hitters who could hit the ball a mile when need be, but could also simply put the ball in play.  Pederson and Bryant should learn from this approach.  Ruth hit 714 home runs, while posting a .342 career batting average, and having a 12.5% K Rate.  Gehrig hit 493 home runs, .340 career batting average, and having a 8.2% K Rate.  Aaron hit 755 home runs, .305 career batting average, and having a 9.9% K Rate.  Mays hit 660 home runs, .302 career batting average, and having a 12.2% K Rate.  Cabrera has hit 405 home runs, .321 career batting average, and has a 16.9% K Rate.  These all-time greats put the ball in play, and yet the home runs still came.  They all helped their team be successful every time they stepped between the lines.  Even Mike Trout and Bryce Harper understand that making contact is important.  Trout has a 22.4% career K Rate and Harper has a 21.1% career K Rate.  While their K Rate is higher than these legends, they are also much lower than Pederson and Bryant.

Adjusting to life in the Majors goes beyond just playing baseball.  Pederson and Bryant are hopefully just settling into the beginnings of long and successful careers.  They are off to good starts, but not Rookie of the Year award worthy starts, perhaps they should be on the second tier for consideration for that award.  Both players do many parts of the game well, but both need to work diligently on putting the ball in play and reducing their number of strikeouts.  If they can do this, they both have the talent to be successful year after year at the highest level of the sport.

DJ

The Negro Leagues and the History We Are Losing

The Negro Leagues were home to some of the best baseball players in the world during the time they were operational. The further away we get from the last game of the Negro Leagues in the early 1960’s. In the half century since, the number of living Negro League players has dwindled to critically low numbers.  Each time a former Negro League player passes away, we all lose a little more history. Some of this history we will never be able to get back. The incomplete records from the Negro Leagues leave a hole in our understanding of the players, both those as great as Josh Gibson or those who only played briefly.

The rich history of the Negro Leagues is chronicled in Kansas City at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and in Cooperstown at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. However, the door through which individual players can be honored in Cooperstown has been shut, hopefully the door can be reopened. The 2006 balloting for the National Baseball Hall of Fame also included The Committee on African-American Baseball. Major League Baseball sought to do extensive research into the history and the people who were involved in the Negro Leagues and/or African-American baseball. The focus on African-American baseball was a long time coming, and resulted in the nomination of 94 individuals for enshrinement into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. After the ballots were cast, 17 of the 94 individuals were elected to Cooperstown; seven Negro League players (Ray Brown, Willard Brown, Andy Cooper, Biz Mackay, Mule Suttles, Cristobal Torriente, and Jud Wilson), five pre-Negro League players (Frank Grant, Pete Hill, Jose Mendez, Louis Santop, and Ben Taylor), four Negro Leagues executives (Effa Manley, Alex Pompez, Cum Posey, and J.L. Wilkinson), and one pre-Negro Leagues executive (Sol White).

Satchel Paige almost did not make it to the Major Leagues because of racism. (www.wpgc.cbslocal.com)

Satchel Paige almost did not make it to the Major Leagues because of racism. (www.wpgc.cbslocal.com)

The Committee on African-American Baseball was an excellent start for Major League Baseball at giving Negro League, and pre-Negro League, players the recognition they so richly deserve. However, more individuals need to receive the honor they have long been denied. Determining who was and was not a Hall of Fame caliber player or executive for all of baseball during segregation is an enormous task. Players who would have had excellent career in the Negro Leagues, like Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, have not been over looked because they were given the opportunity to play in the Major Leagues. Mays and Aaron are among the greatest baseball players of all time, how many players like them were never given the opportunity to play in Major League Baseball because of their skin color?

Plenty of Negro League players have been inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Greats, including Monte Irvin (Class of 1973), James “Cool Papa” Bell (Class of 1974), and Josh Gibson (Class of 1972), have been inducted, even before the Committee on African-American Baseball. Their elections have in some small way helped to correct some of the wrongs that necessitated the Negro Leagues. The call made by many, including Ted Williams during his own Hall of Fame induction speech, has led to a sort of reexamining of Major League Baseball’s past actions. This process should be on going. New information continues to emerge, thus the credentials of players continue to change. The Committee on African-American Baseball was an excellent beginning, but the work has not come to an end.

 Buck O'Neil deserves to be enshrined in Cooperstown. (www.sports.espn.go.com)

Buck O’Neil deserves to be enshrined in Cooperstown. (www.sports.espn.go.com)

If there was ever a reason to renew the Committee on African-American Baseball it is Buck O’Neil. He held nearly every job in baseball, and through it all he never lost his love for the game. He played for 11 seasons for the Kansas City Monarchs and Memphis Red Sox, both in the Negro American League. His career .283 BA prove his abilities on the field. He managed the Monarchs, coached for the Chicago Cubs, scouted for the Cubs and Kansas City Royals, and led the charge for the establishment of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. O’Neil may not have had the credentials as a player or manager to gain enshrinement to Cooperstown, and no scout has ever been given the honor (which should be seen as a travesty). Buck O’Neil should be inducted as a contributor to baseball. Unfortunately, Buck O’Neil has passed away and was not able to receive the honor of induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Major League Baseball and the National Baseball Hall of Fame need to act, and act soon, so that more people who were involved with the Negro Leagues can be honored. The longer we wait to honor these individuals the more history we are losing. Time is of the essence, it is past time that we honor these individuals.

D