Tagged: Joe DiMaggio

The House That Ruth Built

Now batting for the New York Yankees, the shortstop, #2, Derek Jeter, #2.

I can still hear legendary Yankee Public Address Announcer Bob Sheppard introducing Derek Jeter for his first at bat on Sunday, September 21, 2008. Jeter walked to the plate while Sheppard’s voice echoed around Yankee Stadium. Jesse, John, and I had flown to New York solely to watch the Yankees play the Orioles in the final game at Yankee Stadium. The House That Ruth Built was closing.

Baseball brought me to New York City for the first time. I would later live and work in New York for five years, but that first visit was about baseball. Knowing we only had one game to explore one of the greatest ballparks in baseball we arrived at 161st Street Station in the Bronx around 9:30 am, 11 hours before first pitch. We were greeted by a sea of fans who, like us, we eager to spend the day inside the House That Ruth Built before it closed.

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We made it to The House That Ruth Built. (The Winning Run/ JJ)

The crowd outside the Stadium was chaotic, joyous, and a bit solemn all at once. The new Yankee Stadium stood just across the street, and except for a few glances I had little interest in the building. I had come to see THE Stadium, not its replacement. After slowly making our way through the line we finally entered the hallowed stadium. We soon learned our first stop would not happen. Monument Park was at capacity and the Yankees were closing it early. We scrapped our other plans and began exploring every nooks and cranny of the stadium that was accessible. We walked around the cheap seats, the foul lines, behind home plate, everywhere but our seats. Our seats were in the right field bleachers, with the Bleacher Creatures. Once you entered the bleacher area, security would not permit you to return to the rest of the stadium. We explored until our feet ached from the concrete. Once you join the Bleacher Creatures, there is no coming back.

Our first glimpse of the field was from behind home plate. Seeing the most famous baseball field in the world, where so much of the game’s history was made, where so many legends played, felt spiritual. I remember silently standing with Jesse and John gazing at the field, soaking it in. Three baseball fanatics in awe of their surroundings.

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The field is beautiful from the cheap seats (The Winning Run/JJ)
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Warming up before the game. (The Winning Run/JJ)
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Breathtaking. (The Winning Run/JJ)

Our day touring Yankee Stadium went by in a flash before we joined the Bleacher Creatures. The pregame festivities included Yankee legends returning to the field one last time. Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Reggie Jackson, and other living legends were joined by the ghosts of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, among others. Fittingly Babe Ruth’s daughter, Julia Ruth Stevens, threw out the final first pitch in the House That Ruth Built.

Once the actual game began, it was like every Yankee game I would attend while living in New York. The nationally televised game between two teams who would finish the season a combined 36.5 games behind first place began at 8:36 p.m. There were plenty of people, like us, who were not the regulars among the Bleacher Creatures. It was easy to identify the Bleacher Creatures. They are loud, obnoxious, generally know their baseball, and above all are die hard Yankee fans. The chants began in the top of the first, roll call. Every Yankee, except the pitcher and catcher, had their name chanted until they acknowledged the Bleacher Creatures. Some players, like Bobby Abreu, waved quickly, others, like Johnny Damon, made us work for a few minutes before waving. The loudest chant was for the Captain, Derek Jeter. Jeter was the man; no one on the field commanded more respect than #2.

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Our seats with the Bleacher Creatures. (The Winning Run/JJ)

I remember only pieces of the actual game. We went to the game for the experience, not necessarily the actual game. The Bleacher Creatures did what they do best, being loud. I have clear memories of a chant regarding Hall of Fame player and then ESPN Sunday Night Baseball announcer Joe Morgan, who was broadcasting the game. The chant was simple, “Joe Morgan Sucks! Joe Morgan Sucks! Joe Morgan Sucks!” Over and over and over. I was never a fan of Morgan’s broadcasting, but the Bleacher Creatures were less bashful in voicing their opinion. Another memory is a different chant “Box Seats Suck! Box Seats Suck!” The metal bleachers in right field were anything but leisurious. They reminded me of the bench at a little league game. The most memorable moment sitting among the Bleacher Creatures happened when people sitting several rows in front of us attempting to start the wave. Yes the wave. Every time they tried to start the wave they were booed and told to “Take That Sh@$ Back To Shea!” Eventually stadium security and the New York Police Department stepped in. This was late in the game after beer could lower people’s inhibitions. Obviously the people threatening those trying to start the wave were removed by security. Wrong. Attempting to start the wave gets you removed to the cheers of the Bleacher Creatures. I might have missed something someone said or did, but I like to think they were arrested for attempting to start the wave at Yankee Stadium.

On the field, Jose Molina hit the final home run in Yankee Stadium with a fourth inning two run shot off Chris Waters to give the Yankees a 5-3 lead. The Yankees would stretch out their lead in the sixth inning with a Jason Giambi RBI single and a sacrifice fly by Robinson Cano to score Brett Gardner. The tension was palpable in an otherwise meaningless game. Everyone wanted one last Yankee victory inside the House That Ruth Built. The Yankees led 7-3 heading into the ninth inning.

The guitar riff blasted through the speakers. Metallica’s Enter Sandman filled the stadium. The greatest closer of all time was trotting in from the bullpen. 11 pitches and three groundouts later, Mariano Rivera closed Yankee Stadium.

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Mariano Rivera coming in to close out Yankee Stadium. (The Winning Run/JJ)
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The final out. (The Winning Run/JJ)
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Jesse and me after the game. (The Winning Run/JJ)
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John and me after the game. Note the mounted police on the field to keep people off.(The Winning Run/JJ)

The celebration was not the World Series many envisioned to close Yankee Stadium, it was still special. Derek Jeter spoke to the crowd, thanking the fans and creating a bridge between the two stadiums. He was brief and to the point before leading the Yankees around the field to say goodbye. Yankee Stadium was the House That Ruth Built and the House That Jeter Closed.

The game ended just before midnight. An era in baseball history was closed. No one wanted to leave. Grown men were tossing empty water bottles to the player’s kids on the warning track, begging them to fill the bottles with dirt before tossing them back. Every nook and cranny inside Yankee Stadium was filled with memories and the thought of never coming back was almost too much for some to bear. Normally at the end of a Major League game the ushers and security are quick to push you out of your seats. This was different, we stayed in our seats for an hour after the final out. The crowd was slow to disperse and the stadium staff did not have the usual urgency to clear the stadium. It was after 1 a.m. when we left Yankee Stadium. No one was in a hurry to leave the ghosts of baseball history alone in a now closed Yankee Stadium.

DJ

The 1%

One of the many reasons I am not a big football fan is due to the lack of games. I understand why there are so few games each year, but the lack of action leaves plenty to be desired. The dead time between games results in hours and days of continuous talking about what happened in the last game and the matchups for the next game. There is only so much anyone can talk about a game before or after it is played until you begin to repeat the same thing over and over again. There is no justification that I can find to spend more than 30 minutes discussing the upcoming Week 6 football game between the Chicago Bears and the Jacksonville Jaguars unless it is to recreate the Saturday Night Live Bill Swerski Superfans skits. Sadly, dozens of hours will be spent discussing a game that will most likely be forgotten in the not so distant future. In baseball you might spend 30 minutes before and after each game discussing the match up and what happened, but even that can be a stretch.

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Not much to do between games but talk about DA BEARS. (nbc.com)

Football kills time between games by talking in circles about the same thing week after week. The beauty of baseball is once the post-game armchair manager talk is wrapped up, the discussion may continue to the future by looking at the minor leagues or reframe the present with a look to the past. Sometimes a quirky event about the game warrants a focused look on the great players in baseball history for an interesting connection.

I was invited to attend a talk by Jeff Idelson, President of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, by my fiancée’s work colleague. The talk was at the Green Diamond Gallery, which is the largest privately held baseball collection in the world. The talk centered mainly on the Hall of Fame and its current efforts to preserve baseball history and educate the fans. After the talk, Jeff Idelson began answering questions from the audience. Several of the questions had to do with the election process and potential changes to the induction process. The standard Pete Rose questions were asked, as the Green Diamond Gallery is located in Cincinnati. Finally someone asked “Who do you [Jeff Idelson] think should be in the Hall of Fame that is not?” He did the appropriate tap dance around the question so as to not give a definite answer. Then he gave the best possible answer.

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Is the Reds Hall of Fame the closest Pete Rose will ever get to Cooperstown? Probably (Kareem Elgazzar/ Cincinnati.com)

There are 312 individuals enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame; 28 executives, 22 managers, 10 umpires, 35 Negro League players, and 217 Major League players. There have been over 18,700 individual players in Major League history. This means only the top 1% of players are eventually enshrined. You can argue that every player that is in Cooperstown belongs there, plus many more who are not. However, there is little to be argued that the players enshrined do not deserve to be there.

There are plenty of players for whom the argument can be made that they should be enshrined in Cooperstown, but more is not always better. The NBA and NHL both have 30 teams and 16 of those 30 teams (53%) will make the playoffs. The Houston Rockets made the playoffs this year with a 41-41 record, why is a .500 team going to the playoffs? Yes there have been some dreadful divisions in Major League Baseball, the 2005 National League West was won by the San Diego Padres with an 82-80 record, but those are rare. The more slots you have in the playoffs, the worse the competition. It is better to leave a good team at home than to have a terrible team advance, although this is tough to say when the team you root for is that good team. The same is true for the Hall of Fame. Admitting more players means detracting from the significance of the honor. This only serves to muddle the difference between greatness and the very good.

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The Green Diamond Gallery is an amazing collection of any and everything that is baseball. (www.greendiamondgallery.com)

Eliminating the players who are known or highly suspected of using steroids and those who are on the permanently ineligible list, there are several players for whom a convincing argument can be made that they belong in Cooperstown. These are player who are no longer on the ballot for election by the baseball writers. Don Mattingly, Tim Raines, Gil Hodges, Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell, Lee Smith, Jim Kaat, Dale Murphy, Roger Maris, Bret Saberhagen, Maury Wills, Thurman Munson, and the list goes on.

Would the Hall of Fame be better with these players enshrined, I would say so. Is the Hall of Fame seen as incomplete without these players, I do not think so. The Hall of Fame is reserved for the top 1% of players. Every generation has players who were spectacular on the field, yet begin to fade with time.

Dale Murphy
Multiple MVP Awards failed to get Dale Murphy enshrined in Cooperstown. (mlb.com)

Kevin Brown, Hideo Nomo, Mo Vaughn, and Brett Butler were all outstanding players in the early to mid 1990’s. Were they as emblematic of baseball excellence as Ken Griffey Jr, Tony Gwynn, Randy Johnson, or Greg Maddux? Those enshrined in Cooperstown should be the players who can be compared against players from every generation and hold their own. Joe DiMaggio was not the best or most powerful hitter, but his skills and statistics hold up against players from every generation.

Records and awards are designed to recognize greatness, not designed to settle debates. Ichiro now has more hits in professional baseball than Pete Rose. However, Rose got all of his hits in the Majors while Ichiro has split his time between the Majors and Japan. Who is the better hitter? It would be easy to insert Tony Gwynn, Ty Cobb, Ted Williams, and Miguel Cabrera into the debate. Is Cy Young the greatest pitcher of all time because he has the most wins or Nolan Ryan because he has the most strikeouts? I doubt you will find many people so easily convinced. What about Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Christy Mathewson, Greg Maddux, Bob Feller, or Old Hoss Radbourn?

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What could Bob Feller have done on the mound had his service in World War II not cost him nearly four full seasons early in his career. (http://vanmeteria.gov/)

Jeff Idelson repeatedly pointed to the democratic way that players are elected to the Hall of Fame. He understands that the process is not perfect, but ultimately gets it right. The recent changes to the voting process, revoking the voting rights of writers who have not actively covered baseball in the past 10 years and reducing the number of years on the ballot from 15 to 10, should help to reduce and then prevent a backlog of worthy players getting the look they deserve. This is not to say they will be elected, but that they will get a fair shot. The top 1% of players will rise to the top during voting as they did during their playing careers. The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s mission is “Preserving History, Honoring Excellence, Connecting Generations.” Players and their accomplishments are never cast aside regardless of how short or long their careers. Thousands of players have taken the field and many have made a case for their inclusion with the legends of the game. However, those enshrined in Cooperstown leave no doubt about their worthiness in the history of the game. It is those who came so close to joining this exclusive club, yet have come up just short, that allows the debate to flourish over what makes a Hall of Fame player.

DJ

Missed Opportunity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DJ

Knowledge is Power

The Unforgettable Season by G.H. Fleming

1908 was a great year for baseball.  It was more than just the most recent World Series title for the Chicago Cubs.  The season was one of the most exciting pennant races in baseball history.  The Chicago Cubs, the New York Giants, and Pittsburgh Pirates fought each other from Opening Day throughout the season until the final day of the season.  Hall of Famers Christy Mathewson, Honus Wagner, Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown, (Joe) Tinker-to-(Johnny) Evers-to-(Frank) Chance, John McGraw played prominent roles throughout the season.

The excitement of the pennant race is retold through newspaper articles that were published during the great 1908 season in The Unforgettable Season by G.H. Fleming.  This approach to the retelling of the pennant race allows the reader to be transported back in time.  The use of the newspaper articles prevents the book from taking on too much of an academic tone, but rather it exudes the storytelling of every man.  Fleming only inserts necessary background information, which helps to bridge the gap over the years and prevents any information from going by without understood.  The daily notes regarding the previous day’s action show the dominance of the Pirates, Cubs, and Giants over the rest of the National League.  The ebb and flow of these three great teams only built the tension and excitement of the season the closer it drew to October.

The Unforgettable Season by G.H. Fleming

The Unforgettable Season by G.H. Fleming

The most infamous play of the 1908 season surrounded the actions of Fred Merkle.  While I knew the story of Merkle prior to reading The Unforgettable Season, Fleming allows the newspapers to paint a much clearer picture of the man prior to his gaining infamy.  This clearer picture of what he could have become as a player before the newspapers and fans used him as a scapegoat for why the Giants did not reach the World Series.  (Keith Olbermann of ESPN recounts Merkle’s story well).

Fleming does an excellent job of stay out of the way of history.  He allows the story to tell itself.  This is a refreshing approach, as it would be easy for any author to unintentionally get into the middle of the story.  Modern day analysis of the season could shed more light on the details of the 1908 season.  However, I believe Fleming was smart to simply stay out of the way of the history.  The Unforgettable Season provides a glimpse of how great a pennant race can be, however the pennant race is not the same as it once was as the playoffs have expanded beyond just the World Series.  The expanded playoffs are not better or worse, just different.  The expanded playoffs allow more teams and fans to stay engaged in the baseball season later in the season than they might otherwise.  Fleming provides an excellent read for anyone who wants to gain a greater understanding of baseball and its history.

DJ

More from The Winning Run library.

Long winters without baseball are awful. However, one of the best ways to keep your love of the game alive and well is by reading baseball. My library has plenty and I wanted to share a few with you.

The Mick (1985) by Mickey Mantle and Herb Gluck

One of Mickey Mantle’s many biographies.  In The Mick you get a view of his life during his career but not so much on the field. He talks about teammates, parties, his family, and career moments.  You get a feel for his love of the game, but also the hatred of things that occurred in his career. It is an enjoyable and quick read.

The Mick by Mickey Mantle and Herb Gluck

The Mick by Mickey Mantle and Herb Gluck

Faithful (2005) by Stewart O’Nan and Stephen King

Yes this one is about the Red Sox and their championship season in 2004. Yes it was painful to read (as the resident Yankee fan). Despite this, authors Stewart O’Nan and Stephen King make you keep reading as they chronicle the Red Sox through email and blog posts and their knowledge. They are true friends and true fans of baseball. They remind me of my two partners in this blog and their knowledge and passion. This is a great read and a great part of history.

Faithful by Stewart O'Nan and Stephen King

Faithful by Stewart O’Nan and Stephen King

56 (2011) by Kostya Kennedy

A chronicling of Joe DiMaggio’s record 56 game hitting streak. This is a great book about DiMaggio’s life to that point and what he went through during that time. It looks into what pressures and stress, and how DiMaggio dealt with them, his family, and teammates. Books like 56 help to show the personal side to these legends we will never be able to meet in real life.

56 by Kostya Kennedy

56 by Kostya Kennedy

Moneyball (2004) by Michael Lewis

Why haven’t you read this? The movie is great, and the book is amazing. I didn’t want to even put it here but figured it deserved recognition. Read this or you will never get on base.

Moneyball by Michael Lewis

Moneyball by Michael Lewis

JB

Ted Williams: The Biography of an American Hero

Few people have their legacy endure and grow years after they no longer can do what made them famous, or are even alive.  Ted Williams is such a man; one of the greatest players in baseball history, a pilot in two wars, a fisherman, and a salesman.  Williams was more than just number 9 for the Boston Red Sox.  In Leigh Montville‘s book Ted Williams: The Biography of an American Hero, he explores the man for good or for bad.  Montville chronicles the ups and the downs of Williams’ life in a way that you can see the man, but his faults are not just glossed over.  His determination and drive for perfection at the plate, in the air, or while fishing are what made him great.  However, the same traits that led Williams to be great also meant he struggled in his personal life to find stability.  His multiple marriages and his distant relationship with his children show the rough human side of Williams.  Many baseball players, especially in the era in which Williams played had a clean cut public face.  His fights with the sports columnist, the Knights of the Keyboard as Williams called them, are legendary, but they also tinted how the fans, especially those in Boston saw and felt about Williams.  He did not necessarily have the perfect image like Joe DiMaggio, but Ted Williams was Ted Williams.  Regardless of what you think of the man or the ball player, it is difficult to begrudge Williams on some level for being true to himself even when his actions and opinions were in the extreme minority.

Ted Williams: The Biography of an American Hero (www.amazon.com)

Ted Williams: The Biography of an American Hero (www.amazon.com)

The longer we continue to wait for the net player to hit .400, the more books like this are important because they allow us an inside view of what it is like to hit .400.  The pressures to perform which the player places on himself are immense.  The media scrutiny today would be infinitely larger than what Williams faced.  Ted Williams laid the blue print for how to hit .400, and there are only a few players in each decade who can even hope to challenge for .400.  The longer we wait for the next .400 hitter the less likely it seems we will see it again, much like someone challenging DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak.

Ted Williams watching the ball rocket off his bat. (www.theguardian.com)

Ted Williams watching the ball rocket off his bat. (www.theguardian.com)

Montville has done an excellent job of humanizing Ted Williams, especially for those of us who only have memories of Williams as an older man.  The story of Williams’ life is almost like a radio broadcast as it is easy to listen to and it keeps you wanting just a little more.  The book itself is an excellent read and is informative to those who are simply reading a book on an American original and to those who are diehard baseball fans.  Striking this balance can be difficult, but Montville does it seamlessly.  Ted Williams: The Biography of an American Hero by Leigh Montville is a must read for any baseball fan who wants to understand the man who continues to help definite the game.

D

HOW DARE YOU!!!

What if I told you thieves stole a man’s tools he had used to make an honest living?  How would you react?  What if these thieves also stole the awards this man received as recognition for both his great individual achievements and for his role in making the business he worked for among the most successful in the world?  How would you react?  How would you react if I told you this man is a military veteran, who answered the call of duty when the country and the world need it the most?  What emotions would you feel?  Anger?  Sadness?  Shock?

Personally I feel both anger and sadness.  I am angry at the thieves who stole things from this man after he worked so hard to achieve.  I feel sadness because even if, and when, these items are recovered; some of the damage may never heal.  I have plenty to say to the person or people who did this.  They are not worth the space they occupy on this earth, nor the oxygen they breathe, and plenty more which is not suitable for printing.  The best I can sum up how I feel is this way, HOW DARE YOU!!!

Now take all your emotions and wrap them around the idea that the man I have been talking about is Lawrence Peter Berra.  Yogi, the man the myth, the legend.  The man who could utter sentences which decades later still baffle people.  Such as:

“I really didn’t say everything I said.”

I have plenty to say to these thieve.  I am guessing there are some people in the Bronx and around the baseball world who would love to do more than just talk to them.

Yogi Berra. The uncle everyone loves in the baseball world. (baseballsnatcher.mlblogs.com)

Yogi Berra. The uncle everyone loves in the baseball world. (baseballsnatcher.mlblogs.com)

On October 8th, the Yogi Berra Museum was broken into by thieves.  Among the items stolen were several of Yogi’s 13 World Series Rings, his two Most Valuable Player Awards, and the mitt he used to catch Don Larsen’s perfect game during Game 5 of the 1956 World Series.  These items are priceless in baseball value, but also in the value they have for Yogi and his family.

The theft makes me wonder what some people are not willing to do, either for money or simply because they want to have something.  The worth of a person’s reputation and honor appears to have a dollar value for some people.  This is disgusting.  The opposite is true for the man who had his property taken from him.  Yogi Berra is and never has been a victim.  He has put every ounce of energy he has into what he believes.  It does not matter if it is fighting for freedom, playing to the best of his abilities on the diamond, or helping kids learn.  Yogi is a man’s man.  He is tough when need be, he exudes love and humility everywhere he goes.  Everyone should aspire to be like Yogi.

The Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center’s mission is to “preserve and promote the values of respect, sportsmanship, social justice and excellence through inclusive, culturally diverse sports-based educational programs and exhibits.”  This mission reflects through the young people who have come to the museum for programing.  Yogi through the museum and center continues to give back and help make the world a better place.

New Jersey Jackals playing at Yogi Berra Stadium (The Winning Run)

New Jersey Jackals playing at Yogi Berra Stadium (The Winning Run)

Yogi Berra Stadium, which is connected to the Museum, is home to both the Montclair State University baseball team and the New Jersey Jackals of the Can-Am League.  Yogi’s connection to Little Falls, New Jersey has given both the college players a place to play the game they love, while getting an education.  The Jackals’ players have the opportunity to continue chasing their baseball dreams.

When people talk about baseball legends they refer to players like Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Mays, Aaron, Clemente, Koufax, and so many more.  However, Yogi Berra is in a class of his own.  He is referred to not by his surname, but rather by his first name/ nickname.  He is the uncle everyone in and around baseball loves.  He is family.  While he is widely respected, there is an aura of familiarity about him which breaks down the need for formalities.  Yogi Berra is a man we all know in some manner, and we all love him just the way he is.  It is time for us as a baseball community to assist in returning to Yogi what is rightfully his and to see that those who have violated his generosity are held accountable for the crimes they have committed.

D

Mariano Rivera’s Shadow

The recent announcement of the new relief pitcher awards named after Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman will give more recognition to the bullpen and the vital role they play. It has also led me to further examine the career of the top two closers of all-time. Clearly Rivera is the greatest closer of all-time statistically, and Hoffman was no slouch with his 601 career saves. However, should the debate be so easily resolved as to anoint Rivera as the gold standard with Hoffman merely leading the charge behind him in the record books? I believe Hoffman should at least garner the same level of accolades as Rivera. These two pitchers defined the position, yet only one has properly been given his due.

Announcing he would retire after the 2013 season led the media to examine where Mariano Rivera’s career lies in baseball and New York Yankee history. Much of the media, especially in New York, felt it was a forgone conclusion that Rivera is the greatest closer of all-time. The question of whether he belongs on the Mount Rushmore of the Yankees history was also debated. It seems the popular opinion was he is close but with only four spots who do you take down between Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, or Mickey Mantle? Is he ahead of Yogi Berra? I would say no. He is also behind Derek Jeter as the face of the Yankees from this generation. His record 652 saves and 42 post season saves brought the respect and honors he deserved. However, for all the discussion about Rivera and his greatest there seems to be a sense that he stands alone at the top among closers. The media steadfastly insisted there is an enormous gap between him and the next greatest closer in baseball history. This is where I strongly disagree. I am not disputing Rivera’s greatness, what I am disputing is that he is that much greater than the guy right behind him, Trevor Hoffman.

Mariano Rivera throwing the cutter.

Mariano Rivera throwing the cutter.

Comparing the career numbers of these two great pitchers shows how close they are at face value. Mariano pitched 19 seasons in Major League Baseball, all with the New York Yankees. He collected 652 saves, with a 2.21 ERA, 1.000 WHIP, and 4.10 strikeout/walks. He had nine seasons with over 40 saves. Rivera was a starter for the Yankees in 1995. He was the setup man for John Wetteland and saved only 5 games in 1996. In 2012, he only saved 5 games before tearing his ACL in Kansas City early in the season.

Trevor Hoffman pitched for 18 seasons with the Florida Marlins, San Diego Padres, and Milwaukee Brewers. He amassed 601 saves, with a 2.87 ERA, 1.058 WHIP, and 3.69 strikeout/walk. He had nine seasons with over 40 saves. Hoffman saved only five games in 1993 during his time with the Marlins and the Padres. He only pitched nine innings, recording no saves in 2003 after having major shoulder surgery.

Mariano Rivera*

Trevor Hoffman

19

Seasons

18

652

Saves

601

592

Games Finished

856

2.21

ERA

2.87

4.10

SO/BB

3.69

1.000

WHIP

1.058

0.594

Team Winning %

0.481

96

Avg Team W’s/ Year

78

The careers of Rivera and Hoffman have been similar; both had tremendous seasons, both had a season where they were not the primary closer, and both lost a season due to injury. Statistically Rivera has a slight advantage in most categories. It can be, and probably should be, argued that individually Rivera is the better pitcher, but it never hurts to have a better team behind you. During Rivera’s career with the Yankees, the team has a .594 winning percentage, an average of 96 wins per season. Hoffman spent a part of a season with the expansion Marlins, 15 and a half seasons with the Padres, and two seasons with the Brewers. These teams had a combined .481 winning percentage, an average of 76 wins per season. Hoffman had roughly 20 fewer opportunities to record a save every season.

Trevor Hoffman throwing a circle change.

Trevor Hoffman throwing a circle change.

Baseball can sometimes hide some of the great players because of the teams they play on. Trevor Hoffman should be in the same conversation as Mariano Rivera for greatest closer in baseball history. Unfortunately, Hoffman played for worse teams and in smaller markets where the media spotlight is not as bright. New York City is the media capital of the United States, arguably the world. San Diego on the other hand is more laid back. New Yorkers and their media are concerned with being the best and expect nothing less. If they do not win the World Series, the entire season was a failure. San Diego seeks to build on their previous season and work towards the playoffs and making a deep run. They can have successful seasons without winning a World Series. Rivera and Hoffman in some ways reflect the cities and the teams they played for. Rivera was dominant and continually marching towards winning a championship. However, he was also quiet and the last person to tout his own accomplishments, unlike his city and the Yankee fans. Hoffman went about his business in a no nonsense manner and sought to intimidate the opposing team. While San Diego is not the in your face town that New York is, the city and Hoffman are comfortable with doing their job and enjoying life without all the media attention. Rivera and Hoffman were reflections of both what their cities and teams were and what they were not.

The Padres will never draw the same level of attention as the Yankees, and because of this Trevor Hoffman was not as visible or as popular as Mariano Rivera across the baseball landscape. The Yankees and their players are known across the country, the Padres are known locally and to die-hard baseball people. Ultimately I would give a slight advantage to Rivera over Hoffman, primarily due to his mastery of a single pitch, the cutter. However, when you look at the numbers and the teams they pitched for these two great closers are closer to one another than many people are willing to admit.

Enter Sandman

Enter Sandman

Rivera benefited from playing for the Yankees for his entire career, especially during one of the great eras of the franchise. During his 19 year career, the Yankees never had a losing record; the worst season being in 1995 with the Yankees going 79-65 in the shortened season due to the 1994 strike. Hoffman on the other hand routinely played for teams which were fighting through losing seasons. He was a member of six teams with winning records; only two of these teams won more than 90 games. Closers are among the most dependent players on a baseball team, as their jobs are almost exclusively to finish games in which their team in winning. This shows the brilliance of Hoffman as he was able to reach 601 career saves with a less than ideal situation.

The 51 saves which separate Rivera from Hoffman could be bridged with a single elite 19th season by Trevor Hoffman. However with both pitchers being retired, the only way to bridge the gap between would be to examine the realities of their careers. Rivera, through his being on the perennial winner with the Yankees, was able to gain the potential for an additional 20 wins per season. While I recognize the 20 additional wins by Rivera and the Yankees over Hoffman and predominantly the Padres will not result in 20 additional save opportunities. Rivera saved 36% of the Yankees’ victories during his career and Hoffman saved 44% of his teams’ victories during his career. Suggesting Hoffman conservatively would have saved 30% of the additional 20 victories each year could have meant an extra six saves a season for an extra 108 saves for Hoffman during his 18 season career, bringing his career saves total to 709. If you take away the additional 20 wins from the Yankees every season, using the same 30% of games saved or six fewer games saved, Mariano Rivera would have ended his career with 544 saves. This would put him 57 saves behind Hoffman’s 601 career saves.

Hoffman coming straight at you.

Hell’s Bells coming straight at you.

There is no denying Mariano Rivera’s greatness. He threw one pitch, the cutter. Every pitch he knew what he would throw, so did the catcher, the batter, and everyone else in the stadium. His ability to continuously finish games speaks to the remarkable ability he possessed with a baseball. Trevor Hoffman did not possess the same skills with a single pitch in the way Rivera did. He came up with the Marlins throwing a ferocious fastball, but had to develop a change-up once he lost velocity on his fastball due to a shoulder injury. Rivera was blessed with the cutter, Hoffman had to reinvent himself and grind out saves throughout his career.

Replacing Trevor Hoffman or Mariano Rivera is no small task. Heath Bell replaced Hoffman in San Diego in 2009. he began the season with 2 career saves. Bell successfully saved 42 games in 2009 and 132 over the next three years before he signed a three year deal with the Miami Marlins as a free agent prior to the 2012 season. David Robertson came into the 2014 season with 8 career saves. Only time will tell if he is a worthy successor to Mariano Rivera. The two greatest closers in Major League history combined for 1,253 career saves, or nearly eight full seasons. Both should be clear cut Hall of Famers, as they are the best at what they did and they were able to maintain their success over 19 seasons for Rivera and 18 seasons for Hoffman. While the media focused on Mariano Rivera last season and his farewell tour around baseball, the sustained brilliance of Hoffman without the constant media spotlight should not be lost. Rivera and Hoffman are in a class by themselves. The Yankees and Padres have played an important role in where there two great pitchers fall in baseball history. If Rivera were a Padre and Hoffman a Yankee the roles could easily be reversed, with Hoffman holding the record for most career saves and Rivera following close behind. Regardless of the order, both men were great to watch and brought out the best for themselves, their teams, and for baseball.

D