Tagged: Kansas City

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.

Nationals.jpg
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

Preserving History

African-Americans have played a critical role in the development of both baseball and America.  Their contributions to both go beyond the box scores or the newspaper headlines.  Honoring the memory of the Negro Leagues and educating people about the challenges and triumphs of the people involved with this era of our nation’s history is preserved at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (NLBM).  Founded in 1990, the NLBM was created from the efforts of local historians, business leaders, and former baseball players.  The museum has continued to grow since its founding and is a treasure trove of information about the Negro Leagues and its players.  Its home in Kansas City, Missouri reflects the importance of the city to Negro League Baseball as it was home to the premier team, the Kansas City Monarchs.

The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is preserving a critical part of American history. (www.nlbm.mlblogs.com)

The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is preserving a critical part of American history. (www.nlbm.mlblogs.com)

Current NLBM President Bob Kendrick continues to operate the museum as an excellent mixture of remembering the past, while educating the future.  He, along with the late Buck O’Neil, have been instrumental in remembering and promoting the Negro Leagues.  O’Neil spent much of his life, especially his later years championing the cause of Negro League players.  This includes pushing for more Negro League players to be inducted into the National Baseball hall of fame.  After far too long the Negro Leagues are now viewed for what they truly were, top level baseball played by men who should have been in the Major Leagues but were denied access based solely upon the color of their skin.

Honoring and remembering the Negro Leagues is a pleasure because of the great accomplishments of the men and women who worked to promoted African-American baseball at a time when society did not view their skill or their humanity as equal.  It is also a somewhat solemn task, as we will never know how great these players truly were in comparison to the stars in Major League Baseball due to their being denied the opportunity to compete alongside the other greatest baseball players in the world.  Was Josh Gibson the black Babe Ruth, or was Babe Ruth the white Josh Gibson?  This debate will never be settled.  What sort of statistics would Satchel Paige have put up if he had had the opportunity to start pitching in the Majors when he was 20 years old instead of 41 years old?  How would the Pittsburgh Crawfords and the New York Yankees match up during their peaks in the early 1930’s?

Satchel Paige of the Kansas City Monarchs talks with Josh Gibson of the Homestead Grays before a game in Kansas City in 1941. (www.90feetofperfection.com)

Satchel Paige of the Kansas City Monarchs talks with Josh Gibson of the Homestead Grays before a game in Kansas City in 1941. (www.90feetofperfection.com)

Unfortunately we will never know the answers to these questions.  We can hypothesize and speculate, but the debates should have been settled on the diamond and not in the theoretical.  The shame of the Negro Leagues is not upon the players, executives, or fans of the league, but rather on those who necessitated its creation and operation.  The Negro Leagues were a matter of necessity for African-American players.  Shut out of Major League Baseball for more than 60 years, they formed teams and leagues to allow them to play the game they love.  Arguments can be made that the Negro Leagues were not of the same caliber of play as the Major Leagues, but given the realities for African-Americans in the United States from the 1880’s through the 1960’s, having their own league was a source of pride.  Off the field, African-American faced unspeakable racism, discrimination, and violence, but on the field it all faded away.  It does not matter if you are white, Hispanic, Asian, or African-American if you can hit and/or throw a baseball better than the other team, you win.

The NLBM is vital to the preservation and celebration of all the greatest that was the Negro Leagues.  The executives, players, personalities, and fans were what made the Negro Leagues so successful for so long.  While they were dissolved by the 20th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier, their impact continues today.  The growth and development of African-American baseball is directly related to the success of the Negro Leagues and the players who made the transition from the Negro Leagues to the Major Leagues.  The Negro Leagues served their unfortunate purpose admirably for several decades.  Their decline is a sort of end of a golden age of baseball, but it is also the change in attitudes and beliefs in society.  No longer will individuals be prevented from reaching the heights of their profession because of their skin color.  The time in which racism, discrimination, and violence against African-American is accepted has passed.  Society is not perfect, but it has changed for the better.  Baseball has led the charge for change.  The Negro Leagues were the best alternative for African-American baseball players during a time when they were deemed unequal, and thus barred from playing in the Major Leagues.  The NLBM connects this past with the present and educated people about the people who drove for the change in society that finally came, despite seemingly impossible odds.  This is the story of African-Americans in the United States and it is vitally important that we preserve this history of the Negro Leagues from both on and off the diamond for future generations.

D

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

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

Matthew 24:13 KJV

And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” Matthew 24:31 KJV

May the Lord have mercy on the pitchers of the American League.  The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have now assembled the scariest lineup since the New York Yankees had Murderers’ Row in the late 1920s.   The signing of Josh Hamilton creates potentially the most dangerous 1 through 5 batting order most people have ever seen, arguably the most lethal since the 1940s.  The Murderers’’ Row lineups had four future Hall of Famers (Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Earle Combs, and Tony Lazzeri).  The Angels now have two future Hall of Famers, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, in their lineup, Hamilton needs a few more years to be a lock but his production in only six seasons makes him a candidate already.  The other two members, Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo, are still young, but look like super stars in the making. 

Every baseball fan knows the danger of Pujols and Hamilton, but Trout and Trumbo are equally dangerous.  Statistically if these four players have their average season in 2013, the Angels can expect to amass a combined .298 batting average, hit 141 homeruns, 436 RBI, 139 doubles, 727 hits, walk 145 times, 72 stolen bases, .307 OBP, .542 SLG, .849 OPS.  This assumes that all four players play in every game, which is unlikely, but numbers anywhere close to these would be devastating for the rest of the American League. 

This is how the numbers break down over an average 162 game schedule:

Albert Pujols has a .325 batting average, hits 41 homeruns, 125 RBI, 44 doubles, 196 hits, walk 89 times, 8 stolen bases, .414 OBP, .608 SLG, and 1.022 OPS.

Josh Hamilton has a .304 batting average, hits 35 homeruns, 122 RBI, 38 doubles, 189 hits, walk 58 times, 9 stolen bases, .363 OBP, .549 SLG, and .913 OPS.

Mike Trout has a .306 batting average, hits 32 homeruns, 90 RBI, 30 doubles, 189 hits, walk 69 times, 48 stolen bases, .379 OBP, .532 SLG, and .911 OPS

Mark Trumbo has a .259 batting average, hits 33 homeruns, 99 RBI, 27 doubles, 153 hits, walk 33 times 7 stolen bases, .302 OBP, .478 SLG, and .780 OPS.

Impressive numbers for an average combined season.  Trout and Trumbo still need several years of consistency before they can cement their places among the elite players in baseball, but Pujols and Hamilton are without a doubt in that elite club.  Trout has drawn comparisons to Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle during his young career, both on offense and defense.  Trumbo raised his batting average by .014 between 2011 and 2012; he is a slugger who is becoming a hitter.  Trumbo is comparable to Cecil Fielder and George Bell at this point in their respective careers, as he hits for average like Cecil Fielder and hits for power like George Bell.  As is, Trumbo can hit a baseball into the next county when he makes contact, as evident during the Home Run Derby last season in Kansas City. 

The problems will be numerous for opposing pitchers next season.  If Trout gets on, then the pitcher has a choice to make.  If he pays attention to Trout and his speed, the pitches to Hamilton, Pujols, or Trumbo could land in the parking lot.  If the pitchers pay attention to the hitters with Trout on base, then a single or walk could easily lead to Trout standing on second or third after a stolen base or two.  The sluggers behind Trout are excellent hitters and can be used for a hit and run, which prevents the Angels from relying on the homerun, as they can manufacture runs.  If you want to pitch around Trout, which is a mistake, you would get to face only one batter before you had to face the triple threat of Hamilton, Pujols, and Trumbo. 

If Trout is kept in check then you have three more dangerous hitters to deal with.  Hamilton and Pujols can both bat third, so if you want to pitch around one of them then you get face the other one.  You want to get around both of them, go ahead now you get to face Trumbo with at least two runners on.  One bad pitch and it could mean at least three runs.  The other option is to pitch around all three of them, and then you have to face Howie Kendrick and his .428 SLG or Erick Aybar and his .706 OPS as a Shortstop.  Good luck to every pitcher who has to face the Angels in 2013. 

The Angels new foursome of offense should more than make up for any mistakes they make on defense.  However, their defense is not a liability as is often the case for great hitters.  Pujols won two Gold Gloves during his time with the St. Louis Cardinals (2006 and 2010).  Hamilton has proved to be an average or better fielder during his career, playing all three outfield positions.  The move to the Angels should move Hamilton to leftfield where he should settle in quite nicely.  Trout’s comparison to Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle during his young career was not made by casual fans, but by two men who know and understand baseball, Tim Kurkjian and Hall of Famer Al Kaline.  Trumbo led the American League in putouts and was third among American League first basemen in assists during 2011.  Solid defense by all four of these players makes the Angels that much more dangerous. 

Statistically the Angels should be the team to beat in the American League in 2013 and for several years to come.  However, the one thing the Angels cannot buy is chemistry.  Regardless of the players on their roster in 2013, the Angels and Manager Mike Scioscia have to make all these impressive parts work together.  Across town, the Dodgers have shown the Angels that big names and accusations do not necessarily mean wins and a trip to the playoffs.  The foundation is there for the Angels, not it is up to them to do what they are capable of on the field.

D