Tagged: Ken Griffey Jr

Sacrificing

Teams tend to play one of two types of baseball, long ball or small ball. The rise of of analytics has shown sacrificing an out to advance a runner is not in a team’s best interest. Teams are shying away from small ball because, as Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine so eloquently put it, “Chicks dig the long ball.” The roar of the crowd is much different for a Home Run than a Sacrifice Hit, Sacrifice Bunt. Instant offense versus a building block towards a potential Run. 

Baseball has changed since the small ball era of the early 20th Century. The small ball era helped produce Eddie Collins and his 512 career Sacrifice, 120 ahead of second place. Clayton Kershaw is the active leader with 108, 334th all time. Small ball produced Ray Chapman’s 1917 single season record of 67 Sacrifices. Bert Campaneris’ 40 Sacrifices in 1977 are the most since 1929. Home Runs have replaced the Sacrifice. Teams swing for the fences. They no longer get them on, get them over, get them in.

A slugger’s value comes from hitting a baseball over the fence, not tapping it in the infield. The top ten Home Run hitters of all time have hit 6,680 Home Runs. Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Alex Rodriguez, Willie Mays, Albert Pujols, Ken Griffey Jr., Jim Thome, Sammy Sosa, and Frank Robinson have played a combined 213 Major League seasons. Only Pujols is active, with two seasons left before Free Agency or retirement. Occasionally these long ball titans sacrifice themselves for the team. 

In 22 seasons, Barry Bonds hit 762 Home Runs and laid down 4 Sacrifices. Hank Aaron played 23 seasons, hit 755 Home Runs with 21 Sacrifices. Babe Ruth hit 714 Home Runs in 22 seasons and laid down 113 Sacrifices, more than the rest of this elite group combined. Alex Rodriguez Sacrificed 16 times in 22 seasons, while hitting 696 Home Runs. Willie Mays played 22 seasons, hit 660 Home Runs, and dropped 13 Sacrifices. Albert Pujols has played 19 seasons, hit 656 Home Runs with 1 Sacrifice. Ken Griffey Jr. hit 630 Home Runs over 22 seasons and Sacrificed 8 times. Jim Thome and his 612 Home Runs laid down 1 Sacrifice in 22 seasons. Sammy Sosa had 17 Sacrifices in 18 seasons while blasting 609 Home Runs. Frank Robinson dropped 17 Sacrifices in 21 seasons, with 586 Home Runs. Even the greatest sluggers of all time Sacrifice.

BabeRuthBunt
Babe Ruth revolutionized baseball with his power, yet he still played in an era where players were expected to bunt to help their team win. (www.captainsblog.info)

In 213 combined seasons, the greatest Home Run hitters laid down 211 Sacrifices. In an average season they hit 31.36 Home Runs with 0.99 Sacrifices. Their average career was 668 Home Runs and 21.1 Sacrifices, 30.2 Home Runs per Sacrifice. Even ardent believers in small ball know these players should swing the bat. 

Jim Thome and Albert Pujols each have just 1 career Sacrifice. Thome and Pujols are not Rickey Henderson. They have hit a 32 triples, 16 each, and stolen 133 bases, combined. Only Pujol’s 114 steals break to top 1,000. Both sluggers were designed to trot around the bases, not sprint. 

On July 3, 1994, Indians Manager Mike Hargrove looked to extend Cleveland’s 2.5 game over the Chicago White Sox in the American League Central. In the Bottom of the 7th, in a 7-7 tie against the Minnesota Twins, Eddie Murray laced the third pitch to Right for a lead off single. Hargrove signaled his young Third Baseman to Sacrifice. After taking a strike from Mark Guthrie, the 23 year old Jim Thome bunted, moving Murray to Second. Thome reached on an error by Third Baseman Chip Hale. Twins Manager Tom Kelly then replaced Guthrie with Carl Willis. Sandy Alomar Jr. greeted Willis with a swinging bunt down, loading the bases. Paul Sorrento followed with an RBI Single to Right, driving in Murray. Wayne Kirby fouled out to Third. One out. Kenny Lofton hit a Sacrifice Fly to Center, scoring Thome with Alomar advancing to Third. Two outs. Omar Vizquel flied out to Center. Three outs. 9-7 Cleveland. Thome and the Indians won 10-9 in 11 Innings, sending the Jacobs Field crowd home happy. 

JimThome.jpeg
Jim Thome hit baseballs a long way, his talents were not best used bunting. (www.cooperstowncred.com)

The importance of the game, and Thome’s Sacrifice, were lost as the 1994 season stopped on August 12th. Cleveland was 1 game behind Chicago when the Strike began. The Strike claimed the rest of the 1994.

The St. Louis Cardinals hosted the Chicago White Sox on June 16, 2001. The Chicago Cubs led the Cardinals by 6 games in the National League Central. In the Bottom of the 7th, White Sox pitcher Sean Lowe walked Placido Polanco on four pitches. J. D. Drew then Singled to Right. Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa looked to stretch the 6-3 lead. He signaled his Cleanup Hitter to bunt. In his 67th career game, Albert Pujols bunted the first pitch foul. On the second pitch, Pujols bunted the ball back to Lowe who threw to Second Baseman Ray Durham covering First. Polanco moved to Third and Drew to second. One out. Pujols has not Sacrificed again. Bobby Bonilla was Intentionally Walked to load the bases and replaced by Pinch Runner Jim Edmonds. Craig Paquette Singled to Right, scoring Polanco. Drew scored on an error by the Shortstop, Tony Graffanino. Edmonds stopped at Second. Edgar Renteria struck out looking as Edmonds stole Third and Paquette stole Second. Two outs. Mike Matheny grounded out to First. Three outs. St. Louis won 8-3. 

San Diego Padres v St. Louis Cardinals
Albert Pujols is one of the greatest right hand power hitters of all time, bunting is not his most dangerous weapon. (Dilip Vishwanat/ Getty Images)

The Cardinals lost to the Houston Astros on the final day of the Regular Season. Both teams finished 93-69. Houston was crowned Division champions by winning the season series 9 games to 7. St. Louis was the Wild Card. The Cardinals lost to the eventual World Series champion Arizona Diamondbacks in a decisive Game 5 in the Divisional Series

Baseball is a team game played by individuals. Players field ground balls, pitch, and bat alone. No one can help you succeed, but you can help others succeed. Backing up throws, turning Double Plays, executing a relay all help a team win. And yes, occasionally even the greatest Home Run hitters Sacrifice for the team. 

As baseball changes, Sacrifices by players capable of putting a baseball into orbit inches towards extinction. The Sacrifice is becoming a lost art as light hitting pitchers in the National League dominate and the Designated Hitter in the American League decimates the Sacrifice. A slugger bunting is now more rare than a Perfect Game. This generation’s greatest sluggers have Sacrificed just twice. If Mike Trout ever lays down a Sacrifice, soak in the moment. It will be the first of his career, and possibly the last time an all time great Home Run hitter Sacrifices himself.

DJ

My Oh My

Rap is not the usual music genre for baseball songs. Teams may create a music video for the upcoming season, postseason, or a particular player. College teams are known to lip sync from time to time, looking at you 2012 Harvard baseball team. However, it is rarely a rap song. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis changed this with My Oh My. The song was written in response to longtime Seattle Mariners radio broadcaster Dave Niehaus’ sudden death in November 2010. It is the best baseball song of the last decade.

My Oh My is not reserved just for Mariner fans, however to fully appreciate the song you must understand what Dave Niehaus meant to the Pacific Northwest. He was the Mariners broadcaster since their inception in 1971. He broadcast more than 5,000 games, missing roughly 100 games in 40 years. Niehaus was the voice of baseball for Mariners fans.

Baseball had a tough beginning in Seattle. The Pilots lasted only one losing season, 1969, before moving to Milwaukee. The Mariners, and their fans, suffered through 14 consecutive losing seasons. They did not make the postseason until the fabled 1995 season, their 19th. There was little excitement on the diamond, yet the fans tuned in their radios to listen to Dave Niehaus.

Dave Niehaus
 Dave Niehaus was the voice of baseball in the Pacific Northwest. My Oh My was a loss.(John Lok/ The Seattle Times)

Mariners fans were rewarded by listening to Niehaus call the golden age of Mariners baseball. From 1995 through 2001, the Mariners made the postseason four times, reaching the American League Championship Series three times. The excitement inside the Kingdome moved to Safeco Field, now T-Mobile Park, on July 15, 1999 with Dave Niehaus throwing out the first pitch. The following summer, Niehaus became the second member of the Mariners Hall of Fame, after former first baseman Alvin Davis. In 2008, Niehaus received the highest award in baseball broadcasting, the Ford C. Frick Award, and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Niehaus was more than a broadcaster. The 2011 season was the teams first without him in the booth. The team honored Niehaus with a performance of My Oh My on Opening Day.

My Oh My was released six weeks after Dave Niehaus’ death as a bonus track on Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ album The Heist. Macklemore begins by recounting the winning run of the 1995 American League Divisional Series against the Yankees. The voice of God on the radio calling the game as Edgar Martinez drives in Joey Cora tying the game and Ken Griffey Jr. is waved home to win the game. The pace of the song quickens along with your pulse for the play at the plate.

Wisely, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis step back while Dave Niehaus makes the call during an interlude. Artists recognize the talents of other great artists. Niehaus paints the picture of the play at the plate and how it felt inside the Kingdome and across the Pacific Northwest.

The second verse zooms out to examine baseball memories from childhood. Macklemore discusses learning to play baseball, spitting sunflower seeds, playing under the sun, and his Dad teaching him the beauty of the game. He layers in childhood favorites of Big League Chew, recreating The Sandlot, and begging his Mom for one more inning before bed. Recalling childhood memories quicken the pace of the song, like an excited child talking faster and faster.

Macklemore rounds out My Oh My with a final verse connecting baseball and real life. The third verse begins at a frantic pace. The same feeling Mariner fans had as Griffey rounded third. Life feels as though it’s moving faster than we can grasp it. There is a touch of anger underpinning the understanding that life will give you bad hops and you must be ready for them. The lessons of baseball stay with you as an adult. Life is a trip around the bases, success comes by putting your head down and running as hard as you can. The verse slows as it approaches the end and finishes with a trombone playing a mournful farewell…almost a baseball version of Taps.

Macklemore’s description of Dave Niehaus’ call and how baseball makes him feel could be anyone, not just a kid from Seattle. Every baseball fan knows the thrill of following the winning run racing home. My Oh My takes baseball fans back to their childhoods and the joys of baseball and the lessons it teaches.

The song is also a reflection of becoming an adult and losing your childhood heroes. Baseball is a child’s game played by adults, yet those adults are not invincible. Every kid eventually deals with the loss of a hero. Despite never meeting the person, it has a profound impact on their life. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis are spot on with My Oh My and the music video. The video is simple, just baseball pictures, equipment, jerseys, old stadiums, and replays of past moments. No wonder people in Seattle had to pull over to collect themselves when they heard My Oh My for the first time.

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.

mickey-mantle-1961-09-03
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 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.

Da Bears
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.

Rose HOF
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

The First Player Taken

The First Year Player Draft, better known today as the Major League Baseball Draft is upon us once again. Every team is searching for the next great player and every player believes they can become that player. Unlike the other major North American sports, especially basketball and football, the players drafted this week will not have an immediate impact on their new team. Instead the best players will spend several years in the minor leagues before they reach the Majors.

The path to the Majors has not always started with the draft. Before 1965, every team was able to sign any amateur player they wished. This allowed teams like the Yankees in the lead up to their run in the 1950’s to sign the best players through better scouting, and in some cases simply offering more money to a player than another team could offer. This not only stockpiled the Yankees farm system, but kept these players away from other teams.

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Rick Monday, the first player every selected in the MLB Draft. (www.asuwebdevilarchive.edu)

Major League Baseball created the First Year Player Draft in 1965 to create a more level playing field. Since then, the draft has gone through several changes through the years to its current configuration. However, the story behind these changes and tweaks are for another post on another day.

The draft is an inexact science which makes drafting well seem like winning the lottery. Ken Griffey Jr. was the first overall pick in the 1987 Draft and, to date, he is the only first overall pick to gain election to Cooperstown. Griffey should be joined shortly by Chipper Jones and potentially Alex Rodriguez; although I am not sure the voters are ready to welcome Rodriguez with open arms. It took 23 drafts before any team with the top pick was able to land a super star that was worthy of enshrinement in Cooperstown. If drafting was so easy, every team with the top overall selection would always turn out to be the next Bryce Harper, Adrian Gonzalez, or David Price instead of Steve Chilcott, Brien Taylor, or Matt Bush. Predicting the future is never easy.

Brien Taylor
Brien Taylor never played higher than AA due to a shoulder injury that derailed his career. (Star-Ledger)

The Kansas City Athletics held the top overall selection for the 1965 Draft after finishing the 1964 season with a record of 57-105. Kansas City selected Center Fielder Rick Monday out of Arizona State. Monday was selected ahead of Hall of Famers Johnny Bench, Nolan Ryan, and Tom Seaver. Although he is not enshrined in Cooperstown, Rick Monday did enjoy a solid career. He played 19 seasons with the Kansas City/Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Chicago Cubs. Offensively, Monday was a solid player, posting a career line of:

G
PA
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
SB
BB
SO
BA
OBP
SLG
1986
7162
6136
950
1619
248
64
241
775
98
924
1513
.264
.361
.443

Defensively Monday played primarily Center and Right Field, and sparingly in Left Field and at First Base. Again, Monday was a solid player in the field throughout his career, with a defensive career line of:

G Inn Ch PO A E DP Fld%
1742 14267.1 4177 3978 118 81 45 .981

However, Rick Monday did not have the Hall of Fame caliber career the Athletics were hopeful for when they drafted him. Fortunately, Kansas City did not strikeout with their first selection. Monday received two votes (0.5%) in his first year of eligibility for the Hall of Fame and then was removed from the ballot. Plenty of players have long careers, yet never receive any votes for enshrinement in Cooperstown. A single or double is always better than an out.

070412 braves CC6
Chipper Jones is one of the greatest switch hitters of all time, and he will soon join Ken Griffey Jr. in Cooperstown. (Curtis Compton/AJC.com)

The most memorable moment of Rick Monday’s career occurred on April 25, 1976. The play had nothing to do with baseball, yet is remembered as perhaps the greatest play in baseball history. Monday and the Cubs were playing the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Two fans jumped on the field in the middle of an at bat, ran into left Center Field and knelt down beside an American flag they had brought with them. The flag was doused in lighter fluid and the two people were attempting to set the flag on fire. Monday ran from his position in Center Field and snagged the flag away from the fans turned protestors and continued to run with the flag until he reached Dodger pitcher Doug Rau. Monday gave Rau the flag for safe keeping. The protesters, who turned out to be a father and his 11 year old son, were arrested, the father was charged with trespassing, placed on probation, and fined. The exact reason for the attempted flag burning remains unknown, though many theories exist. When Monday came to the plate for his next at bat he received a standing ovation from the Dodger crowd and the message board inside the stadium flashed, “Rick Monday…You Made A Great Play.” Many would argue the greatest in baseball history.

Rick Monday Flag
Rick Monday’s dash prevented the American flag from being burned on the field at Dodger Stadium. (James Roark)

Rick Monday was the first baseball player ever drafted. Thousands of hopeful amateur players have followed in his footsteps. Every player who has followed Monday has sought to fulfill their potential on the diamond and reach to pinnacle of the sport. Only a select few have made it to the top, and only a select few of those select few have impacted the game in such a way that they are enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The Kansas City Athletics did not swing and miss with Rick Monday. The ability to project a player’s development several years down the road is no easy task. Players fail to reach the Major Leagues due to injuries, lacking the ability to continue to develop like a team projected, personal issues, and a million other reasons. Surviving the minor leagues and reaching the top of the sport is no easy task.

Monday had a long and productive Major League career. He was not the best player to come out of the inaugural Major League Baseball Draft, but he also was not a disappointment. The most memorable moment of his career occurred on the baseball field, but had nothing to do with baseball. Whether it was due to his time with the Marines, his sense of national pride, or simply doing what was right, Monday left an indelible memory in his dash to prevent the burning of an American flag. When asked about his dash for the flag and it being what he is remembered for Monday responded, “If I am remembered only as a guy that stood in the way of two guys trying to desecrate an American flag at a Major League Baseball game, and protect the rights and freedoms that flag represents for all of us, that’s not a bad thing to be remembered for.” I could not agree more.

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

Hall of Fame Class of 2016

Congratulations to Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza on their election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Both players are deserving of this, the greatest honor that a baseball player can have bestowed upon them. While the destination was the same, the path to Cooperstown could not have been more different.

Ken Griffey Jr. is the son of three-time All Star, Ken Griffey Sr.  He was drafted first overall in the 1987 MLB Amateur Draft. Griffey reached the Majors on April 3, 1989, less than two seasons removed from playing in high school. Griffey’s swing was beautiful, pure grace, often imitated but never duplicated. His combination of speed and power seemed to be effortless. The smile of Griffey’s face never waned. Ken Griffey Jr. was the face of baseball for a generation.  He was cool, and he brought swagger to the batter’s box. His love for the game made him loved by his fans and respected by his rivals. Ken Griffey Jr. will be the first player selected with the first pick in the Draft and inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Griffey was an almost perfect baseball player, and his 99.3% of votes (the highest of all time) means he was almost the perfect candidate to be enshrined in Cooperstown.

Seattle Mariners

Ken Griffey Jr. was nearly the perfect baseball player, his spot in Cooperstown is deserved. (Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

Mike Piazza was and is tough. No player has ever made it to Cooperstown without being tough, but Piazza practically wrote the book on being the toughest. Piazza was drafted in the 62nd round (1,390th overall) of the 1988 MLB Amateur Draft. The Dodgers selected Piazza only after Mike’s father asked his childhood friend Tommy Lasorda to draft Mike as a personal favor. Piazza finally made it to the Majors on September 1, 1992. During his career, Piazza displayed his toughness by catching 1,630 games (13,555 innings); there is nothing easy about playing catcher in the Major Leagues. Piazza had power. His swing was muscle-driven and unique yet it could send a baseball into orbit. He was unwilling to back down from anyone. Even when Roger Clemens sawed Piazza’s bat off then threw the barrel of the bat back by him. The whispers about PEDs use have remained that, just whispers. The moment Piazza stepped on a Major League diamond, he proved that he belonged. For me, that goes a long way towards silencing those whispers. Mike Piazza seized the opportunity to play professional baseball through toughness and hard work. He went from being a draft pick the Dodgers took only to fulfill a personal favor to a Baseball Hall of Famer.

Mike Piazza Swing

Mike Piazza’s toughness took him from the 62nd Round to the way to Cooperstown. (www.espn.go.com)

The National Baseball Hall of Fame will welcome two new members in the summer of 2016.  Their paths to Cooperstown could not be more different, but that is what makes baseball so wonderful. A player whom everyone believed in and a player whom no one believed in can both forge careers then deservingly be enshrined among the greatest players to ever play the game.

Congratulations Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza! Thank you for everything you did on the diamond. Welcome to Cooperstown.

DJ