Lou Gehrig is remembered for three things: his greatness on the field, a speech, and the disease that claimed his life. He left a legacy in baseball and for those facing adversity, especially those battling ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Today is the 80th anniversary of Lou Gehrig Day at Yankee Stadium and Gehrig delivering baseball’s most famous speech. He did not focus on his problems, rather he spoke of the good in his life. A life cut short less than two years later.
On the diamond, Lou Gehrig was a tremendous competitor, forming the toughest duo in baseball history with Babe Ruth. Gehrig played 17 seasons for the Yankees, 1923 to 1939. In 2,164 Games, Gehrig collected 2,721 Hits, 534 Doubles, 163 Triples, 493 Home Runs, 1,995 RBI, scored 1,888 Runs, Stole 102 Bases, drew 1,508 Walks, 790 Strike Outs, .340 BA, .447 OBP, .632 SLG, and 1.080 OPS. Gehrig’s career numbers ensured his enshrinement into Cooperstown, even without his special election in 1939.
Putting Lou Gehrig’s greatness into perspective, consider his all time rankings today. Gehrig ranks 64th in Hits with 2,271. He is 42nd in Doubles with 534 and 33rd in Triples with 163. His 493 Home Runs still ranks him 28th. His 1,995 RBI are seventh all time. Gehrig’s 1,190 extra base hits are 11th most and his 5,060 total bases are 19th all time. His 1,888 runs scored rank 12th all time. He walked 1,508 times, 17th most. A career .340 hitter, 16th best. His .447 OBP is fifth, his .632 SLG and 1.079 OPS both place him third all time. His 179 OPS+ ranks fourth and his 112.3 oWAR places him 14th. 80 years after his final game, Lou Gehrig remains an all time great.
Hall of Fame numbers are not compiled in a few good seasons here and there, they come from excellence year after year. In Gehrig’s 17 seasons with the Yankees, he played fewer than 13 games in three seasons. Playing 14 full seasons before ALS robbed him of his abilities further shows Gehrig’s greatness. The Iron Horse registered eight seasons of 200 or more hits, leading the league in 1931. In 1927 and 1928 he led baseball in Doubles with 52 and 47 respectively. In 1926, his 20 triples paced baseball. Gehrig was the Home Run King three times (1931, 1934, and 1936). He was perfectly placed in Murderers’ Row, leading the league in RBI five times, driving in at least 109 in 13 consecutive seasons. He led baseball in Runs Scored four times, scoring 115 or more Runs in 13 consecutive seasons. The Iron Horse possessed both power and patience at the plate, drawing at least 100 Walks in 11 seasons, leading baseball on three occasions. Gehrig struck out a career high 84 times in 1927, he would never strike out more than 75 times in any other season. Gehrig hit .300 or better in 12 straight seasons, led the league in Slugging twice, OPS three times with 11 consecutive seasons above 1.000. He had five seasons with at least 400 total bases, leading baseball four times. In 1934, Gehrig won the American League Triple Crown with a .363 BA, 49 Home Runs, and 166 RBI. Shockingly he finished fifth in MVP voting behind a trio of Tigers (Mickey Cochrane, Charlie Gehringer, and Schoolboy Rowe) and teammate Lefty Gomez. Gehrig did win two MVP Awards (1927 and 1936), while finishing in the top five in six other seasons. The Iron Horse was always a MVP contender.
Lou Gehrig was one of the greatest players to ever step on a diamond. (Mark Rucker/ Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images)
The Yankees during the Gehrig years were seemingly in the World Series every October. Lou Gehrig played in seven Fall Classics. New York won six World Series with Gehrig (1927, 1928, 1932, 1936, 1937, and 1938), sweeping their National League opponents four times. Gehrig played in 34 Games with 119 At Bats. He collected 43 Hits, 8 Doubles, 3 Triples, 10 Home Runs, 35 RBI, and scored 30 Runs. He drew 26 walks against 17 Strikeouts. Gehrig hit .361, .483 OBP, .731 SLG, and 1.214 OPS. The Iron Horse helped the Yankees reach and win multiple World Series.
Despite his greatness on the diamond, Lou Gehrig is best remembered for the speech he gave on July 4, 1939, Lou Gehrig Day, as the Yankees honored him as he fought ALS. The Gettysburg Address of Baseball remains one of the most famous moments in baseball history. There is no known full recording of the speech, however we do have a partial recording and a transcript of Gehrig’s words.
“For the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.
When you look around, wouldn’t you consider it a privilege to associate yourself with such a fine looking men as they’re standing in uniform in this ballpark today? Sure, I’m lucky. Who wouldn’t consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I’m lucky.
When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift- that’s something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies- that’s something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter- that’s something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body- it’s a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed- that’s the finest I know.
So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for. Thank you.”
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.
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.
The field is beautiful from the cheap seats (The Winning Run/JJ)
Warming up before the game. (The Winning Run/JJ)
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.
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.
Mariano Rivera coming in to close out Yankee Stadium. (The Winning Run/JJ)
The final out. (The Winning Run/JJ)
Jesse and me after the game. (The Winning Run/JJ)
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.
It has been 20 years since the dawn of the 1998 baseball season. The season would see one of the great teams of all time as the Yankees marched towards the World Series, meanwhile Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were chasing the single season home run record. Knowing what we know now about many of the players who helped revive baseball that summer does diminish some of the fondness. However as Mark McGwire famously said before Congress, “I am not here to talk about the past.”
The 1994 players strike severely damaged baseball. The cancellation of the World Series and the delayed start of the 1995 season saw fans turn their backs on the game. Arguing who is blame, the players or the owners, for this dark time in baseball is for another day, what mattered then was how would the game win back the fans it lost. Some fans still see 1994 as the death of baseball, don’t believe me check out this Facebook group which has more than 22,000 members. Right or wrong baseball needed a season to get its fans back.
Cal Ripken Jr. gave baseball a moment it needed to draw fans back to the game. (REUTERS/ Gary Hershorn/Files)
Baseball got a much needed boost when Cal Ripken Jr. played his 2,131st consecutive game, passing Lou Gehrig for most consecutive games played on September 6, 1995. This was a moment baseball desperately needed showing the good of the game. It was however, a moment. Baseball needed more than one night of glory, it needed a season of suspense and wonderment.
The 1998 New York Yankees are one of the greatest teams ever assembled. The Boston Red Sox won 92 games, yet finished 22 games behind the Yankees in the division. The Yankees finished the season 114-48. The Bronx Bombers had eight players with at least 17 home runs, five players with at least 84 RBI, and eight players with 21 or more doubles. The Yankees hit .288 as a team. On the mound, all five Yankee starters had at least 12 wins, a team ERA of 3.82, with the starters averaging 6 ⅔ inning per start, plus Mariano Rivera nailing down 36 saves out of the bullpen. In the Playoffs, the Yankees swept the Texas Rangers in the American League Divisional Series three games to none, allowing only one run. In the American League Championship Series, the Yankees dispatched the Cleveland Indians in six games. In the World Series, New York swept the San Diego Padres in four games. The 98 win Padres were no match for the Yankees. The biggest team in baseball helped put the game back into people’s lives as they rolled through the season and playoffs. Yankee dominance helped, but the primary attraction was in the National League.
There was little drama as the Yankees swept the World Series. (Jeff Haynes/ AFP/ Getty Images)
Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa later became the poster children for what was wrong with baseball, but in the summer of 1998 they were what made baseball relevant again for much of the country. Divisional rivals on two of the most prominent teams in the sport, McGwire and Sosa embarked on a home run race that captured the attention of the country. When Roger Maris broke the single season home run record held by Babe Ruth, there was backlash. People felt Ruth’s record should be left alone. When Maris ultimately hit home run number 61 in 1961 he did it in game 162, which many believe meant his record deserved an asterisk as he took more games than Ruth’s 154 game schedule in 1927. If McGwire, Sosa, or some other slugger could hit 60 home runs fewer than 154 games they would hold the record.
McGwire hit 11 home runs by the end of April, only to hit 16 in May to bring his season total to 27 as the calendar turned to June. On May 22nd, Sosa had only 9 home runs against McGwire’s 24. Over the next six weeks Sosa got red hot, hitting 24 home runs. Heading into the All Star Break, McGwire lead Sosa 37 home runs to 33. The race for 62 was on. McGwire hit his 50th home run of the season on August 20th, Sosa followed with his 50th three days later on August 23rd. However in between a whirlwind began on August 22nd regarding McGwire’s use of Androstenedione. McGwire maintained his use of Andro was legal and it did not give him any added benefits on the field. This is perhaps the clearest beginning of the steroid era entering public knowledge. The use of Andro did little to distract the public from the frenzy of the home run chase. September 8th saw McGwire hit his shortest home run of the season, 341 feet, just clearing the left field wall in Busch Stadium. McGwire and the Cardinals were hosting Sosa and the Cubs that night. After initially missing first base in the midst of his joy, quickly retreating to touch the missed base, McGwire rounded the bases to officially set the new single season home run mark at 62. Sosa would tie McGwire at 62 home runs on September 13th. As the 1998 season wound down the question turned to how high McGwire and Sosa would push the home run record. For the only time all season Sosa took the lead on September 25th, when he hit his 66th and final home run of the season. McGwire would finish with a flurry, hitting five home runs in the last three games of the season to finish with 70 home runs.
The home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa helped revive baseball one home run at a time. (AP Photo/ Beth A. Keiser)
There was no doubt both McGwire and Sosa broke the single season home run record, Ruth’s and Maris’. Sosa would be named the National League Most Valuable Player, while McGwire got his name in the record books. The summer of chasing Ruth and Maris brought baseball the excitement back it lost in the 1994 players strike. The chase between McGwire and Sosa, coupled with the total dominance of the Yankees gave baseball the season it needed to win back fans and rebuild trust.
20 years have passed since the summer of 1998. We have learned so much about the men who played that summer. Far too many had their abilities aided by steroids and other performance enhancers. The steroid era was on full display, we just did not know it yet. The revival of baseball was both helped and hurt by the steroid era, many players have since fallen from grace. The game continues to grow and much of the magic I remember as a kid has returned. The summer of 1998 helped revive baseball, and yet my most vivid memory from that summer is having no interest in any of it. 1998 was my last season playing organized baseball. I had a coach who took the fun out of the game. He would scream and yell when the players, myself included, did not get a hit. He changed my batting stance over and over again. I came to dread going to baseball practice and games. The joy of playing baseball was gone. A year or so later I wanted to play for a travel team, but I was late to the tryout we did not get out of the car. This is how my baseball career ended. I am under no illusion I was good enough to play professionally, maybe not even in high school. However, one person ruined baseball, it took years for my love of the game to return. I hope he still remembers how great those handful of victories were for our Spring 11/12U rec league team 20 years ago.
Once again Major League Baseball is worrying about pace of play during games. Commissioner Rob Manfred and Executive Director of the Player’s Association Tony Clark have gone back and forth about proposed rule changes to speed up games in 2018. The latest round of pace of play rules include limiting catchers to one mound visit per inning per pitcher, a 20 second pitch clock, and raising the strike zone from the bottom of the kneecap to the top. All of these changes have been rejected by the Player’s Association, yet MLB could still institute them unilaterally for the 2018 season. The average game in 2017 lasted three hours and five minutes, which is longer than before the last round of pace of play rules were instituted. So with longer games comes more tinkering.
Baseball, like all sports, will have slow boring games from time to time, this is just reality. Instead of trying to change the game, why not take some steps that would improve fan interaction with baseball. Shorten commercial breaks for those watching at home. All the talk is about pace of play, what about when fans cannot even see the game. Obviously baseball makes a great deal of money off commercials, so raise the price of those commercials. How can you raise the price of commercials throughout the year? Market the players more. Mike Trout, Giancarlo Stanton, Kris Bryant, Jose Altuve, Bryce Harper, and many more should be as well know as the top football and basketball players. If MLB marketed the players more aggressively, they could charge advertisers more for commercials and partnerships as the endorsement of these players would have greater weight nationally. Increased revenue from advertising would mean shorter commercial breaks during games. Take away one 30 second commercial from each break and you have saved close to 10 minutes during each game.
Baseball should focus on eliminating down time not necessarily the time needed to complete a game. Shorter commercial breaks are a great place to start. (Chuck Solomon/ Sports Illistrated)
The pitch clock, which is already used in the minor leagues, and does not do much. I have not seen nor heard of any pitcher getting charged a ball for taking too long. It is a friendly reminder to get on with the next pitch, but little else. Limiting mound visits could minimally speed up the game, however multiple mound visits in an inning usually only occurs in late game, high leverage moments. Let the players play. Speed the game up in when little is happening, not when the game is on the line.
This off season has also seen an incredibly slow free agent market. Call it what you want: collusion, low balling the players, players and agents having unrealistic salary expectations. Whatever. Yes, both sides, owners and players, want to make as much money as possible. Owners want a return on their financial investments, players want to maximize their earnings during their playing careers. However, when agents like Brodie Van Wagenen start floating ideas like players boycotting Spring Training this makes baseball look bad. Baseball has had labor peace for almost a quarter century, one slow off season and you are ready to blow it up? The Strike in 1994 did major, lasting damage to baseball. Lots of fans lost interest and it took years for the game to come back. Cal Ripken Jr. passing Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played streak and the home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa helped bring many fans back, but not all of them. Is another scandalous era like the steroid era really in baseball’s best interest?
Baseball needs to market itself and the players more aggressively. If people are interested, they will not care that a game lasts a little over three hours. Give the fans something to be interested in, even if the game itself is not great. Start games a little earlier so kids can watch more of a game, or the whole game before they have to go to bed. Starting a game at 6:45 pm instead of 7:05 pm would give a kid twenty more minutes of baseball, or roughly a full inning of baseball. Getting kids and young adults interested in baseball will grow baseball to new heights. Shaving a minute or two off the average length of a game ultimately does not matter if the sport itself is not drawing and holding the attention of an ever growing audience. Pace of play is important, but not if people were never interested in the first place. Put the game and players on display, not the advertisers.
20 years ago today Cal Ripken Jr. helped to reenergize baseball, by doing what he did best, showing up for work. The Iran Man’s chase of the Iron Horse resonated with fans who had lost faith in the game during the 1994 Players Strike. Ripken was not performing a superhuman feat, he was simply doing his job like the fans who fill the seats at every Major League Baseball stadium during every game of the season. Ripken brought baseball and the fans back together.
The 1994 Players Strike was generally about money. The argument was between the owners and players, millionaire owners fighting against players who were millionaires or who could become millionaires. This in fighting did not sit well with the fans who were seeing the cost of attending a game continue to rise, and who felt the rising prices were slowly pushing them away from the game. The Major League Baseball Players Association wanted a larger piece of the financial pie the game generated, and the owners did not want to share. Not getting lost in the argument, the disagreement and the lack of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement led to the players going out on strike on August 11, 1994. The strike would last 232 days, finally ending on April 2, 1995. The 1994 season ended without the completion of the full 162 game schedule. There were no playoffs, there was no World Series, there was no parade for a World Series champion. The 1994 season never concluded, it only stopped.
Baseball fans were angry. The game had seemingly forgotten its roots; it was no longer a game but a business. While the financial and business issues were resolved, the damage done to the game seemed to have forever changed the game, and not for the better. Baseball had angered the people it depended on for its very existence, the fans. Repairing the damage inflicted from the Strike looked as though it could take years or even a generation to repair, if it was ever going to be able to be repaired. However, baseball was able to repair some of the damage and reengage the fans thanks to what started on May 30, 1982.
On Sunday May 30, 1982 the Baltimore Orioles lost to the Toronto Blue Jays 6-0 at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore before a paid attendance of 21,632. The Orioles collected only one hit that day, a fifth inning single to left by catcher Rick Dempsey. Batting 8th, behind Dempsey was third baseman Cal Ripken Jr. Ripken went 0 for 2 with a walk. This otherwise forgettable game was game 1 of 2,632 consecutive that Ripken would play.
Fast forward more than 2,000 games and the start of the delayed 1995 Major League season. Every day Ripken grew closer to the magical 2,130 consecutive games played record set by Hall of Fame player Lou Gehrig. The Iron Horse was pure baseball. He was a great hitter, a great slugger, and a gracious man. When ALS took away his gift to play the game he did not make a public scene about how bad his luck was, he did not he draw attention to himself. The media speculation swirled about what was wrong with Gehrig, but he never took part in the circus. Instead, he quietly and with dignity stepped aside so as to not hurt the team. When the Yankees held Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day on July 4, 1939 the dignity and grace with which Gehrig carried himself was on full display. Addressing the sold out crowd, Gehrig spoke of the people who he was lucky to know, his family, and how lucky he was. Lou Gehrig was more than a ball player; he was a man, he was class, he was grace.
Class. Dignity. Grace. These were the qualities baseball needed in 1995. These are the qualities Cal Ripken Jr. put on display every day. Baseball observers and fans can appreciate a player who is chasing .400, chasing Dimaggio’s 56 game hit streak, chasing the multitude of records that elevate a player above his contemporaries and places him among the greats. While these pursuits are great, they were not the pursuit that would galvanize people to return to baseball in 1995. Baseball needed someone and something the people watching in the stadium, on television, or listening on the radio could relate to. They could all relate to the consecutive game streak.
Those of use that have not been blessed with the athletic gifts necessary to play sports on the highest level do not have off seasons. Every morning we wake up and go to work. We put in an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay, and then we do it all over again tomorrow. This is the rhythm of life. It is a grind, you show up and work at it. You may not be the best, you may be a compiler. Every day working on your craft, getting a little closer to your potential, even if that potential does not place you among the elites of your chosen field. Cal Ripken Jr. is not the greatest baseball player to take the field. He was an excellent player and a compiler. He had flaws in his game, but he showed up everyday and worked at correcting those flaws. Simply showing up for work resonated with people, they could relate with Ripken and felt he understood what it was like for them to show up to work when they did not feel well or when they had the aches and pains that go along with life. Ripken reminded people why baseball mattered to them personally again. He helped to bridge the gap and overcome the anger and animosity that grew out of the Strike.
September 6, 1995 marked the 2,131st game the Baltimore Orioles had played since that Sunday afternoon in 1982. Cal Ripken Jr. had come to work sick, injured, healthy, stressed, happy, and sad but most of all he had shown up to work every day and had done his job. On a Wednesday night in Baltimore at Camden Yards, the Iron Man pass the Iron Horse. The Orioles won 4-2 over the California Angels and Ripken went 2 for 4 with a solo home run that night, but it did not matter. What mattered was the joy in the stadium, the joy in seeing a player achieve something that had no short cut, no dollar sign, no superhuman feat. Simply Cal Ripken Jr. showed up to work, again.
The memories from the night are plenty. The standing ovation for Ripken that seemed to last forever. The announcers on television understanding that words were not necessary. The Orioles players pushing a reluctant, and almost embarrassed Ripken out of the dugout to take a victory lap around the field. Everyone, fans, umpires, opposing players, and teammates applauding Ripken’s accomplishment. Cal Ripken Jr. helped to save the game of baseball that September night. He showed baseball fans that the game had not been ruined by the money and the business, it still was a children’s game played by adults. He showed the players and owners that the game does not belong to them, it belongs to the fans.
Baseball and life are a grind. You show up every day working towards a perfection that is impossible to reach. You show up because it is your job to put in an honest days work to receive and honest days pay. Cal Ripken Jr. saved the game of baseball by reminded all of us this 20 years ago.
You cannot steal first base. A player has to hit the ball, walk, or get hit by the pitch to make it to first. Once on first base, a player can steal any base, a fact that Billy Hamilton is proving on a nightly basis.
Pitchers pitch and hitters hit, baseball can be as simple as this. However, two of the leading contenders for the National League Rookie of the Year award seem to be proving this wrong. Joc Pederson of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs are tied for the most strikeouts in the National League this season. The only player in Major League Baseball with more strikeouts is Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles. Why are two players who fail to do their jobs the most leading the charge in winning an award that is designed for the best new player in the game?
Entering play on August 15th:
Joc Pederson has the following stat line:
Kris Bryant has the following stat line:
Both Pederson and Bryant are excellent players with extremely bright futures. However, their consistent inability to put the bat on the ball should raise some concerns. Both players are still young and are in their first full season in the Majors, so there is obviously plenty of time and room for improvement. The idea of swing hard in case you hit something is fine on select pitches, but not during every at bat. Swinging for the fences every time does not help a team as much as understanding when to back away from this approach. The difference between hitting 30 and 40 home runs is at most 40 RBI (hitting 10 grand slams in a season has never happened, the most being 6, and the odds of shattering this record are astronomically small). Could those maximum of 40 RBI be made up, and more than likely surpassed, by cutting down on the all or nothing type approach?
It is impossible to force the defense to make an error if the ball is not put in play. Putting the ball in play means anything can happen. The fielder can misjudge a fly ball, whiff on a grounder, make a poor throw, lose the ball in the lights or sun; the batter can move a runner over with a well-placed ground ball or fly ball. None of this is possible if the batter does not put the ball in play.
In recent memory, Adam Dunn looms large as the king of the all or nothing swing. Dunn hit 462 career home runs, but he also struck out 2,379 times. Over his 14 year career Dunn’s 28.6% K Rate made him a liability for any team he played for that was not able to absorb the downside to his hitting abilities. Dunn could change a game with one swing, but at what cost? The all or nothing approach could kill rallies and scoring opportunities and shorten lineups. The reward just does not seem to balance out with the benefit. Dunn was an impact player for a long time; he averaged 33 HR, 83 RBI, 94 BB, 78 R a season. However, those numbers are countered with a lifetime .237 BA and an average of 170 strikeouts a season. Every season of his career he struck out more times than games played, not a recipe for long-term success. Even his 15.8% career BB Rate is higher than that of Pederson and Bryant. Adam Dunn, the most recent king of the all or nothing swing has a lower career strikeout percentage rate and higher walk rate than either Joc Pederson or Kris Bryant.
The Rookie of the Year award is supposed to reward the successful beginning of a players Major League career. The idea that Joc Pederson and Kris Bryant appear to be the front runners to win the award in the National League is strange. Yes, both players can hit the ball well beyond the outfield fence, but baseball is more than just a home run derby. The acceptance of this approach is a return to the ideas of the steroid era, skip playing small ball and wait for the big three-run home run. This approach is fine, as long as teams, fans, and players are willing to accept the fact that there will be fewer balls in play and strikeout totals from video games.
There is without a doubt a place within baseball for the sluggers, there is no denying that the game needs them. However, not every player can or should try to be like Ken Griffey Jr. or Babe Ruth. There is nothing wrong with hitting 20 to 25 home runs a year and having a batting average in the .280s, instead of hitting 30 home runs and batting around .240. Those extra .040 points worth of batting average will almost certainly match and surpass the runs produced by the extra 5 to 10 home runs that the player lost by not swinging for the fences every time at bat.
Say what you will, but baseball is a team game. The team needs each individual player to contribute if the team as a whole is going to be successful. Joc Pederson and Kris Bryant have both played for successful teams so far in the Major League careers. This has afforded them both the room to continue growing as professional hitters. However, for both of them to reach their potential they will need to make more contact with the baseball. This might require them hit fewer home runs. This is a trade off for being a better all-around player.
The great players are not the ones who have all or nothing types of swings, rather they are the Babe Ruth’s, Lou Gehrig’s, Hank Aaron’s, Willie Mays‘, and Miguel Cabrera’s of the world. These are the hitters who could hit the ball a mile when need be, but could also simply put the ball in play. Pederson and Bryant should learn from this approach. Ruth hit 714 home runs, while posting a .342 career batting average, and having a 12.5% K Rate. Gehrig hit 493 home runs, .340 career batting average, and having a 8.2% K Rate. Aaron hit 755 home runs, .305 career batting average, and having a 9.9% K Rate. Mays hit 660 home runs, .302 career batting average, and having a 12.2% K Rate. Cabrera has hit 405 home runs, .321 career batting average, and has a 16.9% K Rate. These all-time greats put the ball in play, and yet the home runs still came. They all helped their team be successful every time they stepped between the lines. Even Mike Trout and Bryce Harper understand that making contact is important. Trout has a 22.4% career K Rate and Harper has a 21.1% career K Rate. While their K Rate is higher than these legends, they are also much lower than Pederson and Bryant.
Adjusting to life in the Majors goes beyond just playing baseball. Pederson and Bryant are hopefully just settling into the beginnings of long and successful careers. They are off to good starts, but not Rookie of the Year award worthy starts, perhaps they should be on the second tier for consideration for that award. Both players do many parts of the game well, but both need to work diligently on putting the ball in play and reducing their number of strikeouts. If they can do this, they both have the talent to be successful year after year at the highest level of the sport.
One of the biggest issues facing Major League Baseball is the regionalization of the sport. Yankee fans watch Yankee games, Rockie fans watch Rockie games, and Twin fans what Twin games. Fans tend to watch the game their team is playing. This could be partly due to local television deals, which make it difficult to watch out of market games. It could also be due to the nature of the sport. Teams play almost every day during the season so keeping up with multiple teams at once can be daunting and time consuming. I have my teams who I root for, my one primary team and a few backups who I cheer for unless they are playing my main team. I keep an eye on the standings and can tell you which teams are good and which teams are starting their vacations early this year. However I cannot tell you about every player and how good or bad they are playing this season or during their careers. The sheer volume of games, combined with the regionalization of the sport, and the finite amount of time I have to spend looking at the sport each day prevents this from happening.
Despite all the forces working against me, there is something, which has expanded my view of the day-to-day happenings from around Major League Baseball. Playing Fantasy Baseball has taught me a lot about daily baseball in a short amount of time. The Fantasy Baseball League I play in, Infield Lies, makes you set a line up every day. You start understanding how great a player is after you look every day to see how they did the previous day. The competition of the league drives me to continually look for someone who is hot and can help me win the week or the season. You start looking around and you see these phenomenal players who do not get national press on a regular basis, or at all. These are not the Mike Trout’s or Andrew McCutchen’s of the world. These are the versatile players like Martin Prado who can essentially play everywhere on the diamond. You lock on to Prado, also known as Nitram Odarp, because he can fill so many gaps for you on your roster. Then you start seeing his ability with his bat show up on the daily stat line, and then you start watching a few minutes of the game he is playing in with the Diamondbacks and now the Yankees. Despite his not being on my fantasy team this year, I still follow him and will continue to do so because I “discovered” such a great player that I might otherwise have never known about.
Every year I hope to make the rest of the people who are in my league upset by finding that player who come out of nowhere to have a career year or to be a breakout star. I am not always successful in this mission, but it does not mean that players other league members “discovered” do not interest me. Trying to have more steals each week meant the “discovery” of the Dodgers’ Dee Gordon. Prior to 2014, Gordon had average 60 games, 223 plate appearances, 27 runs scored, 22 stolen bases, 6 doubles, 2 triples, 12 walks, 11 RBI, a .256 batting average, a .301 On-base Percentage in parts of three seasons with Los Angeles. In 2014, Gordon has his break out year. He played in 148 games, had 650 plate appearances, scored 92 runs, stole 64 bases, had 24 doubles, 12 triples, walked 31 times, had 34 RBI, a .289 batting average, and a .326 On-Base Percentage. Aside from the triples and stolen bases, which led all of baseball, Gordon could have gone unnoticed unless you are a fan of the Dodgers.
Looking to find the reliever that could put his team over the top in 2013, Jesse picked up Jason Grilli of the Pittsburgh Pirates after his hot start. Prior to the 2013 season, Grilli had collected five saves, a 4.34 ERA, 1.413 WHIP, and a 1.96 Strikeout to Walk Ratio in 10 seasons. The Pirates returned to the playoffs for the first time since 1992 and having a shutdown closer like Grilli helped them secure the Wild Card. Grilli had an All Star season with 33 saves, a 2.40 ERA, 1.040 WHIP, and 5.69 Strikeout to Walk Ratio. “Discovering” Grilli during his best season has led Jesse, John, and me to follow his career as it has moved forward. I hope that Grilli has a few more good seasons, but if not we were able to appreciate his greatest season while it was in progress.
After learning that Charlie Blackmon went to one of the local high schools near his house, John did the dutiful thing and picked him up. The 2014 season was Blackmon’s first full season in the Majors and it turned out an All Star year. He hit .288, with 19 homeruns, 72 RBI, 28 steals, 82 runs scored, 27 doubles, 31 walks, and an On-Base Percentage of .335. Not much in his stat line leaps out at you except for the steals. However, digging a little deeper and you see that Blackmon had 171 hits in 648 plate appearances. His batting average can be a bit deceptive, as it masks the success Blackmon had at the plate. The simple connection that occurs, like growing up in the same area, can help you “discover” players that you might otherwise overlook.
I generally cheer for all players; if they make a great play it does not dissuade my excitement even if they are playing against my team. There are exceptions though, mainly Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun both for their PED use and their lies about their PED usage. I was at the game in Yankee Stadium against the San Francisco Giants when Rodriguez broke Lou Gehrig’s career Grand Slam record. The entire stadium went nuts because it was a big home run in a big moment, but I knew what it meant and I just could not bring myself to cheer. I felt the pit in my stomach, which only sadness can bring. People did not understand the moment; they focused only on that single game. This singular focus on winning also seems to exist within fantasy sports in general. You are trying to win this week, so you are not so much concerned about next week or next year. People who become overly obsessed with their fantasy sports begin to root against their team, because someone on the opposing team in on their fantasy team. I have personally seen this and heard stories of this, which boggled my mind. I root for my teams and this will not change. I want the players to do well, but if I have to choose, I want the team I cheer for the win more than my fantasy team.
I understand that ultimately this allegiance to real life teams and players is in its own way a fantasy. However, it is a fantasy that does not continuously change. Once I begin cheering for a team or player, they have to do something terrible for me to stop, and I do not mean wins and losses. My dislike for Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun is because they both cheated and then lied about cheating multiple times, not the uniform they wear. Honesty goes a long way for me. Even if a player like a Rick Ankiel, when he was still a pitcher, clearly can no longer play at a Major League level, I will not stop rooting for them so long as they are honest and give it their best effort. Ultimately, every player deserves to be treated as a person, so why would I boo someone who is struggling, yet trying their best?
Fantasy Baseball has expanded the sport for me. It has exposed me to a slew of great players, who I may otherwise have never seen or noticed. Some see fantasy as a way to ruin the game, but for me Fantasy Baseball has made me a better fan of the entire game. The improvements of teams like the Mets the past few years or a player like Casey McGehee, and his career year last season, allow me to love baseball more and to be a true fan of the game, not just or a few teams. Fantasy Baseball is what you allow it to be, and for me it has allowed me to look into the game of baseball like never before.