In 2008 the Tampa Bay Devil Rays dropped the Devil, becoming the Tampa Bay Rays. Changing their name also changed their fortunes. The Rays have a .535 winning percentage, much better than the Devil Rays, .399. Tampa is winning roughly 22 more games a season since the switch. In 12 seasons as the Rays, Tampa Bay has won at least 90 games seven times, made the Postseason five times, won the American League East twice, and reached one World Series. The Rays success has come while averaging 27th in team payroll.
Tropicana Field was not always home to success. The Devil Rays began play in 1998 and struggled through the 2007 season, their last as the Devil Rays. They averaged 25th in payroll, including ranking 10th in 2000. The 2004 season was the Devil Rays best, winning 70 games and did not finish last. Tampa Bay finished 4th, three games ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays.
Every expansion team has growing pains as they build a competitive team. Tampa Bay received no breaks in the Expansion Draft. None of their first five draft picks played more than three seasons in Tampa Bay. Teams need players to build around and the Devil Rays did not find a franchise player in the Expansion Draft.
The Devil Rays held the first overall pick in the 1997 Expansion Draft. Tampa Bay selected Florida Marlins pitcher Tony Saunders. In 1997, the 23 year old lefty started 21 games for the Florida Marlins, going 4-6 with a 4.61 ERA and 1.464 WHIP in 111.1 Innings, allowing 57 Earned Runs, 12 Home Runs, 64 Walks, and 102 Strikeouts. Saunders pitched in the Marlins Postseason run to their World Series victory. Saunders, a young lefty with Postseason experience, was a logical first pick.
The Devil Rays took Tony Saunders with the first overall pick in the 1997 Expansion Draft. (Jonathan Kirn/Allsport/ Getty Images)
The 1998 Tampa Bay Devil Rays struggled, finishing 63-99, 16 games behind the fourth place Baltimore Orioles. In 31 starts, Tony Saunders went 6-15 with a 4.12 ERA and 1.570 WHIP in 192.1 Innings, allowing 88 Earned Runs, 15 Home Runs, 111 Walks (league leader), and 172 Strikeouts. Saunders pitched 7+ innings in 10 starts, allowing 3 runs or less in nine of those starts. He won twice. In four of those starts, Saunders pitched 8 innings, allowing three runs or less, yet he lost all four starts. Saunders received 3.37 in run support, while Major League teams averaged 4.79 runs per game. Tony Saunders pitched well for the expansion Devil Rays, despite his record.
Tampa Bay and Tony Saunders entered the 1999 season full of hope. The Devil Rays sought to play more competitive baseball and Saunders looked to build upon his success. Entering play on May 26th, the Devil Rays were 22-24. An expansion team hovering around .500 a quarter of the way through the season had many hoping the Devil Rays would soon contend. The Texas Rangers were visiting Tropicana Field facing the surprising Devil Rays. In the Top of the Third Inning, the Rangers had runners on first and third with two outs, trailing 3-2. Tony Saunders had a full count on reigning American League MVP Juan Gonzalez. Saunders took the sign from John Flaherty and uncorked a Wild Pitch. Gonzalez trotted to first, Rusty Greer moved to second, and Luis Alicea scampered home to tie the game.
Tropicana Field fell silent except for Tony Saunders screaming, writhing in pain on the ground. The pitch broke the humerus bone, the bone connecting the shoulder and elbow, in Saunders’ left arm. Training staff tried helping Saunders up, but the pain was too much. He was carted off the field and taken to the hospital. His season was finished and his career was in doubt.
Professional baseball players are tough. They play through pain and injury throughout the long season. A year after breaking his arm Tony Saunders was pitching again. His rehab assignment began with the Charleston RiverDogs, Tampa Bay’s Single A team. Saunders pitched in two games, throwing 5 Innings, with a 1.80 ERA and 0.800 WHIP, allowing 2 Hits, 1 Earned Run, 2 Walks, and 3 Strikeouts. He was promoted to the St. Petersburg Devil Rays, Tampa Bay’s Advanced A team. Entering the Third Inning of his second game, Saunders had pitched 7 Innings with a 3.86 ERA and 1.429 WHIP, allowed 7 Hits, 3 Earned Runs, 3 Walks, and 3 Strikeouts. Then it happened again, Saunders broke his arm throwing a pitch. His Major League career was over.
Tony Saunders broke his arm throwing a baseball. The Devil Rays future rested on his left arm. (www.mlb.com)
The Devil Rays retained their rights to Saunders through 2004, when they released him. Less than a month later the Orioles signed Saunders. He pitched in Spring Training for the Orioles, but spent the 2005 season pitching for the Mesa Miners of the independent Golden Baseball League. He pitched 9 Games in relief, going 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA and 1.600 WHIP. He threw 10 Innings, allowed 9 Hits, 2 Earned Runs, 7 Walks, and 8 Strikeouts.
There are no guarantees in baseball. Tony Saunders is not alone in having his career cut short by injuries. However his injuries were particularly gruesome. The future of the Devil Rays rested on his left arm, it took years for Tampa Bay to recover. Tony Saunders’ efforts to continue his baseball career did not go unnoticed. He received the 2000 Tony Conigliaro Award from the Boston Chapter of the Baseball Writer’s Association of America. The annual award is given to a Major League player who best overcomes an obstacle and adversity through the attributes of spirit, determination, and courage. While the award cannot replace his career, it is important to recognize Saunders’ perseverance in his comeback attempts.
Tony Saunders’ final career statistics: 3 Seasons, 61 Games Started, 2 Complete Games, 13 Wins, 24 Losses, 4.56 ERA, 1.528 WHIP, 345.2 Innings Pitched, 343 Hits, 175 Earned Runs, 33 Home Runs, 204 Walks, and 304 Strikeouts.
Oh, what could have been in Tampa Bay.
The beautiful thing about baseball is there is no clock. Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver said it best, “In baseball, you can’t kill the clock. You’ve got to give the other man his chance.” There are no clocks counting down the end of a game, just the anticipation of the final out.
Baseball, and the lack of a clock, does from time to time does go a little crazy. The 26 inning marathon on May 1, 1920 between the Boston Braves and Brooklyn Robins ended in a 1-1 tie, called due to darkness. The 25 inning game on May 8 and 9, 1984 between the Chicago White Sox and Milwaukee Brewers lasted 8 hours and 6 minutes. Newly elected Hall of Famer Harold Baines mercifully hit a walk off home run to give Chicago a 7-6 victory. A day at the ballpark is far from predictable.
Then there was the April 18, 1981 Triple A game between the Pawtucket Red Sox and Rochester Red Wings. The longest game in professional baseball history and the subject of Dan Barry’s book, Bottom of the 33rd. The start of the game was delayed a half hour due to malfunctioning lights at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket. The cold New England air and Easter church services the next morning kept many fans away, as paid attendance that fateful night did not total 2,000, yet many later claimed to have attended.
The game plotted along with Rochester leading 1-0 as the bottom of the 9th began. The Red Sox needed one run to force extra innings. Be careful what you wish for. Chico Walker scored on a Russ Laribee sac fly to left field, sending the game into the great unknown that is free baseball. Normally, extra inning games are quickly resolved allowing the fans and players go on about their lives. This game was different. What followed was a struggle for survival between two teams, a cold New England night, a missing page in the rule book, and a League President gone missing.
Even Pawtucket Red Sox Manager Joe Morgan was pleading for the game to be over. (Bottom of the 33rd/ Harper Collins)
I will stop here to not ruin the rest of the story. I can say Dan Barry’s writing is magnificent. Bottom of the 33rd reads like a radio broadcast. However, the book’s advantage over radio is Barry ability to take side trips about the people involved with the game. Humanizing those trapped in the game heightens the excitement of the story.
The account of the longest baseball game goes beyond the diamond and into the lives of the people. Two future Hall of Famer players, Wade Boggs for Pawtucket and Cal Ripken Jr. for Rochester, are well chronicled. However, the most poignant and painful parts of the book are the destinies of the players who never made it to the Majors.
Triple A is one step away from the top of the sport, yet many players never take that final step. They are so close to the summit, yet they continue to struggle to survive in the Minors. The life of a Minor League player is not glamorous. Long bus rides, cramped living and working conditions, a long season with few off days, low pay, and knowing your dream of playing in the Majors can disappear in a flash. Despite the long odds, every year players attempt to do the improbable and make it to the Majors. Their struggles were on full display that night in Pawtucket. Bottom of the 33rd is a microcosm of the cruelty that is baseball.
My 2018 was filled with baseball. I umpired more than 200 games plus attended more for the enjoyment of the game. I have no clue how many games I watched on television or listened to on radio. Whatever the number, it was a lot.
This year I watched games in six different ballparks. I attended four Cincinnati Reds games at Great American Ball Park. I always attend at least one game when the Braves visit the Reds. I also attended a game against the Giants in August with a fellow listener to the Effectively Wild podcast; he was in the home stretch of a road trip to visit all 30 MLB teams. The other games were more random, yet just as exciting.
First game of the year, Braves at Reds. My wife and sister-in-law supporting their hometown team, while I do the same. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
I finally watched a Florence Freedom game from the stands. I have umpired several games on the field for the local youth leagues. The Frontier League is underrated, like most Independent Baseball Leagues. The play on the field is fun and exciting, even though the team lacks a Major League an affiliation. The fun of attending a game remains. As an added bonus, my wife and I accidentally attended a double header, it was awesome.The Florence Freedom split a double header with the Normal CornBelters. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
My wife and I took another three week summer road trip. While it did not involve as much baseball as our honeymoon did last year, we still visited several important places in the baseball world. The first stop on our trip was in Kansas City. Visiting the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum was my top destination while planning the trip. Saying it exceeded my wildest expectations is an understatement. As wonderful and well done as the Hall of Fame is, Jesse and I both agree the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is better. We understand Cooperstown deals with everything baseball, and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum focuses on a much smaller portion of baseball. However, something about the museum eclipses the magic of Cooperstown.
Welcome to the Negro League Baseball Museum. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
The greatest players in Negro Leagues history are still playing in Kansas City. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
The jerseys of the Negro League Museum. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
The next day we drove to Omaha. Among our stops there were the current, TD Ameritrade Park, and the historic, Rosenblatt Stadium, homes of the College World Series. Standing where so much baseball history has taken place gave me goosebumps. The drive between the ballparks felt like traveling from new Yankee Stadium to old Yankee Stadium. The new park is fine, but nothing like what it replaced.
The entrance to TD Ameritrade Park, home of the College World Series. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
What is left of Rosenblatt Stadium. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Our last baseball stop on our road trip was in Fargo, North Dakota. Inside the West Acres Mall is the Roger Maris Museum. While Maris is best remembered for his 1961 season, the Museum, which consists of a video room and long window display, walks you through Maris’ life and career. The simple museum is perfect for the two time MVP who often seemed happier when avoiding the spotlight.
The highlight of my baseball year was the road trip I took with Bernie. Four games, in four days, in four cities. We watched the Lansing Lugnuts, Detroit Tigers, Fort Wayne TinCaps, and South Bend Cubs play. While the Major Leagues are the pinnacle of the sport, Minor League Baseball gives you more for your money. You can sit closer, attend more games, and see future Major Leaguers play today. Beyond the great baseball, such a road trip allows you to explore new cities. Bernie and I ate our way through each city, especially Detroit. We both needed a salad and a workout at the end of the trip.
A beautiful sunset as we watched the Lansing Lugnuts play. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Bernie caught a plush baseball at our first game on the road trip in Lansing. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Welcome to Comerica Park, home to the Detroit Tigers (The Winning Run/ DJ
Much closer and we could have suited up for the Fort Wayne TinCaps. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Our seats for the final game of our road trip as we watched the South Bend Cubs play on Mr. Rogers Day. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Batting practice home run ball hit by one of the Minnesota Twins. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
View from our seats over the Tigers bullpen in left field. (The Winning RUN/ DJ)
2018 was a wonderful year of baseball for me. I spent far too many hours umpiring, watching, and traveling for baseball. It was an excellent year of exploring the game. I am excited to see what 2019 brings.
Thanksgiving is when we show our gratitude for the wonderful things in our lives. We ought to give thanks more than once a year, as there is always good in our lives. Life is not perfect but there is always a reason to be thankful. I have many things to be thankful for, and one of them is baseball. Baseball is so much more than just a game. It touches every area of my life.
I am thankful for the close friends I have because of baseball. John, Bernie, and Kevin are a few of my friends who share in my obsession with the game. Discussions of a game, a player, a stat, or something funny are daily occurrences. Whether we are together or a thousand miles apart, friends make life and baseball better.
Bernie, Kevin, and I at our second Pirates games over Memorial Day Weekend 2017. We saw Pittsburgh play the Mets and Diamondbacks that weekend. (The Winning Run)
I am thankful for my family and the memories we have because of baseball. Attending baseball games with my Parents and Jesse. Watching the Braves play on television with my Grandfather and Great Aunt. Sharing my love of the game with my Wife. Plotting the baseball indoctrination of my Nephew and Niece. Who better to share what you love than with who you love.
I am thankful for the travel my love of baseball has spurred. Driving to Boston with my now Wife to watch a game at Fenway on Memorial Day. Going to Giants and Athletics games on our honeymoon. Last minute trips to Pittsburgh to see the Pirates play. Planned trips to Pittsburgh to watch the Pirates play the Mets and Diamondbacks. Flying to New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles to see historic ballparks. Minor League road trips. Exploring Cooperstown and the Negro Leagues Museum. I love traveling and baseball, they are better when they are together.
I am thankful I became an umpire. Having a front row seat to a baseball game is the best way to watch. Baseball makes the weather perfect, regardless if it means calling games on the surface of the sun in July or in the Polar arctic in March. The bumps, bruises, and trips to the Emergency Room are the cost of admission. Umpiring was not in my life’s plan, but I am glad life does not always follow the plan. There is no better way to spend a day than calling balls and strikes in the sunshine. I umpire for the love of baseball, not the paycheck.
Jesse, John, and myself at a Pirates game in 2013. We decided to drive to Pittsburgh for the game at 2 a.m. that morning. It was a long drive but worth it. (The Winning Run)
I am thankful for endless baseball trivia. Learning random tidbits and then quizzing friends and family on said information is always entertaining. You will never know everything about baseball, but this does not stop me from trying. Baseball trivia is mostly useless in real life, but each tidbit broadens my understanding of the game.
I am thankful for the feeling baseball gives you. Playing catch or hitting a baseball on the sweet spot. The sounds, smells, and feel of the game are timeless. The joy of the game never ends. We do not remember the score of the games, but we remember how we felt. Baseball is fun. It makes you smile and warms your soul.
I am thankful for baseball, it is so much more than a game.
Road trips and baseball are two of my favorite things. Exploring new places and watching the only real game are wonderful ways to spend your time. The baseball road trip Bernie and I took was a great combination of both. Attending four baseball games in four cities in four days was exciting and tiring. Minor league baseball is a celebration of the city as much as the team. The level of talent on the field changes, but every game is a unique experience with interesting between innings entertainment.
The first stop on our road trip was Lansing, Michigan. The Lansing Lugnuts took on the Dayton Dragons. We sat behind the first base dugout, close enough to hear the plate umpire call balls and strikes. Bernie and I both bought shirts, and he caught a plush baseball to add to his baseball shrine. The Lugnuts won an entertaining game 4-3. The home team was one for one. Next stop, the big leagues.
A beautiful sunset in Lansing while the Lugnuts host the Dragons. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Bernie and his plush baseball from the Lugnuts game. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
After exploring downtown Detroit, Bernie and I were arrived at Comerica Park before the gates to opened. As we waited, the crack of the bat from the Twins taking batting practice echoed out to the streets. Once the gates opened we sprinted to the right field seats in hopes of snagging a baseball. Our patience eventually paid off as a ball landed near Bernie. A few minutes before I half jokingly told him if he gets a ball it was mine since he got the plush ball in Lansing. The ball now sits in my baseball room.
Sitting two rows behind the Tigers bullpen in leftfield provided a different view of the game versus in Lansing. Watching from the outfield it is easier to appreciate the beauty of the defense on balls in play. As the late innings rolled around the Tigers’ relief pitchers distracted me from the game by warming up in the bullpen. An up close and personal view of Major League pitchers throwing fastballs and sliders made it impossible to focus on the pitching 300 feet away. The Tigers defeated the Twins 5-3. The home team was two for two.
Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
The first baseball I have ever gotten from an MLB game. Does not matter it is from Twins batting practice. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Our view from beyond the Tigers bullpen. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Leaving Michigan for Indiana meant flat, monotonous terrain. The TinCaps are a big draw in Fort Wayne, at least on the Saturday evening we watched them host the West Michigan Whitecaps. Our seats were between the third base dugout and home plate. This gave us another great view of the pitching. One of the first things I noticed was the umpiring crew. They were the same two-man crew from Lansing. Both umpires moved in distinct ways, making them recognizable if you paid attention. Watching the same umpiring crew work a second game in three days was tempered by two fans sitting near us. Both were know-it-alls who clearly “knew more” about baseball than the players, coaches, and umpires. Fans can cheer and jeer as they please, but these fans had something to say about a player or umpire on every pitch. “He’s got a slow bat!!!” “What are you looking at blue???!!!” “Hey number 20 (on deck) are you going to do better than him (the batter)? He’s (the batter) terrible.” “He was safe by a mile (definitely out, not even close).” Fans like these take some, not all, of the fun out of attending a baseball game. One of the fans kept bragging about being a coach while pointing at his players. I pity the umpire who has to handle their games, the kids have learned nothing about good sportsmanship from their coach.
There were several miscues throughout the game. Errors on what should have been normal, not necessarily simple, plays. The weather interrupted our road trip for the only time, with a 30 minute lightning delay. After dodging the lightning and biting my tongue with the annoying fans, the Whitecaps defeated the TinCaps 3-1. The home teams were now two for three.
The vendors at the ball park can be as entertaining as the game. We found John’s spirit animal in Fort Wayne. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
The lightning was starting to roll in, but it was still a beautiful night at the ball park in Fort Wayne. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
The final stop on our baseball road trip was South Bend, Indiana. The Lake County Captains were visiting the South Bend Cubs on Mr. Rogers Day. The cardigan jerseys were fantastic and were auctioned off to support the local PBS station. A between innings pep talk from Mr. Rogers turned every adult into a kid again as they listened. The game itself was solid. Several terrific defensive plays by the Cubs, who ultimately won 5-4. Cue “Go Cubs Go” The home team won three out of four games on our road trip.
Breaking down the road trip. The state of Michigan was undefeated, a perfect 3-0. Indiana teams split their games 1-1. Ohio struggles losing both games. Minnesota lost their only game as well. Bernie and I camped for two nights and stayed with a friend for one night. We drove through three states, Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio. Bernie discovered the monotony of driving through Indiana. We enjoyed local food and watched some great baseball. We both checked Comerica Park off our list of Major League stadiums to visit.
Mr. Rogers was everywhere on the field in South Bend. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Cubs win and “Go Cubs Go” filled the air. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Our baseball road trip was wonderful. Watching four games in four days, you begin watching more than the ball. You see the little things that go into a baseball game. The movement of the pitches, the positioning of the defense, the rotation of the umpires. The more baseball you watch, the more you see the game behind the game. The great defensive plays are routine because of positioning before the pitch. The correct call on a bang-bang play at third because the plate umpire hustled down the line to cover the play after the base umpire ran out to make a call on a deep fly ball. The daily spectating meant seeing the parts of the game the normal fan is missing even though it is right in front of them. Bernie and I got below the surface of baseball.
The 2013 MLB All-Star Game was hosted by the New York Mets. Despite working in New York I could not attend the festivities (Bernie did though and one of our mutual friends got to attend the game because of a promotion at the Fan Fest). The 2015 MLB All-Star Game was hosted by the Cincinnati Reds, but I could not attend as I moved to Cincinnati about a week after the festivities ended. However, 2016 is the year I finally made it to the All Star Game, not in San Diego but the South Atlantic League Single A All-Star Game hosted by the Lexington Legends. Not what you may have expected.
Great seats for a great game. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Obviously these players are not household names, but I recognized a few of them. Luke Dykstra, son of Lenny Dykstra, plays for the Rome Braves. Mariano Rivera Jr., son of Mariano Rivera, plays for Hagerstown Suns. Tate Matheny, son of Mike Matheny, plays for the Greenville Drive. Every player selected to this All Star game has a ways to go before leaving a lasting legacy on the game.
The game itself produced some great baseball. Diving catches, beautifully played ground balls, and excellent pitching. The game featured 22 strikeouts, 11 for each team. Each of the 15 pitchers who pitched a complete inning had at least one strike out, with Jake Cosart of the Greenville Drive striking out the side during his inning of work. The game itself was fun and the players and fans were clearly enjoying the experience. The weather was perfect for the 8,126 fans who watched a crisp game played in under two and a half hours. The casual fun that has always characterized minor league baseball meant wacky promotions and being able to sit close to the field. It gives a sense of closeness and intimacy in contrast to attending a Major League game that has an air of reverence. Sort of like comparing your friend’s backyard barbeque to corporate sponsored tailgate. Both are fun but feel radically different.
A beautiful night for baseball at Whitaker Bank Ballpark. (The Winning Run/DJ)
P.J. Colon of the Columbia Fireflies started for the South team. Colon was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland and grew up in California. There are not many baseball players to come from Europe, much less Northern Ireland, so those who do are key to continuing the international growth of the game. Opposing Colon was the North team’s starter, Mitch Keller of the West Virginia Power. Keller would earn the victory and Colon would receive the loss as Max Schrock of the Hagerstown Suns drove in the first of his two RBI during the first inning. Schrock won the MVP award by finishing the game 2 for 3, with 2 RBI and a double.
Baseball is better with family, especially the soon to be sister-in-law. (The Winning Run/ KCL)
Baseball can be a fickle sport. Most likely not every player on the field during the All Star game will reach the Major Leagues. Seeing talent that is making its way through the Minor Leagues towards MLB is exciting. Although these players are still developing, you can already see how they will help propel the game forward. The next great star is not simple to spot, but on that field were the potential MLB All Star players of the future who will delight fans for years to come. I have seen the future of baseball, and it is good.
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.
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 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:
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:
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.
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’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.
Note-taking is a tough task. It requires you to have an organized mental system to judge what is important and what isn’t necessary to recount for general understanding. Looking at box scores can give you a general understanding of what went on in a baseball game. Then there’s the scorecard. It’s a triumph of shorthand. This simple system, through development over decades, has a broad language and style that is the textbook definition of a picture saying a thousand words.
Deciding I wanted to learn how to fill out a scorecard came about for several reasons. Mostly that I wanted to learn more about the game. One of my favorite comedians talks about her love for sports and mentions that she enjoys filling out scorecards when she watches games live.
I also thought it might help me get a better idea of the flow of a game. I can still look at the box score and team stats of a football game then piece together a good idea of how the game went. I can’t say I can do that with a baseball box score. What I realized is that it’s because there are so many more details that matter to me when trying to interpret how things went, such as what part of the line up scored, what sort of pitch counts were occurring, etc.
On the other hand, I know baseball fans who bring books to the game because they enjoy being at the ballpark and listening to game being played. In the same way, I’ve often been playing Dodgers home games on my computer and just listening to Vin Scully call the game while I putz around on the internet.
All of this introduction to basically say that I was having a bad day and decided to drive a few hours away to catch a Double A game between the Richmond Flying Squirrels and the Erie Seawolves where I decided I would also learn to fill out a scorecard on the fly.
I decided in the morning that I would head down for the game. So I started looking online for instructions on how to fill out a scorecard. I was shocked at how many different methods people have posted. Here are a few that I found by typing in “how to fill out a baseball scorecard” via Google.
I was planning on getting a program for the game and thought there was a pretty good chance there would be a scorecard in it. If there wasn’t, I’m sure I would have been able to get one from somewhere in the stadium. If not, I was already bringing a notebook to take down my thoughts about the game, so I would use that if I had to.
I got the stadium about 90 minutes before the game started. I had already missed out on the free t-shirt giveaway and the courtyard area was packed with Girl Scouts who were getting to have a sleepover at the park after the game. Sadly, they weren’t selling cookies.
But I got 32 oz beer and some food – a pound of curly fries, a burger, and some chicken tenders then found my seat. If you’re reading this then it’s not likely that you need to be reminded that minor league baseball is quite awesome. However, it can always be restated because the beer, food, hat, and ticket cost me less Tubmans than I’ve got fingers on one hand.
I mean got this great hat.
Richmond Flying Squirrels (The Winning Run/ BL)
And this was my viewpoint for the game (one of the opening pitches).
First pitch from Richmond (The Winning Run/ BL)
There was a scorecard in the game program but the gloss on the paper made it nearly impossible to write on it with the pen I brought. So by the 2nd inning, I was madly scribbling together a scorecard in my notebook. I had missed the announcement of the lineups so I spent part of my time trying to cobble together everyone’s position. I didn’t mark basepath travel or pitch counts. It’s pretty sparse but if you gave me some time, I could give you a decent account of the game that would go beyond the box score.
My first attempt to score a game. (The Winning Run/ BL)
I know I missed a lot. But I was engaged the whole time into the game. It also went by rather quickly. When you’re keeping track of the action, you’ll see that there’s a lot more going on in baseball than you think.
Derek offered to help me learn how to score a game. The beauty of the internet is that we cued up a game from earlier that day and watched it together while chatting online. I had run out of printer ink though so I sketched out another scorecard, using the following as a template.
And here is what I got.
A little practice can go a long way. (The Winning Run/ BL)
I think I did a much better job this time around.
As I looked over the various instructions and thought back to some of the methods people have discussed with me in the past week, I’m amazed at the richness of baseball vocabulary. Even as I was learning from Derek, I think we disagreed on which K was a strikeout looking and a strikeout swinging. If the shortstop fields the ball, tags a force-out at 2B and then makes the throw to 1B for the double play, how do you score it? My first thought was to put down 6-3 DP but I got another suggestion of 6-6-3 because the first number is the person who fields it and then subsequent numbers are for each player that is involved with an out. But what about a cutoff man? 8-6-2 play to catch someone at home plate?
The language of the baseball scorecard is something amazing to converse over. If you look carefully you see what’s important to the scorer when they follow the game. One of the above linked examples includes writing a line to illustrate the direction of a ball put into play. Some scorecards include balls and strikes as that can tell you how a pitcher and line up are squaring off against each other. Other people instead look to the bottom of the card to see the inning totals and innings pitched to get a similar idea.
As I am finding my baseball storytelling voice, the scorecard is a fun way to define that voice and get snapshots of its development. I haven’t looked it up so I’m speculating that Vin Scully probably keeps a scorecard of the games among what must be a serious list of concise notes as he calls and comments on games all by himself.
We keep track of the things that are important to us. Our notes take on a language that allows us to share stories and relate our interpretations of events. So how we track things becomes an integral part of that retention.
Baseball lifers are bridges that connect different eras and players to each other. The majorifoty of players, coaches, and managers spend just a few years in the Majors before their time is over. Not everyone walks away from the game willingly, often due to injury or poor performance. Then there are those that spend their lives living, breathing, and working in baseball. These baseball lifers come to the game young and leave when they are old. One such baseball lifer is Connie Mack and we may never see a lifer of his significance ever again..
Cornelius McGillicuddy, shortened to Connie Mack in childhood, spent 65 years in baseball as a player and manager. He played for 11 seasons from 1886 to 1896 with three different teams: the Washington Nationals, the Buffalo Bisons of the Players League, and the Pittsburgh Pirates. A career .244 BA, Mack was primarily a catcher during the days when catchers truly took a beating. He logged 5,186 innings behind the plate and an additional 985 in the field. Mack led the Majors in a statistical category only three times during his playing career: two he would have rather not (1890- 20 HBP and 1887- 76 Passed Balls) and one he should be proud of accomplishing (1892- 47% CS (base stealers were 136 for 257)). While not a remarkable playing career, Mack parlayed his career on the field into one in managing.
Connie Mack saw it all in his life in baseball. (www.baseballhall.org)
Late in the 1894 season, Connie Mack was named the player-manager for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates went 149 and 134 under Mack, with a winning record each season, but fell short of ownership expectations. He was fired following the 1896 season. Retired as a player and recently fired from his Major League managing job, Connie Mack went to the minor leagues to manage and occasionally catch for the Milwaukee Brewers over the next four seasons.
In 1901, Connie Mack embarked upon his legendary career as the manager of the Philadelphia Athletics. He began managing the A’s in 1901 at the age of 38 and finally retired in 1950 at the age of 87. During Mack’s 50 years managing in Philadelphia, the A’s record was 3,582 and 3,814, a .484 Winning Percentage. The A’s won nine American League Pennants (1902, 1905, 1910, 1911, 1913, 1914, 1929, 1930, and 1931) and five World Series titles (1910, 1911, 1913, 1929, and 1930). Mack’s Winning Percentage can be misleading, as many agree he managed for 18 years too long. In his first 32 seasons in Philadelphia, the A’s went 2,517 and 2,253 with a .527 Winning Percentage. In the final 18 seasons of his career, the A’s went 1,065 and 1,561 with a .406 Winning Percentage. As he got older, Mack was unable to keep pace with the tactical and financial changes in baseball. The financial changes also meant that the A’s were no longer viable in Philadelphia, and by 1955 the team moved to Kansas City. Mack did not know when to walk away from the game. Like a player hanging on for too long, managers also have to know when their skills have declined and when it is time to call it a career.
Connie Mack wanted to win baseball games and build better men. (United States Library of Congress)
Connie Mack saw the development of baseball through the good times and the bad. From the early rough and tumble years in the late 1800’s to the Black Sox Scandal to the rise of Babe Ruth and the Yankees to integration. Mack saw it all from the dugout. He demanded from his players that they play to the best of their abilities, but he was not overbearing. Mack let his players be who they were, but he wanted them to be smart and make intelligent decisions when they were on the field. Unlike the other hardened men of the time, Mack went beyond the results on the diamond; he wanted his players to be better people. After the 1916 season, Mack created a Code of Conduct for his players.
- I will always play the game to the best of my ability.
- I will always play to win, but if I lose, I will not look for an excuse to detract from my opponent’s victory.
- I will never take an unfair advantage in order to win.
- I will always abide by the rules of the game—on the diamond as well as in my daily life.
- I will always conduct myself as a true sportsman—on and off the playing field.
- I will always strive for the good of the entire team rather than for my own glory.
- I will never gloat in victory or pity myself in defeat.
- I will do my utmost to keep myself clean—physically, mentally, and morally.
- I will always judge a teammate or an opponent as an individual and never on the basis of race or religion.
Mack’s rules came at a time when the Major Leagues excluded African-Americans. While not necessarily pushing for the reintegration of baseball, the Code of Conduct helped change baseball from a game played by rough men to a game that families could enjoy.
Connie Mack’s career has left an indelible mark on baseball. He was ahead of his time with his attitude about race, religion, and playing customs in baseball. He disliked small ball and would rather play for the big inning instead of sacrificing for a single run. The rise of playing for the big inning became more common when home runs became more plentiful. Mack however decided his team had a better chance to win when putting multiple runs in an inning rather than a single run here or there. In the first 35 years of his managerial career, few could argue otherwise.
Connie Mack is forever immortalized in Cooperstown. (www.phillymag.com)
In 1937, Connie Mack was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame even though he was actively managing. He would conclude his managerial career with the most wins (3,731), losses (3,948), games managed (7,755) for any manager in baseball history, and tied for second for most Pennants (9 with Joe McCarthy). He won 968 more games than John McGraw, who is second on the list for most career wins. Mack managed 2,658 more games than second place Tony LaRussa. If he had retired after the 1932 season, Mack’s .527 Winning Percentage would be higher than that of fellow Hall of Fame managers Tommy Lasorda, Red Schoendienst, Dick Williams, and Casey Stengel among others. If Connie Mack had only know when to walk away.
Understanding Connie Mack’s impact on the game of baseball goes beyond the numbers. He was with baseball during the good times and the bad. His story connects modern baseball to its historical roots. In 1886, 34-year-old Cap Anson was playing his 16th season of professional baseball and 31-year-old Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn was still pitching, just two seasons removed from winning 59 games for the Providence Grays. In 1950, Duke Snider was a fourth year outfielder for the Brooklyn Dodgers and Whitey Ford won the American League Rookie of the Year award with the Yankees. Connie Mack was the commonality between those events that took place over nearly a lifetime apart. This week marks the 60th anniversary of his death. Connie Mack saw just about everything there was to see in baseball. By connecting us to the past, let us not forget the baseball lifers in the game today who are important in helping maintain our perspective where the game has come from and where the game is going.
“Baseball is boring. It moves so slowly that I fall asleep.”
These are not my words, but the complaints some people levy against baseball. I could not disagree more with this sentiment. Baseball has plenty of action and the charges against the sport that it is slow and boring are unwarranted. Miami Marlins President David Sampson recently said he wants the team to play faster. Clearly he wants to spend more time on the beach instead of working. It is sort of hard to blame him considering it is Miami and it is the Marlins.
In 2013, the Marlins were tied with the Kansas City Royals for the second shortest average length of game at 2:56. The fastest team was the Toronto Blue Jays at 2:55, and the slowest team was the Houston Astros at 3:15. Sampson believes the Marlins can play games on average in 2:40. Sampson is not the first person to suggest baseball needs to speed the game up. I do not understand why baseball is seen as being too long, and why it is singled out among other sports and accused of taking too long to play a game. The average game in the NFL lasts 3:12. So on average football games last longer than baseball games. Why does it take over three hours to play a game designed to take one hour? Perhaps it is because during football games you have the unnecessary stops in play like the two minute warning. Are players incapable of looking at the clock and understanding how much time is left in the half or in the game? Then you have the time outs which are called to “ice the kicker” late in games. I see it as a waste of time, but die hard football fans will say it is strategy. These are the same people who say bringing in a relief pitcher to match up against a particular batter is a waste of time, not strategy. So in baseball trying to give your team a better chance to win is wasting time, while in football it is an important piece of strategy to winning on the gridiron. Yeah, I’m not buying it.
The argument of baseball having so little action is also farcical. Again, these are usually the same people who will lose their minds during football games. Baseball has action and plenty of it. Again, the average football game last 3:12, which is roughly the same amount of time as a baseball game. There is an average of 11 minutes worth of actual action in a football game. 11 minutes of the ball in play and the teams are passing, running, or kicking the ball. The average baseball game has 18 minutes of action. During a single game, baseball has 7 minutes or 63% more action than a football game. Football does show a replay of every big or important play, so as fans watch the actual game they are also watching the highlights of the game. Baseball does show replays, but not nearly at the same level as football. 7 minutes may not sound like much, but do the math. The NFL regular season is 16 games long. 16 games with 11 minutes of action means fans get 2:56 worth of actual game action per season. Major League Baseball has 162 games in the regular season with 18 minutes of action in each, which gives fans 48:36 worth of action a season. I will gladly take the extra 45:40 or 1,556% of action per season which baseball offers. Do not come back with the argument that baseball has a longer season, there is more action in baseball regardless if you want to divide it per season or per game. People make their own decisions, but I choose to see more game action.
Why do people wanting to leave a game sooner? Did they not pay to be entertained? People go to sporting events to be entertained. Ultimately entertainment is what sports come down to for fans. Beyond sports, the movies are the biggest source of entertainment for people. I fail to recall any debate on whether or not movies are too long. The average movie is 2:21 long, with 45 minutes of previews, totaling 3:06. This fits nicely into the average length of a baseball game. People usually flock to the movie theaters to see the latest and greatest out of Hollywood. Roughly three hours later they leave having watched as people, who are among the best in the world at what they do and paid millions of dollars to do one simple thing, entertain them. So why do people complaining baseball takes too long, when they are among the best in the world and are paid millions of dollars to ply their trade?
If people want something to complain about in sports, complain about the last minute of a basketball game when one team cannot win, yet continue to foul. This rarely works if the winning team is up by more than four or five points. It is completely understandable if it is a single position separating the two teams. What about the television time outs, and the bazillion timeouts each team gets per quarter or half. Yes, basketball has more action than baseball, but this is due to the nature of the sport. Anyone who argues basketball is a more difficult sport needs to only give me an adequate answer to the follow. Basketball players could at a time go from high school straight to the NBA, now after a single year of college, yet even the most talented baseball players spend multiple years in the Minor Leagues, why is this the case when baseball is so easy? Football too sees its best players move quickly from high school through college and to the NFL after only three years. Baseball is special among sports. Take a baseball player and he can shoot a basketball. He can throw and catch a football. He can hit a tennis ball or drive a gold ball. While he may not do this as well as the other athletes, he can still do it. Now take the athletes from these other sports and tell them to hit a curve ball or a 95 mph fastball. They will not be able to, this is what makes baseball special.
The easiest answer I can provide is to quote Red Barber,
~“Baseball is dull only to dull minds.”
I do not mean to call people who do not like baseball and find it dull. I feel bad that they miss the beauty of the game. There are countless ways to analyze baseball; it is a never ending quest to understand the game. The history and the daily grind of the season provide baseball fans with a wealth of information to examine, ingest, and analyze. The present day is always compared to the past in baseball. The major records in baseball are common knowledge, such as most career home runs. Other records in sports do not have the same level of reverence as baseball records receive. Baseball and its records are a part of the fabric of the United States in a way that football and basketball can only hope to become.
Baseball continuously seeks to balance progressing with the times while maintaining its tradition and history. The new rule about home plate collisions has changed the game. Yes it leaves the intent of the runner and the catcher to the umpire, but do you think Ray Fosse or Mike Matheny or the other catchers who had their careers cut short due to the abuse they took from home plate collisions would rather have others go through the physical fall out they had to face. The creation of the Designated Hitter (DH) also changed the game, as the American League became a more offensive driven league. I hope the DH never goes to the National League, but the change it has had on baseball has not fundamentally changed the game. Baseball is ever changing and is forever trying to hold on to its past. Speeding up the games do not answer a problem, which I personally do not think exists. The speed of baseball is fine, give the fans the entertainment they came to the ball park for and they will leave happy. Leo Durocher sums it up best,
~“Baseball is like church. Many attend, few understand.”
Pay attention to the few.