After an off season of scandal, on again off again blockbuster trades, gigantic free agent signings, possible Minor League Baseball contraction, and the Mets being the Mets it is time to return to the diamond. Pitchers and Catchers report to Spring Training, the journey to October begins.
Expectations are high in the Bronx after signing Gerrit Cole. Houston is out to prove they can win without stealing signs, while the rest of baseball is out for revenge. The on again off again trade of Mookie Betts to the Dodgers showed how far Boston has fallen while searching for financial flexibility. The Red Sox continue searching for a permanent manager to replace Alex Cora after he was swept up in the fallout from Houston. Major League Baseball proposed eliminating 42 minor league teams, which immediately angered the communities potentially impacted, baseball fans, and even Congress.
The Mets once again managed to stay in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Yoenis Cespedes reworked his contract after the revelation that his injury was the result of a run in with a wild boar. The Amazin’s General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen, Cespedes’ former agent, now had to alter the contract he negotiated, but from the other side of the table. Carlos Beltran never made it to his first workout of Spring Training as Mets Manager. His involvement in the Astros scandal followed him to Queens. The Wilpons were unable to sell the Mets because they wanted to continue making team decisions once they no longer wrote the checks.
The Cincinnati Reds are poised to climb out of the cellar and into contention after an active Winter. (Kareem Elgazzar)
Anthony Rendon got paid by leaving Washington, Stephen Strasburg got paid to stay with the Nationals. Zack Wheeler left Queens for Philadelphia for a chance to win and a large paycheck. Madison Bumgarner left the Bay for the desert, while Hyun-Jin Ryu left sunny Southern California and moved north of the border. Josh Donaldson added his name to the slugging Twins lineup, a new age Murderers’ Row. The White Sox and Reds loaded up on free agents, vaulting themselves into contention. Hundreds of other moves happened. Time will tell which moves helped teams, and which teams will come to regret.
Baseball lost the legendary writer Roger Kahn. Few, if any, possess his ability to write about the game. He was baseball’s writer. His ability to put the passion and beauty of the game into print will be missed.
It was an odd and harrowing off season, but now Pitchers and Catchers are reporting to Spring Training. The world is a little more perfect because we are getting back to baseball.
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.”
Rudolf Anderson, Jr. was born in Spartanburg, SC in September of 1927, the same year that the infamous Murderers’ Row proved to be its most effective, posting a .714 winning percentage for the regular season, and defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates in four games to win the World Series. That same year Joseph Jefferson Jackson was living in south Georgia operating a dry cleaners, the Savannah Valet Service, after having managed the Waycross Coastliners to a state championship two years prior. The same season he played center field for the Coastliners batting .577, even occasionally switching sides to bat for both teams.
Years earlier, in 1919, the man who owned the Savannah Valet Service, had been know as “Shoeless” Joe Jackson. He had been one of the most dramatic offensive weapons in Major League Baseball. He batted .351 for the season, fourth best in the Majors, behind Ty Cobb, Bobby Veach, and George Sisler, had 181 hits, behind only Cobb and Veach (both had 191), and led the majors in at bats per strikeout, striking out on average only once per 51.6 AB. By comparison, the 2013 leader, Nori Aoki, had one strikeout for every 14.9 AB. Putting that into math terms, Aoki struck out 3.46 times more often last season than Jackson did in 1919.
Four years after the 1919 Black Sox scandal had rocked Major League Baseball, Jackson was still playing baseball, albeit in the minor leagues in Georgia and South Carolina. During this time he was still pleading with Kennesaw Mountain Landis, named baseball’s first commissioner in 1920 in attempts to repair baseballs image, to reinstate him into the game. In 1921 a jury in Chicago found the eight men accused not guilty of any wrongdoing in relation to the series. Despite this, Landis continued his refusal to reinstate of any of the players associated with the scandal.
In 1933 Jackson moved back to his hometown of Greenville, South Carolina and played for a few minor league teams. At the same time he opened up a short lived BBQ restaurant, and later a liquor store on Pendleton Street in Greenville. Jackson operated the liquor store until his death on December 5, 1951.
In 1944, and the aforementioned Rudolf Anderson, Jr. had moved with his family to Greenville, South Carolina and he enrolled at Clemson University studying textile manufacturing. During his time at school he was involved across campus, from intramural football, basketball, swimming, and softball. Most importantly to his life and his place in history though, he was involved with the Air Force ROTC program.
Anderson did not possess the ability to catch things as well as Jackson. In his senior year Anderson was on the third floor of the campus barracks when a pigeon flew into the hall. Anderson chased the bird down the hall and failed to stop before he fell out of the window, hitting the eaves over the door on the way down. He suffered a completely dislocated wrist, fractured pelvis, and lacerations to the head.
After graduation, Anderson joined the Air Force. He served time in Korea earning two Distinguished Flying Crosses for reconnaissance missions flown over Korea in his RF-86 Sabre. Four years after the ceasefire in Korea, he qualified on the U-2 and joined the 4088th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing. There he logged over 1,000 hours making him the top U-2 pilot the wing had to offer.
In 1962 a large influx of people and supplies from the USSR to Cuba, then President John F. Kennedy directed Strategic Air Command to fly reconnaissance over Cuba to investigate the nature of the shipments. The 4088th was tasked with the assignment, and after flyovers by Major Richard Heyser and Major Rudolf Anderson, Jr, photographic proof of ballistic missile sites on Cuba became available. On October 22 the President addressed the United States for nearly 18 minutes detailing the gravity of the situation.
October 14-28, better known as the Cuban Missile Crisis, saw the two superpowers, the US and USSR play a game of brinksmanship that has never been matched. Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) was discussed as a realistic option, whereby both parties would destroy the other with their entire nuclear arsenal, effectively ending all life. Not unlikely, was the start of World War III.
It was during this time that Major Anderson met his fate. On October 27th, Anderson was flying yet another reconnaissance mission over Cuba in a U-2 when he was shot down. It was expected that shrapnel from the explosion punctured his suit and caused it to decompress at an operating altitude of 70,000 (13.25 miles). Major Anderson would become the only combat death of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The surface to air missile that shot him down was fired without permission from the Kremlin. Both Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev quickly realized that nuclear war was rapidly becoming a reality and would likely be caused not by the leaders, but a panicky soldier or commander on the ground. The two sides quickly realized their inevitable loss of control and reeled back the hostilities, and on October 28th, the Crisis was averted. The Soviets publicly agreeing to dismantle all missile bases in Cuba, and the US publicly agreeing to not invade Cuba. Privately, the US also agreed to remove its Jupiter missiles from Turkey and Italy.
Major Rudolf Anderson may have been the most important death of the 20th century. His death highlighted the uncontrollable state of affairs that was unfolding and started the serious communication between the White House and the Kremlin that led to the end of the standoff. Without this dialogue, the reality of a worldwide nuclear holocaust was very real.
President Kennedy posthumously awarded Anderson the Air Force Cross. In 1963, the City of Greenville erected a memorial in honor of the downed pilot. Renovated, the monument, made from an F86-Sabre similar to the one he had flown in Korea, was unveiled again in October 2012 in Cleveland Park in Greenville, South Carolina.
Shoeless Joe has been more recently memorialized in the City of Greenville as well with a statue It can be located near Fluor Field, home of the Greenville Drive, Boston’s single A affiliate. Across the street from the stadium is Jackson’s house. It was moved from its original location to 356 Field Street in Greenville. The home has been transformed into the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum which is free to tour. The house was give street number 356 in recognition of his lifetime batting average, which remains the third highest all time behind Cobb(.366) and Hornsby (.359) .
Ultimately these men have only have a few things in common. Both men were able to achieve their dream, Maj. Anderson in the Air Force, and Shoeless Joe in Major League Baseball. Both men’s dreams ended abruptly, in ways that neither likely expected. The other thing that they share is Greenville. They both grew up there, and it is now where they are each buried. In fact, they are both buried in the same cemetery, Woodlawn Memorial Park. The cemetery is located across from Bob Jones University in Greenville and is open to the public.
Shoeless Joe’s place in baseball history will always be one of contention, whether he was a hero, a villain, or someone stuck in a no win situation. Maj. Anderson’s place in history, sadly, is a largely forgotten one despite his overall importance. In the words of Art LaFluer in The Sandlot “Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.” In their hometown of Greenville, each man is regarded as both.
And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” Matthew 24:31 KJV
May the Lord have mercy on the pitchers of the American League. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have now assembled the scariest lineup since the New York Yankees had Murderers’ Row in the late 1920s. The signing of Josh Hamilton creates potentially the most dangerous 1 through 5 batting order most people have ever seen, arguably the most lethal since the 1940s. The Murderers’’ Row lineups had four future Hall of Famers (Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Earle Combs, and Tony Lazzeri). The Angels now have two future Hall of Famers, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, in their lineup, Hamilton needs a few more years to be a lock but his production in only six seasons makes him a candidate already. The other two members, Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo, are still young, but look like super stars in the making.
Every baseball fan knows the danger of Pujols and Hamilton, but Trout and Trumbo are equally dangerous. Statistically if these four players have their average season in 2013, the Angels can expect to amass a combined .298 batting average, hit 141 homeruns, 436 RBI, 139 doubles, 727 hits, walk 145 times, 72 stolen bases, .307 OBP, .542 SLG, .849 OPS. This assumes that all four players play in every game, which is unlikely, but numbers anywhere close to these would be devastating for the rest of the American League.
This is how the numbers break down over an average 162 game schedule:
Albert Pujols has a .325 batting average, hits 41 homeruns, 125 RBI, 44 doubles, 196 hits, walk 89 times, 8 stolen bases, .414 OBP, .608 SLG, and 1.022 OPS.
Josh Hamilton has a .304 batting average, hits 35 homeruns, 122 RBI, 38 doubles, 189 hits, walk 58 times, 9 stolen bases, .363 OBP, .549 SLG, and .913 OPS.
Mike Trout has a .306 batting average, hits 32 homeruns, 90 RBI, 30 doubles, 189 hits, walk 69 times, 48 stolen bases, .379 OBP, .532 SLG, and .911 OPS
Mark Trumbo has a .259 batting average, hits 33 homeruns, 99 RBI, 27 doubles, 153 hits, walk 33 times 7 stolen bases, .302 OBP, .478 SLG, and .780 OPS.
Impressive numbers for an average combined season. Trout and Trumbo still need several years of consistency before they can cement their places among the elite players in baseball, but Pujols and Hamilton are without a doubt in that elite club. Trout has drawn comparisons to Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle during his young career, both on offense and defense. Trumbo raised his batting average by .014 between 2011 and 2012; he is a slugger who is becoming a hitter. Trumbo is comparable to Cecil Fielder and George Bell at this point in their respective careers, as he hits for average like Cecil Fielder and hits for power like George Bell. As is, Trumbo can hit a baseball into the next county when he makes contact, as evident during the Home Run Derby last season in Kansas City.
The problems will be numerous for opposing pitchers next season. If Trout gets on, then the pitcher has a choice to make. If he pays attention to Trout and his speed, the pitches to Hamilton, Pujols, or Trumbo could land in the parking lot. If the pitchers pay attention to the hitters with Trout on base, then a single or walk could easily lead to Trout standing on second or third after a stolen base or two. The sluggers behind Trout are excellent hitters and can be used for a hit and run, which prevents the Angels from relying on the homerun, as they can manufacture runs. If you want to pitch around Trout, which is a mistake, you would get to face only one batter before you had to face the triple threat of Hamilton, Pujols, and Trumbo.
If Trout is kept in check then you have three more dangerous hitters to deal with. Hamilton and Pujols can both bat third, so if you want to pitch around one of them then you get face the other one. You want to get around both of them, go ahead now you get to face Trumbo with at least two runners on. One bad pitch and it could mean at least three runs. The other option is to pitch around all three of them, and then you have to face Howie Kendrick and his .428 SLG or Erick Aybar and his .706 OPS as a Shortstop. Good luck to every pitcher who has to face the Angels in 2013.
The Angels new foursome of offense should more than make up for any mistakes they make on defense. However, their defense is not a liability as is often the case for great hitters. Pujols won two Gold Gloves during his time with the St. Louis Cardinals (2006 and 2010). Hamilton has proved to be an average or better fielder during his career, playing all three outfield positions. The move to the Angels should move Hamilton to leftfield where he should settle in quite nicely. Trout’s comparison to Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle during his young career was not made by casual fans, but by two men who know and understand baseball, Tim Kurkjian and Hall of Famer Al Kaline. Trumbo led the American League in putouts and was third among American League first basemen in assists during 2011. Solid defense by all four of these players makes the Angels that much more dangerous.
Statistically the Angels should be the team to beat in the American League in 2013 and for several years to come. However, the one thing the Angels cannot buy is chemistry. Regardless of the players on their roster in 2013, the Angels and Manager Mike Scioscia have to make all these impressive parts work together. Across town, the Dodgers have shown the Angels that big names and accusations do not necessarily mean wins and a trip to the playoffs. The foundation is there for the Angels, not it is up to them to do what they are capable of on the field.