Teams tend to play one of two types of baseball, long ball or small ball. The rise of of analytics has shown sacrificing an out to advance a runner is not in a team’s best interest. Teams are shying away from small ball because, as Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine so eloquently put it, “Chicks dig the long ball.” The roar of the crowd is much different for a Home Run than a Sacrifice Hit, Sacrifice Bunt. Instant offense versus a building block towards a potential Run.
Baseball has changed since the small ball era of the early 20th Century. The small ball era helped produce Eddie Collins and his 512 career Sacrifice, 120 ahead of second place. Clayton Kershaw is the active leader with 108, 334th all time. Small ball produced Ray Chapman’s 1917 single season record of 67 Sacrifices. Bert Campaneris’ 40 Sacrifices in 1977 are the most since 1929. Home Runs have replaced the Sacrifice. Teams swing for the fences. They no longer get them on, get them over, get them in.
A slugger’s value comes from hitting a baseball over the fence, not tapping it in the infield. The top ten Home Run hitters of all time have hit 6,680 Home Runs. Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Alex Rodriguez, Willie Mays, Albert Pujols, Ken Griffey Jr., Jim Thome, Sammy Sosa, and Frank Robinson have played a combined 213 Major League seasons. Only Pujols is active, with two seasons left before Free Agency or retirement. Occasionally these long ball titans sacrifice themselves for the team.
In 22 seasons, Barry Bonds hit 762 Home Runs and laid down 4 Sacrifices. Hank Aaron played 23 seasons, hit 755 Home Runs with 21 Sacrifices. Babe Ruth hit 714 Home Runs in 22 seasons and laid down 113 Sacrifices, more than the rest of this elite group combined. Alex Rodriguez Sacrificed 16 times in 22 seasons, while hitting 696 Home Runs. Willie Mays played 22 seasons, hit 660 Home Runs, and dropped 13 Sacrifices. Albert Pujols has played 19 seasons, hit 656 Home Runs with 1 Sacrifice. Ken Griffey Jr. hit 630 Home Runs over 22 seasons and Sacrificed 8 times. Jim Thome and his 612 Home Runs laid down 1 Sacrifice in 22 seasons. Sammy Sosa had 17 Sacrifices in 18 seasons while blasting 609 Home Runs. Frank Robinson dropped 17 Sacrifices in 21 seasons, with 586 Home Runs. Even the greatest sluggers of all time Sacrifice.
Babe Ruth revolutionized baseball with his power, yet he still played in an era where players were expected to bunt to help their team win. (www.captainsblog.info)
In 213 combined seasons, the greatest Home Run hitters laid down 211 Sacrifices. In an average season they hit 31.36 Home Runs with 0.99 Sacrifices. Their average career was 668 Home Runs and 21.1 Sacrifices, 30.2 Home Runs per Sacrifice. Even ardent believers in small ball know these players should swing the bat.
Jim Thome and Albert Pujols each have just 1 career Sacrifice. Thome and Pujols are not Rickey Henderson. They have hit a 32 triples, 16 each, and stolen 133 bases, combined. Only Pujol’s 114 steals break to top 1,000. Both sluggers were designed to trot around the bases, not sprint.
On July 3, 1994, Indians Manager Mike Hargrove looked to extend Cleveland’s 2.5 game over the Chicago White Sox in the American League Central. In the Bottom of the 7th, in a 7-7 tie against the Minnesota Twins, Eddie Murray laced the third pitch to Right for a lead off single. Hargrove signaled his young Third Baseman to Sacrifice. After taking a strike from Mark Guthrie, the 23 year old Jim Thome bunted, moving Murray to Second. Thome reached on an error by Third Baseman Chip Hale. Twins Manager Tom Kelly then replaced Guthrie with Carl Willis. Sandy Alomar Jr. greeted Willis with a swinging bunt down, loading the bases. Paul Sorrento followed with an RBI Single to Right, driving in Murray. Wayne Kirby fouled out to Third. One out. Kenny Lofton hit a Sacrifice Fly to Center, scoring Thome with Alomar advancing to Third. Two outs. Omar Vizquel flied out to Center. Three outs. 9-7 Cleveland. Thome and the Indians won 10-9 in 11 Innings, sending the Jacobs Field crowd home happy.
Jim Thome hit baseballs a long way, his talents were not best used bunting. (www.cooperstowncred.com)
The importance of the game, and Thome’s Sacrifice, were lost as the 1994 season stopped on August 12th. Cleveland was 1 game behind Chicago when the Strike began. The Strike claimed the rest of the 1994.
The St. Louis Cardinals hosted the Chicago White Sox on June 16, 2001. The Chicago Cubs led the Cardinals by 6 games in the National League Central. In the Bottom of the 7th, White Sox pitcher Sean Lowe walked Placido Polanco on four pitches. J. D. Drew then Singled to Right. Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa looked to stretch the 6-3 lead. He signaled his Cleanup Hitter to bunt. In his 67th career game, Albert Pujols bunted the first pitch foul. On the second pitch, Pujols bunted the ball back to Lowe who threw to Second Baseman Ray Durham covering First. Polanco moved to Third and Drew to second. One out. Pujols has not Sacrificed again. Bobby Bonilla was Intentionally Walked to load the bases and replaced by Pinch Runner Jim Edmonds. Craig Paquette Singled to Right, scoring Polanco. Drew scored on an error by the Shortstop, Tony Graffanino. Edmonds stopped at Second. Edgar Renteria struck out looking as Edmonds stole Third and Paquette stole Second. Two outs. Mike Matheny grounded out to First. Three outs. St. Louis won 8-3.
Albert Pujols is one of the greatest right hand power hitters of all time, bunting is not his most dangerous weapon. (Dilip Vishwanat/ Getty Images)
The Cardinals lost to the Houston Astros on the final day of the Regular Season. Both teams finished 93-69. Houston was crowned Division champions by winning the season series 9 games to 7. St. Louis was the Wild Card. The Cardinals lost to the eventual World Series champion Arizona Diamondbacks in a decisive Game 5 in the Divisional Series.
Baseball is a team game played by individuals. Players field ground balls, pitch, and bat alone. No one can help you succeed, but you can help others succeed. Backing up throws, turning Double Plays, executing a relay all help a team win. And yes, occasionally even the greatest Home Run hitters Sacrifice for the team.
As baseball changes, Sacrifices by players capable of putting a baseball into orbit inches towards extinction. The Sacrifice is becoming a lost art as light hitting pitchers in the National League dominate and the Designated Hitter in the American League decimates the Sacrifice. A slugger bunting is now more rare than a Perfect Game. This generation’s greatest sluggers have Sacrificed just twice. If Mike Trout ever lays down a Sacrifice, soak in the moment. It will be the first of his career, and possibly the last time an all time great Home Run hitter Sacrifices himself.
Growing up around Atlanta in the 1990’s there was plenty of great baseball games and players to watch. Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, and Chipper Jones were all Hall of Fame players. Andruw Jones, Otis Nixon, Javy Lopez, and so many more were great players to watch. These riches on the diamond were amazing, but as time has gone by the realization of how great it was to watch these players night after night has set in. Fans across the country might only have a few chances each season to see these players and they understood that you should take the time to slow down and appreciate them.
The understanding that I need to slow down and watch when a great player passes through town has sunk in more as I get older. Appreciating the greatest of a player goes beyond the highlight reel plays. It is watching how they approach each pitch throughout a game, both at the plate and in the field. There are only a select few players in baseball that can capture my attention even when they are not making great plays. Players who make me stop and watch just in case they do something amazing.
These stop what you are doing and watch players are the elite few. Some I have had the pleasure of watching in person, others I missed my opportunity to watch their greatness. When I was living in New York for graduate school and the few years after, I was lucky enough to see Derek Jeter play on a few occasions. Jeter was never the best hitter, but he was good one. He did not have the most power, the biggest arm, or greatest fielding range, but he commanded everything inside Yankee Stadium. While only getting to see Jeter in the later part of his career, it was still special to see one of the few players who was respected across baseball without exception. It takes a special player to be respected by Red Sox fans even though he was a lifelong Yankee that broke Boston’s heart on so many occasions. Watching Jeter play consumed a majority of my time at Yankee Stadium. I watched how he moved with every pitch and how he was the man on the field and yet everyone knew in their heart that he was never the most talented. Derek Jeter could do everything on a baseball diamond, but it was what did not show up in the box score, which set him apart from everyone else.
I usually went to Mets games simply because the tickets were cheaper, however when I did venture up to the Bronx and Yankee Stadium it was special. Even inside the new Yankee Stadium the history of the Yankees resonates. Watching two players who will and should be first ballot Hall of Famers, Jeter and Ichiro, plus my favorite player in Andruw Jones meant the 2012 Yankees were the best for me. Watching Jones patrol the outfield with the Braves growing up spoiled me. If it was catchable, he seemed to always catch it. The 2012 Yankees meant I got to relieve a bit of my childhood with Andruw Jones, watch the coolest man in baseball in Derek Jeter, and watch one of the greatest pure hitters of all time in Ichiro.
The beauty of Ichiro’s swing and his athleticism at the plate are what always caught my eye. He seemed, and still seems, like a magician at the plate. He never seems to be fooled on a pitch; he might swing and miss but never look awful in doing it. Ichiro is to me what a baseball player ought to be. He can beat you with power, though he rarely displays it. He can put the ball in play and then beat you with his speed. Then on defense, he can chase down fly balls with the best of them. If runners are on base they advance at their own risk, as Ichiro is blessed with a cannon for an arm. Ichiro has all five tools, though he keeps his power hidden until it is absolutely necessary. Watching Ichiro hit is the closest I will ever come to watching a hitter on the same level like a Ted Williams, Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio, or Honus Wagner. Watching Ichiro and Jeter play were and are a return to my childhood. A return to when baseball was simple and the players were larger than life; the baseball that was and forever will be my first love.
I have not gotten to see every player I wanted to see play in person, though I did on television. The two biggest players that I did not get to see play in person that I will forever be sad about are Ken Griffey Jr. and Vladimir Guerrero. Yes, I saw both players on television, but not in person. There is a big difference in appreciating how great a player is when you see them not through a camera lens, but with your own eyes.
The two most obvious reasons I never saw Ken Griffey Jr. play in person are that he played in Seattle and Cincinnati and I lived in Atlanta. This meant at best his team would come to Atlanta once a year. Interleague play did not start until 1997. This meant seven seasons of Griffey’s 22-year career were already gone. Then there were the last three years in Seattle before he moved on to the Cincinnati Reds. There were some opportunities to see Griffey play in Atlanta during interleague at some point with the Mariners, but I went to only two or three games a year growing up. So not great odds, plus we usually went to the less popular games with the slightly cheaper tickets and the smaller crowds. I loved going to games, but looking back, I wish I had seen Griffey. His time with the Reds meant he only came to town one time a season, and sadly there were several lost seasons in Cincinnati due to injuries. Griffey was, and remains, the prototype for what it means to be cool on a baseball field. Jeter was New York cool, suave. Griffey was fun, exciting, and electric. His wiggling batting stance is still mimicked by people today, though admittedly no one else, even in softball leagues can ever hope to hit a ball like he did. Griffey could amaze you and do things that just did not make sense for a player his size. You expected Frank Thomas and Albert Belle to hit the ball a mile, but Griffey at worst hit the ball as far as they did, plus he could run like the wind. Ken Griffey Jr. was a once every few generations type player and I missed him. As great as his highlight reel is, I can only imagine how great it would have been to see him play in person.
Missing several opportunities to see Ken Griffey Jr. makes sense, not seeing Vladimir Guerrero play does not. Guerrero spent 8 of his 16 seasons with the Montreal Expos. Playing in the National League East with the Braves meant I had plenty of opportunities to watch him play, but for whatever reason I never did. It was not from a lack of interest, I just never seemed to go to Turner Field when the Expos were in town. Not sure why, just the way it worked out. Guerrero was a lot like Andruw Jones, great power and speed and a howitzer for an arm. The main difference between Guerrero and Jones was that Guerrero was a more complete hitter and Jones played for Atlanta, not against them. Vladimir Guerrero never met a pitch he could not hit. It reminded me of playing baseball in the street with my brother and friends. If it was within reach, you swung, partly so you did not have to go pick it up and partly because it may be the best pitch you will see. Guerrero never seemed to care if the pitch was a foot outside and head high, he could serve it into the outfield. He could also bloop a ball into short left field after the pitch bounced in front of the plate. Ichiro is a magician in the batter’s box in the sense that he can almost place where he hits the ball. Guerrero is a difference sort of magician as he can hit nearly everything thrown towards the plate, and hit it well. The other thing I missed was seeing Guerrero unleash his arm. There are few players with arms that stop the opponent from even attempting to take an extra base; Rick Ankiel and Jeff Francoeur are the players in recent years that come to mind regarding the fear their arms put into the minds of opposing base runners. Perhaps Vladimir Guerrero was not the best player in terms of doing the conventional things on a diamond the best, though he did them extremely well. What I missed the most in not seeing Guerrero play in person is his ability to leave fans speechless. He could hit or throw a baseball a mile, or single on a pitch that most players could not even reach. Vladimir Guerrero took the sort of baseball that I grew up playing to the Major Leagues and still made it look as amazing as it felt.
The opportunity to see something unique and amazing at a baseball game exists every time the gates open. You could see Matt Cain throw a Perfect Game (as Jesse did in San Francisco), watch the final game at old Yankee Stadium (as John, Jesse, and I did in 2008), or just see a fun game like I have on so many occasions. Baseball is a team sport played by individuals. These individuals are what make the game great. Players of all size can find success on a baseball diamond, whether they are Jose Altuve at 5’6”, Randy Johnson at 6’10”, or Jonathan Broxton at 300 lbs. Great players come in every physical form possible and they are all capable to doing something amazing. Most of us do not have the financial ability to go to every game, but we should all make the time when these elite, once in a generation type players come to town. Continuing to put off going to see Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, Aroldis Chapman, and others will be a sad memory. There is no guarantee they will do something amazing at the game you attend, but you will still be able to say you saw them play. No one cares if the one game you saw Sandy Koufax pitch he did not win the game, you still got to see Koufax pitch. Do not miss your opportunity to see great players in person. We can all watch highlight reels, but watching in person is always special and you will remember it better than any video.
What if I told you thieves stole a man’s tools he had used to make an honest living? How would you react? What if these thieves also stole the awards this man received as recognition for both his great individual achievements and for his role in making the business he worked for among the most successful in the world? How would you react? How would you react if I told you this man is a military veteran, who answered the call of duty when the country and the world need it the most? What emotions would you feel? Anger? Sadness? Shock?
Personally I feel both anger and sadness. I am angry at the thieves who stole things from this man after he worked so hard to achieve. I feel sadness because even if, and when, these items are recovered; some of the damage may never heal. I have plenty to say to the person or people who did this. They are not worth the space they occupy on this earth, nor the oxygen they breathe, and plenty more which is not suitable for printing. The best I can sum up how I feel is this way, HOW DARE YOU!!!
Now take all your emotions and wrap them around the idea that the man I have been talking about is Lawrence Peter Berra. Yogi, the man the myth, the legend. The man who could utter sentences which decades later still baffle people. Such as:
“I really didn’t say everything I said.”
I have plenty to say to these thieve. I am guessing there are some people in the Bronx and around the baseball world who would love to do more than just talk to them.
On October 8th, the Yogi Berra Museum was broken into by thieves. Among the items stolen were several of Yogi’s 13 World Series Rings, his two Most Valuable Player Awards, and the mitt he used to catch Don Larsen’s perfect game during Game 5 of the 1956 World Series. These items are priceless in baseball value, but also in the value they have for Yogi and his family.
The theft makes me wonder what some people are not willing to do, either for money or simply because they want to have something. The worth of a person’s reputation and honor appears to have a dollar value for some people. This is disgusting. The opposite is true for the man who had his property taken from him. Yogi Berra is and never has been a victim. He has put every ounce of energy he has into what he believes. It does not matter if it is fighting for freedom, playing to the best of his abilities on the diamond, or helping kids learn. Yogi is a man’s man. He is tough when need be, he exudes love and humility everywhere he goes. Everyone should aspire to be like Yogi.
The Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center’s mission is to “preserve and promote the values of respect, sportsmanship, social justice and excellence through inclusive, culturally diverse sports-based educational programs and exhibits.” This mission reflects through the young people who have come to the museum for programing. Yogi through the museum and center continues to give back and help make the world a better place.
Yogi Berra Stadium, which is connected to the Museum, is home to both the Montclair State University baseball team and the New Jersey Jackals of the Can-Am League. Yogi’s connection to Little Falls, New Jersey has given both the college players a place to play the game they love, while getting an education. The Jackals’ players have the opportunity to continue chasing their baseball dreams.
When people talk about baseball legends they refer to players like Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Mays, Aaron, Clemente, Koufax, and so many more. However, Yogi Berra is in a class of his own. He is referred to not by his surname, but rather by his first name/ nickname. He is the uncle everyone in and around baseball loves. He is family. While he is widely respected, there is an aura of familiarity about him which breaks down the need for formalities. Yogi Berra is a man we all know in some manner, and we all love him just the way he is. It is time for us as a baseball community to assist in returning to Yogi what is rightfully his and to see that those who have violated his generosity are held accountable for the crimes they have committed.
The Left Arm of God, a nickname like this is not given out to just any sort of pitcher. To earn this nickname you must be both extraordinary and dominating, both of which Sandy Koufax was during his career. Koufax played for the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers from 1955-1966. He did not emerge as a superstar until after the Dodgers moved to southern California following the 1957 season.
Koufax pitched 12 seasons for the Dodgers. He collected 165 wins against 87 loses, with a career 2.76 ERA. He pitched 137 Complete Games, 40 Shutouts, 2324 1/3 Innings, while Walking 817 batters against 2,396 Strikeouts. His has a career 1.106 WHIP with 9.3 Strikeouts Per 9 Innings. These are Hall of Fame numbers over a 12 year career. However, beginning in 1961, until his early retirement in 1966 Koufax dominated opposing batters in ways like never before. During this six year span Koufax averaged 22 Wins, 8 Loses, six Shutouts, 272 Innings Pitched, 69 Walks, 286 Strikeouts, with a 0.970 WHIP, 9.4 Strikeouts per 9 Innings. Remember, this is what he averaged.
The career achievements for Sandy Koufax include being a seven time All Star (twice in 1961), four World Series Championships, two World Series Most Valuable Player Awards (1963 and 1965), three pitching Triple Crowns (1963, 1965, and 1966), three Cy Young Awards (1963, 1965, and 1966), National League Most Valuable Player (1963), pitched four No Hitters, pitched a Perfect Game, and 1972 Baseball Hall of Fame (youngest ever).
Statistically, Koufax dominated opposing pitchers in the National League throughout his career. He led the National League in Wins (1963, 1965, and 1966), ERA (1962 through 1966), Complete Games (1965 and 1966, 27 in each season), Shutouts (1963, 1964, and 1966), Innings Pitched (1965 with 335 2/3 and 1966 with 323), Strikeouts (1961, 1963, 1965, 1966), WHIP (1962 through 1965), Strikeouts per 9 Innings (1960 through 1962 and 1964 through 1966), Strikeout to Walk ratio (1961, 1963, and 1965).
Koufax also made significant news off the pitchers mound, which continues to resonate. He decided he would not pitch in Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur. While he did not receive as much negative attention as Hank Greenberg did for his decision to not play on Yom Kippur in 1934, there remained much contention over the decision after Don Drysdale lost Game 1. Following the 1965, Koufax, along with Drysdale, held out for a larger contract from General Manager Buzzie Bavasi. This was highly unusual for Major League players to stand up to management regarding their contracts. The hold out should be seen as an important step, along with Curt Floods’ refusal to accept a trade in 1969 to the Philadelphia Phillies, towards the establishment of Free Agency.
Following his retirement after the 1966 season Koufax worked as a baseball announcer for NBC from 1967 through 1972. He would return to the Dodgers in 1979 as a minor league pitching coach, and held this position until 1990. Koufax remains a much beloved figure in baseball, not just among the Dodger faithful.
Koufax dominated from the pitchers mound like all Major League pitchers wish they could, but only a select few have ever been able to. However, his greatness lies in the stretch over which he dominated, as most pitchers would be lucky to dominate in this fashion for a few starts or maybe a season. What also makes the greatness of Koufax most impressive is he did much of this while dealing with arm trouble that could have permanently handicapped him, and ultimately forced his early retirement at age 30. Sandy Koufax is one of the elite players in Major League history. His accomplishments on and off the diamond have earned him the spot as the Greatest Jewish Baseball Player of All Time