If anything positive can come from having pneumonia, it is the illness requires rest. Recovery is a slow process and the uninviting cold of Winter did not tempt me to leave my couch. Stuck at home for a month gave me time to watch Ken Burns’ documentary, Baseball. I have tried to watch the series before. The 11 episodes, each at least two hours long, are a commitment I normally struggled to keep. I would watch the first two episodes before wandering off. Life is busy until it comes to a screeching halt.
It is impossible to include every piece of baseball history in a documentary. Baseball missed events and people, like Old Hoss Radbourn and his 60 wins for the 1884 Providence Grays. However, Ken Burns does an excellent job of delving into plenty of baseball history. Every documentary has flaws. Yet Baseballprovides plenty of segments that sparked excitement. Reminders of Pete Browning and the origins of Louisville Slugger. The dominance of Babe Ruth the pitcher. The unrelenting speed of Rickey Henderson. Die hard baseball fans too often focus on the trees and miss the forest of baseball.
The original 9 Innings, episodes, end just before the 1994 Strike. Baseball began airing on September 18, 1994, just four days after acting Commissioner Bud Selig announced the Postseason was canceled. Not the best timing. Each inning examines a decade of the game, starting with the origins of the game. Burns spends time on the superstars, normal players, the biggest games and moments, and the people who shaped the game. He examines the rise of the National League and later the American League, the ill fated Federal League, and the greatness of the Negro Leagues. As the documentary progresses the abilities of the players becomes more evident, as little is left to the imagination by better photography and film. Players and personalities come to life. Watching the legends of the game play gives viewers an understanding why these legends live on far beyond their playing days.
Ken Burns’ Baseball is great for every baseball fan, from die hard to the casual fan. (Florentine Films)
Ken Burns does an excellent job using photographs, film, story telling, and interviews to express the beauty of baseball. The game and the people are not perfect, but he shows the good baseball has created. Baseball reminds viewers why they fell in love with the game and why they come back each summer. While books and other films highlight portions of baseball, Ken Burns masterfully captures the game and creates an avenue for die-hard and casual fans to enjoy the history of baseball.
The 10th Inning covered much of my childhood and the years I fell in love with baseball. The feelings Baseball evoked are similar to the anticipation of Opening Day or walking out of the tunnel and seeing the green grass of a Major League field laid out before you. The butterflies and pure awe are captured in Baseball. Dedicate yourself to watching the series, it is a worthwhile reflection of the beauty and grandeur of the game. Baseball is ever changing and it is important to see the changes, good and bad, that led to the game played today.
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.
Christmas is not the only cause for celebration on December 25th. One of the most unique players in baseball history celebrates his birthday around the Christmas tree, Rickey Henderson. The career leader in Runs, Stolen Bases, Caught Stealing, and Self-Confidence turns 58 today.
The legendary speedster terrorized opposing pitchers and catchers for 25 seasons. Rickey Henderson’s game was built upon speed, confidence, and skill. Henderson had a career .279 BA and .401 OBP. Simply put, he got on base and then used his speed to help his team win.
Getting on base by a walk or a hit did not matter to Henderson, his job was to just get on base any way he could. The ability to know the strike zone means not chasing pitches out of the strike zone. Avoiding bad pitches forces the pitcher to throw strikes if they are serious about getting the batter out. However, his speed on the bases meant pitchers did not want to give Henderson a free pass which led to 3,055 hits and 297 career home runs. Force is mass times acceleration and Rickey Henderson had enough speed to spare for some added power. Pitchers were forced to decide if they wanted to play with speed or power, neither was a good option.
Rickey Henderson is second all time with 2,190 walks. He led the American League four times in walks and had seven seasons of 100 or more walks. A walk for a player with the speed and skill of Henderson was just as good as a hit. Henderson averaged 0.456 steals per game in his 25 season career. A walk meant a high probability of a man on second in the near future, so there was not much difference between a walk and a double.
The speed that made Henderson a Hall of Famer was never in short supply. Henderson stole 50 or more bases in 14 seasons and for three of those seasons he stole more than 100. He led the league in steals 12 times, and holds the all time record for most career steals with 1,406. Hall of Famer Lou Brock has the second most career steals with 938; Brock’s career total is about two-thirds of Henderson’s career total. It took Lou Brock 19 seasons to collect his 938 steals, whereas it only took Henderson 13 seasons to catch and pass Brock. Henderson played 12 more seasons after surpassing Brock’s record. The longevity of Henderson’s career has made the task of breaking the steals record among the most difficult records to break in all of baseball. Henderson first led the American League in steals in 1980 with 100 steals at 21 years old. He led the American League for the 12th and final time in 1998 with 66 steals at 39 years old. Even as he approached the twilight of his career, Henderson continued to run, he stole 109 bases after turning 40 years old.
Getting on base and stealing bases is exciting, but scoring runs is what matters most to the team. Henderson led the American League five times in runs scored, scored 100 or more runs in 13 seasons, and holds the all time career record with 2,295 runs scored. Getting on base means opportunities to score runs. Stealing a base or taking the extra base only increases the chance to score and puts pressure on the pitching and fielding.
The self-proclaimed Greatest of All Time. (www.SI.com)
Examining the career or single season numbers for Rickey Henderson from now until eternity can only do so much to convince a person of his greatness. The true test of greatness is continued success despite the opponent knowing what you are trying to do. Much like Mariano Rivera throwing the cutter, the opposition knew when Henderson was going to steal and were mostly powerless to stop him. Henderson was successfully in 80.75% of his stolen base attempts; a success rate above 65% is considered good. Everyone in the ball park knew Henderson was going to steal when he got on, yet opposing pitchers and catchers could do little to prevent him from running wild. Henderson’s speed on the bases meant pitchers had to pay attention to him otherwise a walk could result with a man on second or third.
Rickey Henderson was elected to 10 All Star games, won the 1990 American League Most Valuable Player award, and was a first ballot Hall of Famer in an era that placed the emphasis on power not speed. He was not a return to the dead ball era of baseball where speed carried the day; rather Rickey Henderson was something baseball had never seen, and most likely never will again. Many players arrive in the Majors with the ability to steal bases and develop their home run power later. Only a select few have the ability to maintain their speed while developing that power. It’s a rare sight to see them causing havoc on the bases for 10 seasons, much less 25.
Happy Birthday to the Greatest of All Time
Speed is the name of the game for Billy Hamilton of the Cincinnati Reds. Blazing speed and smart base running have made Hamilton a threat. A single easily turns into a double when Hamilton swipes second base. He can go first to third on hits that would force other runners to stop at second. It is almost surprising if Hamilton does not steal a base and score a run every time he reaches base.
The baseball adage that speed never slumps is true but in the case of Hamilton, he is having difficulty using his speed because he is not getting on base enough. Hamilton has played 208 career games entering Sunday, roughly one and a quarter seasons in the Major Leagues. He has collected 89 stolen bases, been caught stealing 27 times (76.7% success rate), scored 106 runs, 187 hits, 29 doubles, 11 triples, 9 home runs, and walked 46 times. However, Hamilton is a career .248 hitter, with a .290 OBP, and 151 strikeouts in 753 at bats. When he does hit the ball, Hamilton is batting .297 on BAbip (Batting Average on Balls in Play). It might be time for Reds Manager Bryan Price, Hitting Coach Don Long, and Assistant Hitting Coach Lee Tinsley to institute the Willie Mays Hayes rule on Hamilton. If he hits the ball in the air or strikes out, he owes them 20 pushups. If Hamilton can make more contact he can put more pressure on the defense to make mistakes while fielding the ball and/or once on base by stealing a base or three, or by taking the extra base.
Billy Hamilton has the talent to climb the ladder towards Rickey Henderson’s record of 1,406 stolen bases. Although it may be unfair to compare Hamilton to Henderson at this point in his career, it is a compliment this early in Hamilton’s career. After his first two seasons in the Major Leagues, Henderson had played 247 games, with 133 stolen bases, been caught stealing 37 times (78.2% success rate), scored 160 runs, 275 hits, 35 doubles, 7 triples, 10 home runs, walked 151 times, and struck out 93 times in 989 at bats. Henderson was batting .292, with a .392 OBP, and .314 BAbip.
Rickey Henderson was a great hitter and knew that his abilities with the bat were necessary if he was to utilize his legs. Hamilton has the lineup behind him to see pitches to hit. Opposing pitchers cannot take Brandon Phillips, Joey Votto, and Jay Bruce lightly. Pitchers have their hands full with any of this trio at the plate, and having Hamilton on base only adds to the stress for each pitch. Do you want to give up a hit or a stolen base; this is the dilemma facing the other team when Hamilton reaches. Hamilton can change the fortune of the Reds offense by improving his ability to get on base. He knows what to do once he is on base. He just needs to increase the frequency that he is on base.