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.
The Washington Nationals had a stranglehold on the National League East during Spring Training, at least on paper. The rest of the division was vying for a Wild Card spot at best. When the season started the Nationals turned into a paper tiger, while the Phillies and Braves vaulted to the top of the East as their rebuilding efforts bear fruit. Few people expected either team to play this well into mid-September.
Leading the Braves resurgence is a consummate professional. The breakout season by rookie duo of Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuña, and another outstanding season from perennial All Star in Freddie Freeman have gotten much of the attention. However, it is the veteran Nick Markakis leading the charge in Atlanta.
It is past time to appreciate and honor the consistency of Nick Markakis. Markakis is leading baseball in hits, and leading the National League in sacrifice flies and is tied for the National League lead in doubles. He is a compiler, like Craig Biggio. Compilers are rarely given the respect they deserve as they grind, often under the radar. Markakis rarely misses a game, playing an average of 155 games each season. He has played fewer than 147 games in a season only once in his 13 year career.
This season he ranks in the top 10 in baseball in Batting Average, Plate Appearances, At Bats, Games Played, Hits (leads all of baseball), Singles, Doubles, Times of Base, Sacrifice Flies, Intentional Walks, and At Bats per Strikeout. While these stats do not make him a super star in the eyes of fans, teams know a player like Markakis is critical to their success.
Nick Markakis consistently puts the ball in play. Could he quietly be grinding his way towards Cooperstown? (Hyosub Shin/ HShin@ajc.com)
2018 is not an outlier for Markakis, he has been a force his entire career. He has eight seasons with 170 or more hits. He averages 182 hits per season, yet has never had a 200 hit season. He will finish close to 200 hits yet again as he has 174 hits with two weeks left to play. Markakis has nine seasons with 30 or more doubles and five seasons with 40 or more doubles. He already has 40 doubles this season, above his 39 doubles in an average season. He has scored 75 runs, hit 14 home runs, and drawn 63 walks which are around an average season for him. His .306 batting average is the best of his career, he will have his third season hitting above .300, yet his career .289 average shows his consistency at the plate. Markakis has struck out 70 times, well below his average of 93 per season. His career 6.8 At Bats per Strikeout is well below the Major League average of 4.6. A career .359 OBP, with .371 this season. He has never been a power bat, but he puts the ball in play and sets the table for the power bats behind him in the line up.
Markakis finished sixth in the crowded 2006 American League Rookie of the Year. He is a two time Gold Glove winner, 2011 and 2014, winning both awards without committing an error in over 1,300 innings in the field each season. He was voted to his first All Star game this season. He played the most games and collected the most hits before playing in his first All Star game in baseball history.
Grinding away, Markakis is quietly sneaking up on 3,000 hits. He currently has 2,226 hits. If he can remain healthy and continue collecting an average of 182 hits every year, Markakis would reach the mystical 3,000 hit mark before his 40th birthday. This would present the baseball writers with an intriguing question. Does collecting 3,000 hits automatically make you are a Hall of Famer? A few more good seasons by Markakis could force the baseball writers to confront this question.
Much of what Markakis provides Atlanta is not found in the stats. His veteran leadership has helped the young Braves rise to the top of the division earlier than expected. Veteran leadership is disappearing as teams are unwilling to pay veteran prices for players past their primes. In Markakis, the Braves have a veteran leader in the clubhouse and on the field. Time will tell how far his leadership can lead Atlanta and how valuable he is on the free agent market after the season.
Kevin Youkilis will never lead the league in home runs or batting average, but he is an essential part of a team winning. He is a two time World Series Champion with the Boston Red Sox, in 2004 and 2007. A three time All Star (2008, 2009, and 2011), Youkilis won the 2007 Gold Glove Award for his superb defense at First base. Additionally he is the recipient of the 2008 Hank Aaron Award for the American League. Although he was overshadowed by super stars like David Ortiz, his impact on the team and their success is undeniable.
Youkilis is a player which the Oakland Athletics and General Billy Beane love, he does all the little things that are required to win. You do not get nicknamed the Greek God of Walks (although Youkilis is of Romania heritage, not Greek) by accident when you have an On-Base Percentage of .392 over a 6 season span. A career .281 hitter, Youkilis led the league in Sacrifice Flies in 2006 and in being Hit By Pitches in 2012. Whatever needs to be done to win, he was willing to do.
Youkilis is a reflection of the city of Boston, where he has played the majority of his career. Tough, head strong, and willing to run through a brick wall if it means being successful. While he has been hampered by injuries over the past few seasons with the Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees, Kevin Youkilis has left his mark on Major League Baseball.