Tagged: Sandy Koufax

Moonshot

On May 25, 1961 President John F. Kennedy addressed a Joint Session of Congress with a Special Message To The Congress On Urgent National Needs. As every President does, Kennedy spoke of the pressing needs facing the nation and his plan to solve them. When the speech reached the ninth section, President Kennedy told Congress, “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” The Space Race began before Kennedy took office, but he pushed the race with the Soviets to the next level. The Soviets reached space first, but the moon was America’s opportunity to win. 

On July 20, 1969, 2,979 days after President Kennedy spoke to Congress, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed the Apollo Lunar Module Eagle in Tranquility Base as Michael Collins circled in lunar orbit in the Columbia Command Module. America achieved Kennedy’s goal of landing a man on the moon and return him safely to earth by the end of the decade.

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Wally Moon adjusted his swing to take advantage of the strange configuration at the Coliseum. (Los Angeles Times)

Back on earth, the Dodgers and the Giants have one of the most intense rivalries in baseball, regardless of the standings. In 1958, Dodger owner Walter O’Malley moved the team from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. Construction on Dodger Stadium would not begin until September 1959 forcing the Dodgers to play in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The Coliseum is home, most prominently, to the University of Southern California football team. Turning the Coliseum into a baseball field meant the fence in Leftfield was only 251 feet from home plate. A 41 foot tall screen was constructed, making Home Runs more difficult. Batters needed to loft the ball high above the screen for a Home Run, and no player is more remembered for this than Wally Moon and his Moonshots. 

Wally Moon broke into the Majors in 1954 with the St. Louis Cardinals, winning the Rookie of the Year Award over Ernie Banks and Hank Aaron. He was an All Star in 1957 before a disappointing 1958 season made him expendable. Moon and Phil Paine were traded to the Dodgers for Gino Cimoli. Moon played 12 seasons in the Majors, five in St. Louis and seven in Los Angeles. In 1,457 career Games, Moon hit .289, with a .371 OBP, .445 SLG, and .817 OPS. He scored 737 Runs, collected 1,399 Hits, 212 Doubles, 60 Triples, slugged 142 Home Runs, drove in 661 RBI, stole 89 bases, drew 644 walks, and struck out 591 times. He was a three time All Star, 1957 and twice in 1959, and won a Gold Glove in Leftfield in 1960. Moon won two World Series with the Dodgers, 1959 and 1965. His pinch hit ground out in Game 6 of the 1965 Fall Classic was his final game. Moon sat on the bench in Game 7, watching Sandy Koufax pitch a Complete Game shutout to secure the World Series victory. Wally Moon enjoyed a successful career, however he appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot just once, in 1971, receiving just two votes (0.6%) and falling off the ballot. 

Arriving in Los Angeles, Wally Moon was greeted by two things. The short, yet high porch in Leftfield and the rivalry with the Giants. Moon, hitting from the left side, understood he did not possess the power to launch baseballs out of the Coliseum to Rightfield, as the wall was 440 feet away. His career high in Home Runs was just 24. Moon adjusted his swing with Stan Musial’s help to hit balls to the opposite field. 

Coliseum
The Coliseum created one of the strangest field configurations in baseball. (www.cbssports.com)

The Dodgers and Giants were locked in a pennant race as summer began to wane in 1959. San Francisco held a slim two game lead entering play at the Coliseum on August 31. Jack Sanford and Sandy Koufax were locked in a pitchers duel, allowing two runs each in the first eight innings. Koufax struck out the side on just 10 pitches in the top of the ninth. Sanford began the ninth by inducing a Maury Wills ground out. Koufax and Jim Gilliam hit back to back singles to Left. Giants manager Bill Rigney called in Al Worthington from the bullpen to end the threat. Worthington threw a first pitch strike to Wally Moon. His next pitch missed. On the third pitch, Moon lofted a deep fly ball to Left, clearing the screen. The Moonshot gave the Dodgers a 5 to 2 walk off victory. Los Angeles trailed the Giants by one game. 

The Dodgers won the 1959 National League Pennant, two games ahead of the Milwaukee Braves and four ahead of the third place Giants. Los Angeles defeated the Chicago White Sox in six games, winning the only World Series ever played at the Coliseum. Wally Moon’s Moonshot against the Giants came 634 days before President Kennedy presented his vision of sending a man to the moon and returning him safely to earth.

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The Moonshot took men to the moon and safely returned them back to earth. (NASA)

A walk off Home Run between bitter rivals foreshadowed the next stage of the Space Race. Wally Moon used the short porch in Leftfield at the Coliseum to his advantage. President Kennedy and NASA did the unimaginable, sending a man to the moon and back defeating the non-baseball playing Soviet Union. The United States won the Space Race with a few steps by Neil Armstrong, while Wally Moon helped to win the Pennant with one swing of his bat. Both were incredible Moonshots. 

Happy 50th anniversary of the Moon Landing.

DJ

And The Winner Is…

The Championship Series to decide the American and National League pennants are set. The Boston Red Sox against the Houston Astros in the American League and the Los Angeles Dodgers against the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League. My personal favorite teams are not among the four remaining, so what better time to take an unscientific approach to decide who I want to win the World Series.

Starting with the team’s success every team has won at least one pennant. Their last pennants were: the Red Sox in 2013, the Astros and in 2017, and the Brewers in 1982 (American League). The 1982 American League Pennant remains the Brewers only trip to the World Series. The Red Sox last won the World Series in 2013. The Astros are the defending World Series Champions. The Dodgers last won the World Series with Kirk Gibson in 1988. The Brewers are still waiting to win their first World Series Championship.

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In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened. (www.mlb.com)

Looking at the home cities I have visited Boston, Houston, and Los Angeles. Sorry Milwaukee, maybe another time. My positive take from Boston is the rich history of the city colonial days to present. The food and drink is wonderful, which is made better by having extended family in Boston. Houston is a fun city. The food and culture is diverse and it never hurts to have a friend working for NASA to show you around. Los Angeles has great weather, great food, and beautiful scenery from the mountains to the beaches. Never visiting Milwaukee, I would guess the beer and brats are delicious and the lakefront area by Lake Michigan is nice. I would guess.

However, for all the great things about these cities there are drawbacks. Boston is cold and the people are not always warm and welcoming. Houston is the epitome of flat, urban sprawl. Los Angeles has its world famous traffic and pollution, not to mention it is expensive. In my mind, Milwaukee is always cold, and I hate the cold.

The ballparks the teams play in a different as well. Fenway Park is a historic park with a unique configuration and appearance. Baseball legends have played on this diamond for over a century. The history of the park all but speaks for itself. Minute Maid Park is modern with all the amenities baseball fans have come to expect. The weather outside rarely matters as the retractable roof creates perfect baseball weather inside every day of the year. Dodger Stadium is timeless in its simplicity and longevity. Legends, including the voice of baseball Vin Scully, have spent decades within its inviting confines. Miller Park remains on my list of Major League stadiums to visit. Beyond the ability to close the roof and have perfect baseball weather, the Uecker seats and the slide for Bernie Brewer are clearly the most important features of the park.

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Celebratory slide for Bernie Brewer.  (www.mlb.com)

The good comes with the bad. Fenway Park was built when people were smaller. There is not enough legroom between seats, especially for people who are claustrophobic. It is also an expensive park to visit as people flock to historic Fenway to watch the Red Sox continued success year after year. The roof on Minute Maid Park is not perfect. I had the pleasure of sitting under a leaky portion of the roof a few years ago. Luckily I was able to change seats, otherwise the torrential rain outside would have soaked me inside the stadium. The closed roof also means the cannon fire after an Astros home run is deafening. Dodger Stadium is expensive but the biggest complaint I have is the team does not market their history well. I could not find any memorabilia from their storied history. Maybe keep a few Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella shirseys around, people will definitely buy them. Where do I start with Miller Park. Ummm…it looks a little dark when I watch a game on television.

Everything else is superficial, it is the team on the field that matters the most. The Red Sox have a solid rotation with Chris Sale and David Price, arguably the best closer in Craig Kimbrel, stars like J.D. Martinez and Xander Bogaerts, and the Most Valuable Player in Mookie Betts. The Astros have a proven winning lineup with Jose Altuve, George Springer, Alex Bregman, and Carlos Correa. A rotation of Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and Dallas Keuchel does not hurt either. The Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw leading the charge with Yasiel Puig, a resurgent Matt Kemp, Justin Turner, and a host of other All Star caliber players. The Brewers have the National League Most Valuable Player in Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, and Jesus Aguilar supported by an almost unhittable bullpen with Josh Hader, Jeremy Jeffress, and Corey Knebel.

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Mookie Betts and the Red Sox look unbeatable. (Boston Herald/ Stuart Cahill)

Each team also has unique drawbacks. The Red Sox have spent a ton of money to assemble a great team. World Series Championships should be won not purchased. The Astros are the defending Champions, their repeating is less than thrilling. The Dodgers have tried to buy a World Series for years, this forever rubs me the wrong way. The Brewers still employ Ryan Braun. I am not a fan of his, not was busted for using Performance Enhancing Drugs, but his attempt to smear Dino Laurenzi’s name, the test collector, to save himself from his own stupidity forever stained his legacy. I have sat in left field when watching the Brewers on the road simply to boo Braun and will continue to do so until he retires.

After weighing the good and the bad for each team my decision on which team to root to a World Series Championship comes down to a single person. Bob Uecker. Mr. Baseball. Bob Uecker has given his life to baseball. He has been the voice of the Milwaukee Brewers since 1971. He was Harry Doyle in the Major League movies. His appearances on Johnny Carson. Andre the Giant choking him. The Miller Lite commercials. He continues to complain about his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame only as a Broadcaster, the Ford C. Frick Award in 2003, and not as a player. A career .200 hitter with 14 lifetime home runs, including off Gaylord Perry, Fergie Jenkins, and Sandy Koufax. Yes that Sandy Koufax. The stats speak for themselves. Come on Brewers, give Milwaukee the World Series they deserve with Bob Uecker making the call.

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Come on Brewers, let Bob Uecker announce a World Series Champion!!! (Scripps Media-2016)

DJ

The 1%

One of the many reasons I am not a big football fan is due to the lack of games. I understand why there are so few games each year, but the lack of action leaves plenty to be desired. The dead time between games results in hours and days of continuous talking about what happened in the last game and the matchups for the next game. There is only so much anyone can talk about a game before or after it is played until you begin to repeat the same thing over and over again. There is no justification that I can find to spend more than 30 minutes discussing the upcoming Week 6 football game between the Chicago Bears and the Jacksonville Jaguars unless it is to recreate the Saturday Night Live Bill Swerski Superfans skits. Sadly, dozens of hours will be spent discussing a game that will most likely be forgotten in the not so distant future. In baseball you might spend 30 minutes before and after each game discussing the match up and what happened, but even that can be a stretch.

Da Bears
Not much to do between games but talk about DA BEARS. (nbc.com)

Football kills time between games by talking in circles about the same thing week after week. The beauty of baseball is once the post-game armchair manager talk is wrapped up, the discussion may continue to the future by looking at the minor leagues or reframe the present with a look to the past. Sometimes a quirky event about the game warrants a focused look on the great players in baseball history for an interesting connection.

I was invited to attend a talk by Jeff Idelson, President of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, by my fiancée’s work colleague. The talk was at the Green Diamond Gallery, which is the largest privately held baseball collection in the world. The talk centered mainly on the Hall of Fame and its current efforts to preserve baseball history and educate the fans. After the talk, Jeff Idelson began answering questions from the audience. Several of the questions had to do with the election process and potential changes to the induction process. The standard Pete Rose questions were asked, as the Green Diamond Gallery is located in Cincinnati. Finally someone asked “Who do you [Jeff Idelson] think should be in the Hall of Fame that is not?” He did the appropriate tap dance around the question so as to not give a definite answer. Then he gave the best possible answer.

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Is the Reds Hall of Fame the closest Pete Rose will ever get to Cooperstown? Probably (Kareem Elgazzar/ Cincinnati.com)

There are 312 individuals enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame; 28 executives, 22 managers, 10 umpires, 35 Negro League players, and 217 Major League players. There have been over 18,700 individual players in Major League history. This means only the top 1% of players are eventually enshrined. You can argue that every player that is in Cooperstown belongs there, plus many more who are not. However, there is little to be argued that the players enshrined do not deserve to be there.

There are plenty of players for whom the argument can be made that they should be enshrined in Cooperstown, but more is not always better. The NBA and NHL both have 30 teams and 16 of those 30 teams (53%) will make the playoffs. The Houston Rockets made the playoffs this year with a 41-41 record, why is a .500 team going to the playoffs? Yes there have been some dreadful divisions in Major League Baseball, the 2005 National League West was won by the San Diego Padres with an 82-80 record, but those are rare. The more slots you have in the playoffs, the worse the competition. It is better to leave a good team at home than to have a terrible team advance, although this is tough to say when the team you root for is that good team. The same is true for the Hall of Fame. Admitting more players means detracting from the significance of the honor. This only serves to muddle the difference between greatness and the very good.

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The Green Diamond Gallery is an amazing collection of any and everything that is baseball. (www.greendiamondgallery.com)

Eliminating the players who are known or highly suspected of using steroids and those who are on the permanently ineligible list, there are several players for whom a convincing argument can be made that they belong in Cooperstown. These are player who are no longer on the ballot for election by the baseball writers. Don Mattingly, Tim Raines, Gil Hodges, Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell, Lee Smith, Jim Kaat, Dale Murphy, Roger Maris, Bret Saberhagen, Maury Wills, Thurman Munson, and the list goes on.

Would the Hall of Fame be better with these players enshrined, I would say so. Is the Hall of Fame seen as incomplete without these players, I do not think so. The Hall of Fame is reserved for the top 1% of players. Every generation has players who were spectacular on the field, yet begin to fade with time.

Dale Murphy
Multiple MVP Awards failed to get Dale Murphy enshrined in Cooperstown. (mlb.com)

Kevin Brown, Hideo Nomo, Mo Vaughn, and Brett Butler were all outstanding players in the early to mid 1990’s. Were they as emblematic of baseball excellence as Ken Griffey Jr, Tony Gwynn, Randy Johnson, or Greg Maddux? Those enshrined in Cooperstown should be the players who can be compared against players from every generation and hold their own. Joe DiMaggio was not the best or most powerful hitter, but his skills and statistics hold up against players from every generation.

Records and awards are designed to recognize greatness, not designed to settle debates. Ichiro now has more hits in professional baseball than Pete Rose. However, Rose got all of his hits in the Majors while Ichiro has split his time between the Majors and Japan. Who is the better hitter? It would be easy to insert Tony Gwynn, Ty Cobb, Ted Williams, and Miguel Cabrera into the debate. Is Cy Young the greatest pitcher of all time because he has the most wins or Nolan Ryan because he has the most strikeouts? I doubt you will find many people so easily convinced. What about Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Christy Mathewson, Greg Maddux, Bob Feller, or Old Hoss Radbourn?

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What could Bob Feller have done on the mound had his service in World War II not cost him nearly four full seasons early in his career. (http://vanmeteria.gov/)

Jeff Idelson repeatedly pointed to the democratic way that players are elected to the Hall of Fame. He understands that the process is not perfect, but ultimately gets it right. The recent changes to the voting process, revoking the voting rights of writers who have not actively covered baseball in the past 10 years and reducing the number of years on the ballot from 15 to 10, should help to reduce and then prevent a backlog of worthy players getting the look they deserve. This is not to say they will be elected, but that they will get a fair shot. The top 1% of players will rise to the top during voting as they did during their playing careers. The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s mission is “Preserving History, Honoring Excellence, Connecting Generations.” Players and their accomplishments are never cast aside regardless of how short or long their careers. Thousands of players have taken the field and many have made a case for their inclusion with the legends of the game. However, those enshrined in Cooperstown leave no doubt about their worthiness in the history of the game. It is those who came so close to joining this exclusive club, yet have come up just short, that allows the debate to flourish over what makes a Hall of Fame player.

DJ

Intimidation on the Mound

Every generation has a hand full of pitchers who are intimidating when they are on the mound.  Names like Sandy Koufax, Randy Johnson, Nolan Ryan, Greg Maddux, Juan Marichal…the list goes on.  These pitchers were intimidating because they were nearly impossible to hit.  However, one pitcher on this list combined the two types of intimidation, unhittable stuff and a willingness to throw a brushback pitch whenever necessary, to perfection.  That pitcher is Bob Gibson.

Today, in honor of Bob Gibson’s 80th Birthday, let’s take a look at his brilliance on the diamond.

Bob Gibson, intimidation personafied. (www.espn.go.com)

Bob Gibson, pure intimidation. (www.espn.go.com)

Pitching

Bob Gibson pitched 17 seasons in the Majors, all with the St. Louis Cardinals.  He started 482 games, winning 251 and losing 174.  He pitched 255 Complete Games.  Gibson had 13 consecutive seasons with at least 10 Complete games, 7 of those 13 seasons he pitched at least 20 Complete Games.  He pitched 56 career shutouts and won 20 or more games five times.  Gibson pitched 3,884.1 innings with a career 2.91 ERA, 1.188 WHIP, striking out 3,117, and walking 1,336.

Hitting

Bob Gibson’s intimidation was not limited to the pitcher’s mound.  He was a serviceable Major League hitter, sometimes used to pinch-hit for the Cardinals.  Gibson holds a career .206 BA, .243 OBP, .301 SLG, .545 OPS, with 274 Hits, 44 Doubles, 5 Triples, 24 HR, 144 RBI, 132 R, 13 SB, 63 BB, and 415 SO.  His ability with the bat meant added depth for the Cardinals lineup.

Bob Gibson threw two pitches, fastball and slider, and batters could not hit either. (www.sportsthenandnow.com)

Bob Gibson threw two pitches, fastball and slider, and batters could not hit either. (www.sportsthenandnow.com)

World Series

Gibson pitched in three World Series (1964, 1967, and 1968).  He helped to bring the Commissioner’s Trophy back to St. Louis twice (1964 and 1967).  In nine career World Series games, Gibson holds a record of 7-2 with a 1.89 ERA, and 0.889 WHIP.  He pitched eight Complete Games in the World Series.  Game 2 of the 1964 World Series was the only non-Complete Game Gibson pitched; he went eight innings.  Gibson made up for this short outing by pitching a 10 inning Complete Game in Game 5 of the 1964 World Series.  In total, Gibson pitched 81 innings in the World Series (27 innings in each), allowed 55 hits, 19 R, 17 ER, 6 HR, 17 BB, with 92 SO.  He won at least two games in each World Series in which he pitched, while never losing more than one game.

Accolades

Gibson achieved nearly everything possible during his career.  He was selected to nine All Star Teams.  He helped the Cardinals win the World Series in 1964 and 1967, winning the Most Valuable Player Award both times.  Gibson won the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1968.  He won the National League Cy Young Award twice, in 1968 (unanimous) and 1970.  Gibson won nine consecutive Gold Gloves from 1965 to 1973.  He also pitched a no-hitter against the Pittsburgh Pirates on August 14, 1971.

The St. Louis Cardinals have retired Gibson’s #45 and have inducted him into the Cardinals Hall of Fame.  In 1981, Gibson was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

Bob Gibson celebrating the Cardinals 1967 World Series victory over the Boston Red Sox. (www.interactive.wpri.com)

Bob Gibson celebrating the Cardinals 1967 World Series victory over the Boston Red Sox. (www.interactive.wpri.com)

1968: The Year of the Pitcher

1968 was a terrible season to be a hitter in the Major Leagues, so much so that the pitcher’s mound was lowered from 15 inches to 10 inches before the start of the 1969 season.  Seven pitchers finished the season with an ERA below 2.00 and nine pitchers had a WHIP below 1.000.  Tom Seaver finished 10th in Major League Baseball with 205 SO. The top five pitchers had a minimum 260 SO.

Leading the charge for all of baseball during the Year of the Pitcher was Bob Gibson.  He made 34 starts, with a 22-9 record.  Gibson posted a 1.12 ERA, 0.853 WHIP, while pitching 304.2 innings, allowing 198 Hits, 49 R, 38 ER, 11 HR, 62 BB, and 268 SO. Opponents hit .184 off Gibson for the entire season.  He pitched 28 Complete Games, including 13 Shutouts.  Gibson was the unanimous National League Cy Young Award winner, and easily won National League Most Valuable Player award.

The dominance of Gibson in 1968 is shown in how his single season ERA and WHIP rank all-time.  Gibson’s 1.12 ERA remains the fourth lowest single season ERA in baseball history. Gibson’s ERA during the 1968 season was 0.41 lower than Dwight Gooden’s 1.53 ERA in 1985, and 0.44 lower than Greg Maddux’s 1.56 ERA in 1994.  Gibson, Gooden, and Maddux are the only three pitchers in the live ball era (since 1920) to break the top 50 for best single season ERA’s.  At the time, Gibson’s 1968 WHIP was the second lowest since 1913.  Gibson still has the 17th best single season WHIP ever.

Happy 80th Birthday Bob Gibson. (www.rayonsports.com)

Happy 80th Birthday Bob Gibson. (www.rayonsports.com)

Bob Gibson was a dominant and intimidating pitcher.  Dominant pitchers like Sandy Koufax too often burn brightly for just a few years before they flare out.  Baseball was lucky to have Bob Gibson burn as brightly as a Sandy Koufax and remain healthy enough to have a long, successful career. Bob Gibson was the perfect combination of intimidation on the mound.  His accomplishments on the field have withstood the test of time.  Few players have ever dominated baseball in any manner like Gibson.  Comparing players across eras is difficult, as the game evolves over time.  However, players as dominant as Gibson are elite regardless of the era in which they played.  Legends are not contained by the era in which they play.

Happy 80th Birthday Bob Gibson.

DJ

Missed Opportunity

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.

Derek Jeter  was the definition of New York style cool and class. (www.jenhoffer.sportsblog.com)

Derek Jeter was the definition of New York style cool and class. (www.jenhoffer.sportsblog.com)

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.

Ichiro continues to be a magician with a bat in hit hands. (www.metsmerizedonline.com)

Ichiro continues to be a magician with a bat in hit hands. (www.metsmerizedonline.com)

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.

Ken Griffey Jr. was the coolest man on the diamond plus he had the sweetest swing in the game. (www.tapiture.com)

Ken Griffey Jr. was the coolest man on the diamond plus he had the sweetest swing in the game. (www.tapiture.com)

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.

Vladimir Guerrero never met a pitch he could not hit or a runner he could not throw out. (www.prosportsblogging.com)

Vladimir Guerrero never met a pitch he could not hit or a runner he could not throw out. (www.prosportsblogging.com)

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.

DJ

HOW DARE YOU!!!

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.

Yogi Berra. The uncle everyone loves in the baseball world. (baseballsnatcher.mlblogs.com)

Yogi Berra. The uncle everyone loves in the baseball world. (baseballsnatcher.mlblogs.com)

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.

New Jersey Jackals playing at Yogi Berra Stadium (The Winning Run)

New Jersey Jackals playing at Yogi Berra Stadium (The Winning Run)

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.

D

The Greatest Baseball Stories Ever Told

The Greatest Baseball Stories Ever Told: Thirty Unforgettable Tales from the Diamond by Jeff Silverman is a collection of excellent baseball stories.  Some recount real events on the diamond, whereas some leap from the imagination of their authors.  The book includes the classic comedy of Abbott and Costello doing “Who’s On First”, which I always find hilarious.  Al Stump brings Ty Cobb back to life and shows a side of the Georgia Peach which many fans never saw.  The immortal Red Barber discusses Jackie Robinson and the lead up to the permanent breaking of the color barrier in Major League Baseball.  Gary Smith follows the home run chase of 1998.  It was more than just Mark McGwire and Sammy SosaVin Scully calls the final inning of Sandy Koufax throwing a perfect game against the Chicago Cubs.  The missed greatness of Pete Reiser is told by W. C. Heinz.

The Greatest Baseball Stories Ever Told (www.betterworldbooks.com)

The Greatest Baseball Stories Ever Told (www.betterworldbooks.com)

The stories Jeff Silverman chooses to include in this book are great for the novice fan and for the baseball fanatic.  The art of the short story is on full display.  The writers do not have the chapters to develop characters and story lines.  Rather they must develop the entirety of the story through careful selection of every word.  This to me makes these stories come to life, as the reader does not get lost in the descriptive language.  Letting the reader visualize the story for themselves, with the author as the guide is what makes great story telling.

Baseball books typically dive deep into the sport and focus on specific themes, people, or events.  The Greatest Baseball Stories Ever Told deviates from this and to great success.  Silverman provides a brief introduction to each piece to get the reader the proper context before they embark on the story.  This is a great read, especially for those of us who take public transportation in our daily lives.  Silverman does not require long stretches of time for the book to be read and enjoyed.  His change of pace with this book is just what baseball fans need for filling those minutes during their commute, at lunch, or before bed.

D

The Home Run King, 40 Years Later

40 years ago today, April 8, 1974, Hank Aaron surpassed Babe Ruth as the all-time home run king with his 715th career home run. The most revered record in Major League Baseball, perhaps in sports, passed from arguably the greatest player ever to a man who faced increasing racism with every home run he hit as he approached Ruth. The grace which Aaron displayed in the face of the ever increasing threats and media pressure showed the true character of the man. He was, and remains, a well-spoken and confident man, but you would never confuse his confidence for arrogance, he let his greatness speak for itself. Hank Aaron remains one of the great ambassadors for the game of baseball.

715 Sailing into the night.

715 Sailing into the night.

Aaron’s 715th home run is one of the most memorable moments in baseball history. The packed house at old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium with the Atlanta Braves playing the visiting Los Angeles Dodgers before a crowd of 53,775. Al Downing pitching for the Dodgers. The high kick and Downing delivered to Hank Aaron. The ball flying over the ball over the left-centerfield fence with the quick and easy swing. Announcer Milo Hamilton and Vin Scully each giving their own infamous call of the home run. Braves centerfielder Dusty Baker pointing towards the fence as he rose from a knee on the on-deck circle. Dodger leftfielder Bill Buckner climbing the wall trying to make a play. Braves relief pitcher Tom House catching the ball, and eventually returning it to Aaron. Davey Lopes, the Dodgers second baseman, and Bill Russell, the Dodgers shortstop, congratulating him as he rounded second base. The two fans running onto the field and running along with Aaron as he headed for third. The mob of people who greeted Aaron at home plate, the bear hug his mother gave him. The short, yet eloquent speech,

~“Thank God it’s over.”

While I was not even born yet when this happened, I have seen and heard about Aaron’s 715th home run enough to feel like I was there. Just watching a video of it gives me a bit of butterflies in my stomach. It is a truly magical moment in baseball history.

Fans running with Hank Aaron.

Fans running with Hank Aaron.

The man who broke Aaron’s record had a very different experience as he marched towards the record. The closer Barry Bonds came to hitting 756, the louder the noise become regarding his use of performance-enhancing drugs. More and more debate about whether he should even be, playing or if he should be suspended for his transgressions, or if his accomplishments should have an asterisk next to them. Yes Aaron faced an onslaught of racism, and no doubt Bonds did too from similarly ignorant people, although it seems less so which showed the progress of American society during the in the 33 years which Aaron held the record. However, I believe much of the ridicule and animosity against Bonds was due to his own actions. Aaron is by no means a perfect person, but Bonds epitomizes the steroid era and its assault on the record books. This for many baseball fans was, and is, unforgiveable.

Bonds is the all-time home run record holder, I do not dispute this. I was alive when it happened, so you would think I would remember more of the details of his breaking Hank Aaron’s record. It happened less than seven years ago, so it has not been that long ago. However, if I were to be put on the spot all I could tell you is the game was played in San Francisco in 2007. Not much else.

The story of Bonds’ historic night is much less romantic. On August 7, 2007 Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron’s record during the Giants game against the Washington Nationals. He hit the home run off of Nationals pitcher Mike Bacsik, before a crowd of 43,154. Bengie Molina was on deck. It was not nearly the same celebration of the game and its records which Aaron passing Ruth elicited. Bonds passing Aaron should be a moment that is played over and over again by Major League Baseball, but it is not. Putting it mildly, Bonds is a polarizing figure in baseball, ask Jeff Kent. His mere presence at Giants Spring Training this year set off a media frenzy about whether he should be there. He was also asked again about his performance-enhancing drug use, which he still tap dances around. Bonds will never be the beloved figure that Aaron is; it is just not in his personality.

Barry Bonds launching 756.

Barry Bonds launching 756.

Where does this leave us? In my opinion the Home Run King remains Hank Aaron, even though Barry Bonds has hit more home runs. The performance-enhancing drug cloud which surrounded Bonds’ career, especially after he became a San Francisco Giant, has led to cries for him to be stripped of his records. I am strongly against the use of PEDs, and believe those who are found guilty of using them should be punished, as I have previously stated here. Throwing someone out of baseball is not the same as removing their records and statistics from the game. Pete Rose was thrown out of baseball, but his records remain. Pose like Bonds is an integral part of baseball history which should not be forgotten, good or bad. Bonds, judging by the 36.2% and 34.7% of votes he received in his first two years of eligibility for election to the Baseball Hall of Fame, will never receive the ultimate honor of being enshrined with the immortals of baseball. This will have to suffice as his punishment.

Like Pete Rose, Bonds will be remembered but never honored in Cooperstown for his accomplishments. The argument against removing Bonds from the record book is simple, if you start with him, where do you stop? Do you remove Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, what about Leo Durocher for his relationship with known gamblers, or Ty Cobb for his pronounced racism, and the list goes on and on. If baseball does decide to throw all these players, coaches, and other associates of baseball out, who plays the judge and jury? This is an entire other debate. You can ban someone from baseball, but you cannot change what they did. It would alter the outcomes of games, and there would be no end to revising the history of the game. Revising history makes the record book a mockery and without any value to be reverenced. Bonds and the steroid era are a part of the history of baseball, not necessarily a good part, but nonetheless it is a part that should be remembered.

Bonds watching 756

Bonds watching 756

Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds are two very different people. Aaron goes about his business with a quiet confidence and people truly listen when he speaks, as they have respect for his insights and opinions. Bonds has always had more flair and more of a demonstrative personality, which has rubbed many people the wrong way, just ask Bonds’ Pirates Manager Jim Leyland. People tend to only listen when Bonds speaks because they are waiting for a confession, not because they respect him. Neither Aaron’s or Bonds’ approach are completely right or wrong, they are just different. Both players were among the elite when they played. Both were clearly Hall of Fame caliber players, however Bonds chose to hang on to his youthful strength a little longer than father time would naturally allow. While Major League Baseball and the Players Union have in recent years become serious about weeding out the cheaters in the game, Bonds was like many players before him and after him seeking an advantage. Some players use a corked bat, like Sammy Sosa, or a foreign substance on the baseball, like Gaylord Perry, Bonds used performance-enhancing drugs. While I wish all sports could rid themselves of these drugs, the past is the past. It happened. Baseball, and sports in general, has two choices. They can remember the past, both good and bad, and learn from it. The other option is to revise or erase the past and over time repeat the same mistakes. There are two options, but only one should ever be taken. It is best to remember the past and its blemishes and to work to never repeat those mistakes.

The Home Run King

The Home Run King

40 years ago, Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’ record for most career home runs in Major League Baseball. While Aaron no longer holds the record he is still the Home Run King. Simply having the most of something does not make you the king of something in sports; rather you are the record holder. Cy Young holds the record for most career wins, but he is not the King of Pitching. Arguments can be made for Sandy Koufax, Christy Mathewson, Tom Seaver, and a few others. The title of King is reserved for those who are among the elites, yet also receive the reverence of the fans. Aaron had the record and lost it. However, Bonds has not been enthroned as the Home Run King because he lacks the admiration from the fans, and I doubt he ever will, and he has only himself to blame.

D

The Greatest Jewish Baseball Player of All Time- #1 Sandy Koufax

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.

1st Career No Hitter. June 30, 1962 vs New York Mets

1st Career No Hitter. June 30, 1962 vs New York Mets

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).

Perfect Game. September 9, 1965 vs the Chicago Cubs

Perfect Game. September 9, 1965 vs the Chicago Cubs

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.

The Left Arm of God

The Left Arm of God

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

D

Greatest Jewish Baseball Players- #7 Ken Holtzman

During a 15 year career, Ken Holtzman posted a record of 174 wins (the most for any Jewish pitcher) against 150 loses, with a 3.49 era. He recorded 1601 career strikeouts, which are second among Jewish pitchers behind only Sandy Koufax. Along the way Holtzman pitched for the Chicago Cubs, Oakland Athletics, Baltimore Orioles, and New York Yankees, before returning to the Cubs to finish his career in 1979.

Holtzman was twice selected as an American League All Star, in 1972 and 1973. He only appeared in the 1973 Mid-Summer Classic, where he pitched 2/3 of an inning, giving up only one hit, a single to Ron Santo. Holtzman was an intricate part of the Athletics winning three straight World Series Championships from 1972 to 1974. He went 59-41 with a 2.85 ERA during those three seasons.

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Holtzman is also in elite company, as he is one of just 25 pitchers in Major League history to throw more than one no hitter in his career. His first was against the Atlanta Braves on August 19, 1969. On June 3, 1971, Holtzman joined this elite club when he no hit the Cincinnati Reds.

Ken Holtzman was an excellent pitcher during his career, and his contributions to team success, along with his individual accomplishments place him at #7 on the list of greatest Jewish baseball players of All Time.

D