Tagged: Tom Seaver

The First Player Taken

The First Year Player Draft, better known today as the Major League Baseball Draft is upon us once again. Every team is searching for the next great player and every player believes they can become that player. Unlike the other major North American sports, especially basketball and football, the players drafted this week will not have an immediate impact on their new team. Instead the best players will spend several years in the minor leagues before they reach the Majors.

The path to the Majors has not always started with the draft. Before 1965, every team was able to sign any amateur player they wished. This allowed teams like the Yankees in the lead up to their run in the 1950’s to sign the best players through better scouting, and in some cases simply offering more money to a player than another team could offer. This not only stockpiled the Yankees farm system, but kept these players away from other teams.

072808-rickmonday
Rick Monday, the first player every selected in the MLB Draft. (www.asuwebdevilarchive.edu)

Major League Baseball created the First Year Player Draft in 1965 to create a more level playing field. Since then, the draft has gone through several changes through the years to its current configuration. However, the story behind these changes and tweaks are for another post on another day.

The draft is an inexact science which makes drafting well seem like winning the lottery. Ken Griffey Jr. was the first overall pick in the 1987 Draft and, to date, he is the only first overall pick to gain election to Cooperstown. Griffey should be joined shortly by Chipper Jones and potentially Alex Rodriguez; although I am not sure the voters are ready to welcome Rodriguez with open arms. It took 23 drafts before any team with the top pick was able to land a super star that was worthy of enshrinement in Cooperstown. If drafting was so easy, every team with the top overall selection would always turn out to be the next Bryce Harper, Adrian Gonzalez, or David Price instead of Steve Chilcott, Brien Taylor, or Matt Bush. Predicting the future is never easy.

Brien Taylor
Brien Taylor never played higher than AA due to a shoulder injury that derailed his career. (Star-Ledger)

The Kansas City Athletics held the top overall selection for the 1965 Draft after finishing the 1964 season with a record of 57-105. Kansas City selected Center Fielder Rick Monday out of Arizona State. Monday was selected ahead of Hall of Famers Johnny Bench, Nolan Ryan, and Tom Seaver. Although he is not enshrined in Cooperstown, Rick Monday did enjoy a solid career. He played 19 seasons with the Kansas City/Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Chicago Cubs. Offensively, Monday was a solid player, posting a career line of:

G
PA
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
SB
BB
SO
BA
OBP
SLG
1986
7162
6136
950
1619
248
64
241
775
98
924
1513
.264
.361
.443

Defensively Monday played primarily Center and Right Field, and sparingly in Left Field and at First Base. Again, Monday was a solid player in the field throughout his career, with a defensive career line of:

G Inn Ch PO A E DP Fld%
1742 14267.1 4177 3978 118 81 45 .981

However, Rick Monday did not have the Hall of Fame caliber career the Athletics were hopeful for when they drafted him. Fortunately, Kansas City did not strikeout with their first selection. Monday received two votes (0.5%) in his first year of eligibility for the Hall of Fame and then was removed from the ballot. Plenty of players have long careers, yet never receive any votes for enshrinement in Cooperstown. A single or double is always better than an out.

070412 braves CC6
Chipper Jones is one of the greatest switch hitters of all time, and he will soon join Ken Griffey Jr. in Cooperstown. (Curtis Compton/AJC.com)

The most memorable moment of Rick Monday’s career occurred on April 25, 1976. The play had nothing to do with baseball, yet is remembered as perhaps the greatest play in baseball history. Monday and the Cubs were playing the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Two fans jumped on the field in the middle of an at bat, ran into left Center Field and knelt down beside an American flag they had brought with them. The flag was doused in lighter fluid and the two people were attempting to set the flag on fire. Monday ran from his position in Center Field and snagged the flag away from the fans turned protestors and continued to run with the flag until he reached Dodger pitcher Doug Rau. Monday gave Rau the flag for safe keeping. The protesters, who turned out to be a father and his 11 year old son, were arrested, the father was charged with trespassing, placed on probation, and fined. The exact reason for the attempted flag burning remains unknown, though many theories exist. When Monday came to the plate for his next at bat he received a standing ovation from the Dodger crowd and the message board inside the stadium flashed, “Rick Monday…You Made A Great Play.” Many would argue the greatest in baseball history.

Rick Monday Flag
Rick Monday’s dash prevented the American flag from being burned on the field at Dodger Stadium. (James Roark)

Rick Monday was the first baseball player ever drafted. Thousands of hopeful amateur players have followed in his footsteps. Every player who has followed Monday has sought to fulfill their potential on the diamond and reach to pinnacle of the sport. Only a select few have made it to the top, and only a select few of those select few have impacted the game in such a way that they are enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The Kansas City Athletics did not swing and miss with Rick Monday. The ability to project a player’s development several years down the road is no easy task. Players fail to reach the Major Leagues due to injuries, lacking the ability to continue to develop like a team projected, personal issues, and a million other reasons. Surviving the minor leagues and reaching the top of the sport is no easy task.

Monday had a long and productive Major League career. He was not the best player to come out of the inaugural Major League Baseball Draft, but he also was not a disappointment. The most memorable moment of his career occurred on the baseball field, but had nothing to do with baseball. Whether it was due to his time with the Marines, his sense of national pride, or simply doing what was right, Monday left an indelible memory in his dash to prevent the burning of an American flag. When asked about his dash for the flag and it being what he is remembered for Monday responded, “If I am remembered only as a guy that stood in the way of two guys trying to desecrate an American flag at a Major League Baseball game, and protect the rights and freedoms that flag represents for all of us, that’s not a bad thing to be remembered for.” I could not agree more.

DJ

Advertisements

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

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

Hall of Famer of the Week- Ty Cobb

Born on September 11, 1886 in Narrows, Georgia, Ty Cobb would become one of the greatest players in baseball history.  During his 24 year playing career, 22 with the Detroit Tigers and two with the Philadelphia Athletics, Cobb hit over .300 23 times.  His rookie year in 1905, Cobb hit .240 in 150 at bats, however he would never hit below .316 (his second season) again for the rest of his career.  His .367 career batting average remains a Major League record, which is unlikely to be surpassed.  He hit over .400 three times during his career (1911-.420, 1912-.409, and 1922-.401).  Remarkably Cobb did not win the batting title in 1922, as George Sisler hit .420 for the St. Louis Browns.  In 1909, Cobb won the Triple Crown leading the American League with a .377 batting average, 9 home runs, and 107 RBI.  The 1911 season was one of Cobb’s best seasons, and arguably one of the greatest of all time.  Cobb hit .420, collected 248 hits, 47 doubles, 24 triples, 127 RBI, scored 147 runs, 83 stolen bases, SLG .621, and OPS 1.088; all of which led the American League.  Cobb’s efforts earned him the Chalmers Award, the precursor to the MVP.

Image

The legendary tales of Cobb sharpening his spikes to intimidate others shows how intense of a competitor Cobb was on the field.  Cobb knew the strike zone as well as any hitter to have ever played the game.  He had only 680 strikeouts during his career, striking out over 50 times in a season only once.  His incredible plate discipline along with his speed on the base path presented a major problem to opposing teams.  Cobb was almost sure to make contact with any pitch, which made the hit and run play possible any time a runner was on base.  If the defense tried to prevent the runner from advancing, Cobb could hit the ball to foil the defenses plans.  Once he was on base, Cobb could distract the pitcher from the hitter.  Few, if any, infielders wanted to get in his way as he advanced around the bases for fear of injury from his spikes.  Cobb had 898 stolen bases during his career.  It was nearly impossible to keep Cobb off the bases and once he was there between his speed and intelligence opponents were unlikely to get him out.

Image

Cobb’s fierce nature on the field was unsurpassed during his playing career, most notably with his high spikes.  However, Cobb’s intensity extended beyond the field, as in 1912 he went into the stands in New York while playing the Highlanders and beat a man after the fan hurled insults at Cobb during a game.

Away from the baseball field Cobb was a shrewd investor, investing heavily in Coca Cola during its early years.  He was also a generous man, and his generosity off the field continues to be felt today.  Cobb founded the Ty Cobb Educational foundation, which has helped thousands of Georgia students to attend college by awarding scholarships.  To date, more than thirteen million dollars have been awarded to students.  Cobb also established the Cobb Memorial Hospital in 1950.  This hospital has become the Ty Cobb Healthcare System which continues to serve rural areas of Northwest Georgia.

Image

Cobb was a member of the inaugural class inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936.  He received 222 out of 226 votes.  He received more votes than the other members of the 1936 class: Honus Wagner (215), Babe Ruth (215), Christy Mathewson (205), and Walter Johnson (189).  Cobb earned the honor of being the first inductee into the Baseball Hall of Fame.  This honor was bestowed upon him as he received the highest vote total among those in the first class in 1936.  Cobb’s 98.23% of the Voting for the Hall of Fame remains the fourth best all time, behind only Tom Seaver (98.84%), Nolan Ryan (98.79%), and Cal Ripken Jr. (98.53%).

D

Image