Tagged: Willie Mays

The Glorious Future

So much time and energy is spent talking about the mistakes teams make when drafting with the first overall pick in sports. The players who never turn into the superstars that many envisioned. The bulk of the time is spent in commiserating about such mistakes because it is rare for teams to use the top pick to select the best player in the draft when all is said and done. The Seattle Mariners with Ken Griffey Jr. and Atlanta Braves with Chipper Jones built a franchise around their top picks. The Houston Astros are doing the same with multiple top picks. The Washington Nationals had the first overall pick twice and have been successful both times with drafting Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. No team will feel sorry for the Nationals’ success. However Washington is quickly approaching the difficult part of drafting well, paying to retain the talent.

Bryce Harper has found a spot few athletes find, people either love him or hate him. There are few people who feel ambivalent about him. Harper’s intensity on the field, chasing every ball hit to him in the outfield, crashing into walls, diving to make a catch, crushing home runs is the textbook definition of playing the game hard and, for many, the right way. That intensity seems to laugh at the notion of getting injured, Harper just wants to win and will do anything to help his team do it. What fan or team would not want a player who brings this sort of intensity to the game, along with elite skills? However, despite his great play on the field, plenty of people do not love Harper. He rubs people the wrong way. Harper brings his own flair to the game and the national media loves him. He has not been bashful in talking about the need for baseball to reenergize, nor is he afraid to tell reporters that their question is “a clown question bro.” The most recent incident was his ejection for arguing balls and strikes from the dugout. He then ran back on the field to celebrate a Nationals walk off victory. Simply coming back onto the field after his ejection was a violation of the rules, which got him a one game suspension and a fine. Yet Harper went even further by getting the umpire’s attention by yelling, “HEY, DUCK YOU!” (edited for the family audience). Every player, coach, announcer, umpire, and fan knows you cannot argue balls and strikes. Regardless whether the umpire was right or wrong, Harper knew arguing would get him ejected. Plenty of players and coaches are ejected for arguing, but once the argument is over, it is over. There is no reason to continue the argument. The umpire was not even paying attention to Harper when he ran back out on to the field, rather it was Harper who got the attention of the umpire to continue the argument. There is plenty to love and hate about Bryce Harper.

Stephen Strasburg
The Nationals paid Stephen Strasburg, which sets the table for Washington to pay Bryce Harper. (www.washingtonpost.com)

Clearly the Nationals and Washington fans love Bryce Harper. The franchise wants to keep him in Washington for as long as they can. Harper does not reach free agency until 2019. This gives the Nationals a little time to figure out how they will retain his services for what will be a mammoth contract. Harper’s current contract runs through 2017, and is for two years, $7.5 million; clearly a bargain for his skills. Entering the 2016 season Bryce Harper is 23 years old, yet this is his 5th season in the Majors. In his first four seasons, Harper has been impressive. Offensively his stats look like this:

G
PA
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
SB
BB
SO
BA
OBP
SLG
OPS
510
2143
1830
328
528
98
15
97
248
37
279
449
.289
.384
.517
.902

Defensively, Harper has a career .976 Fielding %, with 39 Assists, and 24 Errors in 1,039 chances. He is not a one trick pony, he is an all-around great player.

His skills on the diamond and the stats he has amassed during his young career have garnered Bryce Harper plenty of accolades. He is a three time All-Star (2012, 2013, 2015), the 2012 National League Rookie of the Year, the 2015 National League Hank Aaron Award winner, he won a Silver Slugger in 2015, and was voted the 2015 National League MVP. Not bad for the first four years of a career, regardless of age.

Bryce Harper Blood
Bryce Harper’s desire to win can lead to him injuring himself, but even then Harper will not let up his intensity on the field. (www.nydailynews.com)

The sky seems to be the limit for Bryce Harper on the diamond. His name is already being compared to some of the greatest players who have ever played the game: Frank Robinson, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Orlando Cepeda, among others. A player like Harper does not come around often, but the Washington Nationals now have the daunting task of outbidding the rest of Major League Baseball to retain his services. The Nationals put major money down on Stephen Strasburg with his seven year, $175 million contract, the highest ever for a pitcher who has undergone Tommy John surgery. Scott Boras, agent for both Strasburg and Harper, does not give discounts and will potentially use the Strasburg negotiations as a warm up for the Harper negotiations.

Bryce Harper and the Washington Nationals have roughly six options as Harper approaches and reaches free agency in 2019. Two of these possible options can be tossed out without much discussion: the Nationals allowing allow Harper to simply walk away as a free agent or signing Harper to a two or three year contract. Allowing Harper to walk away without getting anything in return will not happen for obvious reasons, he is the most valuable commodity in baseball, the Front Office’s’ job is to get a return on its investment. Second, the Nationals will also not sign Harper to a short term deal, because they do not want to simply kick the can down the road a few years into Harper’s prime, ultimately costing themselves even more money. The third option is to trade Harper. This is unlikely but injuries, internal issues between Harper and the organization, and/or a decline in production could see Harper traded away for multiple players in return. The Nationals could also trade Harper if they realize they will not be able to re-sign him. If the latter happens, Washington can almost name its price for Harper.

Mike Trout Smile
Mike Trout is poised to become a free agent in his prime, that contract could make anyone smile. (www.usatoday.com)

The final three options are the most likely. Bryce Harper could sign a contract similar to Mike Trout, Giancarlo Stanton, or Alex Rodriguez. The Angels signed Mike Trout to a six year, $144.5 million contract; averaging $24 million per season. Trout will be 28 years old when the contract ends, meaning he will hit free agency in his prime. This medium length contract gives Trout the assurance that he is not stuck with the Angels if they continue to not progress towards winning a World Series. It also gives Trout another opportunity to sign a huge contract as the value of contracts continue to grow, hard to blame a player for making as much money as they can during their playing career.

The second type of contract Harper could sign would be similar to Giancarlo Stanton’s contract with the Marlins. Stanton signed for 13 years and $325 million. However, Stanton has a player opt out clause after year six (2020) that could make him a free agent entering his age 31 season. This style of contract gives Stanton, or Harper, the security of a long term contract regardless of production or injury, yet also allows them to reenter the free agent market should they believe their skills are or soon will be under paid. This also keeps teams accountable to continue building a contender, one that is competing for a World Series. The Marlins are not known for building and maintaining a winning team, if Miami goes through yet another fire sale and only Stanton is left he has the ability get out of town instead of spending his best years on a team perpetually rebuilding.

Giancarlo Stanton
Giamcarlo Stanton gives the Marlins a foundation to build around, but he can leave Miami if  the team is not winning. (www.bleacherreport.com)

The final option for the Nationals is to sign Harper to a contract similar to the contract Alex Rodriguez signed with both the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees; specifically Rodriguez’s contract for 10 years, $252.87 million with the Yankees. The contract was for the peak of Rodriguez’s career and guaranteed him a long career regardless of injury, lack of production, or in Rodriguez’s case PED suspension. The Yankees were never going to tear the team down and rebuild, it is not how they do baseball in the Bronx, instead they went after big free agents. However nearly every other team does or will rebuild at some point, signing a long contract can tie a player to a team for the peak years of their careers will no options for getting away from a team going nowhere.

Currently the best contract for Bryce Harper to sign would be one similar to Giancarlo Stanton. It protects Harper should he injure himself, such as Alex Rodriguez and his hips, or his production flames out for some non-injury reason. The contract would also enable Harper to pressure the Nationals to build and maintain a World Series contending team. No player, especially one as fiery as Harper wants to spend their career continually coming into Spring Training knowing that their team has no chance to make the playoffs, much less win a World Series. Ensuring there is an opt out clause in the contract would mean hitting free agency in his prime, and netting Harper yet another monster contract; if he so chooses.  

ARod
Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees have seen the good times and bad together. (www.newyork.cbslocal.com)

We can only speculate what the money will be for Harper and who will be paying him. The Strasburg contract signals to Harper that Washington is serious about winning and retaining homegrown talent. While the Nationals probably overpaid for Strasburg, primarily due to injury concerns, it shows the team is willing to pay for what it wants. The Nationals’ current front office is not the Yankees of George Steinbrenner or the Dodgers of a few years ago, they do not have an endless supply of money. Paying Harper will require the team to reallocate money from expiring contracts to pay Harper what will most likely be the largest contract in history both in terms of pay per season and overall. Harper signing a Giancarlo Stanton-like contract in 2019, or slightly before, will raise the bar for the second contract that he could sign if he opts out in his prime. It’s hard to conceive a situation where he doesn’t. If Harper were to sign a 10 year, $400 million contract in 2019 when he is 26 years old and then opt out after five or six seasons, he would return to the free agent market at 31 or 32 years old. This dramatically increases the importance of the first contract Harper signs because it will set the table for the second. There would be teams willing to give a 31 year old a long-term deal. Josh Hamilton, with all his personal struggles got five years, $114 million at 32 years old. Albert Pujols got 10 years, $240 million at 32 years old. Robinson Cano also got 10 years, $240 million at 31 years old. Harper should easily be able to sign a new contract for another 10 years and $400 million, if not more money. While Hamilton, Pujols, and Cano all signed with American League teams, thus enabling them to DH later in their careers, Harper could choose to remain in the National League and not use the DH like Barry Bonds, minus the PEDs. The competitor in Harper would most likely want to see if he could beat the legends of the game like Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, and Ted Williams using the same rules they played under; not padding his stats as a DH late in his career.

Assuming Harper wants to stay in Washington, how would the Nationals afford to pay Harper the largest contract in baseball history? The money would come from three current Nationals players who will reach free agency before Harper: Jayson Werth, Daniel Murphy, and Gio Gonzalez. Jayson Werth’s seven year, $126 million contract with the Nationals ends after 2017. Werth will be paid $21 million per year in the final three seasons of the deal. He will be a free agent entering his age 39 season, doubtful Werth will see another large contract. Daniel Murphy will reach free agency at the end of the 2018 season. There is usually not a ton of demand for a 34 year old second basemen, especially one making $17.5 million in the final year of his contract. The Nationals should be able to develop a respectable outfielder and second basemen between now and 2019. Gio Gonzalez will enter free agency after the 2018 season, when he is 32 years old. Gonzalez could be the price Washington has to pay to re-sign Harper. He is an excellent pitcher, but a player like Harper is a rarity and a team ought to do everything it can to retain such a special player. $12 million a year will be a discount for a pitcher like Gonzalez, who can get more as a free agent assuming he is healthy.

Bryce Harper Catch
Bryce Harper will run through a wall if it means helping his team win. (www.si.com)

The Nationals can lay the foundation for a deal with Harper by simply shifting the $21 million from Werth, $17.5 million from Murphy, and $12 million from Gonzalez to pay Harper. Letting two aging players go in Werth and Murphy would free up $38.5 million a season. The increasing salaries could make the $38.5 million a season within a reasonable jump in pay for an elite player. The Scott Boras factor could require a little more money, thus forcing the Nationals to choose between Harper and Gio Gonzalez, which should not be difficult. $50.5 million per season should be plenty for Washington to retain Bryce Harper, if Harper wants to remain with the Nationals.

$40 million per season ought to entice Harper, and any other baseball player, to remain in Washington. The Nationals would give up three players for one, which would be the smart move for the franchise. The Nationals will also be paying Harper somewhere between $5 and $10 million in his final season before free agency. Washington should be able to develop at least one of the three pieces it will lose to sign Harper. A young outfielder or a young starting pitcher or second baseman should develop in their farm system. The homegrown player should cost no more than $3 million per season, and even this is at the extreme. This would leave between $14 and $19 million for the Nationals to go out and sign a free agent starting pitcher and position player, both of which are possible.

The money will follow Harper wherever he chooses to continue his career once he reaches free agency. Despite all the things so many people hate about Harper, the Nationals love him and want to keep him in Washington at least through the peak of his career. Few players are compared to Frank Robinson, Hank Aaron, Ken Griffey Jr., and a slew of other Hall of Fame players at any point in their careers. Harper is 23 years old and is entering his fifth season in the Majors. He is truly a special player, one that the Nationals should do everything within their power to re-sign as he approaches free agency.

DJ

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The Best of Baseball 2015

2015 has been a wonderful year for baseball.  Baseball has been everywhere from Spring Training and Opening Day to playing catch in the backyard and playing a friendly season of fantasy.  The big moments like the Royals winning the World Series can be just as special as feeling the pop of the ball when it hits your glove.  Everyone experiences baseball differently.  As 2015 comes to an end the staff of The Winning Run wanted to share our best moments from baseball in 2015.

Derek:

Spending three days going through the National Baseball Hall of Fame was the highlight of 2015 for me.  I literally moved inch by inch through the museum, reading every plaque and sign, look at every picture and artifact on display.  Seeing everything from the baseball used in the first game in which spectators had to pay to watch, to the glove used by Willie Mays to make The Catch, to the Hall of Fame Plaque Gallery.  Three days and at least 24 hours may seem like an extraordinarily long time to spend inside of a museum, however when it was time to leave Cooperstown I found myself rushing to finish seeing everything.

Cooperstown Statue

Statue behind the National Baseball Hall of Fame. (The Winning Run)

Visiting Cooperstown and the National Baseball Hall of Fame only increased my passion for the game.  While the museum is just a building and Cooperstown is just a small town, there is something magical about both.  2015 has been a year of transitions for me personally and professionally.  Visiting Cooperstown allowed me to be a kid again, even for a weekend.  Walking through the Hall of Fame with the same wide eyes I have had since I first fell in love with the game only solidified why baseball is and forever will be special.

DJ

Bernie:

Fantasy baseball. I was mesmerized by Madison Bumgardner and the SF Giants in the 2014 World Series and was really excited to get back into watching baseball in 2015. Fantasy was such a pleasure because it helped me keep on track with news and yet had to pace myself to get through the week and season. There were plenty of great baseball moments but the overall winner that made the experiences more enjoyable started with playing fantasy baseball this season.

Infield Lies Trophy

The Infield Lies Fantasy Baseball Trophy. Derek is now the 2 time defending champion. (The Winning Run)

BL

John:

So 2015 is almost over and we think back on what a year it was. That’s a tough assignment when I’m sitting outside grilling in shorts in the last week of December. I should have a baseball game on instead of Christmas lights. But this does aid in recapping my best memory of baseball this season.

GBraves Foul Ball

John’s treasured foul ball from the Gwinnett Braves game on Back to the Future Night. (The Winning Run)

This season was my year of watching it on tv. I did not get a chance to travel and catch any games and only saw a handful of Atlanta and Gwinnett Braves games. A lot happened around the league but I’m going to share a personal trip to a Gwinnett Braves game in June. I remember the day because I was stuck on the stairs watching Max Sherzer flirt with perfection. I took the family to what turned out to be Back to the Future Night at the stadium so it was fairly attended. I got us seats down the first base line but in the outfield part that juts back into the field. I brought my glove this time and was determined to catch a foul even with the pessimist behind me ho thought no baseball could make it that far. As luck would have it a foul came my way in the fourth and I made a pretty spectacular play in my opinion and snagged in on the fly while crashing onto someone who ran into our row. I high fived and showed the girls our souvenir much to their non-caring.

By the seventh they mentioned the silent auction going on for the jerseys the home team was wearing for the promotion, so after conferring with our other writer Jesse, who’s as much a Back to the Future fan as a baseball fan, I decided to try my luck. I brought the older child and found a relief pitcher with no bids. I bid with a few minutes left and had the child stand in front and smile at other potential bidders. This guy was ours. We won, paid and were told to come back so we could go on the field to aquire our winnings. I brought the family unit down, hung out til the final out, and then was allowed on field to wait for our guy and his “game worn” jersey that did all of allowing him into the bullpen without credentials. He autographed the jersey for the girls and even signed my fly ball from earlier.

Back to the Future

Jesse is clearly excited about his new Gwinnett Braves Back to the Future jersey. (The Winning Run)

Even though the game was only seen by the crowd in attendance and didn’t help the standings at all, it brought memories and a story I can share for many years to come. I believe baseball is more than just what is happening in the majors or in the headlines. It’s about experiences and sharing your enjoyment of the sport with the ones you love. I am happy that my best memory of 2015 was personal and shared with my family. Happy New Year.

JB

Jesse:

The best things that I ended up doing and/or experiencing baseball related in the year of our Lord, two thousand and fifteen are as follows (dates and order are questionable at best)  Any pics that aren’t noted as being borrowed from the internets were taken myself or another member of the Winning Run.  Enjoy.

Cooperstown

For such a small town, the amount of fun that I had there was better than I could have expected.  Only thing I’m disappointed about is that I didn’t see the ball that Benny “the Jet” Rodriguez busted the guts out of.

Cooperstown Front

The National Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, New York (The Winning Run)

The Hall

Walking among the legends of baeball. (The Winning Run)Cooperstown Lake

 

Otsego Lake, a short walk from Main Street and the Hall of Fame. (The Winning Run)

Baseball game for my Dad’s birthday

Managed to score some pretty low seats at the Braves on the 3rd base side for my dad’s birthday.  Just went with my mom and dad.  We were low enough that we were able to see Ron Gant a few rows in front of us.  Sadly, he doesn’t seem to check his Twitter account very often.  I was hoping to get a pic of him and Dad together.

Dad Birthday

 

Jesse enjoying a Braves game with the parents on Dad’s birthday. (The Winning Run)

Seatgeek

In a quote I picked up the pages of history (not sure if it comes from Napoleon or Stalin, don’t care) “quantity has a quality all its own.”  Thanks to the beauty of online retail and a secondary ticket market, I was able to see a MUCH larger number of MLB games this year.  Yay internets.

Braves Lightning

Thunder and lightning on and off the diamond in Atlanta. (The Winning Run)

Braves Sunset

The sky was on fire. (The Winning Run)

Braves America

It is never a bad day if it is spent at the ballpark. (The Winning Run)

Braves Tomahawks

The Force is strong with these Tomahawks. (The Winning Run)

Neon Cancer

After working in an unairconditioned shop in the middle of summer near the exact center of the Everglades (the place was exactly 2 hours from EVERYWHERE in Florida, a true geographic anomaly), I decided to drive to Miami and look for Will Smith.  I didn’t run into him, sadly, but I did manage to go to a Marlins game and have very low seats.  I was probably as close to Ichiro as I’ll ever be, and that was titillating all on its own.  Also, if for nothing else, the bobblehead museum is worth the ticket price.

Marlins Park

Inside Marlins Park, watching Ichiro up close and personal. (The Winning Run)

Bobblehead Museum

The Bobblehead Museum at Marlins Park in all its glory. (The Winning Run)

Minor League Baseball

Minor League Baseball is my jam.  I love the stuff.  I can’t say that there is a better bang for your buck in the entertainment world.  This year I managed to sit directly behind the net at the local team (the Gwinnett Braves), thanks to buying an A/C, I saw a dog act as ball boy AND run the bases (Myrtle Beach Pelicans), and I walked up to a craft beer and unlimited hot dog night (Chattanooga Lookouts).  That was a fun night on the Twitters.  It was a good thing that I was only walking two blocks back to the hotel that night.

Dog Batboy

The batboy for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans at work. (The Winning Run)

Sunset

 

Watching the Chattanooga Lookouts play on a warm summer eveing. (The Winning Run)

baseball Cannon

The Myrtle Beach Pelicans shoot to thrill. (The Winning Run)

Lookouts

Baseball, beer, and hot dogs. What more do you need? (The Winning Run)

Baseball and Beer

Enjoying a lookouts game and a beer. (The Winning Run)

Hot Dogs

No food is more baseball than hot dogs. (The Winning Run)

Infield Lies

Fantasy Baseball has become a great way to sit and talk about the minutia of the day’s baseball awesomeness.  This year I managed to get my girlfriend, and now wife, talked into playing.  Once she got the basics of what should be going on, she became dangerous.  Dammit.

College Ball

I’ve only watched a few college games live, but this year’s first game was at Gardner-Webb University.  Yay baseball’s back.

Gardner Webb

Kicking off the baseball season, watching Gardner Webb University’s baseball team in action. (The Winning Run)

The Playoffs

The 2015 playoffs were some of the most enjoyable to watch in a long time.  I simultaneously wanted the Cubbies to win to fulfil their Back to the Future density (yes I meant “density”.  Watch Back to the Future if you don’t get it), but I longed for the curse to stay in tact at the same time.  Daniel Murphy seemed to be able to do no wrong (until the WS at least).  Then there was the “slide”  Take a look at the pic, you’ll remember it.

Chase Utley Meme

Chase Utley needs to learn how to slide. (MLB Memes)

Apologies

My now son/stepson/boogerface (still working on the naming conventions) confided in me that his favorite team wasn’t the Braves.  Mind you that he isn’t much for baseball, of which I intend to learn him in the ways of the base on balls, but he came to me in a bit of a quiet tone to inform me that he liked the Marlins.  I was a little take aback, UNTIL I heard the reasoning.  His favorite player is Ichiro.  He likes the way he tugs at his shirt when he comes to the plate.  Sounds like a great reason to me.

Hell Froze Over

Citi Field.  It was cold.  We were in the nosebleed.  It was cold.  We rode the 7 train.  It was cold.  It was cold.

Citi Field

Citi Field was strangely cold when the Toronto Blue Jays visited this summer. (The Winning Run)

Fleer

I found a complete set of Fleer baseball cards from 1989 at a Habitat for Humanity ReStore (kinda like a Goodwill for non clothing stuff).  Welcome to the Bigs Mr.Griffey.  Also, I sadly got the edited version of Billy Ripken’s card.  So close.

Griffey Rookie

Ken Griffey Jr., when the Kid was truly just a kid. (The Winning Run)

Fleer Cards

The complete set of 1989 Fleer baseball Cards. (The Winning Run)

My First True Doubleheader

Manage to make it to my first true MLB doubleheader on the last day of the regular season.  That seems like an awesome way to go into the dark dreary non baseball time of year.

Outfield Seats

It’s a beautiful day for baseball, let’s play two. Lots of fans came dressed as empty seats. (The Winning Run)

Christmas

I got a baseball signed by Matt Cain to go along with my ticket from my perfect game.  Time to make a display for that awesomeness.

Matt Cain Perfect

I was at Matt Cain’s Perfect Game, now I have an autographed baseball. (The Winning Run)

NL East

The Nationals didn’t win.

jonathan-papelbon-bryce-harper

Jonathon Papelbon and Bryce Harper might not be best friends. (www.larrybrownsports.com)

JJ

2015 was the most exciting and successful year for The Winning Run.  There was so much in and around baseball that we were able to experience.  Baseball is special in that you can always feel like a kid even when you have played, watched, and followed the game for decades.  While it is impossible to see and experience everything that makes baseball wonderful, we will not stop in our quest to achieve the impossible.  We hope our efforts in sharing our love and knowledge of  the game have added to your enjoyment of baseball in 2015.

Happy New Year,

The Winning Run

Rookie of the Year?

You cannot steal first base.  A player has to hit the ball, walk, or get hit by the pitch to make it to first.  Once on first base, a player can steal any base, a fact that Billy Hamilton is proving on a nightly basis.

Pitchers pitch and hitters hit, baseball can be as simple as this.  However, two of the leading contenders for the National League Rookie of the Year award seem to be proving this wrong.  Joc Pederson of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs are tied for the most strikeouts in the National League this season.  The only player in Major League Baseball with more strikeouts is Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles.  Why are two players who fail to do their jobs the most leading the charge in winning an award that is designed for the best new player in the game?

Joc Pederson can hit a baseball a mile, but he needs to make more contact if he wants to be an elite player. (www.usatoday.com)

Joc Pederson can hit a baseball a mile, but he needs to make more contact if he wants to be an elite player. (www.usatoday.com)

Entering play on August 15th:

Joc Pederson has the following stat line:

G

PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG

OPS

113 464 378 56 83 18 1 22 45 74 137 0.220 0.359 0.447

0.806

BBRate 16.5%
K Rate 29.5%

Kris Bryant has the following stat line:

G

PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG

OPS

105 453 381 60 97 19 4 16 66 60 137 0.255 0.362 0.451

0.813

BBRate 13.3%
K Rate 30.2%
Kris Bryant has the ability to be the star the Cubs have been waiting for, but he needs to cut down on his strikeouts if he is to reach his potential. (www.northjersey.com)

Kris Bryant has the ability to be the star the Cubs have been waiting for, but he needs to cut down on his strikeouts if he is to reach his potential. (www.northjersey.com)

Both Pederson and Bryant are excellent players with extremely bright futures.  However, their consistent inability to put the bat on the ball should raise some concerns.  Both players are still young and are in their first full season in the Majors, so there is obviously plenty of time and room for improvement.  The idea of swing hard in case you hit something is fine on select pitches, but not during every at bat.  Swinging for the fences every time does not help a team as much as understanding when to back away from this approach.  The difference between hitting 30 and 40 home runs is at most 40 RBI (hitting 10 grand slams in a season has never happened, the most being 6, and the odds of shattering this record are astronomically small).  Could those maximum of 40 RBI be made up, and more than likely surpassed, by cutting down on the all or nothing type approach?

It is impossible to force the defense to make an error if the ball is not put in play.  Putting the ball in play means anything can happen.  The fielder can misjudge a fly ball, whiff on a grounder, make a poor throw, lose the ball in the lights or sun; the batter can move a runner over with a well-placed ground ball or fly ball.  None of this is possible if the batter does not put the ball in play.

In recent memory, Adam Dunn looms large as the king of the all or nothing swing.  Dunn hit 462 career home runs, but he also struck out 2,379 times.  Over his 14 year career Dunn’s 28.6% K Rate made him a liability for any team he played for that was not able to absorb the downside to his hitting abilities.  Dunn could change a game with one swing, but at what cost?  The all or nothing approach could kill rallies and scoring opportunities and shorten lineups.  The reward just does not seem to balance out with the benefit.  Dunn was an impact player for a long time; he averaged 33 HR, 83 RBI, 94 BB, 78 R a season.  However, those numbers are countered with a lifetime .237 BA and an average of 170 strikeouts a season.  Every season of his career he struck out more times than games played, not a recipe for long-term success.  Even his 15.8% career BB Rate is higher than that of Pederson and Bryant.  Adam Dunn, the most recent king of the all or nothing swing has a lower career strikeout percentage rate and higher walk rate than either Joc Pederson or Kris Bryant.

Adam Dunn is the most recent king of the all or nothing swing. (www.http://nowbatting9th.blogspot.com/)

Adam Dunn is the most recent king of the all or nothing swing. (www.http://nowbatting9th.blogspot.com/)

The Rookie of the Year award is supposed to reward the successful beginning of a players Major League career.  The idea that Joc Pederson and Kris Bryant appear to be the front runners to win the award in the National League is strange.  Yes, both players can hit the ball well beyond the outfield fence, but baseball is more than just a home run derby.  The acceptance of this approach is a return to the ideas of the steroid era, skip playing small ball and wait for the big three-run home run.  This approach is fine, as long as teams, fans, and players are willing to accept the fact that there will be fewer balls in play and strikeout totals from video games.

There is without a doubt a place within baseball for the sluggers, there is no denying that the game needs them.  However, not every player can or should try to be like Ken Griffey Jr. or Babe Ruth.  There is nothing wrong with hitting 20 to 25 home runs a year and having a batting average in the .280s, instead of hitting 30 home runs and batting around .240.  Those extra .040 points worth of batting average will almost certainly match and surpass the runs produced by the extra 5 to 10 home runs that the player lost by not swinging for the fences every time at bat.

Say what you will, but baseball is a team game.  The team needs each individual player to contribute if the team as a whole is going to be successful.  Joc Pederson and Kris Bryant have both played for successful teams so far in the Major League careers.  This has afforded them both the room to continue growing as professional hitters.  However, for both of them to reach their potential they will need to make more contact with the baseball.  This might require them hit fewer home runs.  This is a trade off for being a better all-around player.

Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig understood how to be both a slugger and a great hitter. (NY Post via the Babe Ruth Museum in Baltimore MD.)

Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig understood how to be both a slugger and a great hitter. (NY Post via the Babe Ruth Museum in Baltimore MD.)

The great players are not the ones who have all or nothing types of swings, rather they are the Babe Ruth’s, Lou Gehrig’s, Hank Aaron’s, Willie Mays‘, and Miguel Cabrera’s of the world.  These are the hitters who could hit the ball a mile when need be, but could also simply put the ball in play.  Pederson and Bryant should learn from this approach.  Ruth hit 714 home runs, while posting a .342 career batting average, and having a 12.5% K Rate.  Gehrig hit 493 home runs, .340 career batting average, and having a 8.2% K Rate.  Aaron hit 755 home runs, .305 career batting average, and having a 9.9% K Rate.  Mays hit 660 home runs, .302 career batting average, and having a 12.2% K Rate.  Cabrera has hit 405 home runs, .321 career batting average, and has a 16.9% K Rate.  These all-time greats put the ball in play, and yet the home runs still came.  They all helped their team be successful every time they stepped between the lines.  Even Mike Trout and Bryce Harper understand that making contact is important.  Trout has a 22.4% career K Rate and Harper has a 21.1% career K Rate.  While their K Rate is higher than these legends, they are also much lower than Pederson and Bryant.

Adjusting to life in the Majors goes beyond just playing baseball.  Pederson and Bryant are hopefully just settling into the beginnings of long and successful careers.  They are off to good starts, but not Rookie of the Year award worthy starts, perhaps they should be on the second tier for consideration for that award.  Both players do many parts of the game well, but both need to work diligently on putting the ball in play and reducing their number of strikeouts.  If they can do this, they both have the talent to be successful year after year at the highest level of the sport.

DJ

The Negro Leagues and the History We Are Losing

The Negro Leagues were home to some of the best baseball players in the world during the time they were operational. The further away we get from the last game of the Negro Leagues in the early 1960’s. In the half century since, the number of living Negro League players has dwindled to critically low numbers.  Each time a former Negro League player passes away, we all lose a little more history. Some of this history we will never be able to get back. The incomplete records from the Negro Leagues leave a hole in our understanding of the players, both those as great as Josh Gibson or those who only played briefly.

The rich history of the Negro Leagues is chronicled in Kansas City at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and in Cooperstown at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. However, the door through which individual players can be honored in Cooperstown has been shut, hopefully the door can be reopened. The 2006 balloting for the National Baseball Hall of Fame also included The Committee on African-American Baseball. Major League Baseball sought to do extensive research into the history and the people who were involved in the Negro Leagues and/or African-American baseball. The focus on African-American baseball was a long time coming, and resulted in the nomination of 94 individuals for enshrinement into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. After the ballots were cast, 17 of the 94 individuals were elected to Cooperstown; seven Negro League players (Ray Brown, Willard Brown, Andy Cooper, Biz Mackay, Mule Suttles, Cristobal Torriente, and Jud Wilson), five pre-Negro League players (Frank Grant, Pete Hill, Jose Mendez, Louis Santop, and Ben Taylor), four Negro Leagues executives (Effa Manley, Alex Pompez, Cum Posey, and J.L. Wilkinson), and one pre-Negro Leagues executive (Sol White).

Satchel Paige almost did not make it to the Major Leagues because of racism. (www.wpgc.cbslocal.com)

Satchel Paige almost did not make it to the Major Leagues because of racism. (www.wpgc.cbslocal.com)

The Committee on African-American Baseball was an excellent start for Major League Baseball at giving Negro League, and pre-Negro League, players the recognition they so richly deserve. However, more individuals need to receive the honor they have long been denied. Determining who was and was not a Hall of Fame caliber player or executive for all of baseball during segregation is an enormous task. Players who would have had excellent career in the Negro Leagues, like Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, have not been over looked because they were given the opportunity to play in the Major Leagues. Mays and Aaron are among the greatest baseball players of all time, how many players like them were never given the opportunity to play in Major League Baseball because of their skin color?

Plenty of Negro League players have been inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Greats, including Monte Irvin (Class of 1973), James “Cool Papa” Bell (Class of 1974), and Josh Gibson (Class of 1972), have been inducted, even before the Committee on African-American Baseball. Their elections have in some small way helped to correct some of the wrongs that necessitated the Negro Leagues. The call made by many, including Ted Williams during his own Hall of Fame induction speech, has led to a sort of reexamining of Major League Baseball’s past actions. This process should be on going. New information continues to emerge, thus the credentials of players continue to change. The Committee on African-American Baseball was an excellent beginning, but the work has not come to an end.

 Buck O'Neil deserves to be enshrined in Cooperstown. (www.sports.espn.go.com)

Buck O’Neil deserves to be enshrined in Cooperstown. (www.sports.espn.go.com)

If there was ever a reason to renew the Committee on African-American Baseball it is Buck O’Neil. He held nearly every job in baseball, and through it all he never lost his love for the game. He played for 11 seasons for the Kansas City Monarchs and Memphis Red Sox, both in the Negro American League. His career .283 BA prove his abilities on the field. He managed the Monarchs, coached for the Chicago Cubs, scouted for the Cubs and Kansas City Royals, and led the charge for the establishment of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. O’Neil may not have had the credentials as a player or manager to gain enshrinement to Cooperstown, and no scout has ever been given the honor (which should be seen as a travesty). Buck O’Neil should be inducted as a contributor to baseball. Unfortunately, Buck O’Neil has passed away and was not able to receive the honor of induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Major League Baseball and the National Baseball Hall of Fame need to act, and act soon, so that more people who were involved with the Negro Leagues can be honored. The longer we wait to honor these individuals the more history we are losing. Time is of the essence, it is past time that we honor these individuals.

D

The Return

The New York Yankees signed Chase Headley to a 4 year contract worth $52 million.  This solidifies the Yankees at third through 2018.  When the deal was announced, ESPN’s Buster Olney made the observation that this meant the Yankees did not have an everyday role for Alex Rodriguez.  The 2015 Yankees would have a lineup of CF Jacoby Ellsbury, LF Brett Gardner, 2B Martin Prado, 3B Chase Headley, DH Carlos Beltran, C Brian McCann, 1B Mark Teixeira, RF Chris Young, SS Didi Gregorius.

Notice anyone missing from the Yankee lineup?  What about Alex Rodriguez?  Where will Rodriguez fit into the Yankees plans for 2015 and beyond?  At this point in his career, Rodriguez has three options as far as playing.  He can continue at third, move to first, or be the DH.

Does he have any range? (www.sportsworldreport.com

Does he have any range? (www.sportsworldreport.com

At third, Rodriguez will most likely serve as the backup for Headley.  As a switch hitter, Headley will not yield at bats to Rodriguez based upon match ups.  However, even if Headley were to get hurt or needs a day off, the Yankees could have moved Prado from second to third to keep the defense in the infield solid and give some time at second to young Jose Pirela.  Prado’s trade to the Marlins means Pirela or Brendan Ryan will be at second.  I believe the Yankees should put Pirela at second and have Ryan as the infield back up.  The Yankees need some sort of youth movement if they are to continue playing competitively moving forward.  Honestly, as Rodriguez approaches his 40-year-old season, after a year away from the game, and the preceding year cut short by yet another hip injury, it is doubtful Rodriguez still has the range to play an average third base defensively.  Third seems does not look like a home, even temporarily, for Rodriguez.

At first base, Rodriguez would either be the backup to Mark Teixeira or platoon with him.  I would vote to avoid the platoon.  When healthy, Teixeira is a major asset to the Yankees and their success.  A potential hindrance for Rodriguez at first could be if the Yankees try to begin transitioning Brian McCann from behind the plate to first, which they should.  Teixeira only has two years remaining on his contract, so the Yankees will have to begin the process of finding his replacement either from their system, through trade or free agency, or from their roster.  The Yankees need the most from their investment in McCann and continuing to catch will reduce his playing time and effectiveness.  As a lefty, McCann’s power to the right field porch should give him an edge over Rodriguez.  Again, Rodriguez’s hips and age, plus the move to a new position could greatly hinder his ability to play an average first base defensively.

Is his speed completely gone? (www.chatsports.com)

Is his speed completely gone? (www.chatsports.com)

As the DH, Rodriguez is facing some stiff competition.  Carlos Beltran seems to be the preferred DH for the Yankees.  Beltran is a switch hitter, this he will not be pinch hit for due to matchups late in games.  Even when Beltran plays the outfield to give Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, or Chris Young a day off this does not mean there is an opening at DH.  Any of these outfielders could be the DH instead of Beltran.  Additionally, when Beltran needs a day off, McCann could DH, so could Teixeira, and Headley. Rodriguez has to six players to jump over to claim at bats as the DH.  Strangely, this is his best option for at bats.

These three positions do not leave Rodriguez many opportunities to play every day.  At this point in his career the likelihood of Rodriguez’s health allows him to play every day are growing smaller and smaller.  He has essentially missed the past two seasons; it may be difficult for Rodriguez to rebound.  He played 44 games in 2013 due to injury and served a suspension for all of the 2014 season.  In addition to the aches and pains of entering his 40-year-old season, Rodriguez has undergone multiple hip surgeries.  This has hampered his speed, range, and his ability to stay on the field.  Rodriguez is showing his age and the impact of 20 seasons in Major League Baseball.

Rodriguez is not the same player he once was before his troubles with his hip, a PED suspension, and his popularity taking a nosedive.  He has not hit above .276 since 2009.  Rodriguez has played an average of 110 games a season since 2008, without playing more than 138 in any season, excluding his suspension for all of 2014.  During his last three seasons played (2011-2013), Rodriguez has no more than 18 home runs and 62 RBIs in a season.  His Offensive WAR has gone down every year since 2007, from a high of 9.5 to 0.8.  Only once since 2005 has Rodriguez been above a 1.0 Defensive WAR, with four of those seasons being in the negative.  He has only been over a 2.0 Defensive WAR once, in 2000 at 2.3.  Clearly, his skills have deteriorated.

Stating the obvious about Alex Rodriguez. (www.komonews.com)

Stating the obvious about Alex Rodriguez. (www.komonews.com)

Alex Rodriguez was once one of the best players in all of Major League Baseball.  However, growing older, injuries, PED use and suspension, and becoming the face of what is wrong with the game have left Rodriguez as a tired act.  He is in the swan song of his career, and he has becoming the most polarizing figure in the game.  Rodriguez is approaching some of the most hallowed numbers in the sport, which should create a buzz about the 2015 season.  Instead, his march into history pains those who love this game.  He sits 61 hits shy of 3,000.  He is 6 home runs away from tying Willie Mays, 60 away from Babe Ruth, and 101 away from Hank Aaron.  He currently has a career batting average of .299, if he has one more good year at the plate he could assure himself a .300 career batting average.  He is 81 runs short of scoring 2,000 for his career.  He is 31 RBI short of 2,000 for his career.  All of these statistics place Rodriguez in the upper echelon of baseball history, but primarily through his own doing, many in baseball simply want him to go away.

Alex Rodriguez has served his time.  Regardless if you think he should have gotten more or less time, or wish he had received a permanent ban from the game, Rodriguez will not be the last player to cut corners to gain an advantage over his competition.  Hopefully, Rodriguez will be the final chapter of the Steroid era on the field.  Rodriguez is a sad figure, much in the same way Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens have become.  These players had Hall of Fame caliber talent, but they tried to hang on to their skills through various forms of cheating, and in so doing so they have ruined their legacies.  Alex Rodriguez has earned more than $356 million, and unless he and the Yankees can reach an agreement to part ways, his earnings will surpass $400 million, which is the most career earnings in baseball history.  Derek Jeter earned $265 million, the second highest career earnings in baseball history, the difference in the legacies of Rodriguez and Jeter are night and day.  Will the extra $100 to $150 million Rodriguez will earn be worth it?

The return of Alex Rodriguez will soon be upon us, whether we like it or not.  There does not seem to be many at bats awaiting him with the Yankees as he attempts to chase down some of the biggest names in baseball history.  Does Rodriguez belong in the same conversation as the greats like Mays, Ruth, Aaron, Clemente, Gehrig, Williams?  Statistically yes.  On the field he has proven for 20 seasons he has Hall of Fame caliber skills and can do it all with the bat.  No player ever accidentally amasses the sort of numbers he has collected.

Alex Rodriguez will most likely live on the bench this season. (www.sportingnews.com)

Alex Rodriguez will most likely live on the bench this season. (www.sportingnews.com)

Does Rodriguez belong alongside these Hall of Famers in terms of class?  Not even close.  He has cheated multiple times, and continues to play the victim.  You can argue he is no better than Mays and his reported use of amphetamines, but what makes Rodriguez different is the amphetamines do not alter your abilities, steroids do.  He admitted to using PEDs from 2001 through 2003.  While we can debate whether one believes that after 2003 Rodriguez discontinued his use of PEDs, what is not up for debate is his admission to using them during these three seasons.  These also, consequently were the most prolific three year span of his career.  In 2010, Rodriguez was connected to Canadian doctor Anthony Galea, who at best has a checkered past with the law enforcement for providing and administering PEDs to elite athletes.  The latest run in for Rodriguez has been through his association with Biogenesis and Anthony Bosch.  While Rodriguez never failed a drug test, Commissioner Bud Selig suspended Rodriguez for 211 games, later reduced to the 2014 season.  Major League Baseball suspended Rodriguez:

“for use and possession of numerous forms of prohibited performance-enhancing substances…over the course of multiple years” and “for attempting to cover-up his violations of the Program by engaging in a course of conduct intended to obstruct and frustrate the Office of the Commissioner’s investigation.”

The crime gets you in trouble; the cover up is what tears you down.  Rodriguez later admitted to the Drug Enforcement Administration that he had indeed used PEDs.  Rodriguez has a pattern of cheating, even after the installation of the Major League Baseball Drug Policy.  Everyone makes mistakes, however Rodriguez does not seem to have learned from his mistakes.

It seems three strikes does not mean Alex Rodriguez is out.  He has three seasons remaining on his contract with the Yankees.  He has become so toxic within baseball, and outside of baseball, that after the 2017 season his career with baseball as a whole is almost certainly over.  Unless the Yankees can work out a deal with Rodriguez to buy out the remainder of his contract, or his hips force his retirement, it is unlikely he will leave before his contract is up.  Alex Rodriguez is a survivor, through it all he continues to come back for more.  What a shame that this sort of resiliency is wasted on Rodriguez.  There are so many great people in and around baseball; unfortunately, Rodriguez has the ability to survive regardless of the damage he does to the game.  He takes the headline away from the people and events, which make baseball the great sport it is.

D

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

Master of Disguise

15 years ago, Bobby Valentine, then the manager of the New York Mets was ejected for arguing with an umpire.  While this is not necessarily historic, what will always be remembered is what Valentine did after he was ejected.  He did not have a meltdown which would make Lou Piniella, Lloyd McClendon, or Phillip Wellman proud.  Oh no, he took it a step further.  Valentine returned to the dugout in a disguise which would have made Hollywood proud.

Definitely not Bobby Valentine (theclassical.org)

Definitely not Bobby Valentine (theclassical.org)

This disguise by Valentine will forever be how I think of him.  Not his winning 1,186 games during his managerial career.  Not of his impact upon the Japanese Pacific League.  Not the baseball analysis with various broadcasting stations.  For me Bobby Valentine will always be the man in disguise.  The mustache and glasses standing in the dugout during an extra innings game against the Toronto Blue Jays.  It reminds a moment in which I cannot help but smile.

Every parent tells their kids that they are responsible for their actions.  Valentine was held accountable for his actions.  He was fined and suspended for his antics.  Everyone is remembered for something.  Willie Mays is remembered for “The Catch”, Carlton Fisk is remembered for his home run in the 1975 World Series, and Bobby Valentine is remembered for the night he went undercover.  Baseball is a game.  Too often the game is taken too serious.  On a summer night, Bobby Valentine could not stay away from the game he had been ejected from and he left an indelible image for us all to remember and laugh at.

D