Tagged: Yogi Berra

Mr. Tiger

Al Kaline passed away Monday at the age of 85. He played 22 seasons for the Detroit Tigers. He began his Major League career in June 1953 as an 18 year old and finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting in 1954. In 1955, Kaline won the American League Batting Title with a .340 BA, easily outpacing second place Vic Power’s .319 BA. Mr. Tiger remains the youngest player ever, 20, to win the American League Batting Title. He was one day younger than Ty Cobb when the Georgia Peach won the 1907 Batting Title. Kaline finished second behind Yogi Berra in the American League MVP voting. He finished in the top three of MVP voting four times but never won the award. 

The numbers show Al Kaline’s greatness on the diamond. In 22 seasons, Mr. Tiger played 2,834 Games, 10,116 At Bats, scored 1,622 Runs, collected 3,007 Hits, 498 Doubles, 75 Triples, 399 Home Runs, 1,582 RBI, Stole 137 Bases, 1,277 Walks, 1,020 Strikeouts, 55 HBP, .297 BA, .376 OBP, .480 SLG, .855 OPS, 134 OPS+. Kaline’s career 92.8 WAR still ranks 42nd over 40 seasons after he retired. His statistics were not heavily padded by the DH, which was created in 1973. Kaline was the Tigers DH in 1974, his final season. 

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Al Kaline was an all time great ball player, but an even better person. Mr. Tiger was baseball in Detroit. (Louis Requena/ MLB via Getty Images)

Kaline patrolled the outfield at Tiger Stadium. He won 10 Gold Gloves in an 11 year span, 1955-1967, playing primarily in Right. He was an 18 time All Star in 15 seasons, playing in both Midsummer Classics from 1959-1961. Kaline remained an elite player for much of his career. 

Greatness was not confined to the Regular Season. Kaline helped guide the Tigers to a World Series victory over Bob Gibson and the St. Louis Cardinals in 1968. He played in all 7 Games, in 29 At Bats he had 11 Hits, including 2 Doubles, 2 Home Runs, 8 RBI, scored 6 Runs, 1 HBP, .379 BA, .400 OBP, .655 SLG, and 1.055 OPS. Great players often rise to the occasion in the World Series. 

Al Kaline retired after the 1974 season. His 3,000 hits solidified his greatness. In 1980, Kaline received two of baseball’s highest honors. The Tigers retired his #6, the first Tiger to have his number retired; players did not wear numbers during Ty Cobb’s career. Mr. Tiger was also inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Kaline entered Cooperstown on the 1st ballot with 88.3% of the vote.  

The numbers and accolades are wonderful. However, the reaction from those who knew Al Kaline speaks about the man. Referring to him as Mr. Kaline, he had the love and respect of his peers, the city of Detroit, and all of baseball. There is no better tribute than an outpouring of love and affection for the man rather than his accomplishments. 

Rest easy Mr. Kaline, you are already missed.

DJ

The House That Ruth Built

Now batting for the New York Yankees, the shortstop, #2, Derek Jeter, #2.

I can still hear legendary Yankee Public Address Announcer Bob Sheppard introducing Derek Jeter for his first at bat on Sunday, September 21, 2008. Jeter walked to the plate while Sheppard’s voice echoed around Yankee Stadium. Jesse, John, and I had flown to New York solely to watch the Yankees play the Orioles in the final game at Yankee Stadium. The House That Ruth Built was closing.

Baseball brought me to New York City for the first time. I would later live and work in New York for five years, but that first visit was about baseball. Knowing we only had one game to explore one of the greatest ballparks in baseball we arrived at 161st Street Station in the Bronx around 9:30 am, 11 hours before first pitch. We were greeted by a sea of fans who, like us, we eager to spend the day inside the House That Ruth Built before it closed.

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We made it to The House That Ruth Built. (The Winning Run/ JJ)

The crowd outside the Stadium was chaotic, joyous, and a bit solemn all at once. The new Yankee Stadium stood just across the street, and except for a few glances I had little interest in the building. I had come to see THE Stadium, not its replacement. After slowly making our way through the line we finally entered the hallowed stadium. We soon learned our first stop would not happen. Monument Park was at capacity and the Yankees were closing it early. We scrapped our other plans and began exploring every nooks and cranny of the stadium that was accessible. We walked around the cheap seats, the foul lines, behind home plate, everywhere but our seats. Our seats were in the right field bleachers, with the Bleacher Creatures. Once you entered the bleacher area, security would not permit you to return to the rest of the stadium. We explored until our feet ached from the concrete. Once you join the Bleacher Creatures, there is no coming back.

Our first glimpse of the field was from behind home plate. Seeing the most famous baseball field in the world, where so much of the game’s history was made, where so many legends played, felt spiritual. I remember silently standing with Jesse and John gazing at the field, soaking it in. Three baseball fanatics in awe of their surroundings.

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The field is beautiful from the cheap seats (The Winning Run/JJ)
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Warming up before the game. (The Winning Run/JJ)
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Breathtaking. (The Winning Run/JJ)

Our day touring Yankee Stadium went by in a flash before we joined the Bleacher Creatures. The pregame festivities included Yankee legends returning to the field one last time. Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Reggie Jackson, and other living legends were joined by the ghosts of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, among others. Fittingly Babe Ruth’s daughter, Julia Ruth Stevens, threw out the final first pitch in the House That Ruth Built.

Once the actual game began, it was like every Yankee game I would attend while living in New York. The nationally televised game between two teams who would finish the season a combined 36.5 games behind first place began at 8:36 p.m. There were plenty of people, like us, who were not the regulars among the Bleacher Creatures. It was easy to identify the Bleacher Creatures. They are loud, obnoxious, generally know their baseball, and above all are die hard Yankee fans. The chants began in the top of the first, roll call. Every Yankee, except the pitcher and catcher, had their name chanted until they acknowledged the Bleacher Creatures. Some players, like Bobby Abreu, waved quickly, others, like Johnny Damon, made us work for a few minutes before waving. The loudest chant was for the Captain, Derek Jeter. Jeter was the man; no one on the field commanded more respect than #2.

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Our seats with the Bleacher Creatures. (The Winning Run/JJ)

I remember only pieces of the actual game. We went to the game for the experience, not necessarily the actual game. The Bleacher Creatures did what they do best, being loud. I have clear memories of a chant regarding Hall of Fame player and then ESPN Sunday Night Baseball announcer Joe Morgan, who was broadcasting the game. The chant was simple, “Joe Morgan Sucks! Joe Morgan Sucks! Joe Morgan Sucks!” Over and over and over. I was never a fan of Morgan’s broadcasting, but the Bleacher Creatures were less bashful in voicing their opinion. Another memory is a different chant “Box Seats Suck! Box Seats Suck!” The metal bleachers in right field were anything but leisurious. They reminded me of the bench at a little league game. The most memorable moment sitting among the Bleacher Creatures happened when people sitting several rows in front of us attempting to start the wave. Yes the wave. Every time they tried to start the wave they were booed and told to “Take That Sh@$ Back To Shea!” Eventually stadium security and the New York Police Department stepped in. This was late in the game after beer could lower people’s inhibitions. Obviously the people threatening those trying to start the wave were removed by security. Wrong. Attempting to start the wave gets you removed to the cheers of the Bleacher Creatures. I might have missed something someone said or did, but I like to think they were arrested for attempting to start the wave at Yankee Stadium.

On the field, Jose Molina hit the final home run in Yankee Stadium with a fourth inning two run shot off Chris Waters to give the Yankees a 5-3 lead. The Yankees would stretch out their lead in the sixth inning with a Jason Giambi RBI single and a sacrifice fly by Robinson Cano to score Brett Gardner. The tension was palpable in an otherwise meaningless game. Everyone wanted one last Yankee victory inside the House That Ruth Built. The Yankees led 7-3 heading into the ninth inning.

The guitar riff blasted through the speakers. Metallica’s Enter Sandman filled the stadium. The greatest closer of all time was trotting in from the bullpen. 11 pitches and three groundouts later, Mariano Rivera closed Yankee Stadium.

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Mariano Rivera coming in to close out Yankee Stadium. (The Winning Run/JJ)
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The final out. (The Winning Run/JJ)
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Jesse and me after the game. (The Winning Run/JJ)
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John and me after the game. Note the mounted police on the field to keep people off.(The Winning Run/JJ)

The celebration was not the World Series many envisioned to close Yankee Stadium, it was still special. Derek Jeter spoke to the crowd, thanking the fans and creating a bridge between the two stadiums. He was brief and to the point before leading the Yankees around the field to say goodbye. Yankee Stadium was the House That Ruth Built and the House That Jeter Closed.

The game ended just before midnight. An era in baseball history was closed. No one wanted to leave. Grown men were tossing empty water bottles to the player’s kids on the warning track, begging them to fill the bottles with dirt before tossing them back. Every nook and cranny inside Yankee Stadium was filled with memories and the thought of never coming back was almost too much for some to bear. Normally at the end of a Major League game the ushers and security are quick to push you out of your seats. This was different, we stayed in our seats for an hour after the final out. The crowd was slow to disperse and the stadium staff did not have the usual urgency to clear the stadium. It was after 1 a.m. when we left Yankee Stadium. No one was in a hurry to leave the ghosts of baseball history alone in a now closed Yankee Stadium.

DJ

Baseball is as America is

Baseball is America’s pastime. It is also a reflection of America. Anyone can rise to the top of the game. It doesn’t matter where you come from, only your ability on the field. You can be born the son of a saloon keeper in the Pigtown section of Baltimore, Maryland and grow up to become Babe Ruth. You can be born to poor African-American parents in Mobile, Alabama and grow up to break Babe Ruth’s home run record and establish yourself as Hank Aaron, the Home Run King. You can grow up in Commerce, Oklahoma and become Mickey Mantle, arguably the greatest switch hitter of all time. You can be the son of Italian immigrants and grow up in The Hill, St. Louis, Missouri and become Yogi Berra, one of the greatest catchers of all time. You can grow up in beautiful San Diego and become the greatest hitter of all time, as Ted Williams did. You can be a kid living in The Bronx, listening to the radio, wishing you were at the game and grow up to be Vin Scully, the greatest broadcaster ever.

Baseball can give people so much, yet it also has a shameful past. The exclusion of African-American players is indefensible. It will forever be a stain on the game. The resulting Negro Leagues are the truest American response to injustice. When faced with hatred and ignorance, players created their own leagues. Baseball in the Major Leagues and the Negro Leagues was never perfect. However, African-Americans fought for their rightful place as equals in America with every pitch, hit, catch, and throw. The Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City, Missouri continues to ensure this history, good and bad, is not forgotten.

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Baseball is a reflection of what is good in America, but it can also reflect what is not good in America. (www.si.com)

Baseball, like America, is a melting pot. People from all over the world come here to play the game. Ichiro crossed the Pacific and become a legend in Japan and America. One of the greatest right handed hitter of all time, Miguel Cabrera, left his native Venezuela to leave opposing players and fans in awe at his skills with a bat. Peter Moylan had a second chance at baseball after working as a pharmaceutical salesman in his native Australia. Gift Ngoepe continues to create a path for other African born players, as the South African became the first African born player to appear in a Major League game. Baseball and America takes players from everywhere in the world as Ed Porray proved, he was born at sea.

America is a true melting pot. We are not a perfect nation. We have done horrible things to our own people, from the Native Americans to African-Americans to religious minorities to the LGBTQ community. We fight and argue for what we think is right, just like in baseball. The rules that govern how we play the game and live together need updating from time to time. Change is never easy, but it is necessary. We are stronger together when we are willing to judge people by their abilities on the field and in life, and not on preconceived ideas based upon where they are from, what language they speak, or what god they worship. The wonderful thing about being an American is there is no mold to follow. Only a select few of us, when you trace your family back, are from here. Instead of telling our teammates and fellow Americans to conform, why not listen to them and learn from them to make yourself better, and by extension our team and country better.

Happy Independence Day!

DJ

A Nickel Ain’t Worth A Dime Anymore

Yogi Berra had a special way of using the English language to express not only himself, but also the world around him.  The further he became from his playing and managing career the more he became known for his Yogi-isms.  Those odd, but truthful sayings that were usually funny but were also spot on.  Yogi Berra had grown into the loveable grandfather for all of baseball, and it has become clear with his passing that as much as he was beloved, he was respected even more.

I never saw Yogi Berra play a game in person or on television, except through some old reruns of World Series games.  I never saw him coach, except for some highlights of him being ejected.  My understanding of Yogi Berra’s greatness comes from the stories and the statistics that he left behind.  His statistics are incredible, as you can see here.  It does not take too much digging to see how special of a player Yogi was.  In five different full seasons he hit more home runs than he had strike outs, and in each of those seasons he hit at least 27 home runs.  His career high in strikeouts was 38.  Think about that for a minute, he struck out no more than 38 times a season over a 19-year career, or said another way he struck out once every 18.2 at bats in 7,555 career at bats.

Yogi and Carmen Berra were married for over 65 years. (www.sportsworldnews.com)

Yogi and Carmen Berra were married for over 65 years. (www.sportsworldnews.com)

1950 was the beginning of a seven-year run where Yogi Berra was a dominating force.  In those seven seasons from 1950 to 1956, he averaged a .295 BA, .364 OBP, .502 SLG, .866 OPS, hit 191 home runs, had 756 RBI, scored 650 runs, collected 1,129 hits, including 166 doubles, and 27 triples.  Yogi won three Most Valuable Player Awards, finished second twice, third once, and fourth once.  He collected at least 31% of the MVP votes in each of those seven seasons.  Yogi was this dominant at the plate while handling a pitching staff that had a 3.45 cumulative ERA from 1950 to 1956.  The New York Yankees won six American League Pennants and five World Series during this stretch.  He was the engine for the Yankees domination.

The true measure of a man does not show up in a box score or in any statistic.  It shows up in those that he encounters and influences along the way.  A person who does nothing to help others along the way is not worth much.  After I heard that Yogi Berra had passed away, I started reading and listening to the tributes that came pouring in.  Obviously no one was speaking ill of Yogi, but it was not in a manner of let’s remember the good time; rather it was this man was amazing.  In nearly every tribute to Yogi, his playing career was almost an afterthought.  People wanted to talk about the man much more than the player.  One of the greatest players to every play baseball, regardless of position, and no one wants to talk about his playing career.  This is how you know he was special.  Yogi, in my opinion, is what everyone should strive to become.  He was a fierce competitor, a loyal friend, a friend to strangers, a great family man, an honest man, a man willing to do what he was called to do, and above all he was himself.

Yogi Berra fought on the shores of Normandy on D-Day. (www.biography.com)

Yogi Berra fought on the shores of Normandy on D-Day. (www.biography.com)

Yogi Berra fought on the shores of Normandy on D-Day.  He was married to his wife Carmen for 65 years.  He used his fame to help others in ways many of us will never know.  The Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center does more than just chronicle his baseball career; it focuses on youth and turning them into better citizens and people.  Yogi Berra was great in so many ways, but for me he will be remembered for his love of life, his smile, and above all for simply being the type of person everyone should strive to become.

Rest in Peace Mr. Berra.  You were worth was more than a nickel or a dime. You were priceless.

DJ

D-Day, June 6, 1944

D-Day, June 6, 1944

Operation Overlord.  The push for Berlin was no longer an if, but a when.  When would the Allied Forces reach Berlin and defeat the Third Reich?  In a single day, over 150,000 Allied soldiers either stormed the beaches of Normandy or were dropped behind enemy lines.  More than 5,000 of these soldiers were either killed or wounded before nightfall.  This extraordinary sacrifice was felt across the homelands of the Allied Forces, as so many sons, fathers, husbands, and brothers never made it home again.  Bob Feller, the first professional athlete in the United States to volunteer for military service during World War II, doing so days after Pearl Harbor, put it simply and perfectly, “The heroes didn’t come back”.  The sacrificing of one’s self in order to rescue others from the grasps of evil is true heroism.

The Greatest Generation, so aptly named by Tom Brokaw, fought Nazi Germany and won.  The men and women who served their country in the military, both on and off the battlefield, did so selflessly.  It did not matter who you were.  You could be a young man from tiny Allatoona, Georgia and had only been to three counties in your entire life before leaving for the Army (my maternal grandfather).  You could be a newlywed from Stone Mountain, Georgia who after being told he was not physically fit for the military, moved with his new bride to Mobile, Alabama so he could work as a welder in the shipyards (my paternal grandfather).  You could be a kid from St. Louis, Missouri playing in the Class D Virginia League for the Norfolk Tars, who would go on to win 13 World Series Championships as a player and manager (Yogi Berra).  You could be a four-time All Star pitcher with 107 career wins in only six seasons (Bob Feller).  It did not matter; you gave of yourself for your country.

Heading towards the beaches of Normandy. (www.people.com)

Heading towards the beaches of Normandy. (www.people.com)

D-Day saw plenty of scared young men going into battle, many for the first time.  There was, nor is, any shame in their fear, something is probably wrong if they were not scared.  If ever there was a time for fear it was during the storming of the beaches in Normandy.  The Atlantic Wall was formidable, and the Nazi’s hoped it would repel any attempted invasion, which it failed to do.  However, despite their fears they knew they had a job that had to be done, and they did it.  These sentiments resonated from the top of the Allied Forces:

“This operation is not being planned with any alternatives.  This operation is planned as a victory, and that’s the way it’s going to be.  We’re going down there, and we’re throwing everything we have into it, and we’re going to make it a success.”

~General Dwight D. Eisenhower

Every man who risked, or gave, his life on and around the beaches of Normandy put their hopes and dreams aside to be a part of something greater than themselves.  All of them had a different story that made them the man they had become prior to June 6, 1944.  Each and every one of them would have their own story from that day.  Thousands and thousands of stories from that single day.  Among the thousands of young men were Larry “Yogi” Berra and Leon Day.  Both men would go on to be enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, but on this day they were just men with a mission to complete.  Berra was aboard a LST (Landing Ship, Tank) and later a rocket-launching boat, during the landing.  Day was landing on Utah Beach with an Army amphibious unit.  Both men did their jobs and helped gain a foothold for the Allies in Normandy.  Both their heroism was normal on June 6, 1944, a day filled with extraordinary heroism.

Soldiers did not want to stay on the beaches for long, they needed to reach cover as quickly as possible. (www.blogs.va.gov)

Soldiers did not want to stay on the beaches for long, they needed to reach cover as quickly as possible. (www.blogs.va.gov)

Berra and Day were not the only baseball players at Normandy that day.  Many soldiers that day would return home after the end of World War II to play on a diamond, from the Major Leagues down to local sandlots.  These soldiers were not treated any differently than the other soldiers.  Everyone was relying on one another to make it into France safely.  It is for that reason, that it does not seem proper to fully recount the actions of these soldiers, who also happen to be baseball players, because it could in some way suggest that the actions and sacrifices of the other soldiers on D-Day, and beyond, are somehow less important.

D-Day was the overwhelming response needed to help end the suffering and killing at the hands of the Nazis.  There are no words to adequately thank those brave men who stormed the beaches or were dropped behind enemy lines in Normandy 71 years ago today.  We are all forever indebted to them for the actions and their sacrifice.  To those who did return home, regardless if you returned home to an office, factory, or baseball diamond, we will never be able to properly express our gratitude.  To those who did not return home, your sacrifice was not in vain, and we seek to honor your sacrifice every day as best we can, knowing that it will never be enough.

D

Baseball Lifer

Don Zimmer will have his #66 retired by the Tampa Bay Rays in a pregame ceremonial before their home opener on April 6th.  The Rays may not be the team most associated with Zimmer, but it was the organization that he spent the most time with, 11 seasons, during his 66 year career in baseball.  Zimmer was a player, coach, or manager for nearly half of the teams in Major League Baseball.  During his career he was a member of the Brooklyn/ Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, New York Mets, Washington Senators, San Diego Padres, Boston Red Sox, Texas Rangers, Montreal Expos, San Francisco Giants, Colorado Rockies, New York Yankees, and Tampa Bay Devil Rays/ Rays.  Zimmer also spent a season (1966) playing for the Toei Flyers in Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan.

Zimmer was never an elite player.  He hit a career .235, with 91 home runs, 352 RBI.  He played more than 100 games only five times during his 12 year career, and was named an All Star in 1961.  As a manager Zimmer collected 885 wins in 13 seasons at the helm with four different teams.  He won 50.8% of the games he managed.  He won his lone Division title with the 1989 Cubs, but lost to the Giants four games to one in the National League Championship Series.

Don Zimmer throwing out Yogi Berra during the 1955 World Series. (www.ign.com)

Don Zimmer throwing out Yogi Berra during the 1955 World Series. (www.ign.com)

None of the statistics which are associated with Don Zimmer should put him in elite company.  However, his longevity and passion for the game do.  Few, if anything written about Zimmer reflects negatively on the man.  Yes, the local media and fans may have grown tired of his struggles on the field and as manager, but never of his desire to see his team win.  Even the incident with Pedro Martinez in 2003 during the American League Championship Series should be seen as Zimmer sticking up for his team, even if his body was not up to the task his brain had in mind.  He was sticking up for the Yankees, his guys.  His apology afterwards can make a grown man cry, because you can sense the embarrassment he felt as he apologizes to everyone, before he leaves the press conference in tears.

Hopefully, over time this moment will no longer be what most people think of when they think of Don Zimmer.  His broad smile and love of the game were on display everyday he put on a uniform.  He never had to work a day in his life.  Zimmer was the type of person who have propelled baseball through the generations.  They allow for a real connection to exist between the past and present.  Zimmer’s contribution to the game goes beyond the stat sheet, thus the honor the Rays are giving him in retiring his jersey number is a tribute not only to Zimmer, but also to the other baseball lifers.  It is these individuals who, despite not making the world stop and take notice of their accomplishments, are immeasurably important to the game.

The infectious smile that Zimmer will always be remembered for. (www.lockerdome.com)

The infectious smile that Zimmer will always be remembered for. (www.lockerdome.com)

Several of the other teams which Zimmer played or worked for during his career could retire his number.  The Red Sox, Cubs, and Yankees could have all justified retiring his number, but ultimately it is good that at least one team did retire his number.  Regardless how important he was to any single organization, Don Zimmer was more important to the game of baseball.  Zimmer spent his life around the game he loved; along the way the game loved him back.  Now thanks to the Tampa Bay Rays, he will be loved far into the future even once the people he worked with in baseball are gone.  Baseball has shown the epitome of a baseball life the love that the game as a whole can give a man after he spent a life time loving the game.

D

The Irish in America’s Pastime

You can observe a lot just by watching. ~Yogi Berra

The same can be said for listening and reading.  Last week was the anniversary of Bill James publishing his Historical Baseball Abstract.  Understanding the impact of his work and the creation of sabermetrics, which have changed how teams evaluate players and provided everyone with a greater understanding of how teams win games.  Reading more about Bill James and found that he was a 2010 inductee the Irish American Baseball Hall of Fame.  So naturally, I started researching the Irish American Baseball Hall of Fame, as I had never heard of it before.

The Irish American Baseball Hall of Fame was established in 2008.  It is located inside Foley’s NY Bar & Restaurant across the street from the Empire State Building in Manhattan.  Visitors must use door handles that are wooden baseball bats to enter Foley’s.  Once inside the majority of the wall and ceiling space is covered with baseball memorabilia.  The memorability ranges from photographs, signed baseballs, jerseys, signs, to bobbleheads, and any other baseball related item imaginable.  While there is a lot to see, the displayed memorabilia is not jumbled together, making each item easy to view and interesting.

Ceiling of jerseys and shirts at Foley's. (The Winning Run)

Ceiling of jerseys and shirts at Foley’s. (The Winning Run)

The inside of Foley’s looks like Mr. Mertles’ home in The Sandlot, only with better lighting.  There are pictures of Reggie Jackson’s third home run in Game 6 of the 1977 World SeriesPete Rose fighting Bud Harrelson of the New York Mets during Game 3 of the 1973 National League Championship Series.  You have Alex Rodriguez’s 600th home run ball.  A Carl Crawford Boston Red Sox jersey hangs from the ceiling.  A bobblehead of Orbit, the Houston Astros mascot is on display as well.  The list of items displayed by Foley’s continues around the restaurant.  It would be easy to spend a full day looking at everything, without repeating.

Wall full of signed baseballs and bobbleheads. (The Winning Run)

Wall full of signed baseballs and bobbleheads. (The Winning Run)

As quirky as the Irish American Baseball Hall of Fame might sound, and might truly be, it is still important for both baseball and America.  It connects the past with people like Manager Connie Mack to the present with nominees like current Met Michael Cuddyer and everywhere in between with Dodgers announcer Vin Scully.  It also reminds us that America is a country of immigrants.  We have come from all over the world to make America our home.  On the diamond, it does not matter if you or your ancestors came from Ireland, Japan, Venezuela, Kenya, or if you are a mixture of cultures.  What matters is whether you can play America’s pastime.  Every group has its own history in America, but when these histories are put together they create the history of America.  The Irish American Baseball Hall of Fame simply tells the Irish story of their place in baseball and in America.

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.

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Mariano Rivera’s Shadow

The recent announcement of the new relief pitcher awards named after Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman will give more recognition to the bullpen and the vital role they play. It has also led me to further examine the career of the top two closers of all-time. Clearly Rivera is the greatest closer of all-time statistically, and Hoffman was no slouch with his 601 career saves. However, should the debate be so easily resolved as to anoint Rivera as the gold standard with Hoffman merely leading the charge behind him in the record books? I believe Hoffman should at least garner the same level of accolades as Rivera. These two pitchers defined the position, yet only one has properly been given his due.

Announcing he would retire after the 2013 season led the media to examine where Mariano Rivera’s career lies in baseball and New York Yankee history. Much of the media, especially in New York, felt it was a forgone conclusion that Rivera is the greatest closer of all-time. The question of whether he belongs on the Mount Rushmore of the Yankees history was also debated. It seems the popular opinion was he is close but with only four spots who do you take down between Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, or Mickey Mantle? Is he ahead of Yogi Berra? I would say no. He is also behind Derek Jeter as the face of the Yankees from this generation. His record 652 saves and 42 post season saves brought the respect and honors he deserved. However, for all the discussion about Rivera and his greatest there seems to be a sense that he stands alone at the top among closers. The media steadfastly insisted there is an enormous gap between him and the next greatest closer in baseball history. This is where I strongly disagree. I am not disputing Rivera’s greatness, what I am disputing is that he is that much greater than the guy right behind him, Trevor Hoffman.

Mariano Rivera throwing the cutter.

Mariano Rivera throwing the cutter.

Comparing the career numbers of these two great pitchers shows how close they are at face value. Mariano pitched 19 seasons in Major League Baseball, all with the New York Yankees. He collected 652 saves, with a 2.21 ERA, 1.000 WHIP, and 4.10 strikeout/walks. He had nine seasons with over 40 saves. Rivera was a starter for the Yankees in 1995. He was the setup man for John Wetteland and saved only 5 games in 1996. In 2012, he only saved 5 games before tearing his ACL in Kansas City early in the season.

Trevor Hoffman pitched for 18 seasons with the Florida Marlins, San Diego Padres, and Milwaukee Brewers. He amassed 601 saves, with a 2.87 ERA, 1.058 WHIP, and 3.69 strikeout/walk. He had nine seasons with over 40 saves. Hoffman saved only five games in 1993 during his time with the Marlins and the Padres. He only pitched nine innings, recording no saves in 2003 after having major shoulder surgery.

Mariano Rivera*

Trevor Hoffman

19

Seasons

18

652

Saves

601

592

Games Finished

856

2.21

ERA

2.87

4.10

SO/BB

3.69

1.000

WHIP

1.058

0.594

Team Winning %

0.481

96

Avg Team W’s/ Year

78

The careers of Rivera and Hoffman have been similar; both had tremendous seasons, both had a season where they were not the primary closer, and both lost a season due to injury. Statistically Rivera has a slight advantage in most categories. It can be, and probably should be, argued that individually Rivera is the better pitcher, but it never hurts to have a better team behind you. During Rivera’s career with the Yankees, the team has a .594 winning percentage, an average of 96 wins per season. Hoffman spent a part of a season with the expansion Marlins, 15 and a half seasons with the Padres, and two seasons with the Brewers. These teams had a combined .481 winning percentage, an average of 76 wins per season. Hoffman had roughly 20 fewer opportunities to record a save every season.

Trevor Hoffman throwing a circle change.

Trevor Hoffman throwing a circle change.

Baseball can sometimes hide some of the great players because of the teams they play on. Trevor Hoffman should be in the same conversation as Mariano Rivera for greatest closer in baseball history. Unfortunately, Hoffman played for worse teams and in smaller markets where the media spotlight is not as bright. New York City is the media capital of the United States, arguably the world. San Diego on the other hand is more laid back. New Yorkers and their media are concerned with being the best and expect nothing less. If they do not win the World Series, the entire season was a failure. San Diego seeks to build on their previous season and work towards the playoffs and making a deep run. They can have successful seasons without winning a World Series. Rivera and Hoffman in some ways reflect the cities and the teams they played for. Rivera was dominant and continually marching towards winning a championship. However, he was also quiet and the last person to tout his own accomplishments, unlike his city and the Yankee fans. Hoffman went about his business in a no nonsense manner and sought to intimidate the opposing team. While San Diego is not the in your face town that New York is, the city and Hoffman are comfortable with doing their job and enjoying life without all the media attention. Rivera and Hoffman were reflections of both what their cities and teams were and what they were not.

The Padres will never draw the same level of attention as the Yankees, and because of this Trevor Hoffman was not as visible or as popular as Mariano Rivera across the baseball landscape. The Yankees and their players are known across the country, the Padres are known locally and to die-hard baseball people. Ultimately I would give a slight advantage to Rivera over Hoffman, primarily due to his mastery of a single pitch, the cutter. However, when you look at the numbers and the teams they pitched for these two great closers are closer to one another than many people are willing to admit.

Enter Sandman

Enter Sandman

Rivera benefited from playing for the Yankees for his entire career, especially during one of the great eras of the franchise. During his 19 year career, the Yankees never had a losing record; the worst season being in 1995 with the Yankees going 79-65 in the shortened season due to the 1994 strike. Hoffman on the other hand routinely played for teams which were fighting through losing seasons. He was a member of six teams with winning records; only two of these teams won more than 90 games. Closers are among the most dependent players on a baseball team, as their jobs are almost exclusively to finish games in which their team in winning. This shows the brilliance of Hoffman as he was able to reach 601 career saves with a less than ideal situation.

The 51 saves which separate Rivera from Hoffman could be bridged with a single elite 19th season by Trevor Hoffman. However with both pitchers being retired, the only way to bridge the gap between would be to examine the realities of their careers. Rivera, through his being on the perennial winner with the Yankees, was able to gain the potential for an additional 20 wins per season. While I recognize the 20 additional wins by Rivera and the Yankees over Hoffman and predominantly the Padres will not result in 20 additional save opportunities. Rivera saved 36% of the Yankees’ victories during his career and Hoffman saved 44% of his teams’ victories during his career. Suggesting Hoffman conservatively would have saved 30% of the additional 20 victories each year could have meant an extra six saves a season for an extra 108 saves for Hoffman during his 18 season career, bringing his career saves total to 709. If you take away the additional 20 wins from the Yankees every season, using the same 30% of games saved or six fewer games saved, Mariano Rivera would have ended his career with 544 saves. This would put him 57 saves behind Hoffman’s 601 career saves.

Hoffman coming straight at you.

Hell’s Bells coming straight at you.

There is no denying Mariano Rivera’s greatness. He threw one pitch, the cutter. Every pitch he knew what he would throw, so did the catcher, the batter, and everyone else in the stadium. His ability to continuously finish games speaks to the remarkable ability he possessed with a baseball. Trevor Hoffman did not possess the same skills with a single pitch in the way Rivera did. He came up with the Marlins throwing a ferocious fastball, but had to develop a change-up once he lost velocity on his fastball due to a shoulder injury. Rivera was blessed with the cutter, Hoffman had to reinvent himself and grind out saves throughout his career.

Replacing Trevor Hoffman or Mariano Rivera is no small task. Heath Bell replaced Hoffman in San Diego in 2009. he began the season with 2 career saves. Bell successfully saved 42 games in 2009 and 132 over the next three years before he signed a three year deal with the Miami Marlins as a free agent prior to the 2012 season. David Robertson came into the 2014 season with 8 career saves. Only time will tell if he is a worthy successor to Mariano Rivera. The two greatest closers in Major League history combined for 1,253 career saves, or nearly eight full seasons. Both should be clear cut Hall of Famers, as they are the best at what they did and they were able to maintain their success over 19 seasons for Rivera and 18 seasons for Hoffman. While the media focused on Mariano Rivera last season and his farewell tour around baseball, the sustained brilliance of Hoffman without the constant media spotlight should not be lost. Rivera and Hoffman are in a class by themselves. The Yankees and Padres have played an important role in where there two great pitchers fall in baseball history. If Rivera were a Padre and Hoffman a Yankee the roles could easily be reversed, with Hoffman holding the record for most career saves and Rivera following close behind. Regardless of the order, both men were great to watch and brought out the best for themselves, their teams, and for baseball.

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