Thursday, December 27, 2012

Baseball Lexicon: Mendoza Line

Over the history of the game, there has been terms or phrases that has been said and later became a part of baseball's regular lexicon. Some of which have been picked up in normal society such as "from left field" meaning a thought or viewpoint away from the norm or "throw a curveball"  meaning to surprise or deceit.
From time to time, I may use a term that is not commonly known. So, I will take time to define them and give you some background on the origin of.
1981 Topps

Today's phrase is Mendoza Line. It means to have a batting average of .200 and was named after Mario Mendoza.  Mendoza was a shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Seattle Mariners during the late 1970s and early 80s. He, not unlike many other shortstops of the day, was more known for their defense rather then their offense. The belief at the time was a hitting shortstop was not a high priority as long he was of gold glove caliber. This all changed with the play of Orioles' Cal Ripken Jr., Tigers' Alan Trammell and Brewers' Robin Yount.
Year in and year out, Mendoza finished the season in and around a .200 batting avg. and was ribbed by Seattle's teammates Tom Paciorek and Bruce Bochte because of it.  During one particular season while Kansas City's George Brett was struggling, he was told by Paciorek and Bochte that if he wasn't careful that he would finish below the Mendoza Line.  Later that season in an interview with ESPN's Chris Berman, Brett mentioned the Mendoza Line and the phrase took off from there.
So in the future when you hear someone mention the Mendoza Line, you now know what it means.  If there is a word or phrase you don't know, feel free to ask me. I will answer for you.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Hello Rickey. Good Bye Billy Ball

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone. I hope everyone's family is well and you all received the gifts you have been hoping for.
Today is also an anniversary of a birth and a passing for a couple baseball legends. On this day in 1958, Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson was born. He is regarded as the greatest leadoff man ever. At the time of his retirement, Henderson was the all time leader in leadoff home runs, runs scored, stolen bases and walks.

Unfortunately, Christmas day of 1989, one of Henderson's former managers passed away.  Billy Martin died in an one car accident on an icy road in New York. It is has some controversy behind it, as it is unclear if Martin was driving or not. Alcohol was involved regardless
As a player, Martin played 2nd base for the New York Yankee World Series championship teams of the 1950s. He was known as light hitting batter but clutch. The career .257 hitter managed to make one all star team and won the 1953 World Series MVP.  He was also known to enjoy the nightlife with Yankee teammates Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford.
But it was a manager where Martin became most successful.  He led the Minnesota Twins, Detroit Tigers, New York Yankees and Oakland A's to divisional crowns. Martin also took a last place Texas Rangers to a 2nd place finish.  His managerial style was very aggressive and always thinking outside of the norm.  But his combative personality rubbed people the wrong way many times and got him fired only after brief stays for each club. He was the Yankee manager on five different occasions. Hired and fired each time by owner George Steinbrenner.  Martin's most famous tussle was with Yankee slugger Reggie Jackson in the dugout during a game.
One of the most infamous or fun(depending how you look at it) baseball cards ever was his 1972 Topps card :
1972 Topps
his card epitomizes his personality. If you look close enough, you will notice he is giving the photographer the one finger salute as holds the baseball bat.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Final At Bat for the Ages

Well, according to the Mayans, today is suppose to be the end of the world. So, I decided to write about what is perhaps the most famous last at bat of a career in Major League history. The author of this at bat was Boston Red Sox legend Ted Williams on September 28,1960.

Ted Williams once said early in his career that is main goal is to walk the streets and have others say "there goes the greatest hitter to ever lived".  Williams, to many, accomplished this goal. Despite missing most of five seasons due to his military service in World War II and the Korean War, he hit .344 with 521 home runs and knocked 1,839 runs for his career. Williams won 2 triple crowns and 6 batting titles, the last in 1958 at the age of 40.
Despite all these accomplishments, Williams had a tumultuous relationship with the media and the fans. During his rookie year, he was booed by his hometown fans. He then vowed never to tip his cap to the crowd for rest of his career.
For his final game, he played in front of a sparse crowd at Boston's Fenway Park. He came up to bat in the eighth inning for the final time and knocked a 1-1 pitch from Baltimore's Jack Fisher in the Red Sox bullpen for a home run. As Williams was rounding the bases, the Boston faithful cheered on and hoping they would get acknowledged by the Red Sox great. It never happened.
Author John Updike was in attendance on that day and was inspired to write his only sports story.  For the New Yorker, he wrote the essay, "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu" . In it, he said about Williams snubbing the fans for the final time: "Gods do not answer letters". Here is a link to the essay :

Here is Curt Gowdy's radio call of the at bat:

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Barry Bonds vs Pete Rose for Cooperstown

2003 Bowman
Well it is that time of year. No, I am not talking about the jolly old fellow in the red suit. I am referring to Hall of Fame voting. This year has been debated even more than usual because of the historic class of first time eligible players and their involvement or alleged involvement in Performance Enhancing Drugs(PEDs). Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa all have been linked to PEDs and put up some historic numbers in their careers.

In addition to this debate, there is the yearly discussion among fans that if Pete Rose(and Shoeless Joe Jackson) should be in inducted in the hall.  Many of these fans like to group Bonds and others with Rose.  In my eyes you can't compare the two groups.  Rose is much worse in my opinion.  Here is why....

For the sake of my argument, I will use Bonds as the representative for all of the PED guys and Rose for the gamblers for easy discussion. I also hear the argument that PEDs were not illegal during the time period of Bonds and gambling has always been. I don't buy this, because steroids has always been illegal in society and Commissioner Fay Vincent wrote a memo to players stating that steroids and other PEDs are outlawed in 1991. So both are transgessions and the players knew it.
Bonds knew what he did was wrong and hurt the integrity of the game, but his intentions were not entirely wrong.  Bonds still wanted to win, get the hits, save the runs in the field and win the World Series as any other player. He played just as hard as did if he weren't on PEDs. He didn't hustle any less or try not get on base any less at any point in his career.  For Bonds and others, PEDs were either used to recover from injuries quicker, prevent long slumps, have a longer career or just keeping up with the Joneses,  Of course and the end of it all, rack up bigger numbers and get paid more. Bonds felt in order to maintain his edge in the game while competing with other users, he had to also. Unfortunately for everyone involved, Bonds went down the wrong path with this decision and forever tainted his legacy.
1968 Topps

For Rose, even though as a player he became one of the greatest of all time, his time as a player/manager tarnished the game and got him ultimately banned for life. By being a gambler while managing a club, Rose committed the ultimate crime of sports-betting on the game you are involved in. Having a wager on a game for solely personal financial reasons, a person can change the his/her effort in order to win the bet. Even though in all likelyhood, Rose never bet on his beloved Cincinnati Reds to lose a game, he still could alter the outcome of the game. He could have left a pitcher in too long or set up any other bad matchup for his hitter or pitcher in order to cover his wager. On the player side, Shoeless Joe for example, could have not hustled in the gap for a liner or threw to the wrong cut off man in order to allow the opposing players advance on the bases.  He could have altered the outcome of the game while showing decent stats as Shoeless Joe did in the 1919 World Series.  Also, I hear the argument to separate Rose as a player from his days as a  manager. I am sorry, it is the same person doing both. You have to take the good with the bad. 

The difference between PEDs and gambling comes down to amount of effort used and the desire to help the team win. PED player still uses maximum effort, even though using an unfair advantage, to succeed on the field while a gambler used just enough to cover his/her personal bet and end up losing trust from teammates, managers, fans, etc. Once a sport is no longer trusted and has no credibility among fans, they will go elsewhere for their entertainment.
You may think after reading this I will be okay letting in Bonds et al in the Hall of Fame.That is not true. PEDs is still dishonest and hurts the intregrity of the game and should not be ignored. But I think what Rose did was on a different level. So if and when a player enters the Hall of Fame who was helped illegally thru performance enhancing drugs, the Pete Rose backers should not use it as an argument for their case.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Happy Birthday Mr. Tiger

1957 Topps
The day after what would have been Ty Cobb's 126nd birthday, perhaps the greatest Tiger of all time, we celebrate the birthday of the most popular Tiger of all time. Al Kaline is 78 years old today.  In honor of his birthday, I will give you some fun and random facts of Mr. Tiger.

-Kaline never played one game in the minor leagues. He made his major league debut in June of 1953, coming straight out of high school.

-In 1955, he became the youngest player ever to win the batting title at the age of 20. His only batting title

-He made 18 American League All Star teams and won 10 Gold Gloves during his 22 year career.

-Because of his stellar play in the field. The right field area of old Tiger Stadium was dubbed Kaline's Corner.

-1968 was his only World Series appearance.  He hit .379 with 2 home runs and 8 RBIs during the seven game series against the St. Louis Cardinals. He later played in the 1972 ALCS vs Oakland.

-September 1974, he recorded his 3,000 hit on the road vs Baltimore Oriole pitcher Dave McNally. It is extra special for Kaline because he was born and raised in Baltimore. 

-He finished his career with 399 home runs and 3,007 hits. Had he hit one more home run, he would have been the first AL player ever with 400 career homers and 3,000 hits. Carl Yastzemski of  the Boston Red Sox later accomplished the feat in 1980.

-His No. 6 was the first number ever retired by the Detroit Tigers

-The year following his retirement in 1974, Kaline joined the Tigers' television broadcast booth. He held that position until 2002, teaming with fellow Hall of Famer George Kell for most of those years.

-Kaline is the boyhood idol of actor Tom Selleck. He wore his signature Tiger baseball cap during the hit show Magnum P.I. because of Kaline and his hometown Tigers

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

12/12/12: Top 12 Who Wore #12

1992 Upper Deck
Today is 12-12-12, so on this unique day, I will compile a top ten list who wore the uniform number of 12 in baseball. Well, instead of a top ten list, it is a top 12 for obvious reasons.
As I was doing some research, I discovered that it is not a number used by a lot of stars throughout history. It has been retired only twice by Major League ballclubs. There is a couple players who wore #12 while making baseball history. I tried as much as I could to include players who wore the number predominately in their career.  Without further ado, here goes...

#12.. Ron Blomberg.  New YorkYankees(1969-76). His claim to fame is that on April 6, 1973, he became the first designated hitter in Major League Baseball history.

#11  Pumpsie Green.. Boston Red Sox(1959-62). Green was the first ever black player for the Red Sox. What makes this most significant is that the Red Sox was the last MLB club to include a black player on its big league roster.

#10 Shawon Dunston... Chicago Cubs(1985-95).. 2 time All Star(1988,90) and was a key part of 1989 divisional championship. played in the big leagues thru 2002 for several different teams

#9 Freddy Sanchez.... Pittsburgh Pirates(2004-2009).. 3 time All Star(2006, 07, 09). National League batting champion in 2006. Became a World Series champ in 2010.

#8 A.J. Pierzynski...Chicago White Sox(2005-2012)...longtime catcher was an all star in 2006, Silver Slugger winner in 2012 and World Series champion in 2005.

#7 Charlie "King Kong" Keller..New York Yankees(1939-49),. The feared slugger was 5 time All Star and a 4 time World Series champion

#6 Mark Langston..Seattle Mariners(1984-89), California Angels(1990-97). The lefty was 4 time All Star and 7 time Gold Glove winner

#5 Gil McDougald New York Yankees (1951-60) The infielder won the Rookie of the Year in 1951 and later became a 6 time All Star and 5 time World Series champ. Unfortunately, he is most likely famous for hitting a line drive off of Cleveland star pitcher Herb Score's eye.

#4 Alfonso Soriano Texas Rangers(2004-05), Washington Nationals(2006), Chicago Cubs(2007-present).  Establishing himself as a New York Yankee(wore #33 while in pinstripes). Soriano has been a 7 time All Star including a game MVP, 4 time Silver Slugger, and a member of the 40/40 club.

#3 Wes Ferrell  Boston Red Sox(1934-37), Washington Senators(1937-38).. After debuting with Cleveland in 1927. Ferrell became a 2 time All Star and pitched a no hitter in 1931. He is perhaps regarded as the best hitting pitcher of all time

#2 Wade Boggs New York Yankees(1993-1997), Tampa Bay Devil Rays(1998-99). After winning numerous batting titles and becoming an All Star game starter while with the Red Sox(wore #26), became a NY Yankee. He continued in his All Star caliber standards and became a World Series champion while in NY.  Hit is 3,000 career hit while in Tampa and has his numbered retired there. Member of the Hall of Fame.

#1 Roberto Alomar  Played on several clubs from 1988-2004. Alomar was 12 time All Star and 10 time Gold Glove winner. Other accomplishments include: 2x World Series Champ, 4 Silver Slugger awards. ALCS MVP and All Star game MVP.. Is a member of the baseball hall of fame and his #12 is retired as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays..

Monday, December 10, 2012

Shohei Otani:The Latest Japanese Hot Commodity

Hideo Nomo was the first. Ichiro Suzuki has been the most successful and Yu Darvish, the latest. Of course, I am talking about Japanese players coming from their native professional league to become successful players in the USA. The newest player that is being coveted by MLB general managers is Shohei Otani. But unlike Nomo, Suzuki and Darvish et al, who were professional players while in Japan, The 18 year old Otani has not.  Otani has made it publicly known that he wants to play in the USA and had toyed with idea of coming straight to USA from high school. He would be the first ever to bypass Japanese professional league entirely to go play in USA.
The LA Dodgers, Boston Red Sox and Texas Rangers all have reportedly shown interest in Otani. Dodgers considered by many to be the favorite to land the teenager.  Amid of the all US interest, Nippon Ham Fighters selected Otani 1st overall in NPB draft. Otani, who is 6'4" and has had his fastball clocked close to 100 mph, is being compared to Yu Darvish. Otani rewarded Nippon Ham Fighters's gamble by signing with them.

This is the right decision that will be beneficial for all parties involved. For Otani, he can develop into a productive major league starter in a more comfortable setting. By staying in his native Japan, he can follow the likes of Nomo, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hiroki Kuroda, Darvish, etc and work with fellow countrymen coaches and managers. They know how to work with Otani and develop him into a possible star as they did with aforementioned players. While all along, Otani can mature as a man and deal with ups and downs of a professional close to home.
For the Dodgers(or any other MLB team), by waiting, they will get a more of a refined product and be closer to a sure thing. It is a gamble for any MLB team to draft a 18 year old pitcher high, let alone one from a different country. Yes, many Hispanic players have signed to major league clubs as teenagers, played in the minors and become major league stars. But with Otani, he would likely be the only Japanese player on his minor league club. He would not have fellow countrymen to lean on or others who speak the same language as his Hispanic counterparts. Plus being so highly touted, he would have a fair amount of media coverage from Japan. By waiting, he can jump right into major leagues and have a better support system around him.
As for Nippon Professional League, they get to have the next possible star. NPL would be able to continue to draw big crowds for their superstar players. If Otani had immediate success in America as an 18 year old, other Japanese players could follow Otani's footsteps and skip professional baseball in Japan altogether also.  With less stars to follow, Japanese baseball fans could see the NPL as less viable option for the entertainment dollars.
As a fan of baseball in general, I like to see the game maintain or grow in popularity all over the world. It would be disappointed see baseball lose a great deal of fans where it has become so popular over the years.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Bo Jackson: Best Athlete Ever

1987 Topps rc
1988 Topps rc

ESPN's latest 30 for 30 documentary (tonight 9 pm EST) tells the story of former NFL and Major League baseball star Bo Jackson.  For those who are not familiar with Jackson, he was a cultural phenomenon in the 1980s and early 1990s while playing both professional football and baseball at an all star level.
Jackson rose to national fame when he won the Heisman trophy in 1985 while at Auburn University and was certain to be the No.1 pick the following year in the NFL draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He eventually spurned Tampa Bay after the draft to sign with the Kansas City Royals when he became unhappy with Buccaneers owner Hugh Culverhouse.  Jackson, back in the NFL draft the following year and was picked by Los Angeles Raiders. He ended up playing with Raiders as a "hobby". Jackson became the only player in history to play in both a MLB All Star game and a NFL Pro Bowl. Nike used this opportunity use Jackson in a very popular advertisement campaign.

Since this is a baseball sight, I will concentrate on the baseball side of his career.  The Royals became the beneficiary of the Jackson/Culverhouse riff after drafting Jackson in the fourth round in the 1986 MLB draft. He did play some baseball while at Auburn but never was taken seriously as a player by MLB. Everyone considered him a lock to play NFL and when Jackson ended up signing with Kansas City Royals, he shocked the sporting world.
He had unlimited skills as a baseball player, but were very raw. Jackson was described has having the power of Mickey Mantle, speed of Willie Wilson and the arm of Roberto Clemente. He did not disappoint. He showed off those skills at various times early in his career. Whether it was his first major league home run-a 475 foot moonshot, gunning down Seattle speedster Harold Reynolds at home on a throw from the outfield warning track, or just beating out a routine grounder from shortstop to 1st base. After his first two full seasons, Jackson was able to coral his natural abilities into a 1989 MLB All Star game appearance. Of course in typical Bo Jackson fashion, he took advantage of the opportunity and was named the game's MVP. He lead the game off with home run to dead centerfield off of Rick Reuschel and after getting on base in his second at bat, Jackson stole a base. He became the just second player in major league history to both accomplish both during one all star game.

But unfortunately, just as he was beginning to master the strike zone and develop into a better overall hitter, Jackson sustained a hip injury while playing in a NFL playoff game. He had to have a hip replacement surgery which ended his football career. He made a brief comeback in baseball playing for both Chicago White Sox and California Angels, but was only a shell of his former self.
Much like many others who watched him play, I wonder what kind of pro ballplayer Jackson could have been if he quit football and worked on his game during the off season. Also, if he had a full baseball career, what kind of career stats would he have put up.. 500/500? 500 career home runs/500 stolen bases. Those are big numbers, but with his abilities it was possible. How many all star games would he have played in? how many MVPs would he have won? and for the Kansas City Royals, more playoff or World Series appearances? Of course, know one truly knows but for a short time he was considered the best athlete, possibly ever.
For the younger generation who never saw Bo Jackson in his prime, I would recommend the latest 30 for 30 by ESPN. Here is a preview:

Friday, December 7, 2012

Baseball and War World II

Since today is December 7 and the anniversary of the attack of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, I will write about the connection of baseball and WWII. As you all probably know, the attack of Pearl Harbor was what precipitated USA's involvement in the war that had been going on in Europe. The war affected all walks of life and baseball was no different. The day after the attack of Pearl Harbor, many professional ballplayers enlisted into various military branches including future hall of famers Hank Greenberg of the Detroit Tigers and Bob Feller of the Cleveland Indians.  Other hall of fame players who ended up in the military during the war included: Ted Williams, Joe Dimaggio, Stan Musial plus negro league players Monte Irvin and Leon Day.

Of course, there are hundreds of other players who fought in the war who didnt have the on field successes as the aforementioned greats. These players should also be remembered.  Here are two players who that come to mind. One, Cecil Travis, was a rising star who put his career on hold  for America and the other, Moe Berg, did more for his country than any other ballplayer.
Cecil Travis was an infielder for the Washington Senators. He made is major league debut at third base in 1933 and later became the regular shortstop. In his first game, the 19 year old went 5 for 5, becoming just the second player in history to get 5 hits in his major league debut. But 1938 was his break out year. He was selected to his first of 3 all star games(along with 1940 and '41) and finished in the top ten in AL MVP voting for the first time(also did in 1941).
1940 Play Ball

In the winter of 1941/42, he entered the US Army. He eventually fought at the Battle of the Bulge and suffered a bad case of frostbite. He needed surgery to prevent amputation of his feet. Upon returning to the Senators, he skills had diminished from the time away and never was the same player. He was out of the game by 1947. To this day his career batting average of .314 is highest among AL shortstrops and third overall in major league history. He was never bitter about his post war career, he was just proud to be serve America and accomplished what he could on the ballfield.
Moe Berg, on the otherhand, was a career backup catcher for 15 major league seasons. He was Ivy league graduate who spoke several languages. During World War II, he became a spy for the United States and gathered information about Nazi Germany and their missile program. He was later rewarded the Medal of Freedom. His complete bio can be read here:
Travis and Berg are just two examples of the many players who unselfishly helped out their country when needed the most. It shows that the "greatest generation" did include professional baseball players. So, on this anniversary of Pearl Harbor, if you see a World War II veteran or a veteran of any war. Stop by and thank him or her for what they sacrificed for the rest of us. I am sure it would be greatly appreciated.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

My Foray Into the World of Blogging

Well Ladies and Gentleman I have decided to try my hand at blogging.  This is not some big idea to make money or try win some awards for writing. Just something that has been floating around in my head for awhile now. I am by no means a trained journalist of any kind. I just feel I have all this knowledge, I should share it with the cyberworld. My thoughts will be out there to be read whether it is by one person, 100 or more. So here goes...
For my introductory post, I will give everyone a little background about me as it pertains to my subject and what I am going to write about.  As you may or may not surmise from the title of my blog, HardballCrazy, I will be writing about baseball. Why baseball? It was my first love as a kid and I have followed the game ever since. My first real recollection of baseball is when I was roughly 8 years old. My younger brother and I visited a friend's house during a summer to play. During that particular stay, I was introduced to baseball cards and was given a few. I was hooked immediately on them. I enjoyed seeing the players I watched on tv and saw their stats on the back of a piece of cardboard right in front of me. I did play some baseball and watched some games on tv, but when I started to collect baseball cards on my own I gained a desire to learn more about the game and the players. I began spending my allowance on baseball cards, reading books and magazines about baseball, watched baseball games and other related shows on tv like Baseball Bunch or This Week in Baseball with Mel Allen.
Sports was always a staple of television as I grew up in the 1980s in our Michigan home. I guess it has something to do with my mom and us 2 boys primarily being the household. Boys being boys.  My mom had always been a sports fan also and let us watch many games on television. We had on tv whatever sport that was in season -baseball, football, basketball, the Olympics and even some golf and tennis. But baseball was what I enjoyed the most and had dreams of becoming a pro ballplayer as many other kids did. During the summer I would listen to Ernie Harwell do Detroit Tigers when there was no games on tv, which was often since I didn't have cable growing up. As I got older and my dreams of being the next Alan Trammell or Kirk Gibson diminished, I still followed the game and collected baseball cards. I do play softball recreationally and participate in a  fantasy league each year currently.
So that gives you a some background about me. You may be wondering what specifically I am going to write about. I will try keep my posts of national interest. My readers from other states will have no idea what I am talking about or have interest locally, so I will keep everyone involved. I am not here trying to be an insider of the game or answer your fantasy questions. I will just give my thoughts on the news of the day. Do some bio/history of players of the past or even some trivia. Maybe we all will learn something while discussing the game. I thank those who are reading this and hope you all come back. Have a good day..