Thursday, August 29, 2013

Interview With the Greatest Hitter Ever

There is talk around baseball that Miguel Cabrera could be the greatest hitter of all time.  He is a tremendous hitter, but I do not think he is the greatest yet.  He could become the greatest right handed hitter.  To me, the greatest hitter ever is Ted Williams.
Willams finished his career with 521 career homeruns, 1839 RBIs and with an average of .344.  He also won two triple crowns, six batting titles and two MVPs.  He did all this while missing all of or part of five seasons because he fought in WWII and the Korean War.  These were prime years also, three of which came immediately following winning his first triple crown.  Here is his career stats
Couple other notes on Willams.  Beyond his baseball accolades, he was known as a very good wingman as a fighter pilot for John Glenn during WWII and also is a member of the International Fishing Game Association Hall of Fame.  Williams also was a tireless worker for the Jimmy Fund-a Boston based charity that helps cancer stricken kids.
Anybody wants to learn about hitting, he wrote a book called "Science of Hitting".
Here is a great interview Williams did reflecting on career and life with Bob Costas that originally aired in the summer of 1993:
part one
part two
part three

Monday, August 26, 2013

Card of the Week: 1976 SSPC Frank Robinson

Fellow baseball card collector and baseball historian/nerd/blogger, Keith Olbermann is back on ESPN Monday night with his new show, "Olbermann".  I have always enjoyed listening to him and learning about the game at the same time.  So this week's card is from a set that has Olbermann's footprint on it.
1976 SSPC

Prior to the 1980s, the Topps Co. had a monopoly on the trading card market.  The only other choices collectors had were either food issue sets such as Post or Kellogg's or regional team issue sets.  A couple collectors in New York decided to challenge Topps and released a 630 card set.  Issued as a full set or as individual team sets and used the 1953 Bowman set as an influence.  The '53 Bowman set featured a full colored picture front-no names, no words, no borders. Just a crisp clean photo.
The problem of the SSPC set is that was released unlicensed.  Topps sued the founders of SSPC set and led to the settlement to destroy all remaining cards that had not reached the market.  Topps lawsuit made the set become more legitimate among collectors.
Where does Keith Olbermann come into play? He wrote the bios of all the players on the back of the cards.

I personally only own a couple from the 1976 SSPC set.  I picked Frank Robinson because he is listed as a manager on the back of the card even though he did participate as a player for Cleveland also.  Robinson is the first black manager in MLB history.   He also is the last player/manager prior to Pete Rose in the mid 80s for the Cincinnati Reds. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Others who broke barriers in MLB History

This Saturday is the annual Civil Rights game in MLB.   In honor of this game, I will list some of the people who broke barriers in MLB history.
First I will list the first black player for each baseball team in the pre-expansion era(pre-1961).  Also note, officially Moses Fleetwood Walker was the first professional black player in 1884 before the banishment of black players.

Boston Red Sox:         Pumpsie Green 7-21-59
Chicago White Sox:    Minnie Minoso  5-1-51
Cleveland Indians:       Larry Doby       7-5-47
Detroit Tigers:             Ozzie Virgil       6-6-58
Kansas City Athletics: Bob Trice          9-13-53
New York Yankees:    Elston Howard  4-14-55
St. Louis Browns:       Hank Thompson 7-17-47
Washington Senators:  Carlos Paula     9-6-54

Brooklyn Dodgers:      Jackie Robinson  4-15-47
Boston Braves:            Sam Jethroe        4-18-50
Chicago Cubs:             Ernie Banks        9-17-53
Cincinnati Reds:           Chuck Harmon
                                   Nino Escalera      4-17-54
New York Giants:        Monte Irvin
                                   Hank Thompson 7-8-49
Philadelphia Phillies:     John Kennedy    4-22-57
Pittsburgh Pirates:       Curt Roberts       4-13-54
St. Louis Cardinals:    Tom  Alston         4-13-54

1st black coach:  Buck O'Neil (Chicago Cubs) 5-29-62
1st black umpire:  Emmett Ashford 4-11-66
1st black manager:  Frank Robinson (Cleveland Indians) 4-8-75
1st black general manager:  Bill Lucas (Atlanta Braves) 1977

1st Japanese player: Masanori Murakami (San Francisco Giants) 9-1-64
1st Black Latino: Minnie Minoso (Cleveland Indians) 4-19-49
1st Latin American:  Esteban Bellan(from Cuba)  1871
1st Dominican player: Ozzie Virgil (New York Giants) 9-23-56
1st Cuban Defector:  Barbaro Garbey (Detroit Tigers) 4-3-84
1st Venezuelan:  Alex Carrasquel (Washington Senators) 4-23-39
1st Puerto Rican: Hiram Bithorn (Chicago Cubs) 4-15-42
1st Mexican: Mel Almada (Boston Red Sox) 9-1-33

Thursday, August 22, 2013

In Case You Missed It: Intentional Walk Walk-off

Yes, you did read it correctly.  There was a walk-off run scored on an intentional walk just recently.  No, a team did not lose the game on purpose.  Here is what happened:  A minor league game between New Britain Rock Cats and New Hampshire Fisher Cats went to the last inning tied.  New Britain has the winning run on 3rd and another runner on 2nd base, so  the New Hampshire manager made a solid baseball decision.  Intentionally walk the hitter and create a force out at any base. The problem was the execution:

I know. Oops!  But, on a serious note, I have heard the argument one way to shorten the game is to have the batter automatically go to first when an intentional walk is called.  I am okay with this at the amateur level, but for the professionals, not so much.  The pros are trained and skilled in all aspects of the game or should be at least, so all possible plays should still be executed.
I have also seen where the pitch comes too close to the plate and the batter hits it for a base hit or a catcher fakes an intentional walk and pitcher throws a pitch for a called third strike. 
One of the beauties of the game of baseball is to have plays like this happen, even how rare they may be.  Fans could be talking about the play they witness at the ballpark the next day or kids trying it in the backyard or sandlots.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Card of the Week: 1970 Topps Ike Brown

This coming Saturday is Major League Baseball's annual Civil Rights Game. This game is played once a year and honors past African American and other minority players and promotes the game for future minorities.
With this game, I will make my card of the week of a player who is a bit of trivia among African American baseball players. We all know that Jackie Robinson was the first Negro League player in MLB history and I have written about some of the players who followed Robinson.  But, who was the last Negro League player to debut in the majors.  The answer is former Detroit Tiger Ike Brown.
1970 Topps

Brown originally signed with St. Louis Cardinals in 1960 as 18 year old from Memphis, Tennessee. But before playing a game in the minor leagues, Cardinals released him.  Without a team, Brown joined the Kansas City Monarchs Negro League team.  He played well enough for them to have the Tigers sign him the following year.
It took Brown eight years of minor league ball to finally make the Tigers team in 1969.  He was known as a popular utility player and pitch hitter among his teammates and fans. Sometimes confused by fellow Tiger Gates Brown(no relation to), but his eyeglasses was his distinctive look.   He also was known to say "its a beautiful day" every morning whether it was or not.
Brown played for Tigers for six seasons before his release.  He then, moved back to Memphis and became an umpire until his passing in 2001.

As for the card itself, many of the Topps cards of the late 1960s and early 70s feature players posing for the photographers at the ballparks. I especially like some of these as you can see part of the old stadiums in the background.   Here you can see some of the features of old Tiger Stadium such as the centerfield bleachers and part of the roof over rightfield.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

In Case You Missed It: Hidden Ball Trick

This past weekend, Los Angeles Dodgers' Juan Uribe became a victim of the hidden ball trick. It was pulled off by Tampa Bay Rays. If you watch the play, it looks like a designed play.  It would not surprise me at all as the Rays' manager, Joe Madden is one of the most innovative managers in the majors.  Most often, the hidden ball trick is executed when the infielder fakes the throw to the pitcher and waits for the runner to get off the bag before tagging him out.
Here is the play:
I would like to add something that the announcer failed to mention. In order to make the play successful, the pitcher has a vital role.  The pitcher must be off the rubber entirely. If he has his foot on the rubber as if he is ready to pitch and without the ball, the ruling is a balk. The runners advance one base.  Also, if the pitcher has the ball while on the pitching mound, the infielder can not attain the ball again for the hidden ball trick.  The infielder must get the ball while still in play before the pitcher gets it.
So the rule of thumb for the baserunners out there. Do not leave the bag until you see the pitcher toe the rubber.   Otherwise, you might become a victim of the hidden ball trick.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Card of the Week: 1986 Procards Lakeland Tigers John Smoltz

Now that the July 31 trade deadline has come and gone, the focus in baseball is on playoff chases and the August 31 trade deadline.  For this deadline, a player must be on the roster prior to September 1 in order to participate in the playoffs.  Teams here look for that key addition that could help them get into the postseason and beyond.  Most of the players traded during this time period are usually from teams who are looking to dump a big salary for a prospect that could help them in the future.
This past Monday, is an anniversary of one such trade.  One that helped one team short term and other, long term.
1986 ProCards Lakeland Tigers

In August of 1987, the Detroit Tigers were in a tight pennant chase with Toronto Blue Jays, New York Yankees and Milwaukee Brewers.  They picked up veteran starter Doyle Alexander from the Atlanta Braves for minor leaguer pitcher John Smoltz.
Alexander was nothing short of brilliant after the trade for '87 Tigers. He went 9-0 in 11 starts with an ERA of 1.53 and helped the team when the division title. Alexander went on to pitch two more seasons for Detroit before retiring from the game.
Meanwhile, Smoltz made his major league debut in 1988 and later became a key member of Atlanta's run of 14 consecutive division titles, five National League pennants and one World Series championship.  Individually, Smoltz made eight All Star teams, won a Cy Young award and is the only pitcher in MLB history with 200 or more wins and 150 saves in a career.
Who knows what kind of career Smoltz would have had if he stayed in the Tigers' organization. Probably not as accomplished as it turned out. Regardless, this trade is considered one of the biggest trades in MLB history.
As for the card itself, This is Smoltz's first professional card. It was released only as a set of the Lakeland Tigers ballclub by Procards.  Procards manufactured many of the minor league team sets of the 1980s.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

In Case You Missed It: Jonathan Villar's Steal of Home

I am starting a new segment for my blog. "In case you missed it". It will be about a great play or event that happened recently in baseball that I would like to talk about.  Nothing really newsworthy in terms of headlines, but something under the radar, sort of speak.
For my first installment, I would like to talk about Houston Astros' rookie shortstop Jonathan Villar's steal of home last week against the Baltimore Orioles.  I was pretty amazed as how easily he stole home.  Of course, it was aided by the lack of focus by the Oriole pitcher.  Regardless, a straight steal of home where the throw at home hit the baserunner on the back of the head when sliding feet first is pretty phenomenal.
Here is the play:

It got me thinking of stealing of homeplate in general - records, etc. Probably the most famous steal of home in MLB in history is Jackie Robinson in Game 1 of 1955 World Series vs New York Yankees.  If you ask Yankee catcher Yogi Berra today, he would still say that Robinson was out.
In terms of record holders, Ty Cobb has the all time record with 54 steals of home.  For the season, Cobb holds the AL record with 8 in 1912 and Pete Reiser has the NL mark with 7 in 1946.  For a game, stealing twice has been done 11 times, most recently by Vic Power of Cleveland in 1958.
One thing of note in terms of stolen bases in the record books. A lot of the high marks in stolen bases are held by players from the deadball era(Pre-1920).  This is the time where home runs were much more rare than now and because of it, more emphasis was placed on stolen bases, bunts, etc.  Also, stolen base was not an official statistic back then and there have been several rule changes in terms of scorekeeping during this time.
For players who played since World War II, the all time leader of stolen bases to home is Jackie Robinson with 19.  Followed by Rod Carew with 17 and Paul Molitor with 10.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Card of the Week: 1989 Donruss Rookies Deion Sanders

Since NFL training camps and the Hall of Fame inductions took place last weekend, I will have a football themed card of the week.
1989 Donruss Rookies
With the success of Bo Jackson as a two sport star in football and baseball, Deion Sanders decided to give it a try also.  Sanders was an All American cornerback at Florida State University and a first round pick by the Atlanta Falcons in 1989.  While at FSU, Sanders also played baseball and ran track.  He once played a doubleheader in college and in between games, he ran a leg in 4x100 relay race.
After his college athletics were over, Sanders went on and signed with the New York Yankees who previously had drafted him in 1988.  He made his major league debut a year later with New York while still pursuing his NFL career.  While Bo Jackson played only baseball during its season and football afterwards, Sanders played both simultaneously.  In 1989, he became the only player ever to hit a big league home run and score a NFL touchdown in the same week.
After playing parts of two seasons with New York, Sanders signed with the Atlanta Braves.  While in Atlanta, his baseball career blossomed.  He led the National League in triples and was among the league leaders in stolen bases. He also played in the World Series for Atlanta and later became the only person ever to play in the World Series and the Super Bowl.
He later played for Cincinnati Reds and San Francisco Giants before being urged to play only one sport by both MLB and NFL. He decided on football as he quipped, "football is my wife and baseball is my mistress".  He was inducted in the NFL and college football Halls of Fame in 2011.