Saturday, June 21, 2014

How to Handle a Heckler

If you have played any sort of organized sport, you have more than likely been a target of hecklers.  Most professional athletes have learned how to block them out, but they are still humans and do hear them on occasion.
Athletes also on occasion do have a little fun with the overexuberant fan.  Cincinnati Reds All Star second baseman Brandon Phillips just did that this week.   Phillips who is known to be very fan friendly was getting heckled in a game at Pittsburgh.  Phillips decided he had enough and tossed the fan an autographed baseball with a special note on it:

Phillips also posed with the fan with no ill feelings:

Nice job Brandon. I am sure you just gained a fan from a rival team.
Another great response by a ballplayer was from Tony Gwynn Jr from a couple years back:
These are two great examples of baseball players having fun with the fans and in turn made the ballpark experience more enjoyable for everyone.

Monday, June 16, 2014

In Memoriam: Tony Gwynn

Today we have learned of the passing of Tony Gwynn at the age of 54.  He lost his battle with cancer in which he believed was due to many years of using chewing tobacco.
1983 Fleer rookie card

Gwynn was one of the greatest hitters ever to play the game.  The San Diego Padre legend won a total of eight batting titles, accumulated over 3,000 career hits, won five Gold Glove awards and made 15 All Star teams in twenty big league seasons.
If you look deeper into his career stats, you will see how great of hitter Tony Gwynn was.  His career .338 batting average is highest by anyone since Ted Williams.  He just did not feast on the weaker pitchers, he hit everyone.  Gwynn had a career average of .381 against Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz combined.
From 1993-1997, he finished the season with an average of at least .350 including .394 for the strike shortened 1994 season.  Gwynn rarely struck out too. From 1991-96, he never fanned more than 20 times for an entire season.  And for his career, Gwynn only struck out 434 times in career in over 10,000 plate appearances.  He is only a handful of players to hit over a 500 doubles and strike out less than 500 times.
All this did not come naturally.  He was a tireless worker and one of the first, if not the first to use video to study his swing and do homework on opposing pitchers.

As much as Gwynn was a great hitter, he was an even better person.  He always had a smile on face and able spend time with everyone including teammates, fans and children.  Gwynn was loyal to San Diego and wanted dearly to bring a winner to the city.  He was never able to win a World Series, but did play on two pennant winners.
After his Hall of Fame playing career, Gwynn did not live off his laurels.  He wanted stay in the game and give back to it.  He became the head coach of his alma mater, San Diego St, in 2002 and was the coach until his passing.
Gwynn will be sorely missed as an ambassador to the game and as a teacher.  RIP Mr. Padre. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

In Memoriam: Bob Welch

1991 Topps

Former big league pitcher Bob Welch passed away this week at the age of 57 of an apparent heart attack.  Welch became a household name as a 21 year old rookie in 1978 World Series when he struck out Reggie Jackson in the 9th inning of game 2.
Welch pitched for the Dodgers through the 1987 season and was a part of four divisional winners and made an All Star team in 1980.   He then went on to pitch for the Oakland A's from 1988 until 1995.   Welch pitched on four more divisional winners.  He won one World Series with Oakland in 1989 just has he did with Los Angeles in 1981.
Welch's crowning season was in 1990.  He won the Cy Young with a 27-6 record and an ERA of 2.95.  To this date, Welch is the last pitcher to win 25 games in one season.
He finished his career with a 211-146 record with an ERA of 3.47 and 1,969 strikeouts.  Post retirement, Welch was the pitching coach for 2001 World Series champion Arizona Diamondbacks and later a minor league pitching instructor for Oakland.  Welch also wrote a book, "Five O'Clock Comes Early: A Cy Young Winner Recounts His Greatest Victory".  In it he chronicled his battle with alcoholism.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

In Case You Missed It: Eephus Pitch

This past week Japanese pitcher and one time Cleveland Indian Kazuhito Tadano threw a eephus pitch in a game.  If you are unfamiliar with this pitch, it is a high slow arching pitch that is similar to what you would see in a slow pitch softball
Here is Tadano throwing it:

The Eephus pitch has been used before in MLB history with mixed results. One of the most famous is Cleveland's Rip Sewell tossing it vs Ted Williams in the 1946 All Star game:

Then there is former Yankee (and father of current Washington 1B Adam) Dave LaRoche using it the "LaLob" to strike out slugger Gorman Thomas:

Friday, June 6, 2014

In Memoriam: Don Zimmer

Don Zimmer passed away at the age of 83 on Tuesday.  Simply put, Zimmer was a baseball lifer and what a life he led.  He experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, but it almost ended before it started.  As a minor league player, Zimmer was hit by a pitch in the temple. He was unconscious for 13 days after the surgery where they drilled holes in his skull to relieve the pressure.  He would recover and his career resumed.
1958 Topps

As a player, he made his major league debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1954.  He was mentored by Hall of Famer Pee Wee Reese and was a part of Brooklyn's only World Series championship in 1955.  He again won a World Series with the Dodgers in 1959, this time after the franchise moved to Los Angeles.
Zimmer later became an All Star in 1961 as a Chicago Cub and year later played on the MLB worst 120 loss New York Mets team.  His playing career ended after playing one year in Japan in 1966.
1981 Fleer

Zimmer, however, was best known for being a coach and manager.  His managerial career started in 1972 with the San Diego Padres.  His tenure with San Diego lasted just two years before he was hired as the third base coach for the Boston Red Sox.  While in Boston, he took part in the 1975 World Series against the Big Red Machine of the Cincinnati Reds and as a manager from 1976-1980.
His 1978 Boston club is best known for his late season collapse to their archrival New York Yankees.  Boston had as much as a 14 game lead but the Yankees forced a one game playoff for the division crown.  The game was won by a home run by light hitting Yankee shortstop Bucky Dent.
Zimmer's next stint as a manager was with Texas Rangers from 1981-82 before going back to coaching.  One of his stays as a coach was with New York Yankees and coincidentally, he rented Bucky Dent's apartment while in New York.  Zimmer noticed that on just about every wall, Dent had a picture of his home run that ended Zimmer's 1978 Boston season.  Zimmer decided to flip each and every picture over to have them the wall so he not be reminded of constantly.
His last managerial job was with the Chicago Cubs.  He was named NL Manager of the Year in 1989 when he lead the Cubs to the division crown.  Zimmer then finished his big league career as a bench coach for the New York Yankees, winning four World Series championships from 1996-2000 and as a Tampa Bay Ray.
All in all, Zimmer spent a total of 66 years in the game.  He began as a teammate of Jackie Robinson and later coached Derek Jeter.  Quite a career. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

My Top 9 Must See Hitters in the Game Now

There is some hitters that are so captivating that you wait for his plate appearance to finish before you go to the kitchen or restroom.  Simply put, a joy to watch. 
There is a good number of great and exciting hitters in the game right now.  So, I thought I will give you my top nine must see hitters right now and the various reasons why.
I apologize to the players and their fans of the players omitted, but I can't name them all.  Without further ado, here is my list of players I put off grabbing a bite to eat until they have hit:

9. Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox 1B/DH.  Even though he has only been in the big leagues for a short period of time, he has shown what a slugger should be.  Someone who can hit the ball to all fields with major power and willing to do it.  Not just be so pull happy and hit the ball into shifts each time.  I hope he continues to do well.

8. Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals OF.   The much hyped young star is known to play the game with such reckless abandon.  Add his power and speed, then you get you excitement.  Lets just hope he stays healthy.

7. Derek Jeter, New York Yankees SS.  This is his final season of his Hall of Fame career.  So, the number of times you can watch him is diminishing.  And each time he is up to bat, there is a chance he will pass another milestone.

6.Victor Martinez, Detroit Tigers DH.   I don't think there is a more disciplined hitter in the game right now.  He works on every pitch and has the same swing each time. As of June 1, he has as many home runs as strikeout-13.  Astonishing!

5. Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati Reds OF.  If you like pure speed, he is your guy.  The rookie is still a work in progress, but he has so much speed that he can manufacture runs with just his legs.

4. Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles Dodgers OF.  He came in the big leagues with such a bang and with such raw skills a year ago.  Puig is becoming more of a refined player each month that passes by.  Not too far away, he will be included in MVP discussions and best player in the game debates.  He is the epitome of a 5 tool player.

3. Giancarlo Stanton Miami Marlins OF.  Pure power.  He is a bit older and now has some protection in the lineup, so his game has reached the next level.  Each time he steps in the batter's box, he has a chance to hit a home run and at a very long distance.  I mean a long distance!!!

2. Mike Trout Los Angeles Angels OF.  Probably the best all around player in the game. Finished 2nd to Miguel Cabrera the last two seasons in the AL MVP voting.  Fun to watch, but as much as Puig is becoming more disciplined at the plate, Trout is strking out more. He is on a pace to strikeout over 200 times this year.  Lets work on that Mr. Trout, Los Angeles may become Puig's town instead.

1. Miguel Cabrera. Detroit Tigers 1B.  Yep, once again Trout finishes second to Cabrera.  Miggy  is simply the best and one of the greatest of all time.   I have never seen a player that has an approach at the plate of a singles hitter and has the ability to hit the ball out of the park in any direction.  If anyone wants to learn how to hit, watch Cabrera. How he approaches each pitch from each pitcher in all game situations.  A student of the game who is always looking to get better.  And Cabrera does it with a team first mentality and a smile on a face at all times.   Add it all up, Cabrera is a future Hall of Famer and my favorite player in the game right now.  Miguel Cabreras don't come around often. So watch him hit everytime you can, I certainly do.