Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Three Movie Characters That Are More Real Than You Think.

With the Oscars being aired last Sunday night, I think it gives me a good opportunity to talk about baseball and the movies.  There is a been a good number of baseball movies over the years and many of them such as Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, The Natural, A League of the Their Own and Major League have been very popular among the audience.
There are three characters in these movies that most movie goers think are totally fictitious. But, in fact, there is more reality to them than you realize.  They are:

Max Patkin - Bull Durham (1988).  Patkin was the rubber faced man who was a sideshow during the games.  Patkin is 100% real.  After failing as a ball player, he found his niche as an entertainer at the ball games,  He performed over 4,000 games for 51 years and was called the Clown Prince of Baseball.
Writer Ron Shelton who played minor league baseball himself casted Patkin in the movie to help authenticate life in the minors.

Archibald "Moonlight" Graham- Field of Dreams (1989).  If you recall from the movie. Graham played in one game and never made a plate appearance for the New York Giants in the early 20th century and later became a doctor in Chisholm, Minnesota.  All of these are facts.
Writer W.P, Kinsella noticed Graham's unusual entry in the Baseball Encyclopedia.  Kinsella did some research on Graham and made him a character in his book "Shoeless Joe" which the movie Field of Dreams was based on.

Roy Hobbs - The Natural (1984).  Hobbs was a star baseball player whose career was interrupted when he was shot by a deranged woman in Chicago.  Yes, there was a former MLB player that this happened to.  His name is Eddie Waitkus.
1952 Topps

Waitkus was a young player for the Chicago Cubs who was called a "natural" player by writers in the late 1940s.  He made two All Star games in 1948 and '49.   A woman(Ruth Ann Steinhagen) became infatuated with Waitkus and met up with him one weekend in Chicago.  She shot him with a .22 caliber rifle in a hotel room.  Waitkus was never the same ball player afterwards when he later played for the Philadelphia Phillies and Baltimore Orioles.
Author Bernard Malamud used Waitkus's story for his book, The Natural in 1952.  Malamud only used Waitkus as a basis for his book as the rest of the story is quite fictitious.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Leap Day in Baseball History

It is Leap Day.  Since today only happens once every four years, one is curious if there has been any significant moments in baseball history.  The biggest news item happened back in 1972 when Hank Aaron signed then the richest deal in baseball with the Braves.  The contract was for 3 years/$600,000 and thus keeping him in the Braves uniform for his record breaking 715th home run in 1974.

There has a been a few deaths and about a dozen births of former Major League players.  I will elaborate on a couple Leap Day births.
1933 Goudey

"Pepper" Martin was a star outfielder and third baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals (1928-1944).  His hustling style of play drew him comparisons to Ty Cobb and gave him the nickname Wild Horse of the Osage.  Due to his aggressive play and subsequent injuries, Martin never really fulfilled his potential.
Martin was a key member of the Cardinals' Gashouse Gang that won two World Series titles (1931 and 1934).  Martin has a MLB best career World Series batting average of .414.   Martin's other accomplishments include leading the league in stolen bases three times and playing in four All Star games.
1951 Bowman

Al Rosen was one of the top third basemen in the American League during his career (1947-56).  After serving in the Navy during World War II, Rosen began his MLB career with the Cleveland Indians.  The Cleveland Slugger led the league in home runs and runs batted in twice each.  Rosen played in four All Star games and won the AL MVP in 1953.  He also was a part of the last Indians World Series title in 1948.
After his playing day, Rosen worked in the front office.  His work as a General Manager for the San Francisco Giants led him to being named Executive of the Year in 1987.  To this day, Rosen is still the only person ever to win the MVP and Executive of the Year honors.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Top 10 Negro League Nicknames

I was thinking awhile back, where has all the great nicknames in baseball have gone? Of course, we do have "El Oso Blanco" (Evan Gattis), but most are just shortened versions of their full names like MadBum, ARod, and Miggy.  Rather boring.
In the past, we had the Iron Horse, Dizzy, Fordham Flash, Splendid Splinter and Oil Can.  The Negro Leagues had the best nicknames though.  I will give you my top 10 from the old Negro Leagues.

10)  Norman "Turkey" Stearnes.  Much like former Dodger Ron Cey (Penguin) or the Cardinals' Joe "Ducky" Medwick, Stearnes got his nickname because he moved around like the bird.
1952 Topps

9) Sam "The Jet' Jethroe.  He got his moniker because of his speed. He led the Negro Leagues in stolen bases three times and the National League twice.

8)Herbert "Rap" Dixon  Even though you might think he got the nickname from his hitting prowess, he actually acquired it because Dixon is from the area near Rappahannock River in Virginia.  Still cool enough to my make my list

7) "Bullet" Joe Rogan  His blazing fastball and solid bat helped him become a great pitcher and outfielder and later a Hall of Famer.

6) James "Cool Papa" Bell.  The Hall of Fame outfielder started out as a pitcher where he struck out the great Oscar Charleston as a 19 year old under pressure.
1960 Leaf
5)Bob "Rope" Boyd.  He played only a few years in the Negro Leagues before a decade long career in the bigs. Boyd acquired his moniker because of the line drive hitting

4) John "Mule" Miles  His manager said he hit like a mule kicks

3) Dick "Cannonball" Redding.  One of the top pitchers in the 1910s much to thanks from his great fastball

2) Jud Wilson.  Got the nickname "Boojum" from his teammates after the sound of the ball when it hit the outfield walls.
2001 Fleer Tradition Stitches In Time
1) Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe  . Got the nickname because he would pitch one end of the double header and catch the other.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

5 Negro League Greats You Should Know But Don't

February is Black History Month and to coincide with it, I am going to write a few Negro League based editions.
Every baseball fan knows of the old negro leagues and some of its' great players.  We all know who Satchel Paige, James "Cool Papa" Bell, Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard are.  Many know of Ray Dandridge, Oscar Charleston and Rube Foster.  But there is several players who were great that many baseball fans have never heard of. 
I will tell you briefly about five of these players.

1) Willie Wells (1924-48).  Wells is considered to be the top shortstop in the negro leagues in the 1930s and early 40s.  Known for his good range, sure hands and accurate arm.  He was a solid hitter also, hitting over .300 consistently.  As many Negro League stars did, he played during the winter months in Latin America.  In Cuba he won multiple MVPs and league titles and later in Mexico he won another pennant and became known as "El Diablo" or "The Devil". 
Here in the USA, he played primarily with St. Louis Stars and Newark Eagles.  With the Eagles, he was the part of the Million Dollar Infield.  Wells played in eight Negro League All Star games.  Near the end of his career, he taught a young Jackie Robinson how to turn the double play.  Wells was inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997.
2001 Topps Chrome What Could Have Been
2)George "Mule" Suttles"  (1918-44).  Despite using a 50 ounce bat, Suttles was known for his prodigious home runs and all the while maintaining a high batting average.  Suttles was also a member of the Million Dollar Infield and played in five all star games where he hit .412 for his career.  For exhibition games against white ball clubs, Suttles hit .374 and hit five career home runs.  His teammates would yell "Kick Mule" while he was the plate in hoping for a big hit.  Suttles was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006

3)Raleigh "Biz" Mackey (1920-47) Widely considered the greatest defensive catcher in Negro League history.  He studied the hitters' tendencies, worked well with the pitchers and was able to frame pitches in order to get calls in his favor.  Mackey had the ability to throw a strike to gun out would be base stealers at second base from the crouch just as well as many standing up. 
At the plate, he was able to hit for power and average from both sides of the plate.  Mackey was selected to play in four all star games and was even picked to start over a young slugging Josh Gibson.  Mackey later taught the finer points of catching to Roy Campanella.  He was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 2006.

4)Norman "Turkey" Stearnes (1920-40) The outfielder played mostly for the Detroit Stars,  Stearnes had both great power and speed.   Stearnes is considered one of the greatest home run hitters in the negro leagues.  He also led the league in triples and stolen bases each at one point in his career.  Stearnes was also a very good fielder.  He was the top vote getter in the inaugural Negro League East-West All Star game and later played in three other games.  He is credited with a career. 351 average against white ball clubs in exhibition play.  He was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 2000.
1994 Ted Willams Co.
5) Willard Brown (1935-50). A could do it all outfielder that was best known for his power and ability to step up his play in big games.  While playing winter ball in Puerto Rico, he won three batting and home run titles and garnered the nickname "Esse Hombre".
In the USA, Brown played on the great Kansas City Monarch teams that five pennants in a six year span.  "Home Run" Brown played on several all star games before called to duty for World War II.  After his return, he helped lead the Monarchs to another pennant.  Months after Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby broke the color barriers in 1947, Brown and Hank Thompson was signed to play for the lowly St. Louis Browns of the American League.  Without any minor league adjustment, both Brown and Thompson struggled in the major leagues.  Brown returned to the Monarchs soon after, but managed to hit the first ever home run in AL history by a black player.  Brown was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 2006.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Hall of Fame Centerfield Re-evaluation Needed

On Wednesday Ken Griffey Jr. was inducted into the Hall of Fame.  Can you guess who was the last full time centerfielder to be selected for the Hall by the baseball writers(BBWAA)prior to Griffey?  Kirby Puckett way back in 2001 and before Puckett it was Duke Snider in 1980 and Willie Mays in 1979.
Just two centerfielders enshrined in the last 35 years.  Why is that? Not enough worthy candidates?  Are the modern day centerfielders compared to the great centerfielders of the past (Mays, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio) and who just happen to be among the greatest players of all time?  or is the centerfield position being lumped into one outfield position and is evaluated as such?

Let's first look at some recent centerfielders and the Hall of Fame vote:
1997 Topps

Jim Edmonds (.284 Avg 393 HR 1199 RBI, 4x All Star, 8x Gold Glove and World Series Champion) 2.5 % of votes in 2016 and now is off the ballot for good (must have at least 5% to stay on)

Kenny Lofton (.299 Avg 2,428 hits, 622 stolen bases, 6x All Star, 4x Gold  Glove) . 3.2% of votes in his one year on ballot in 2013

Bernie Williams (.297 avg, 287 HR 1257 RBI, 5x All Star, 4x Gold Glove, 4x World Series champion, batting title and an ALCS MVP) was on the ballot for two years peaking at 9.6% of the votes.
1991 Stadium Club
Devon White (3x All Star, 7x Gold Glove and 3x World Series champion). He did not receive one vote in 2007.  Not one.  Meanwhile Dante Bichette, Jay Buhner, Bobby Bonilla and Ken Caminiti all did in the same year. 

If all the outfielders are getting evaluated as one, I believe that the writers need to reconsider how they do things.  Think about it.  How are the great teams constructed?  With great defense up the middle -catcher, shortstop,second base and centerfield.  Meanwhile the corner positions in the infield and outfield provide the run production.  So shouldn't the centerfielder be compared to the shortstops instead of his outfield teammates?
1992 Bowman
Kenny Lofton, for example, had Albert Belle and Manny Ramirez to his right and left during the great Indian teams of the 90s.  Belle and Ramirez provided much of the offense and very little defense.  Lofton was the table setter on offense and covered a great amount of the outfield because of other two's deficiencies.   Shouldn't Lofton be evaluated for playing a defense first position like a shortstop and catcher rather than the corner outfielders?

Look at the WAR stat. Lofton career WAR is 68.2, while Belle is 39.9 and Ramirez 69.2.  So you can see Lofton is considered far superior to Belle and comparable to Ramirez, who put up Hall of Fame statistics.  The other centerfielders mentioned here has Edmonds with 60.2 WAR, Williams 49.4 and White of 47.0.   And if you are curious about the recent outfield Hall of Fame inductees. Tony Gwynn (68.8), Dave Winfield (63.8) Jim Rice (47.4), Kirby Puckett (50.9) and Andre Dawson (64.5).

As you can see, several of these centerfielders deserves more merit for the Hall of Fame than initially thought.  It is time to think of the centerfield position as its own and not as part of the whole outfield.  I believe the new wave sabermetric statistics such as WAR and the Statcast technology will help in this cause.  Another way to force the voters and fans to look at center field as it's own position is to list them individually for the All Star game ballot.  Centerfielders should compete against other centerfielders. leftfielders with leftfielders and rightfielders with their counterparts.  The Gold Glove award is already doing this. 
The BBWAA should also be a part of this process.  Let's hope they do by the time Andruw Jones is eligible in 2018 and Torii Hunter in 2021.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

My 2016 Hall of Fame Vote

The 2016 Hall of Fame class will be announced on Wednesday.  So, I will give you all my ballot (if I was an actual voter) and who I think will be enshrined in Cooperstown in late July.
This year's first timers on the ballot include Ken Griffey Jr., Trevor Hoffman and Jim Edmonds.  Griffey, of course, is a no brainer. He should be a threat to be the first ever unanimous inductee.  Hoffman will get plenty of votes and Edmonds may or may not have enough to stay on the ballot.
1989 Fleer
A voter can vote for as many as ten players each year and the player must have 5% of total votes to stay on the ballot for the following year.  Here are the players I voted for:
Ken Griffey Jr.
Alan Trammell (his last year on the ballot)
Tim Raines
Mike Piazza
Curt Schilling
Mike Mussina
Jeff Bagwell
Fred McGriff

I did not vote for any player who is linked to performance enhancing drugs. Sorry, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Gary Sheffield.
I also did not vote for any closer (Trevor Hoffman and Lee Smith most notably). It is hard for me to think of these pitchers as among the best of all time pitchers in the game.  In my eyes, the save statistic is very flawed and bogus stat.
I am on the fence with Jeff Kent.  He is best hitting second baseman of all time in terms of  home runs and has a MVP under his belt.  But, he was a very mediocre fielder and hit his homers during the steroid era.  I am leaning "no" right now on Kent, but could be persuaded otherwise in the future.

Who I think will get in?
Ken Griffey Jr is a sure thing.  Piazza is highest vote getter among returnees (69.9 of the 75% vote needed).  I think he will sneak in, but with some controversy and debate.  Although Piazza has never been linked to PEDs, people have doubts about his innocence. 
Raines is getting more love each year, but I think he will fall just short.  Jeff Bagwell also.