Owning the Royals

Last week it was announced that longtime Minnesota Twins stalwart Joe Mauer would be retiring after 15 seasons in the big leagues. When it became official, a small smirk spread across my face but not for the reasons you think. 

No, I don’t hate Joe Mauer; in fact it’s quite the opposite. I have immense respect for Mauer and everything he did in baseball. The smirk wasn’t even about Twins fans, as I have no issues with them either. I even feel their pain when it comes to Joe, since this is probably going to be eerily similar to what happens next year involving Alex Gordon.

Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

No, I smirked because when I picture Mauer, I picture him getting another hit off of a Kansas City pitcher. I know it isn’t the truth, but it feels like he got a hit off of the Royals every time he came to the plate against them. So no, he isn’t hitting 1.000 off of Kansas City for his entire career, but it felt like it. 

It felt like it because Mauer owned the Royals. He was that guy who came up to the plate and in my brain I instantly thought ‘he’s going to get a hit right here’; more times than not he did. Lifetime against the Royals, Joe hit .319/.401/.442 with an OPS+ of 104.

Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

But this got me to wondering what other players have owned Royals pitching over the years. I’m sure most of us can rattle off a few player’s names that always appeared to do damage against Kansas City, but will the numbers actually agree with our initial perceptions? 
  

I decided to set a baseline. I went with batters with 180 or more plate appearances against the Royals, since that would show a more consistent level of sustained success. While it might not be everyone’s first choice for determining success, I started with batting average:

Credit: Baseball-Reference.com

Based on our criteria, Dustin Pedroia has the highest batting average against the Royals for batters with 180 plate appearances or more. Out of active players, Mike Trout is 9th, Jacoby Ellsbury is 10th (yes, he is technically still active), Adrian Beltre 19th and Erick Aybar 20th. A few other notables include Michael Brantley, Francisco Lindor and Ian Kinsler.

How about the most hits against Kansas City pitching?

Baseball-Reference.com

While Hall of Famer Rod Carew leads the pack here, it’s interesting to see Victor Martinez right behind, trailing by only 11 hits. It makes more sense when you remember that Martinez played almost his entire career in the American League Central, playing for Cleveland or Detroit for 15 of his 16 seasons. 

Mauer sits in third here, followed by two Paul’s, Molitor and Konerko. When I started down this path, Konerko was one of the names that instantly popped in my head, so no real surprise here.

Credit: Associated Press

  Let’s move on to home runs:

Baseball-Reference.com

Alex Rodriguez is a surprising winner in this category, hitting 50 career bombs against Royals pitching. Not surprising is Jim Thome in second with 49 and the dreaded Paul Konerko in third with 45 homers. For active players, Miguel Cabrera and Carlos Santana are tied with 27 long-shots, although one has moved on to the National League and the other has begun the downside of his illustrious career. 

In a bit of a shock, Grady Sizemore hit 25 career home runs off of Kansas City while posting an OPS+ of 131. Maybe it’s just slipping my mind but I don’t remember Sizemore being that much of a thorn in the Royals side.

Credit: Ron Vesely

Time now for the most total bases:

Baseball-Reference.com

‘Royal Killer’ Paul Konerko compiled the most total bases against Kansas City at 418. He is followed by Cal Ripken Jr. with 410 and then A-Rod with 378. With Martinez and Mauer retiring, the highest total on this list for an active player is Cabrera with 322, followed then by notorious villain Ian Kinsler with 263.    

That leads us to the highest tOPS+ all-time against the Royals:

Baseball-Reference.com

And the winner is….Gerald Laird? Okay, I figured at some point we would run across a name that came out of left field and we just got it. He is followed by a couple other odd names in Chris Singleton and Craig Monroe.

Diving deeper down the list, the highest active player is Dustin Pedroia at 147, and a few more notches down you get Erick Aybar at 145 and Carlos Santana at 144. With tOPS+ being an adjusted stat and not a cumulative one, it makes sense it would be the one with players that wouldn’t just pop into your head. But considering we are basing this off of more than 180 plate appearances, it is still impressive at what Laird, Singleton and Monroe did against the Royals over the years.


Credit: AP Photo/Genevieve Ross

Finally, a look at the total offensive contribution with Runs Created:

Baseball-Reference.com

A-Rod had the most Runs Created all-time against Kansas City with 170.9, followed by Jim Thome and Frank Thomas. Mauer is fifth with 145.4 and Konerko right behind him with 144.7. To find an active hitter you have to travel all the way down to 18th on the list, where Miguel Cabrera sits with  118.9.

In fact the next active player that currently resides in the AL Central (and that doesn’t mean current free agents, like Michael Brantley) is Jason Kipnis at 81 with 72.8. It looks like there will have to be a new crop of players to replace the guys like Mauer and Martinez who have been pouncing on Kansas City pitching for years. 


Credit: Brian Davidson/Getty Images 

So what did this experiment teach us? For one, it shows us that we don’t need numbers to know that Mauer, Konerko, Martinez, etc., were abusing the Royals all these years. The eye test didn’t betray us in this regard.  

It has also showed us what the unbalanced schedule has done to skew the numbers on this list. While it’s understandable why MLB has moved away from the balanced schedule, you do wonder if some of these numbers would be different if each team didn’t play the other teams in their division 19 times each year.  

Credit: Ed Zurga/Getty Images

The perfect example is the total hits against the Royals. Would Victor Martinez only be 11 hits behind Rod Carew if they had the balanced schedule? Probably not. Could you imagine if Carew, after all those years with the Twins and Angels (who were in the American League West with Kansas City at the time) had played the Royals 19 times a season? It’s all a matter of preference, but the shift in the schedule does make one wonder what might have been.

What it does probably tell us is that the Royals having a lot of bad pitching over the last 20 years probably helped some of these numbers as well. It also tells me I won’t miss watching Joe Mauer spray hits into the outfield against Kansas City. Joe is a true baseball treasure, but he also owned a portion of the Royals, whether David Glass was aware of it or not.

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A Golden Evaluation

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Last week I looked at the Gold Glove Awards and surmised that while in years past the award wasn’t always about defense, the voting was improving and worthy defenders were being honored for their use of the leather. One of the biggest hurdles for me to jump around was how reputation played a big part in how some of the picks were chosen.

At the time I figured I was done discussing this topic for at least another year, but then mere days after I wrote the piece I stumbled across some numbers to back up my claim:

Over a span of 25 years, the winners of a Gold Glove were handed out to one of the top two defenders of their position only 38% of the time. Since Rawlings began working with SABR and SDI (SABR Defensive Index) was created to help evaluate, that number has jumped all the way to 88%! So over the last six years, voters have done 50% better than they did from 1988-2012. That is a massive improvement that speaks volumes of how far defensive metrics have come in such a short span of time. In fact, looking back at previous winners and losers really paints a better picture.

Credit: MLB.com

Before we go any farther, a great job has been done by Chris Dial, who is on the Board of Directors for SABR and his creation of RED (Runs Effectively Defended) helped form SDI. My stumbling across Chris’s twitter account pretty much has led us to this point.

So looking back, there were certain positions that voters actually did a fair job at when it came to picking a correct winner, most specifically catcher and third base. But there were some huge gaps in who won and who should have won at a couple of big positions. First base was a position that really showed a leaning toward reputation:

1B
Credit: SABR.org

While guys like Mark Grace, John Olerud and Rafael Palmeiro (yes, Palmeiro had a number of years he was worthy, dismissing 1999) were rewarded for the most part for their defensive excellence, it also shows how the perception of Don Mattingly, J.T. Snow and Eric Hosmer guided them to gold despite not being one of the top two defenders at their position.

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Credit: SABR.org

Shortstop also honored some greats, like Ozzie Smith and Cal Ripken while Omar Vizquel apparently won a number of Gold Gloves that he probably shouldn’t have.

Credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images

The two most notable miscues on this list are Derek Jeter and Barry Larkin, a current Hall of Famer matched in with a future one. Most have rallied against Jeter’s victories in the past, as it was very obvious his range (or lack thereof) was not of the top shelf variety. The fact these two won eight Gold Gloves while never finishing in the top two of their position speaks volumes of how the voting used to be handled.

There was one more position that I found to have a large gap between the should’s and should not’s, and that was the outfield:

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Credit: SABR.org

Just looking at this list about made my jaw drop. While Griffey, Hunter and Walker were always thought of as defensive studs, the fact is they were only in the top two of their positions five times. Even more shocking is that Luis Gonzalez and Sammy Sosa should have won a couple of Gold Gloves rather than the zero they compiled.

This would probably be a good time to point out that none of this is saying that all of these players were bad defensively if they won and didn’t finish in the top two. Mr. Dial actually did a good job of pointing that out:

So you can see where adding something like SDI has drastically changed the defensive landscape and showed who the real elite truly are when it comes to glovework. So with the awards handed out just last week, lets see how the voters did:

AL leaders
Credit: SABR.org

In the American League, outside of pitcher (Dallas Keuchel won despite being 8th in SDI among pitchers) and center field (Jackie Bradley, Jr. won and was 3rd in SDI at the position) the voters got it right. Both Royals that won (Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez) were in the top two at their position, with Salvy only behind Mike Zunino and Alex having the highest SDI among left fielders.

Meanwhile in the National League:

NL Leaders
Credit: SABR.org

Catcher and first base were the two positions voters missed on, as Yadier Molina was 6th in SDI behind the dish and Anthony Rizzo won while finishing 4th. Molina once again points out how reputation wins out over numbers some times and while he is still a good defender at the age of 36, he shouldn’t have even been one of the finalists.

So out of 18 awards, only four of the winners were not in the top two at their respective positions. That means that the voters were 78% correct, which is probably about as good as we should expect when there is a human element involved. It is definitely a big improvement over what we saw for years and Rawlings should be commended for wanting to make this whole process more accurate.

The big thing for me is that the stigma of ‘The winners aren’t being honored for their defense’ is starting to fade away. These awards have been looked at as almost a joke for so long that it’s been hard to do a 180 degree turn and applaud the work done to make the honor mean something.

While defensive metrics are still a work in progress, they are improving every day and painting a different picture than the one we sometimes see with our eyes. So while these awards aren’t quite the Fielding Bible Awards, they are getting a little bit closer every day.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

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A few weeks back, the Modern Baseball Era Committee announced their results for the 2018 Hall of Fame election, where Jack Morris and Alan Trammell will be joining whomever will be voted in by the BBWAA later on next month. While the result wasn’t surprising, I am struck with a tinge of excitement and frustration when it comes these election results, both by who got in and who didn’t.

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Credit: Duane Burleson, Associated Press

First, I was elated that Alan Trammell will be in the Hall. I came around a bit late to just how great Trammell was but felt really strongly that he deserved to be in the Hall a few years back. Here is a snippet of my argument for him back in 2015:

The argument for Trammell though outweighs a lot of the negatives; Trammell has a career WAR of 70.4, which makes him 94th all-time and 63rd amongst position players. To go a step further, Trammell has a career dWAR of 22.0, which places him 34th all-time.

Trammell is listed as the 12th best shortstop according to the Hall of Stats (hallofstats.com) and has a Hall Rating of 143 (100 is deemed Hall worthy). Trammell played in an era of Cal Ripken, Jr. and Ozzie Smith and while he wasn’t quite at their level, he was close and even beat Cal out for the Gold Glove four times. What is even more interesting is going back and comparing his numbers to Derek Jeter as Joe Posnanski did a few years ago:

Joe Posnanski has made the argument that if you are of the belief that Derek Jeter is a Hall of Famer, then you should compare his numbers with Trammell’s. Joe points out just how close Jeter and Trammell were as players, with Jeter holding a slight edge over Alan offensively, while Trammell was easily a better defender.

Trammell really felt like a player who could have gained momentum if more voters had digested his numbers. Instead, the highest he reached on the ballot was 40.9% (back in 2016) and one does have to wonder if the constant logjam of only being able to vote for ten players really hurt him in the long run. The good news is that his peers corrected this injustice and he will be claiming his rightful place in Cooperstown this summer.

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Credit: Baseball Hall of Fame

Then there is Jack Morris. There is really no easy way to put this than to just say I don’t feel he is a Hall of Famer. Did he have moments of greatness? Obviously. He is viewed by many as the greatest pitcher of the 1980’s, which is easy to see when looking at stats like strike outs and wins. But when digging deeper he is 65th in ERA+ (league and ballpark adjusted) in the decade and 12th in bWAR for pitchers. It gets even dicier when you start digging through the all-time rankings. According to the Hall of Stats, Morris is 165th among pitchers all-time and has a Hall Ranking of 77, well below the necessary 100 to be “Hall Worthy”. In fact, over an 18 year career, Morris has only 44.2 WAR, which roughly averages out to 2.45 Wins Above Replacement a year. The truth is that much like Bill Mazeroski, Morris’ greatness is defined by one classic moment: Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, where he pitched 10 innings of shutout baseball and led the Twins to a World Championship over the Braves. It’s an iconic moment, but unfortunately for Morris it is not a complete representation of his career. The issue with putting him into the Hall is simple; the numbers don’t back up what the memory recalls. It might just be better to let Jay Jaffe of Sports Illustrated explain:

While Morris won 254 games for the Tigers, Twins, Blue Jays and Indians in his 18-year career—the 43rd highest total in history and seventh among those outside the Hall—his win total is a reflection of the great work of his teammates. He got excellent support from his defense, which included Trammell and his longtime double play partner Lou Whitaker, in the form of a .272 batting average on balls in play, 14 points better than league average. Relative to his leagues, the offensive support he received was six percent better than average (better than 41 of the 62 other Hall starters), while his rate of run prevention was just five percent better than league average. Among Hall of Famers, his 105 ERA+ tops only those of Catfish Hunter (104) and Rube Marquard (103). By comparison, Red Ruffing, whose 3.80 ERA was previously the highest among Hall of Fame starters, had a 109 ERA+, as he pitched during a higher-scoring era (1924-47).

In other words, Morris being in the Hall of Fame redefines greatness:

Still, his election lowers the bar for Hall of Fame pitchers and serves as a slight to numerous contemporaries such as Bret Saberhagen, Dave Stieb, Dwight Gooden, Orel Hershiser and David Cone. Win totals aside, all have far fuller résumés than Morris from a Hall standpoint, better run prevention combined with Cy Young awards and their own shares of records and postseason heroics. They now deserve an equally thorough airing in this context, particularly in light of the scarcity of viable starting pitcher candidates in the coming years.

This is not to say I wish ill on Morris; personally I like the guy and believe he has handled all the arguments about his Hall of Fame case like a champ. I just don’t personally feel he should be sitting among the greats of the game. The one silver lining to this is we can now be done with the Morris argument; it no longer matters since the Modern Baseball Era Committee made sure he is getting a plaque.

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Credit: Associated Press

While Trammell felt like a step forward and Morris felt like a slight step back, the fact Marvin Miller was not elected just felt like a slap in the face. Miller is the former executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association and was the driving force behind free agency in baseball. Without Miller, the players would probably never make the kind of money and have the freedom they have today. Once again, Jaffe said it best:

Miller, who oversaw the game’s biggest change since integration by dismantling the reserve clause and therefore shifting the century-old balance of power from the owners to the players, is the candidate with the strongest case of any individual outside Cooperstown, and perhaps the strongest case of any non-player in the game’s history.

It really surprises me that a committee of what was mostly former players didn’t vote in the guy who has had possibly one of the biggest effects on their career when it comes to the ability to make market value money. Hopefully this mistake will be rectified in the very near future.

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Credit: Baseball Hall of Fame

The one thing this recent vote proves is that it just isn’t a perfect process. Whether it is the new committee or the BBWAA, this is a system where most of the voters are doing their due diligence to get it right.  For every slam dunk like Ken Griffey Jr., there is an Alan Trammell who falls through the cracks. While I might not feel Morris is deserving, I was happy to see Ted Simmons (who I feel is deserving) fall just one vote shy of being added to this group. As long as the games continue to be played, the Hall of Fame debates will continue to be discussed. The fact that baseball is constantly trying to get this right should tell you that everything is moving in a forward direction, just possibly not at the speed everyone would hope for.

My 2016 Hall of Fame Ballot

Newly-inducted National Baseball Hall of Famers from left to right, Craig Biggio, John Smoltz, Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez hold their plaques after an induction ceremony at the Clark Sports Center on Sunday, July 26, 2015, in Cooperstown, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
(AP Photo/Mike Groll)

Nothing is debated more intensely each year than who should and shouldn’t be elected to the baseball Hall of Fame. The last few years have been filled with a moral dilemma for some, as they struggle with voting in players whose numbers are ‘Hall Caliber’, but the scarlet ‘S’ (for steroids) looms around their neck. This has led to a backloaded ballot for BBWAA members as they struggle with the decision of voting in a player who they feel would tarnish the game. Some of us(myself included) am not bothered by this, since the Hall is all about the history of the game, good or bad, and it is hard for me to sit here and tell you these players shouldn’t be voted in when there are no positive tests, because baseball was not testing at the time. So right there, you see the dilemma. As a member of the IBWAA, we have our own Hall of Fame and do our own voting each year. Our voting has not been completely parallel to the BBWAA’s, as last year Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines all reached the 75% of the votes needed for election. In years past, Craig Biggio and Mike Piazza have been elected by us in the IBWAA, so they are no longer on the ballot either. As a group, we also decided that we can vote for up to 15 players on the ballot, which opens it up even more and has allowed the ballot not to get so clogged up. Before we get started with my votes, you can go back and read my last two years of voting: Here is 2014 and 2015.  Also, to keep up to date with all of the BBWAA votes that have been revealed, follow Ryan Thibs on Twitter. That way you can follow how the voting is going before Wednesday’s big announcement. Without further ado, here are my votes for the 2016 Hall of Fame ballot.

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Barry Bonds was also on my list the last two years and is easily one of the greatest baseball players ever, the all-time home run king and that is all tainted by supposed steroid use. To me Bonds was a Hall of Famer before his supposed use and was a 5 tool player early in his career. We can debate all day about whether or not PED users should be allowed in the Hall(and I am someone who believes the Hall of Fame is NOT sacred ground) but what is easy to decipher is that Bonds is one of the greats of the game. ‘Nuff said.

 

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Roger Clemens

Roger Clemens is another duel year vote for me and like Bonds, has the PED albatross around his neck. Clemens is thegreatest pitcher of his era, a 7 time Cy Young award winner and should have been a first ballot Hall of Famer. Instead we are stuck continuing an argument that might never finish and also like Bonds, might have to wait for the Veteran’s Committee to get voted into Cooperstown. Clemens deserves to have a plaque next to the Johnson’s, Koufax’s, and Gibson’s of the world. When(or if) that happens is another issue.

 

Seattle Mariners
(Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

Ken Griffey Jr.

Some votes are so easy you don’t even have to think about them before marking the box. So is the case with Ken Griffey, Jr., an easy first ballot Hall of Famer and one of the greatest players of his generation. Griffey came into the league as a wide eyed youngster, bringing his enthusiasm and childlike glee to stadiums everywhere. It would been awhile since the baseball world had seen a five tool player(outside of Bonds, of course) perform so easily and graceful on the field the way Griffey did. Griffey was a 13 time All-Star(10 as a Mariner, 3 as a Red), AL MVP in 1997, 10 time Gold Glove Winner and 7 time Silver Slugger award winner. At one point or another he lead the league in runs, home runs, RBI’s, slugging percentage, total bases and intentional walks. Griffey would finish 1st in the league in WAR once(1996, while finishing 1st three times for position players), while finishing 2nd three times(pulling a career bWAR of 83.6, 57th all time. The numbers just continue to stack up- 55th all time in OPS, 35th in slugging percentage, 33rd in runs scored, 50th in hits, 13th in total bases, 6th on the all time home run list and 15th career in RBI’s. There are some interesting stats that won’t pop out but are interesting nonetheless-22nd all time runs created, 7th all time extra base hits, and 6th all time intentional walks. The numbers show someone who is an easy vote for the Hall, but one has to wonder just how much higher Griffey would rank on all-time lists if not for injuries that curtailed him late in his career. It’s easy to point at his trade to Cincinnati before the 2000 season as the beginning of his decline, but that 2000 season was actually a solid one for Griffey. After that though, the injuries piled up and he went from being a player who could challenge Hank Aaron’s(at the time) all-time home run record to a ghost of his former self. In fact if you take out that 2000 season, Griffey only averaged 100 games a season during the rest of his time in Cincy, with an average of 22 home runs and 62 RBI’s per season. Even with these numbers you have a player who should be mentioned in the same breath as Mays, Ruth and yes, even Bonds, as one of the most prolific home run hitters(and all around best players) in baseball history. The question this year will be: will Griffey be the first player to be an unanimous selection to the Hall?

 

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Trevor Hoffman

I’m sure my pick here will cause some debate, since there are those that believe you have to be Mariano Rivera to be a Hall of Fame closer, but much like the Tim Raines debate(which I am a strong supporter of), you can’t fault Hoffman for not being the best closer in baseball history. Yes, the closer in modern day baseball is a defined role that is the guy who closes out the game for his team, not always the guy who faces the toughest part of the lineup. Yes, the save is probably the worst stat in baseball, based just off of its parameters on how you can get one. But when you are the second best player at your position for 16 seasons, you deserve to get more recognition than to be just tossed aside and scoffed at. Here is why I voted for Hoffman and why I feel he is a Hall of Famer. First, he was as consistent as they come. Outside of 2003 when he was injured, Hoffman posted 15 consecutive years of 20 or more saves and is second all-time(ALL-TIME!) behind Rivera. I know some use the argument “well, he was no Gossage or Fingers or even Sutter”, and to be honest, no, he wasn’t. But that is the whole point behind this; no one compares to those guys anymore, because closers aren’t used the same way they were in the 70’s and early 80’s. Why compare a pitcher to guys who faced completely different game situations 30-40 years earlier? It’s not a fair assessment and people sure as hell don’t use that same comparison when talking about Rivera and his place in the game. Second, besides the consistency he was also fairly dominant, which sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. Hoffman is a 7 time All-Star, placed 2nd in the National League Cy Young award voting twice(!), has the 8th best K per 9 percentage, 8th best WHIP, 14th best ERA+ and the 18th best WPA(Win Probability Added) ever. That’s not even mentioning he also blew just 76 career saves, which gives him a 88.8% save conversion rate. What about his out-pitch? Hoffman had a lethal change-up that was one of the hardest pitches to handle during this period. Sure, it wasn’t Mariano’s cutter, but it got the job done and normally threw batters off of their game. No matter which way you cut it, Hoffman is one of the great closers in baseball history, even if you took away the save stat. Very few pitchers have been able to do what he has done and do it for as long as he did. Bottom line is that ‘closer’ is a position filled by each team in the big leagues and Hoffman was elite at that position for a very long time. That is why he gets my vote for the Hall of Fame.

 

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(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Edgar Martinez

Edgar Martinez has been looked over for years but he was an easy pick for me the last two years. Edgar is the greatestDesignated Hitter of all-time, and one of the greatest hitters in baseball history. Apparently Martinez not playing much in the field hurts his case, but that honestly should be superseded by the fact that he was so good at one thing(hitting) that he is 76th in career WAR. Just like when discussing closers, Designated Hitters are a part of the game just as much as their late inning friends. Soon David Ortiz will be eligible for the Hall of Fame and you don’t hear anyone question whether or not he belongs. If he belongs, why doesn’t the guy who they named the DH Award after? Edgar is the GOAT and should be honored justly.

 

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Mike Mussina

Mike Mussina probably never dazzled anyone over his 18 year big league career. He wasn’t the most dominant, didn’t really blow gas past batters or have that one pitch that no one could hit(although his knuckle curve was a nice little out pitch when he needed it). But more than anything Mussina was consistent and stayed that way for the entire span of his career. In fact if you didn’t know better you would think Mussina was a ninja with the way his numbers jump up on you. So here are just a few of the numbers Mussina compiled during his (what should be) Hall of Fame career: 5 time All-Star, 6 Top 5 finishes in American League Cy Young voting, 7 time Gold Glove winner, 57th all-time in career WAR(24th all-time for pitchers), 19th all-time career strikeouts(2813), 89th all-time career ERA+(123), and 270 career wins. Mussina also pitched a large chunk of his career during the ‘Steroid Era’ and the two ballparks he called home during his career(Camden Yards and Yankee Stadium) were both hitters parks. I’ve always considered ‘Moose’ the right-handed equivalent of Tom Glavine, a guy who wouldn’t blow you away but put up solid numbers year after year. 2014 was Mussina’s first year on the BBWAA ballot and he compiled 20.3% of the vote, which I have to believe will go up again this year. If you want flashy, Mussina isn’t your guy. But if you want a top of the rotation starter who you can rely on year after year for quality starts and quality innings, Mussina was a lock. Eighteen years of that quality should also mean he is a lock–for the Hall of Fame.

 

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Curt Schilling

Just how much difference does a player’s postseason success factor into a Hall of Fame vote? In the case of Curt Schilling it matters a lot. In fact I would say without his playoff numbers Schilling probably wouldn’t get into the Hall. But when you add that to the mix, his true greatness shines through. A 2.23 ERA, .846 winning %, and a WHIP of .968(plus one bloody sock), all over 133 innings pitched in October shows just what kind of mettle Schilling really had. In fact, just go look at his postseason stats for 2001; ridiculous! When you then add in the regular season numbers it becomes much more obvious. Schilling was a 6 time All-Star, 1993 NLCS MVP, 2001 World Series MVP, 4 times was in the Top 5 of the Cy Young award voting, 62nd all-time in career WAR(26th for pitchers), 15th all-time in career strikeouts(3116), and 47th all-time in career ERA+(127). All this from a guy who floundered in the majors until he was 25 in 1992 with the Phillies. Schilling the person might not be a guy who we would agree with on a regular basis(and definitely don’t argue evolution with him) but none of that matters when it comes to Hall of Fame voting. Schilling was a front line starter in the big leagues for 15 years and has the numbers to prove it. That is ‘Hall Worthy’ if I have ever seen it.

 

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Alan Trammell

It took me a long time(almost too long) but after really studying his case, I believe Alan Trammell is a Hall of Famer. Trammell case has probably been hurt for a number of reasons. Trammell’s offensive numbers don’t pop out at you and he never reached any of the big milestones that voters look for when it comes time to fill out a ballot. The argument for Trammell though outweighs a lot of the negatives; Trammell has a career WAR of 70.4, which makes him 94th all-time and 63rd amongst position players. To go a step further, Trammell has a career dWAR of 22.0, which places him 34th all-time. Trammell was solid with the bat, winning three Silver Slugger awards and in 1987 probably should have won the American League MVP(which went to George Bell of Toronto). Trammell was a 6 time All-Star, the 1984 World Series MVP, a 4 time Gold Glove winner during a period where he competed with Cal Ripken Jr. for the award, and walked more than he struck out in 7 different seasons(and had the same amount of both in 2 other seasons). Trammell is the batter equivalent of Mike Mussina; he never blew you away with anything but he was so consistent for a long period of time that what he put together was a Hall of Fame career. Still aren’t convinced? Joe Posnanski has made the argument that if you are of the belief that Derek Jeter is a Hall of Famer, then you should compare his numbers with Trammell’s. Joe points out just how close Jeter and Trammell were as players, with Jeter holding a slight edge over Alan offensively, while Trammell was easily a better defender. If Ozzie Smith can get into the Hall on his defense, and Jeter will get in on his offense(and leadership; you know that will be brought up) then Trammell deserves to be in for being the better all-around player. The sad part is that this will be Trammell’s last year on the ballot, which means after this year his case will be handed over to the Veteran’s Committee. I wish I had really studied his case sooner, not that my lone vote would mean much. If anything I wouldn’t have underrated Trammell as much as I did, not realizing he was way better than the memory remembers. Now about his double play partner, Lou Whitaker…

 

2004 National Baseball Hall of Fame Weekend - Induction Ceremonies - July 25, 2004
(Photo by A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

So eight votes from me this year, which was less than last year. I did consider a number of other players for this honor, players who I feel are just on the cusp but not quite there. On that list that I heavily considered was Larry Walker, Billy Wagner, Jeff Kent and Jim Edmonds. All were great players but I felt for now they fall just short for me. Does that mean I could change my mind? I could, honestly. I did when it comes to Trammell and Raines and I could with any of these guys in the future. Sometimes it just takes a longer look to really grasp how important a certain player was to his era. This is a special honor not given to just any player, but only to the greats of the game. The eight I voted for this year I consider great; next year Ivan Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez and Vladimir Guerrero will show up on the ballot for the first time. Oh, and Russ Springer. That means we have a year to determine who of that group should be inducted; yes, even Russ Springer. All these players add a certain element to the baseball Hall of Fame, good and bad. It is all part of the story that is this great game we call baseball.

MLB is to Blame, Not Barry

MLB: San Diego Padres at San Francisco Giants

(Editors Note: I originally wrote this piece back in 2006 for PWInsiderXTRA.com as they were looking for sports articles to post on their site. I happened to stumble onto this while cleaning out my old drafts and thought I would toss it on my blog. Enjoy and just know my thoughts on this really haven’t changed much in 9 years.)

The Major League Baseball home run record is quite possibly the most well known record in all sports. It’s a record that for years was held by an athlete who defined the sport, Babe Ruth. When it was passed some 30 years ago by Henry Aaron, many people were not happy with the record falling, with Aaron receiving many a racist letter and even death threats. The next closest person to Ruth’s 714 has been Willie Mays for many a year, and Mays sits at 660. Many felt no one would ever get close to Ruth’s old record, let alone Aaron’s 755. Then Barry Bonds came along. Bonds has always been a great athlete, but in the last 7 years he has obliterated the record books, and is sitting on the doorsteps of Ruth’s hallowed 714. He probably won’t reach Aaron’s 755, but Ruth’s is so close he can taste it…and Major League Baseball doesn’t like it.
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In 1998, baseball was still recovering from the strike of 1994 that ended the season in August, with no World Series being played that year. Fans revolted, some even saying they would never watch baseball again. But in 1998, many a fan was brought back to the great american pastime, as two athletes chased the single season home run record held by Roger Maris. Mark McGwire was Paul Bunyan with a bat, a prolific slugger who many felt was the closest to Ruth of this generation. Sammy Sosa was well known among die hard baseball fans, and the lovable Chicago fans, but outside that he was just another player. That changed in this year, as these two players chased Maris’ record, bringing baseball back into the forefront. Many feel that was the year baseball was saved. It was also the year many started hearing grumblings about steroids.
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Barry Bonds was quite possibly the best player in the game, a five tool player who could hit, hit for power, hit for average, field, and run, with a weak left arm being his only downfall. Bonds was a good power hitter, known to reach around 30 homers a year, but not a whole lot more. Bonds was more the complete player; he still stands as the only member of the 500 homerun/500 steals club. But when Barry showed up to spring training in 1999, there was a noticeable difference. He was big; very big. Bigger muscles, bigger chest, bigger head. Big all the way around. It didn’t go unnoticed; the rumblings in baseball about steroids had started years before, but it seemed no one cared. Baseball was in an upswing. No steroid policy was in the baseball collective bargaining agreement, so no testing was being done. Baseball seemed more enamored with their new-found popularity than seeing a growing problem underneath their nose. But this problem wouldn’t just go away.
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Season after season, Bonds continued to hit home runs. He even eclipsed McGwire’s single season record of 70 by slugging 73. Bonds passed many a Hall of Famer on his climb to his own Cooperstown induction that seemed to be a simple formality. He even passed his godfather, the great Willie Mays, putting Bonds in 3rd place in all time home runs. But as records began to fall, more talk of steroid use and abuse was becoming prevalent. Congress was even beginning their own investigation into baseball’s dirty little secret.
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Baseball finally implemented their own steroid policy in 2005, as Congress looked on, almost making them do something that should have been in their agreement anyway. MLB looked the fool; nothing like the government to tell you you’re not patrolling your organization like you should. Baseball now had egg on their face, and decided after putting harsher penalties under the drug policy(with more pushing from Congress) that they would induct their own investigation into players past steroid use. But at what price?
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Barry Bonds is one home run away from tying and two away from being the second most prolific home run hitter of all time. He is also the main target of MLB’s investigation. Why Barry? Could be his surly attitude, which has angered more than just a few of journalists, writers, announcers, fans and yes, baseball commissioners over the years. Could be that he is walking on hallowed ground, that of Ruth who some consider almost Godlike in baseball circles. Or it could be that with all the heavy scrutiny already surrounding him, MLB does not want to be associated with him. Commissioner Bud Selig has already said there will be no celebration if/when Barry breaks Ruth’s mark. Selig has used the phrase “we don’t celebrate getting second place.” That’s fine, and maybe even a little valid, but would they celebrate if this was Cal Ripken, Jr. breaking this number? Would someone of Ripken’s stature be made public enemy number one for this investigation and a possible fall guy? The answer is no.
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So why wouldn’t he be? The answer is baseball has looked like the fool. They allowed steroids to run rampant in their sport with no penalties, all for the mighty dollar. Now that they have been called to the floor, they don’t want to take the fall. So let’s blame Barry Bonds. Better to blame a man that is already hated by many a fan then have to admit their own mistake. The mistake of letting a substance control a game. Nothing can be gained by going back and finding out who used and who didn’t. All it will do is paint a black eye on a sport that has been forced to take the right path and should be growing off of that. Instead they want to point a finger instead of pointing it at themselves. I’m not saying Bonds is not guilty and I’m definitely not saying he’s an angel. What i’m saying is MLB allowed this; there was no policy on record when all this happened. They made their own bed; too bad they probably won’t have to lie in it.

My 2015 Hall of Fame Ballot

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On January 6th, the National Baseball Hall of Fame will announce their 2015 inductees, with expectations being that multiple players will be enshrined into the Hall this summer in Cooperstown, New York. There has been a plethora of debate concerning the voting process done by the BBWAA the last few years and how to handle possible PED users. This has cause a number of worthy players to be passed over, even without any evidence proving their taking of said substances. It has become harder and harder for voters to turn in their ballots, as the Hall allows up to 10 votes and many members of the BBWAA feeling as if more than that amount are worthy of the Hall’s honor. Last year I wrote up what my ten votes would have been if I could vote. This year I officially did get to vote, as a member of the IBWAA, and there were some notable differences between the BBWAA voting procedure and the IBWAA’s voting. For one, you can vote up to 15 candidates for the IBWAA, while the BBWAA has held fast to 10. Also, the IBWAA has already voted in Mike Piazza and Craig Biggio, while Barry Larkin(who is in the National Baseball Hall of Fame) has not. I ended up voting for 12 players and to save a bit of time I will be posting a link to my picks last year for some of the same candidates. Also, to get a better idea of just how difficult the voting process has become, read Jay Jaffe’s article on voting. So without further ado, here is my IBWAA ballot for 2015(in alphabetical order).

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1)Jeff Bagwell

Jeff Bagwell was on my list last year and I am still amazed he hasn’t gotten voted in. Many voters are suspicious of PED use, despite not evidence to any besides his body getting bigger between his time in the minor leagues and his ascension to the majors. Bagwell was not only one of the best hitters of his era, but also stellar defensively and on the basepaths. To me Bagwell is a slam dunk candidate and a major disservice has been done by excluding him from the Hall.

 

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2) Barry Bonds

Barry Bonds was also on my list in 2014 and is easily one of the greatest baseball players ever, the all-time home run king and that is all tainted by supposed steroid use. To me Bonds was a Hall of Famer before his supposed use and was a 5 tool player early in his career. We can debate all day about whether or not PED users should be allowed in the Hall(and I am someone who believes the Hall of Fame is NOT sacred ground) but what is easy to decipher is that Bonds is one of the greats of the game. ‘Nuff said.

 

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3) Roger Clemens

Roger Clemens is another 2014 vote for me and like Bonds, has the PED albatross around his neck. Clemens is the greatest pitcher of his era, a 7 time Cy Young award winner and should have been a first ballot Hall of Famer. Instead we are stuck continuing an argument that might never finish and also like Bonds, might have to wait for the Veteran’s Committe to get voted into Cooperstown. Clemens deserves to have a plaque next to the Johnson’s, Koufax’s, and Gibson’s of the world. When(or if) that happens is another issue.

 

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4) Randy Johnson

Randy Johnson is on the ballot for the first time this year and is a guaranteed lock to be voted in this year. It’s pretty easy to see why; 5 time Cy Young winner(placing 2nd 3 times), 2nd career in strikeouts(4875), 1st all-time in K’s per 9 inn(10.61), 23rd all-time in ERA+(135), over 300 wins and a 104.3 career WAR. Need More?

All this from a guy who when he started his career in 1988 it wasn’t guaranteed that he would be a top shelf starter. Sure, he had the stuff(an electric fastball that reached triple digits and a hard, biting slider), but Johnson was also known for having control issues. Even as late as 1992 Johnson still had a BB/9 of 6.2, but after that year he never got above 3.8 walks per 9 the rest of his career. Johnson threw 2 no-hitters in his career, the 2nd was the 17th perfect game in major league history. Randy would also dominant on the big stage of the playoffs, especially in 2001. During the playoffs that year for Arizona, Johnson would beat Atlanta twice in the NLCS and then pick up 3 wins against the Yankees in the World Series, the final victory coming in relief in Game 7, after he had pitched 7 innings the night before in Game 6. Johnson was as dominant in an era known for lack of dominance by pitching, and held that standard for a number of years. When you think of the greatest left handed starters in major league history names like Koufax, Spahn and Carlton instantly spring to mind. Randy Johnson is easily in that group and should easily slide into the Hall of Fame this year.

 

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5) Barry Larkin

As mentioned earlier, Larkin has already been inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, but not yet in the IBWAA’s version. It’s a shame really, because Larkin was the next evolution of offensive shortstop, following in the footsteps of Cal Ripken, Jr. in the 80’s. Larkin pretty much did everything(a 5 tool player), which was a big part of why he was one of my favorites of all-time. Larkin was a 12 time All-Star, 1995 NL MVP, 3 time Gold Glove winner, 9 time Silver Slugger winner, 5 times was in the top 10 of WAR in the NL(7 times for just position players), the first shortstop to have a 30 HR/30 SB season and is 22nd all-time in SB% (83.11). Larkin wasn’t flashy but he was consistent and was the blueprint for future shortstops like Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra, combining offensive punch with defensive prowess. Larkin is what most shortstops of that era shrived to be, a Hall of Famer.

 

Mariners v Cardinals

6) Edgar Martinez

Edgar Martinez has been looked over for years but he was an easy pick for me last year. Edgar is the greatest Designated Hitter of all-time, and one of the greatest hitters in baseball history. Apparently Martinez not playing much in the field hurts his case, but that honestly should be superseded by the fact that he was so good at one thing(hitting) that he is 76th in career WAR. Still don’t believe Edgar belongs?

The stats easily tell a story, that of a Hall of Fame player .

 

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7) Pedro Martinez

Pedro Martinez is much like Randy Johnson, a man who dominated in an era(the Steroid Era) where offense was king and pitching was hard to come by. Pedro was elite in this era, posting numbers who by themselves are jaw dropping, let alone when stacked next to his cohorts.

Pedro’s list of accomplishments during his 7 year peak almost look like ridiculous video game numbers: 5 times lead league in ERA(twice under 2!), 3 times lead AL in strikeouts,  and 5 times lead AL in ERA+, FIP, and WHIP. Martinez was unhittable in a period where everyone and everything was hittable. Martinez was a 3 time Cy Young award winner(2nd two other times), an 8 time All-Star, 2nd in the MVP voting in 1999, twice lead the AL in WAR(3 times for pitchers), is 6th all-time in career winning percentage(.687), 5th all-time in WHIP(1.054), 3rd all-time in K/9 (10.04), 13th all-time in career strikeouts (3154) and 2nd all-time in ERA+(154). All this from a guy who most believed would throw his arm out due to his small stature. In a time where muscle bound behemoths ruled the game, a small 5’11” 170 lbs pitcher made them all look like fools. That greatness will propel him into the hallowed halls of Cooperstown this summer.

 

Mike Mussina

8)Mike Mussina

Mike Mussina probably never dazzled anyone over his 18 year big league career. He wasn’t the most dominant, didn’t really blow gas past batters or have that one pitch that no one could hit(although his knuckle curve was a nice little out pitch when he needed it). But more than anything Mussina was consistent and stayed that way for the entire span of his career. In fact if you didn’t know better you would think Mussina was a ninja with the way his numbers jump up on you:

So here are just a few of the numbers Mussina compiled during his (what should be) Hall of Fame career: 5 time All-Star, 6 Top 5 finishes in American League Cy Young voting, 7 time Gold Glove winner, 57th all-time in career WAR(24th all-time for pitchers), 19th all-time career strikeouts(2813), 89th all-time career ERA+(123), and 270 career wins. Mussina also pitched a large chunk of his career during the ‘Steroid Era’ and the two ballparks he called home during his career(Camden Yards and Yankee Stadium) were both hitters parks. I’ve always considered ‘Moose’ the right-handed equivalent of Tom Glavine, a guy who wouldn’t blow you away but put up solid numbers year after year. Last year was Mussina’s first year on the BBWAA ballot and he compiled 20.3% of the vote, which I have to believe will go up this year. He was one I had to leave off last year but with the extra votes this year it was easy to add him to the mix. If you want flashy, Mussina isn’t your guy. But if you want a top of the rotation starter who you can rely on year after year for quality starts and quality innings, Mussina was a lock. Eighteen years of that quality should also mean he is a lock–for the Hall of Fame.

 

Montreal Expos

9) Tim Raines

Tim Raines might be one of the most undervalued players on this list but he shouldn’t be. It took me awhile, but within the last few years I have come around on my thinking when it comes to Raines and where his true place in the game should be. The good thing is that I am not alone, as his numbers have steadily increased until this past year, when he dropped from a high of 52.2% to 46.1%, probably mostly due to the gluttony of players on the list and not enough spots for all the deserving players. There are so many reasons to vote for Raines(and I state my case in the link earlier) but to NOT vote for him because he wasn’t Rickey Henderson(who just happened to play at the same time as ‘Rock’) is the equivalent of not voting for a hitter because “he wasn’t Ted Williams” I mean, being the 2nd best leadoff hitter EVER should count for something:

Luckily it appears a bump could be in order for Raines and with the possibility of 5 players getting in this year it could free up votes for future years. It might take a few more years, but hopefully the #RainesForHOF is not in vain.

 

 

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10) Curt Schilling

Just how much difference does a player’s postseason success factor into a Hall of Fame vote? In the case of Curt Schilling it matters a lot. In fact I would say without his playoff numbers Schilling probably wouldn’t get into the Hall. But when you add that to the mix, his true greatness shines through. A 2.23 ERA, .846 winning %, and a WHIP of .968(plus one bloody sock), all over 133 innings pitched in October shows just what kind of mettle Schilling really had. In fact, just go look at his postseason stats for 2001; ridiculous! When you then add in the regular season numbers it becomes much more obvious:

Schilling was a 6 time All-Star, 1993 NLCS MVP, 2001 World Series MVP, 4 times was in the Top 5 of the Cy Young award voting, 62nd all-time in career WAR(26th for pitchers), 15th all-time in career strikeouts(3116), and 47th all-time in career ERA+(127). All this from a guy who floundered in the majors until he was 25 in 1992 with the Phillies. Schilling the person might not be a guy who we would agree with on a regular basis(and definitely don’t argue evolution with him) but none of that matters when it comes to Hall of Fame voting. Schilling was a front line starter in the big leagues for 15 years and has the numbers to prove it. That is ‘Hall Worthy’ if I have ever seen it.

 

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11) John Smoltz

In the 1990’s there was no better rotation than the Atlanta Braves three-headed attack of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. Smoltz is eligible for the first time this year and he looks to be joining his former teammates in Cooperstown. Very few pitchers have done what Smoltz did in his career, be both a top notch starter and closer. In fact the only other pitcher I can think of that was able to do what Smoltz did was Dennis Eckersley and we know how he turned out. But there appears to be some writers and journalists who don’t believe Smoltz should get into the Hall on the first ballot. Ben Lindbergh wrote a great piece for Grantland on just this subject, and delves into not only Smoltz’s candidacy but also those of Mussina and Schilling. But near the end of the article Lindbergh points out something that should really be heavily taken into consideration when it comes to whether someone should vote for him:

While Schilling, Mussina, and Smoltz were all great starters, though, Smoltz’s story has a hook: As many voters mentioned, he did something unprecedented, becoming the first pitcher to win 200 games and save 150 more. And while he didn’t come close to the magic milestone of 300 wins, 200 plus 150 equals 350, which is greater than 300. That’s the kind of math that even the most WAR-averse voters don’t mind.

Smoltz accumulated 213 wins and 154 saves, which is quite the accomplishment for any pitcher. Add in a 2.67 ERA, .789 winning %  in the postseason, 1996 Cy Young award winner(2 other top 5 finishes), 8 time All-Star, 1992 NLCS MVP, 66.5 career WAR(39th career for pitchers, 44th all-time in career K/9(7.992), and 16th all-time in career strikeouts(3084) and you have a nice resume when looking for induction. It’s easy to sit here and say that Smoltz wasn’t as good as former teammates Maddux and Glavine, but who was? It certainly doesn’t take away from a career that is certainly ‘Hall Worthy’.

 

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12) Alan Trammell

It took me a long time(almost too long) but after really studying his case, I believe Alan Trammell is a Hall of Famer. Trammell case has probably been hurt for a number of reasons. Trammell’s offensive numbers don’t pop out at you and he never reached any of the big milestones that voters look for when it comes time to fill out a ballot. The argument for Trammell though outweighs a lot of the negatives; Trammell has a career WAR of 70.4, which makes him 94th all-time and 63rd amongst position players. To go a step further, Trammell has a career dWAR of 22.0, which places him 34th all-time. Trammell was solid with the bat, winning three Silver Slugger awards and in 1987 probably should have won the American League MVP(which went to George Bell of Toronto). Trammell was a 6 time All-Star, the 1984 World Series MVP, a 4 time Gold Glove winner during a period where he competed with Cal Ripken Jr. for the award, and walked more than he struck out in 7 different seasons(and had the same amount of both in 2 other seasons). Trammell is the batter equivalent of Mike Mussina; he never blew you away with anything but he was so consistent for a long period of time that what he put together was a Hall of Fame career. Still aren’t convinced? Joe Posnanski has made the argument that if you are of the belief that Derek Jeter is a Hall of Famer, then you should compare his numbers with Trammell’s. Joe points out just how close Jeter and Trammell were as players, with Jeter holding a slight edge over Alan offensively, while Trammell was easily a better defender. If Ozzie Smith can get into the Hall on his defense, and Jeter will get in on his offense(and leadership; you know that will be brought up) then Trammell deserves to be in for being the better all-around player. The sad part is that this will be Trammell’s 14th year on the ballot, which means he gets only one more shot after this year and then his case will be handed over to the Veteran’s Committee. I wish I had really studied his case sooner, not that my lone vote would mean much. If anything I wouldn’t have underrated Trammell as much as I did, not realizing he was way better than the memory remembers. Now about his double play partner, Lou Whitaker…

 

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So there you go, my 2015 IBWAA Hall of Fame ballot. I had also given a decent amount of consideration to Jeff Kent, Gary Sheffield and Mark McGwire but alas I wasn’t quite on board yet for either of those three. What I can say is that it is never too late to judge each case and compare and contrast with other cases in the past. Sometimes our memory fails us and doesn’t paint the entire picture we need to fairly assess the situation. I can only hope the logjam that has accumulated the last few years eventually gets weeded out and some deserving candidates get the call they deserve. I can honestly say I feel as if I put together a list of players worthy of the greatest of all honors, a plaque at Cooperstown. It’s not a church folks; it’s a museum that tells us the history of the game we love. These 12 players help tell that story, blemishes and all.

These are Just Some of My Favorite(Baseball) Things–Of All Time

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The other day I talked about some of my favorite things in baseball that get me excited in the current game. But going through all those exciting players made me think of all my favorites from when I was younger. So it seemed only appropriate to visit the past and go through those players I’ve enjoyed over the years. Much like my friend Chuck Samples took a look earlier this year at his favorite starting nine, I’m about to take a look at what a lot of my baseball youth was surrounded by. So here we go–back to the late 80’s/early 90’s for the best of the best(at least in young Sean’s mind).

Barry Larkin roaming the infield

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I was more than overjoyed when Barry Larkin was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. I had always felt he wasn’t as appreciated by some because he wasn’t the biggest, wasn’t the flashiest and wasn’t playing in a big market. What he was? A great, complete hitter, a clubhouse leader and a great defender. In fact, if I had to choose one thing I loved the most about Larkin, it was his defense. He was so smooth with the glove. He did it all, as this video bio shows:

Sure, Cal Ripken, Jr. was The Man at shortstop during this period. But Larkin could do more than Ripken, in all honesty. That was why I loved watching Larkin. He was a five tool infielder who made the Reds better because of it.

Lee Smith closing out a game at Wrigley Field

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Growing up, I watched a lot of Cubs games. I mean A LOT! With WGN showing the Cubs almost every day, and them playing mostly day games, I got to witness Lee Smith in his prime. It wasn’t just the fastball that popped in the catcher’s mitt. It wasn’t just the stoic, cold stare that Smith would give every batter. No, what really made Smith fun to watch was a batter stepping in with Smith on the mound at Wrigley Field–with the shadows around home plate. Like it wasn’t bad enough facing this big guy with the ridiculous fastball. No, let’s make it even harder by trying to see all this through the shadows! To say it was scary would be an understatement. All those things added up to another Cubs win…and a ‘Holy Cow’ from Harry Caray!

Bo Being Bo

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When Bo Jackson debuted back in 1986, we had never seen an athlete quite like him. Since then, we still haven’t seen a player who compares to Bo and we might never see such a player. He was a once in a lifetime athlete that I feel fortunate was on my favorite team. Bo would hit home runs farther than anyone else. Bo would run like an Olympic racer. Bo could throw a runner out at home from the deepest parts of the Kingdome. Bo could do practically anything.

Bo’s ability was unlimited, and one wonders just what he could have accomplished if not for the hip injury. I start dreaming about what the Royals would have been AS he got even better…seriously guys, goosebumps. Bo Jackson was so fun to watch and to this day I get giddy just talking about him. We were lucky to get to see him play, even if it was for such a short time.

‘Young’ Barry Bonds

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Before 1999, Barry Bonds was the best player in the game. Not only the best player in the game, but one who could do everything: hit, hit for power, run, and play great defense. He was as close to a well rounded baseball player as I have ever seen. I loved watching Barry make the game seem simple and doing everything on the field. Hell, he stole bases at a higher rate than his home runs at one point! He was what every player wanted to be on the field.

But we all know how this ends. Bonds, after watching Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa steal the spotlight in 1998, decides he can do what they did and Bonds bulked up. He bulked up to the point that he was hardly recognizable. He bulked up so much his defense suffered, he quit stealing bases, and became a home run hitter. Sure, he became the best home run hitter EVER, but everything I loved about watching Barry Bonds went away and I was bored with him. The younger version of Bonds? Loved. The older one? Dull and predictable. But at one point, he was a blast to watch.

Van Slyke’s Hustle

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Andy Van Slyke was never a big star. Hell, he wasn’t even the best player on his own team(hello, Barry Lamar)! But Van Slyke busted his butt out on the field, and I loved watching him do it. Offensively, you would have thought every at bat was his last. Defensively, you would have thought his hair was on fire. He worked for everything he achieved, trust me.

Van Slyke’s career was over by 1995, and injuries took a toll on his body. But those great Pirates teams of the early 90’s wouldn’t have gotten there without him. He was just as important a cog as Bonilla, Drabek and Bonds. It’s too bad he isn’t remembered as fondly as I remember him.

Sabes Shining

Kansas City Royals v Oakland Athletics

The first time my heart was broken was when the Royals released Bo Jackson. The second was when they traded Bret Saberhagen to the Mets in the winter before the 1992 season. He was the Royals ace, the winner of two Cy Young awards, and a no-hitter against the White Sox back in 1991.

Saberhagen was almost unhittable when he was on–which was normally in odd years. Seriously his stats in odd years were great, while they were ‘eh’ in even years. Don’t believe me? Click here. Most importantly, he was OUR ace. He was the guy on the mound when the Royals won the World Series. He was that generation’s Busby, or Leonard, or Splittorff. To me, Saberhagen was just as important as White, or Wilson, or Quisenberry. To me, he will always be a Royal.

Brett: The Best

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George Brett was and will always be my favorite player. George was everything good about the game. He was a great hitter, become an above average defender, and was as clutch as clutch gets. The 1985 ALCS was proof of that.

Brett WAS the Kansas City Royals. Sure, I loved Bo, I loved Sabes, and loved Frank. But George…George was the heart of this team. It wasn’t until I got a bit older that I realized despite me watching the latter part of his career, I still saw a guy who went out there and killed himself despite his body falling apart. I have so many great memories of Brett, so here are just a few.

and that’s just what I could find! I remember him sliding into the St. Louis dugout trying to make a catch in the 1985 World Series. I remember his 3000th hit, which happened late at night in Anaheim. It was off Tim Fortugno(I still remember this, like it was yesterday), and capped off a 4 for 5 night for Brett. In fact, I can close my eyes and picture the hit. I was staying at my Grandma Thornton’s that night, and remember being so excited that he finally got it. I also remember the batting title he won in 1990(his third career), which most didn’t expect, as he had an awful first half of the season, but bounced back to claim the title in the second half of the season. I remember betting my PE teacher that he would win it, and of course I won. Brett IS Kansas City Royals baseball. Sure, I’ve heard the stories about him being a jerk, and of him getting drunk and being less than friendly to fans. I’ve heard the Vegas story. But…I still loved watching him play. Maybe the best I will ever see, but I am heavily biased. To me, George Brett is simply the best…and he gave us this.

So there you go, a peak into my youth. I would love to wait another 20 years and see what my son’s list would be. I can only hope he has as fond memories as I have of the best game on earth, America’s Pastime.

 

The Memory Remains

baseball-loses-best-cardinals-slugger-stan-musial-orioles-manager-earl-weaverThis past weekend, two baseball legends passed away on the same day. Longtime Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver and 92 year old St. Louis icon Stan Musial were mourned over this past weekend by many for good reason. Weaver was ahead of his time, pushing a team with great pitching and waiting for the three-run homerun. Weaver would have fit in perfectly in the late 90’s baseball picture. He was just as colorful in interviews and would fit like a glove in today’s soundbite era of sports coverage. Musial has to be listed as one of the greatest players EVER, and the numbers back that up. Musial didn’t get the press of a Ted Williams or a Joe DiMaggio, but he was every bit the player they were and in some ways put up those great numbers for a longer period of time. Both are huge losses for the game, and it will be felt within the baseball community. Both were also before my time, as I only remember Weaver faintly for the end of his managing career. But it did get me thinking; how will I react when the players that I idolized as a kid start passing away? What affect will that have on me?

brett-swings-350George Brett is my all-time favorite player. As a Kansas City Royals fan since I was a kid, Brett was the definition of greatness for those 1980’s Royals team and was THE fan favorite. We all knew how special he was and loved not only his great hitting and fielding, but his hustle and determination out on the field. I have heard many a story over the years about how George wasn’t always the nicest person in the world, but he is still my favorite. He is what I love about the game. To think that someday I will have to mourn him makes me think that a piece of my childhood will die with it. Maybe it will, but then I remember that I will always have the memories. I always think about how Buck O’Neil loved telling stories about the old Negro League players, and I can see the same happening with my generation and the great Royals’ teams we saw. Brett is looked at the same way Musial is in St. Louis; he is a part of the fabric of the community. Brett is an all-time great that won’t soon be forgotten, but it will be a sad day for not only us Kansas City fans, but baseball as well.

cal-ripken-streakOne great thing about being a long time baseball fan is the history you have seen over the years and the players you watched that were just as great of role models as ballplayers. Cal Ripken Jr. is one of those players and one who will go down as not only a great player but one who you would want your kids to emulate. All Ripken did was go out there every game, day after day, injured or healthy, on a hot streak or in a long slump, and played the game as hard as he could. I still fondly remember him breaking the consecutive games streak, and can recall the goosebumps I had while watching him walk around the stadium shaking hands. Moments like that are the ones I love to pass on to my son and I can only hope that someday he can experience the same thing.

Van slykeNow, not all the players I loved growing up were Hall of Famers. Andy Van Slyke was not one of the greats, but a good ballplayer during his time. The thing that I always loved about watching Van Slyke was his hustle. Didn’t matter what part of the game it was, Andy was diving all over the field, getting his jersey dirty and doing everything he could to help his team win. Van Slyke played on some great Pittsburgh Pirates teams, and though he was never the focal point of the team(hello, Barry Bonds!), he was a vital cog in their playoff teams. Van Slyke will never be in baseball’s Hall of Fame, but I’ll always remember him fondly and can remember why he was an easy one to cheer for.

rickeyIt’s never an easy thing to watch your idols pass on, especially those that you have looked up to since you were a kid. But one day it will happen, and there won’t be anymore returns to the field they once graced. No more reunions, no more old-timer’s days, no more celebrations of their great career accomplishments. One day, it will come time to celebrate a life, not a career. In some ways, that is a greater celebration than what these great ballplayers did on the field. You can only hope when that time comes that they will be remembered for everything great they did, and the stories will never stop. Over the last few days, Earl Weaver and Stan Musial stories have been told ad nauseum. That is the true barometer of just how entrenched into the game you were. When the stories stop, that is when you should worry. I’ll have no problem telling stories of the heroes of my youth. I’ll be able to honor them the best way possible; by keeping those memories alive.

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