From the Bleachers: A Further Step into the Season

kc1
Credit: Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Now that we are in the middle of May, there is a definite feeling of where many teams lie or at least where they will be as the season progresses. Since I haven’t been able to truly dive in with my thoughts (outside of anything Kansas City Royals related), I thought this would be a good time to take a look at some of the big stories of the last few weeks. Let’s start with the mess that is the American League Central…

kc2

Grab it like You Want It

So with about six weeks into the season it has become very apparent that the American League Central isn’t the best division in baseball. Or the league. Or much of anywhere. In fact if it wasn’t for the Indians facing my hapless Royals this weekend I wonder if they would be posting a winning record right now:

AL Central
Credit: MLB.com

That’s right, the Indians are the only team in the division with at least a .500 record. Actually, on Friday night the entire division was under .500. The Royals had beaten Cleveland that night, leaving them at 18-19 at the top of what has become a poor, beaten-down, pathetic division.

More than likely the Indians and probably even the Twins will finish with a winning record when it is all said and done, but right now this is an ugly picture. When the Royals have played very uninspired baseball to this point and they are only sitting 7.5 games out of the lead, that is not a good sign.

But let’s be honest here for a bit; at some point we are going to get a division winner with a losing record. In fact if it wasn’t for the strike back in 1994 we might have gotten it then:

west bbref
Credit: baseball-reference.com

That season ended with the Rangers leading while being ten games below .500. Then the strike happened and baseball didn’t come back until the next season. But it does make you wonder about when it will happen and how soon the pundits will flip out. I can already picture the “talking heads” discussing how such a weak team will grace postseason play and “tarnish” the good name of baseball.

The truth probably lies somewhere in-between, where it’s more of a sign of the dangers of allowing more and more teams into the playoffs. It probably won’t happen this year or even the next few years, but at some point a team with a losing record will be playing in the games that matter the most in October…and just imagine if they get hot and punch their ticket to the World Series. Oh my…

kc3
Credit: AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

The Dark Knight is His Own Worst Enemy

Earlier this week Matt Harvey was dealt to the Cincinnati Reds for catcher Devin Mesoraco, ending his time in New York. While many will question his arm and whether he will even return to his former self, to me the bigger question is whether or not his ego and pride will allow him to be successful again.

Don’t get me wrong, he pitched very well on Friday: 4 innings, 1 hit, 0 runs, 0 walks and 2 strike outs against the Dodgers, all of which spells a great debut in Cincy. But at the end of the day his performance wasn’t the lone issue clouding him. No, his issues are paramount and solving these problems need to be his choice, not forced onto him.

In my opinion, the Mets had the right idea; send him down to the minors and break his entire game down to rebuild it. But Harvey’s pride and stubbornness got in the way. Maybe getting out of ‘The Big Apple’ will help, but I tend to think we will see him struggle again, soon.

Matt Harvey loves being ‘Matt Harvey, the dominant stud pitcher’ or ‘Matt Harvey, busy man on the town’ more than he loves being just a guy who gets to play baseball for a living. Until he recognizes himself as the biggest problem, there just won’t be a happy ending for the man formerly known as ‘The Dark Knight’.

kc4

Nick Markakis…Hall of Famer?

About a week ago MLB.com scribe and (in my opinion) one of the best baseball writers of this era Joe Posnanski posed an interesting question about Nick Markakis: can he realistically reach 3,000 hits? Before you start laughing and thinking that is impossible you might want to go look at his career numbers…now pick up your jaw. Markakis currently sits at 2,105 hits here in his age 34 season. In other words, he only needs 895 hits to reach one of the biggest milestones for a hitter in baseball lore.

Outside of players not yet eligible for induction into the baseball Hall of Fame, only two players who have reached 3,000 hits haven’t been inducted into the hallowed halls: Pete Rose and Rafael Palmeiro. Rose is not in because of his lifetime ban and Palmeiro is not because of a positive steroid test. That number–3,000–has always meant an automatic place in Cooperstown and speaks of a player’s longevity and consistency. Markakis checks off both of those marks.

But I’m pretty sure you don’t view him as being an all-time great or even a perennial All-Star. On of his list of achievements is a two-time Gold Glover winner and…leading the American League in WAR in 2008. That is it.

But what has helped Markakis get to this point is a lack of injuries and a regular spot in the lineup. Markakis has only had one season under 145 games played in a season (2012) and his lowest hit total in a season (outside of 2012) is 143 in his rookie year. If things keep moving at his current pace, he could hold on for another six seasons or so and reach 3,000 around his age 40 season.

If that happens, do we then consider him a Hall of Famer? I tend to believe we have to, even if he was never talked about as being one of the top ten players in the game. More than anything, I want this to happen just to hear the discussions about his candidacy. There will be those that will look at 3,000 hits as proof he belongs. Others will argue he was never a “Great” player. Either way, I hope he gets close and I am now rooting for Markakis to reach this milestone.

GTY 957493782 S BBN USA PA

Welcome Back, Cutch

Earlier this week Andrew McCutchen returned to Pittsburgh for the first time since his trade to San Francisco and it was as great as you probably pictured it being in your head:

Look, I absolutely loved this for about a million reasons. One, it is always great to see a player return to his former stomping ground and be appreciated for all he did. Two, he was a vital part of that franchise’s return to prominence and was the biggest piece of the puzzle when it came to how that team was built.

But it was also great because I have been a fan of Cutch for years. Go ahead and search his name on this blog; you are bound to find me speak nothing but glowing praise his way. McCutchen, much like Bonds before him, was an all-around player who helped push the Pirates farther because of his greatness. He’s not quite the player he used to be at this point of his career, but at one time he was easily one of the top five players in the game.

I’ve also kind of felt like the Pirates are the National League’s version of the Royals. Both teams were once a regular participant in the playoffs, only to fall on hard times for a couple of decades and then return to glory. I obviously loved the Royals climb back to the postseason and appreciated Pittsburgh’s return as well. So I am glad Cutch got the standing ovation and I’m glad to see him still loved. He is truly a great player and a great human who deserves all the cheers he gets and more.

Finally, for my fellow Royals fans, here is what Eric Hosmer was up to this weekend:

While I wasn’t nor ever will be a big Hosmer fan, I’m glad to see him contributing in San Diego. Plays like this are why the Padres acquired him and hopefully that doesn’t go unnoticed.

kc6

That is just a snippet of what is going on around baseball. I didn’t even get to Shohei Ohtani, Bartolo Colon, Mike Trout or even Mookie Betts. No talk of the increase in home runs and strike outs, foul weather or big-market collapses. I’m sure the next couple of weeks will give me more than enough material to discuss and hopefully I will be able to pass along my thoughts. Until then…

 

 

 

Advertisements

Every Rose Has Its Thorn

kc1

Say the name Pete Rose and you are bound to hear many a varied opinion. If there was one former player who is a lightning rod for controversy and passion it would be the man nicknamed “Charlie Hustle”. We all know the story of Rose, one of a man who has fallen from grace because of his vices. This week we found out that Rose has sent a formal request to new MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred to have his lifetime ban lifted, a ban that has been in effect since August of 1989. Many in and around the game are on Rose’s side in this argument, including the executive director of baseball’s players’ union, Tony Clark. But should Rose have his lifetime ban lifted?

kc2

I know some people don’t completely grasp this, but gambling is the biggest sin in baseball. If you think all the visceral hatred of PED use was as bad as it could get, you would be wrong. Gambling is much worse and can(and has) tore apart the fabric of the game. Gambling is such a no-no in the game that there is a sign posted in every Major League, Minor League and Spring Training clubhouse that reads:

“Any player, umpire, or club official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has no duty to perform shall be declared ineligible for one year. Any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible.”

This hasn’t been posted for just a few years, or a couple decades; it’s been in clubhouses for close to 100 years. So from the moment Pete Rose walked into a professional baseball dugout he was aware of the dangers and punishment if he gambled on the game. Yet he did it anyway. In fact while manager of the Cincinnati Reds, he gambled on his team. Now, he always has said he “bet on them to win” but does this even matter? He broke rule #1 in the game he loved, a rule that he knew if broken would cost him. It cost him alright; it cost him inclusion into the game that was his life. But he knew the risks and he knew he shouldn’t do it–and did it anyway. I’m not even for sure he feels as if what he did was wrong. Which means much like the fans clamoring for his reinstatement, he doesn’t grasp the severity of gambling in baseball.

kc3

That is the other part of the Pete Rose argument. For years Rose denied he gambled on baseball. He denied it on August 24th, 1989 when then Commissioner Bart Giamatti announced Rose’s lifetime ban. In fact, Rose vehemently denied gambling on baseball:

“Despite what the commissioner said today, I didn’t bet on baseball,” Rose told the media. He does, however, admit that he bet on other sports. “I made some mistakes and I’m being punished for mistakes,” he says.

For years Rose would deny he ever bet on baseball. Years. In fact for years “Charlie Hustle” hustled the media and fans alike by lying and saying he would never bet on the game he loved. But eventually he would go back on that and tell the truth. He would admit that he bet on baseball. But he would do it right before the release of his tell-all book, My Prison Without Bars. So Pete would finally tell us the truth…when it would bring something to him. After years of swearing he was the victim and had done no wrong, he turned around and told the truth when he could make a profit. So the question would have to be asked; At this point, in 2004, did Pete really feel like he had done wrong or did he just admit his wrongdoing for the sympathy? In 2007 he would admit betting on his own team on the Dan Patrick Radio show:

“I bet on my team every night. I didn’t bet on my team four nights a week. I was wrong,” Rose said. “I bet on my team to win every night because I love my team, I believe in my team,” Rose said. “I did everything in my power every night to win that game.”

Maybe it’s just me, but it just feels like Pete found a way to give people what they wanted(the truth) while also making money. It didn’t feel like someone getting something off his chest, relieving himself of guilt. It felt like a man trying to manipulate people’s feelings for him. It didn’t feel like remorse. Only remorse he got caught.

kc4

This most recent attempt by Rose for reinstatement isn’t his first. In fact, former teammates have come to his aid before. Back in 2003, Mike Schmidt and Joe Morgan set up a meeting with then Commissioner Bud Selig where Rose could discuss his case with Selig and possibly even move forward. ESPN’s Jayson Stark wrote an article back in 2009, discussing an episode of “Outside the Lines” where Morgan and Schmidt discussed this meeting. In the article there is some very telling truths about Rose and his situation:

Morgan actually shed a tear as he talked about his longtime teammate and what had become of his life. And Schmidt visibly agonized in frustration over Rose’s inability to do and say what seemed so obvious to those of us not living inside the Hit King’s skin.

“If it were me,” Schmidt said, “and I had lived a lie for 14 years, and I went up to tell the commissioner that I was sincerely sorry for what I’ve done to my family, to the sport, etc., I probably would be back in baseball now and in the Hall of Fame — because I would have been a tremendously remorseful individual. And I would have felt the burden of that the rest of my life, in everything that I did. And I would have, in my travels, been a totally different person.

“My lifestyle would have changed. I would have felt an obligation to change and to become someone that the baseball world would once again learn to love after forgiving me. I would have been that guy. And I don’t think Pete has been.”

There were no promises made to Rose that day in 2003. But Schmidt went into stunning detail about the topics on the table in that meeting.

The men in that room actually talked informally, he said, about how Rose should go about holding a news conference to admit what he never could admit all those years: that he’d bet on baseball. They kicked around when he should hold that session. And where.

More than anything, there seemed to be awareness that Rose would have to change his lifestyle. The lifestyle that got him into this situation in the first place. That is where a problem arose:

But the men in that meeting also talked about the changes in lifestyle Rose was going to have to make. No more trips to Vegas. No more hanging out at the racetrack. That was going to have to stop.

And, of course, none of it ever stopped. Not then. Not now.

But the nature of the conversation tells you how much momentum was being built for Rose’s reinstatement. It may not have been imminent. But it was clearly within reach.

“So we were very confident,” Schmidt said, “that once we left Milwaukee, that some phone calls would ensue, some e-mails and discussions with Pete’s representatives and the commissioner’s office, that a plan would be put in place.”

But that plan never even made it onto a crumpled up sheet of scrap paper in Selig’s office. And that was no one’s fault but the Hit King’s alone.

People in the commissioner’s office are still muttering that Rose’s first public stop after leaving Selig’s office was an appearance at a Vegas sports book. It wasn’t quite the reconfiguration of Pete Rose’s life they had in mind.

If you have ever wondered why Pete Rose hasn’t ever been reinstated, and why I feel he shouldn’t ever, those last few paragraphs tell so much. The reason why Pete Rose should never have his lifetime ban lifted is because of the lifestyle he just isn’t willing to give up.

kc5

The biggest issue baseball will have to look at is whether or not Rose has reformed, or whether Rose is living the gambling lifestyle. There is nothing we have seen from the last few years that says he has changed. Rose lives 1.2 miles from the Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, where he signs autographs in a mall music store. Go back and re-read that; Pete Rose, noted gambler who says he wants a second chance, works in a casino. Sure, Rose will tell you things are different and he would never gamble on baseball again. But lets be honest; Rose lied for 15 years, telling us he didn’t bet on his team. He came clean 11 years ago but where does the truth and lie begin and end? As much as we all want to believe Rose can be this better person who would put the game ahead of his own wants and needs, I’m not so sure that person exists in him. Rose has much in common with players who are suspected of PED use and have denied it for years; they believed they were untouchable. They believed because of who they were they would never get caught. Well, Pete got caught and has spent the last 25 years trying to convince everyone that he was the victim. The honest truth is Pete put himself in this situation. Pete created this mess; his decisions led him to this place and time. There is one rule that everyone that plays, umpires, manages or is a club official has to follow no matter what; don’t gamble. Rose broke that rule and has spent all these years trying to convince everyone that he did nothing wrong. The reality is he broke the one rule that will end your career in the sport. No reinstatement, no Hall of Fame, no nothing. This is the bed Pete Rose has made for himself; it’s time for him to admit he must lie in it.

Book Review: The Fight of Their Lives

Juan Marichal Hitting Catcher John Roseboro

I became infatuated early on in life with baseball.  By the age of ten it was what my world revolved around(that and Star Wars) and I began finding out everything I could about the game, including it’s history. Many images blazed a trail in my mind early on, like the video clips of Babe Ruth running fast around the bases or Pete Rose’s headfirst slide. But when I read about Giants pitcher Juan Marichal hitting Dodgers catcher John Roseboro with a baseball bat, I couldn’t get the image out of my head. Things got so bad that the batter hit the catcher with a bat? Whoa! This just never happened in baseball, yet at one point things got heated enough that a man hit another man in the head with a baseball bat. I knew the Dodgers and Giants rivalry was heated, but this was another level. I never learned much of why this happened but I’ve always been curious. Thanks to John Rosengren we now know.

John Roseboro and Willie Mays - Aftermath of Marichal Incident

Rosengren spends a lot of the early portion of the book discussing both Marichal and Roseboro and the early portions of their life, both before baseball and early in their careers. The picture that is drawn is one of two different people; one grew up in the Dominican Republic, the other in Ohio. But as much as those locations couldn’t be farther apart, they both knew what it felt like to be treated differently because of the color of their skin. You learn that Marichal is a warm, gentle man who felt he was misunderstood a lot once he got to the United States. Roseboro’s family was one of only a few of color in Ashland, Ohio, but John didn’t deal with a lot of the racial prejudice that many faced around the country at that time. John excelled in sports in school but was also a quiet man who didn’t socialize a lot. As much as you want to learn about the fight and how and why it happened, learning about the two players involved helps give you a better feel about the incident and how this was just an isolated incident, not a pattern of anger or violence.

kc3

Maybe the most interesting part of the book is Marichal discussing some of the prejudice he encountered against Latinos in the game. Most of us are aware of the issues that African Americans encountered in baseball for the longest time, even after the racial barrier was crossed. The picture painted of was one of Latinos being taken advantage of by managers, owners and even Major League Baseball in general. A pitcher like Marichal, who at the time was very close to being the equal of the Dodgers Sandy Koufax, could never make close to the money Koufax was making. The language barrier was a big issue for many Latinos and in a lot of cases where Marichal was hurt or sick, the club just thought he was being lazy and didn’t want to “fight through it”. It is a real eye opener to realize that as much as we realize the biggest black eye on baseball throughout its history has been racial prejudice against African Americans, there was just as much prejudice going around for Latinos. The fact that both Marichal and Roseboro dealt with these issues while playing in the big leagues showed that these two men were more alike than either would have realized.

© Copyright 2013 CorbisCorporation

Now onto the fight. What you really get is that this was a perfect storm. Obviously the Giants and Dodgers playing each other means emotions are already heightened. Two teams, jockeying for position in a playoff push while already having quite a bit of dislike for each other is a recipe for disaster. I won’t give away what leads to the fight, but what I will say is that Marichal did not strike Roseboro out of anger. This fight might be the ugliest on a major league ball field in history and most of us can agree that something like this should never happen ever again. It’s interesting to hear how both sides felt after the incident and how the public and baseball felt. As much as the media wasn’t even close to invasive as it is now, there was still a very one-sided view of what happened, which still happens the majority of time today. The counter-effects of the fight were numerous and felt by both parties, which the author does a great job of relaying both and not taking a side either way.

kc5

Over the years neither player was able to leave the incident behind them, as whenever either player was brought up, so was the fight. Time painted Marichal as the bad guy and Roseboro as just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Over time Marichal would reach out to Roseboro, and the two men would even be able to bury the hatchet. For a number of years Marichal, despite having the numbers, wouldn’t be voted into the Hall of Fame, many citing the fight. This whole section of the book is a great view into the two former players relationship, as Roseboro feels the need to set the record straight and vouch for his friend, Marichal. Two men who at once were enemies on the field would grow a friendship that many former players never achieve, yet along two that were once at odds.

kc6

To read about not only how close Marichal and Roseboro became but also how close both families would become really pointed out how we all make mistakes and holding onto anger doesn’t hurt anyone but yourself. John Rosengren did a great job of focusing more on the human aspect of these two men than just what they were as ballplayers. By the end of the book you really feel like you know the two of them and that they were not only good players, but good human beings. If you are a baseball fan you will love all the baseball talk that is in the book. But this is not just a baseball book; this is a book about two people, from two different worlds. One incident connects these two players for life but do not let it define them. Juan Marichal spoke at John Roseboro’s funeral and probably sums up everything the best someone could:

“Johnny’s forgiving me was one of the best things that happened in my life,” he said. “I wish I could have had John Roseboro as my catcher.”

I highly recommend following John Rosengren on twitter and also going and purchasing the book here. This is a great read that I will be picking up again at some point.

 

Driving It Home

kc1

The debate has already begun as Major League Baseball has instituted a new rule to help cut down on home plate collisions and help prevent major injuries. This has already been about as hotly debated as any of the other changes baseball has added to the game over the past few years(replay, extra wild card, etc.). One of the main things discussed has been how MLB didn’t go far enough with the rule, or enough to protect the baserunner in these situations. Let’s dissect the rule.

kc2

Now, what really brought us to this point was the Buster Posey incident a few years back. If you haven’t seen the play, here it is:

I’m not going to get into how Posey didn’t get himself set up well, which I feel like made this play even worse than it should have been. Scott Cousins of the Marlins caught a lot of flak for plowing into Posey here, and you can look at this one of two ways. One, Posey was blocking the plate, making it hard for Cousins to go around him. Or two, that Cousins could have slid around him, taking the possibility of an injury out of the equation. Watching the footage a number of times again, I can see both arguments. Look, if the catcher is blocking the plate, it takes away one of the options for the runner. I don’t think Cousins ran into Posey to hurt him; that was just instinct to get to home plate and score. Now, Cousins could have possibly went around him and attempted to slide. Posey had set up in front of the dish to where Cousins had some room to get around him. But part of this issue is instinct.

kc3

For years baserunners have been told that if the catcher is blocking the plate, lower your shoulder and barrel in. You can’t blame a runner for this; he is going in there with no extra equipment on while the guy he is set to run into has a full set of body armor on. I am all for cutting back on injuries and especially for curbing someone from getting a concussion. But with the way the rule is set up now, you are asking for more injuries. Bruce Jenkins takes a good look at this, discussing how players seem to be more open to injuries than before. Many of these guys don’t think about it before they head to home plate; they don’t think, they react. What do you think will happen now? There is a good chance many players will start thinking about it, and force them to either injure themselves or the catcher(or both). Do we want this to happen? Of course not, but putting the rule into play right before Spring Training leaves very little room to really practice for this situation. But let’s stay that teams work on the play religiously this spring and everyone feels like they are set and ready in case they are thrown into that situation. If you are the runner, this doesn’t seem like this new rule will benefit you.

kc4

It’s mentioned in the Jenkins article I posted in the last paragraph, but this new rule seems to leave the runner in a vulnerable position. Here is a quick rundown of the rule:

• A runner may not run out of a direct line to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher, or any player, covering the plate. If he does, the umpire can call him out even if the player taking the throw loses possession of the ball.

• The catcher may not block the pathway of a runner attempting to score unless he has possession of the ball. If the catcher blocks the runner before he has the ball, the umpire may call the runner safe.

• All calls will be based on the umpire’s judgment. The umpire will consider such factors as whether the runner made an effort to touch the plate and whether he lowered his shoulder or used his hands, elbows or arms when approaching the catcher.

• Runners are not required to slide, and catchers in possession of the ball are allowed to block the plate. However, runners who do slide and catchers who provide the runner with a lane will never be found in violation of the rule.

• The expanded instant replay rules, which also go into effect this season, will be available to review potential violations of Rule 7.13.

The part that has many worried is how the catcher can still block the plate while the runner isn’t allowed to lower his shoulder. Former big leaguer Eric Byrnes has been very adamant about how this makes things worse for the runner and feels like no change to the rule would have been better than what they did:

Byrnes’ argument holds even more weight with this statement:

“You’re coming in at full speed, all of a sudden the catcher has the ball, and I can’t lower my shoulder or push off?” said the retired Eric Byrnes. “What do you want me to do, torpedo in with my head and get paralyzed? You’re leaving the runners in no-man’s land. We’re worse off than we were before.”

So leaving the rule open to allowing the catcher to still block the plate while not wanting the runner to defend himself seems like a recipe for disaster. It is very apparent that if they were smart, most teams would go to the swipe tag at home plate. The Giants have already taken that route, putting that into play once Posey returned to action. This is probably where it is headed anyway, so why not go ahead and enforce it, rather than use the new rule as an “experiment”? This doesn’t seem like a play you want to “dip your toes into the water” to test the temperature.

kc6

Above you see maybe the most famous home plate collision in baseball history. In the 1970 All-Star game, Ray Fosse blocked home plate while Pete Rose barreled into him. Fosse was injured by this collision, an injury which wouldn’t be noticed until the following year and was forced to heal incorrectly. Fosse would continue to play throughout the 70’s but was never the player he was before ‘Charlie Hustle’ ran him over.  Fosse is proof of what home plate collisions can do to your career. The point of the new rule is to protect players from injuries, but it brings up more questions than answers. There is a feeling that the rule was kind of thrown together and a rule focused on catchers not blocking the plate would seem to be the direction they will eventually go. They already do that in the college game, so for most players drafted from this point forward it wouldn’t be a drastic change. The main thing that needs to happen is for a rule to be instituted that protects both catcher and baserunner. Concussions are a serious matter and baseball is moving in the right direction to remedy the problem. The sooner they eliminate the catcher blocking the plate, the better. It’s the best thing for the game.

Put That in Your Pipe and Smoke It!

kc1

If you have been a fan of the Kansas City Royals for as long as I have been(or even longer), you are well aware that the teams they trotted out in the late 70’s and early 80’s were overloaded with talent. Sure, everyone knows about George Brett and Frank White. Most will have heard about Willie Wilson or Dan Quisenberry. Real diehards will mention Amos Otis and Dennis Leonard as key players to Kansas City’s success. But a key cog in the Royals machine for most of those years(and a man who has always been taken for granted) was Hal McRae. In fact, it might be safe to say McRae and his hitting was almost as vital as Brett’s for a lot of those Royals teams.

kc2

McRae’s professional career began in 1965, as he was drafted in the 6th round of the amateur draft by the Cincinnati Reds, the 117th overall pick. It’s hard to believe, but at one point Hal was a speedster, a center fielder that could cover a lot of ground. Before the 1969 season though, McRae suffered a multiple leg fracture in the Winter League and he went from being a player who could fly to just being of average speed. As much as the injury hurt his speed, what really hurt Hal in Cincinnati was the pool of talent the Reds were accumulating, a team that would soon be referred to as “The Big Red Machine”. The Reds at that point had an outfield of Cesar Geronimo(who would end up in Royal blue in 1981), Bobby Tolan and some guy named Pete Rose. With George Foster also in the picture, the Reds found McRae expendable and dealt him to Kansas City after the 1972 season. McRae didn’t instantly show Cincy that they had made a mistake, as he would struggle in his first season with the Royals, hitting .234 in 106 games.

kc4

It’s safe to say though that the 1974 season was Hal’s coming out party. McRae would play in 148 of the Royals games, hitting .310 with an .850 OPS and a 3.9 WAR. McRae fit perfectly in the Royals lineup, a contact hitter who didn’t hit for a lot of power but got on base and drove in runs. Kauffman Stadium(at the time known as Royals Stadium) has always been known as a good park for gap hitters, and back in the 70’s it was even better with the artificial turf. McRae would also spend a lot of his playing time at DH, a fairly new position that was somewhat looked down upon. McRae would embrace the role and some would say became a pioneer for the position.

kc5

1976 would be a banner year for Hal, as he continued his hot hitting. In fact, McRae was leading the league in hitting going into the final game of the season, with teammate George Brett and Minnesota Twin Rod Carew right behind him. Brett would go 2 for 4 and clinch the batting title by a margin of less than .001. McRae was not happy though, as he felt the Twins had conspired to help George win the title. Twins left fielder Steve Brye would misplay a fly ball in the 9th inning that helped Brett win, a move that McRae felt was racially motivated. McRae was so incensed that as he headed back to the dugout after getting out in his final at bat, he would turn toward the Twins dugout and flip the bird toward Twins manager Gene Mauch. A scuffle would ensue, and McRae would let his feelings be known after the game:

“Things have been like this a long time. They’re changing gradually. They shouldn’t be this way, but I can accept it.” […] “I know what happened. It’s been too good a season for me to say too much, but I know they let that ball fall on purpose.”

McRae was never one to be shy or not let his feelings known, and this would be one of those moments. Overall, McRae had a great season in 1976, as he would get picked for his second straight All-Star team and ended up fourth in the MVP voting. 1976 was also the first year that DH was his primary position. Things were definitely looking up for McRae.

kc6

The rest of the 70’s McRae put up solid numbers, even if they weren’t quite at the peak of his 1976 season. McRae would lead the league in doubles in 1977 and continued to be a solid run producer for the Royals. Hal would also be known for being an aggressive base runner. So aggressive in fact that the rule that states a runner must slide into second base to break up a double play is known as the “Hal McRae Rule”. McRae was known to cross body block infielders while sliding into second, which many players had learned to avoid.

Oakland A's v Kansas City Royals

Injuries had started taking their toll on Hal starting in the late 70’s and continuing into the early 80’s. After appearing in only 101 games in 1979, McRae came back in 1980 and was a vital part of the Royals team that would make their first World Series appearance. He would lose close to 40 games to injuries that year, but still put up solid numbers that many had started expecting from him. After having a rough ALCS that year, Hal would have a very good World Series, hitting at a .375 clip, with 9 hits and an OPS of .923. It wouldn’t be enough as the Royals would fall to the Phillies in six games.

kc8

 

1982 would see McRae stay healthy, which helped him have a season that would rival 1976. Hal would hit over .300, put up his highest OPS of his career(.910), hit the most home runs of his career(27) and lead the league in both doubles(46) and RBI’s(133). The Royals would not make the playoffs that year, but it wasn’t because of Hal. This would garner him with another All-Star nod, a Silver Slugger Award, and fourth place in the MVP voting.

kc9

1983 would see another solid season from McRae as he would play in all but 5 games for the Royals that year. Injuries would return though in 1984 and so would the regression expected at his age(he turned 39 in the middle of the ’84 season). Hal would appear in just a shade over 100 games in both 1984 and 1985 and his hitting took a hit as well. McRae would hit about .260 for both the ’85 season and the ALCS that year, and with no DH in the World Series that year, McRae would see only pinch hitting duty. The Royals would finally get their first(and only) World Series title that year and luckily he got to be a part of that. But it had become apparent that he was nearing the end of his career.

kc10

1986 would be McRae’s last full season in the big leagues, appearing in only 112 games and hitting a paltry .252. The man who had once been a major cog of the Kansas City Royals machine was nearing the end, and on July 17, 1987, he would play his final game in the majors. During his 19-year career, McRae put up some very strong numbers, numbers that even today he should be proud of. Hal would be a career .290 hitter, with over 1000 RBI’s and close to 500 doubles. He would rack up a career OPS+ of 123 and a career WAR of 27.9. Maybe his biggest accomplishment though was his embracing of being the DH and realizing that a career could be made just batting. As guys like Harold Baines and Edgar Martinez would do later on, McRae would not let injuries end his career and in fact helped him flourish. McRae helped make it easier for players to play the majority of their games at DH, as he showed that you could actually make a career out of it.

kc11

With his playing career over, Hal would return to Kansas City’s dugout in 1991, this time as the team’s manager. Much like his playing career, he was hard-nosed and expected the same from his players. McRae would actually turn into a good manager for the Royals and in 1994 had the team playing their best baseball since the late ’80’s. The Royals were making a run at the playoff spot that season before the strike hit and ruined the Royals hopes. When the strike went down on August 12th, the Royals were only four games out of the American League Central and half a game out of a Wildcard spot. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be and McRae would be fired before the 1995 season would get underway. But before this happened, there was one defining moment during Hal’s run as Royals manager. It might be one of the greatest post-game blowups of all time. Words cannot do this justice. Just watch:

Just epic. All these years later and people still flock to that meltdown. To clarify, McRae didn’t even think about pinch hitting Keith Miller for George Brett. Actually just typing that makes me agree with Hal. Who would pinch hit for #5, even late in his career? By the way, my favorite part of that is the twirly bird. Fantastic.

kc12

McRae would manage one more team before it was all said and done, managing the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for a couple of seasons in the earlier 2000’s. McRae would also show up as the hitting coach over the years for the Reds, Phillies and Cardinals and was St. Louis’ hitting coach in 2006 when they would win the World Series, McRae’s second ring. As far as I know, McRae is out of baseball now, but I can’t help but feel like he could help a team. I hope when everyone thinks of those great Royals teams of the ’70’s and ’80’s, they remember that McRae was a big part of them and in fact they probably wouldn’t have gone as far without Hal. His tough as nails style rubbed off on his teammates and pushed them to be better. Between that and his being a pioneer for the Designated Hitter, McRae has more than enough to be proud of when looking back at his career.

Just When You Think the Market is Cornered on GRIT…

getzgordonFor the past two years, the brass of the Kansas City Royals have put a heavy emphasis on having gritty, hard-nosed players take up space on their roster. Manager Neddy(Frank) Yost and GM Dayton Moore seem to have a bromance with these players, almost to a laughable degree. But just when you think Kansas City is the only franchise who would rather have a player who gets his uniform dirty than having actual real talent, along come the Arizona Diamondbacks.

JUPThis past week, Arizona pieced together a massive deal to send star Outfielder Justin Upton to Atlanta, reuniting him with brother BJ. Arizona had discussed trading Upton for awhile now, which perplexed a lot of people within the game. Upton is only 25 years old and has an amazing amount of upside. Just two years ago, he put together a breakout season, hitting over 30 homeruns, an OBP of .369 and an OPS close to .900. Add in him cutting down his strikeout totals and seemed that Justin was starting to put the numbers up that Arizona expected when they drafted him back in 2005. But even as early as last offseason, the Diamondbacks were trying to deal him. Upton stumbled in 2012, and it just added fuel to the trade rumor flames. So why would Arizona want to trade one of the most talented younger players in the game? One word could probably sum this up: GRIT.

kirk-gibsonArizona manager Kirk Gibson was known for a variety of intangibles during his playing career. Maybe more than anything he is remembered for his hard-nosed, in the dirt type play and his win at no cost attitude. Right now you are probably picturing his walk off homerun in Game One of the 1988 World Series, limping around the bases and moving slower than former manager Tommy Lasorda. Gibson played the game like his hair was on fire, a model of the “take no prisoners” style of baseball. So it only makes sense that Gibby would prefer players that play the game the way he used to. There has been a thought that Arizona had a surplus of players that didn’t fit that mold. Chris Young was jettisoned early this offseason, shipped to Oakland. Stephen Drew: gone. Prospect Trevor Bauer was the most shocking trade this offseason, headed to Cleveland. Upton was thought to not fit the mold that Gibson wanted, as some within the organization felt he didn’t want to get his uniform dirty. Sure, Upton would spend extra time in the batting cage when struggling, trying to fix issues he was encountering last year. It’s not like JUp didn’t show a willingness to improve. He just wasn’t Kirk Gibson.

codyrossThis brings up a bigger question, and one that will show whether or not Arizona GM Kevin Towers and Gibson are correct. Which is more important, an all-out balls to the wall attitude or actual talent? In some ways, I am torn on this subject. I will admit I enjoy watching the players who dirty up their uniform and play the game like there is no tomorrow. But most of the time actual talent trumps a player who gives 200% out on the diamond. Sure, Gibson was a player who played the game with a lot of GRIT. But he also had talent. Same for Pete Rose. Now, let’s not act like the Diamondbacks didn’t get any talent in return for Upton. Prado is a former All-Star, and Randall Delgado is a top of the line future starter. The Snakes have also added some quality guys this offseason, as there is no reason to sneeze at guys like Cody Ross and Eric Chavez, along with the prospects they have picked up. The argument is that Justin Upton isn’t just a future star. Upton very well could be a future MVP and a guy to build your team around. Instead, Arizona has valued a mindset over tools.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Kansas City RoyalsArizona isn’t alone in this thinking. Over the past couple years, the Royals have gone out of their way to acquire players they think(and sometimes very heavy emphasis on the ‘think’ part)are hard-nosed, gritty players. The difference is that while the Diamondbacks have Prado and Ross, the Royals get Chris Getz and Jeff Francoeur. That is the difference between a team that can realistically make a go of the playoffs, and a team on the outside looking in. It is NOT the worst thing in the world to have players with those intangibles. It is bad when you don’t realize that talent will get you farther than the guy hitting .235 but gets his uniform dirty every game. I guess that begs the question: which would you rather have, Justin Upton, a guy who could be a future MVP, or Jeff Francoeur, someone who won’t even be an All-Star, but is a good character clubhouse guy(and someone who will deliver pizza to your fans)?

celebrate2013 will show whether Arizona was correct to build their ballclub around “Gibby Ball’ or they will have the proverbial pie in the face from traded talent like Bauer and Upton. Hey, it might work. If there was ever a guy I would trust to will a team to the playoffs, it’s Gibson. Talent is still there in Arizona, just no one player who can be the focus of the team. if it doesn’t work, Kirk Gibson’s head could be on the chopping block. If they feel like they aren’t quite there, Kevin Towers could always call the Royals. I’m sure Getz and Francoeur could be had for the right price.

Just to Clarify: the Baseball Hall of Fame is NOT a Church

National-Baseball-Hall-of-Fame1

This week the BBWAA will announce if there are any new inductees to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, and no matter the results there will be controversy. The biggest names of the “Steroid Era” (Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens) are finally eligible for the Hall, and despite their career’s being Hall of Fame worthy before they took any illegal substances, most voters won’t bother even giving them a passing thought. Soon, the Hall of Fame ballots will be inundated with players who probably should be inducted, but because of the suspicions of PED use, they will not get the 75% of the votes that are required for entrance into the hallowed halls of Cooperstown. But they should be in, and here is why. The Baseball Hall of Fame is not a church. It might be sacred ground for those of us that love the game, but it already has cheaters and players with shady character issues roaming the halls.

hall-of-fame11 Having players in baseball cheat and do whatever they can to get an advantage is as old as the game. We’ve all heard the stories about players using spitballs, or scuffing the ball to get more movement when they pitch. Batters have long used items like pine tar and cork to help them hit the ball farther. None of this is new. It’s been going on since the beginning of the game, and will be going on long after you and I are gone. Doesn’t mean it is right, but lets not act like the game is 100% pure. In fact, a pitcher named Pud Galvin is said to have injected monkey testosterone back in 1889. With that line of thinking, are we to believe that there is no one in the Hall of Fame with a shady record or who didn’t follow the rules of the game all the time? None of us are that naive, but it’s amazing how many of the writer’s will crucify everyone who used steroids, or is even suspected, yet they idealize former players whose character would be thrown into just as much of question. Two of the biggest in history would not be categorized as “Angels”, and I don’t mean the ones that roam the outfield in Anaheim. Exhibit A: Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb.

baseballhall9   Two of the greatest baseball players of all time are Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth, and neither would be considered of being of great character. Cobb was a known racist, and would sharpen up his spikes so when he slid into a base he would go in with his spikes high. Yeah, real nice guy, huh? To say the least, Cobb was not liked by many, and that includes his teammates. Ruth, while liked by his peers, wasn’t a saint. Ruth was a known womanizer, and poured more than his fair share of alcohol and tobacco into his body over the years. Don’t believe me? Here is an actual quote from “the Bambino”:

“Sometimes when I reflect on all the beer I drink, I feel ashamed. Then I look into the glass and think about the workers in the brewery and all of their hopes and dreams. If I didn’t drink this beer, they might be out of work and their dreams would be shattered. I think, ‘It is better to drink this beer and let their dreams come true than be selfish and worry about my liver.’”

I can not tell a lie: that is a real quote from Babe Ruth!! Now, Babe Ruth is still one of the greatest(if not THE greatest) ballplayers of all time. But these men weren’t saints and I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t take them out of the Hall of Fame, now would you?

6-gaylord-perry_display_imageMaybe the most notable player in Cooperstown that is known for cheating is the great Gaylord Perry. Perry made a career out of playing with the batters head. Perry would go through a whole routine on the mound, including wiping his brow and rubbing behind his ear before throwing a pitch. Did he throw a spitball all the time? No. Did he make the batter think he was? Yes. That was part of his game. The other part of his game was simple; Gaylord threw a spitter. The problem was, there was never any hard proof in a game. There were many attempts to catch him, but most futile. But since his retirement, Perry has admitted to adding a little somethin’ somethin’ to the ball, to give it a little bit of added english. Perry won over 300 games in his career, and won the Cy Young in both leagues, while totaling five 20 win seasons. Pretty safe to say, he is a Hall of Famer; a Hall of Famer that cheated.

mickey_mantleMaybe one of the biggest cases of a player who probably shouldn’t pass the character clause in the rules of voting for the Hall is Mickey Mantle. I know there is a whole generation that worships “The Mick” and who think he walked on water. I will never deny he was a hell of a ballplayer, possibly even one of the best. But Mick also had a major drinking problem and cheated on his wife. He also didn’t have the greatest relationship with his sons, but that is neither here nor there. Everyone loved Mickey Mantle, but he made life rough for anyone who was around him. Dealing with an alcoholic every day is tasking, and that is how most friends and family members felt about Mantle. He deserves to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame, but his character should have been brought into question. Here is where a section of the baseball writers aren’t able to separate their feelings about Mantle while in the same breath crucify steroid users. Hell, Mantle was even given a shot that included steroids back in 1961 to help his ailing hip. Yes, that would “enhance” him being able to play on the field, which would in effect give him an advantage. Are you starting to see where some of the hypocrisy of the writers is seeping in? All that, and I haven’t even mentioned “greenies” yet.

greenies“Greenies” as they are called, were regularly used throughout  the years in baseball, while most prevalent in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Amphetamines(or speed) allow a player to be able to bounce back from a long night and perform at a higher level than they would have clean sober. How prevalent were “greenies”? The percentage of players that used them during that period would be near the majority, where even a player like Willie Mays was known to have amphetamines located in his locker(although no one has ever come out and said they saw him use them). It was common practice for players to use amphetamines to help them recuperate, but there is no scrutiny laid at their feet. Once again, this helped “enhance” their performance, much like PED use would. There is no doubt in my mind that there are players in Cooperstown who used this substance to help them get through a grueling season. It doesn’t make me think less of them, but it once again shows that PED use isn’t an island onto itself.

plaqyesThe point of this is to not knock down some of the greats of the game. They are humans just like the rest of us and in a lot of ways should not be placed on the mantle we like to put them on. The point is that there is a segment of the writers who won’t vote for anyone who is even suspected of using steroids, and while that is their prerogative, it also takes away from what the real purpose of the Hall of Fame is. Baseball’s Hall of Fame is a museum for the game and everything it encompasses, good and bad. Throughout history, bad things have gone hand and hand with the good in the game. The “Steroid Era” is a part of the game, and baseball allowed to it happen. It wasn’t against the rules, and players took advantage of that, making everyone richer. It also put a stain on the game, but it’s a stain we are stuck with. Just like the “Black Sox Scandal”, just like Pete Rose and just like the racism that permeated in the sport for decades. While Cooperstown is the closest thing to Heaven for us fans, it is not Church. Let’s try not to treat it that way.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑