May 26, 2008

Stay classy, San Francisco

Perhaps they learned from their mistakes last Fall (doubtful) or maybe they just like Omar Vizquel better (probable)...but the San Francisco Giants handled Omar Vizquel's record setting accomplishment yesterday like champs.

When Vizquel was inserted into the lineup against the Florida Marlins...he trotted out to shortstop like he had 2,582 times before. But this time, he stood alone. Metaphorically AND literally.

The spotlight was his to savor and he was saluted.

Now, and only because Vizquel is in the news, the debate will surely begin as to whether or not Sheik Omar is a lock for the Hall of Fame. I've stated MY case, but with the throng of other candidates surely to be up for consideration at the same time Vizquel comes due...the outlook is murky when you look at the first ballot.

One point to ponder...EVERY player that leads their position in games played is in the Hall of Fame sans two. Omar...obviously.

The other?

Barry Lamar Bonds.


BallHype: hype it up!

May 22, 2008

What's the talk at YOUR water cooler?

Wow!

It seems like you can’t turn on one of the evening sportscasts without seeing something that sparks some sort of discussion. Can you remember a time in your life where every night you can go to bed knowing exactly what the water cooler fodder is going to be the next day?

I can’t.

From the tragedy at the Kentucky Derby to the Chicago Bulls miraculously getting the ping pong ball to drop their way in the NBA Draft Lottery…the sportsworld gives us something every day. Just the other night, Jon Lester of the Boston Red Sox continued his remarkable return from cancer to hurl a no-hitter!

Plenty of people will point out the obvious...Red Sox pitchers have thrown the last two no-hitters (Clay Buchholz threw one last September), but I’ll go with the less traveled path with my water cooler talk.

By CALLING Lester’s no-no, Jason Varitek has now caught the most no-hitters in baseball history and, for the second time, they happened in back to back years. Hideo Nomo threw his in 2001…Derek Lowe matched the feat in 2002.

When it is all said and done, this will be an interesting (but forgotten) footnote on Varitek’s career. And while he is a good signal caller, the ONLY thing Varitek will have on Hall of Famers Roy Campanella and Yogi Berra is this odd distinction.

And since we're talking catchers…allow me to add some fuel to the fire when I suggest that recent retirement of Mike Piazza will continue to go virtually unnoticed.

By why?

Piazza was arguably the BEST hitting catcher in the game when he played ans possibly of all time. Of his peers, only Ivan Rodriguez can hold a candle to Piazza’s accomplishments at the plate. Sure, “Pudge” has an MVP award (Piazza finished in the top ten seven of his first eight seasons)…but there really is no comparison between the two.

But just how good, er, great was Mike Piazza?

You’d have to have your head under a rock to NOT know that he is the all-time leader in homeruns as a catcher. Piazza hit 396 of his 427 in games where he was behind the plate. Carlton Fisk has 351. Johnny Bench…326.

But what about the other offensive numbers?

The batting averages of the last three catchers inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame (Bench, Fisk and Gary Carter) come in at .267, .269 and .262. Piazza…a cool .308.

Piazza arguably had one of the best hitting seasons as a catcher in 1997 when he hit .362 with 40 homeruns and 124 RBI.

I think this is also where I am suppose to point out that Bench, Fisk and Carter combined for one season where they hit over .300 and qualified for the batting title.

Piazza hit higher than .300 in nine straight seasons and finished in the top five in batting average in four of those. Add in the ten straight silver slugger awards and the fact that he is one of only six players who have 400 career homeruns, a .300 average while never striking out more than 100 times in a season and you’ve got a special hitter.

The guy was an All-Star twelve out of thirteen years and elected by the fans to start ten of them, but still, there seems to be no love for Mike Piazza.

The guy is the ultimate underdog story...people SHOULD love that.

In 1988, the then first baseman Piazza was the last player the Los Angeles Dodgers drafted…in the 62nd round! As the story goes, the mercy pick was done as a favor to Tommy Lasorda, a close friend of Piazza's father. I guess after 1389 OTHER players are selected, you’re allowed to get a little punchy and make some crazy moves.

For the record, I found two other notable players that have gone 1390th or later…Juan Pierre and Mark Mulder.

Pierre was actually drafted three different times by three different teams. In 1996, he was picked 1406, but after it was all said and done, he was selected 390th two years later.

Mulder is a different story. Like Piazza, Mulder played firstbase when he was drafted 1456th out of high school. Unlike Piazza (who vowed to switch to catcher if drafted), Mulder switched to pitcher full time and was taken second overall in 1998 and after a career at Michigain State.

Piazza was superstar on both coasts by playing both with the Dodgers and the New York Mets. Ask anyone if there was a player who managed to win over both cities like Piazza did and, like me, I’m sure they’d be hard pressed to come up with a name off the top of their head. No doubt his five games with the Florida Marlins in 1998 failed to set South Beach ablaze. Haha.

So, like Frank Thomas…why no Piazza love?

I mean, typically, when one of the best players of their time retires, they get some press, Piazza got next to none. I guess we get to wait five years to see how well the sports writers remember him...as the greatest catcher of all-time or as the recipient of that famous Roger Clemens bat toss.


Oh yeah, should he not come back...Clemens will be eligible for the Hall the same year as Piazza and there isn't a snowball's chance I'd be missing either of those speeches.

Ain't irony a bitch?


***Note: Based on the "Is Mike Piazza a first ballot Hall of Famer" poll that was on the page...93% of you said yes.***


BallHype: hype it up!

May 14, 2008

Does anyone REALLY care? If not...why?!?

Living just outside of the Windy City…I get inundated with news about the White Sox and Cubs whether I want to hear it or not. Problem is, unlike most of the people I associate with…I DON’T want to hear about them.

Ever.

That was until, once again, Sox manager Ozzie Guillen opened his mouth for his semi-annual attempt to “distract the sports writers from noticing how terrible my team is with the promise that I’ll say something more stupid than I did the last time.” You see…it’s almost like Daylight Saving Time. Like clockwork, it happens twice a year, but it feels like much more than that.

I mean, you ever have those days where it feels like you got an hour less of sleep? You never quite recover…do ya?

I digress.

Last week, in the wake of the much ballyhooed sex doll debacle at US Cellular Field, Guillen opened his mouth, did his best Lee Elia impersonation and out came this little gem…“we’re the Chicago bitch”.

He figures that on the Chicago landscape, his team plays second fiddle to the “Lovable Losers”. According to Guillen, a team that hasn’t won squat in 100 years is better off than one that took home the trophy in 2005.

And he’s right.

People are absolutely stupid for the Cubs…not so much for the White Sox. Not only are they the Rodney Dangerfield of the Chicago sports scene…but, as it seems, Major League Baseball as well. Think about it, unless they are playing some of the primetime regulars (Yankees, Red Sox or Indians), you’d be hard pressed to find the Second City’s second favorite team get much play on either FOX, ESPN or TBS.

Hell…I don’t even know if White Sox even respect THEMSELVES or their own history!

One player that more than exemplifies this notion is Frank Thomas. And as a friend recently pointed out to me…“Thomas is the best player to ever play for the Sox and they probably won’t even retire his number.”

But why?

Before the “Pale Hose” envoked the horseshit “diminished skills” clause following their Championship run in 2005…the “Big Hurt” was already one of a very, very elite group of players.

Currently, Thomas is one of FOUR players to have a .300 average, 500 home runs, 1500 RBIs, 1000 runs and 1500 walks during their career. Who are the other three? Mel Ott, Ted Williams and Babe Ruth…not too shabby.

Matter of fact, Thomas has a handful of goofball records like that…records that no one REALLY knows how to put into context.

  • Thomas is the ONLY player in baseball history to have seven consecutive seasons of a .300 average, 100 runs, 100 RBI, 20 home runs and at least 100 walks.

  • He was the seventh member of the .300 average and 500 home run club.

  • There are only six players with more home runs and a higher career average than Thomas.

  • Thomas is one of six players to have amassed 1600 walks and 500 home runs.

  • Thomas was the first player to win two silver slugger awards each at two different positions.

  • My favorite…Thomas is the ONLY player to hit more than 90 sacrifice flies (he has 120) and not collect a single sacrifice hit.

The kicker (and perhaps the biggest knock AGAINST Frank Thomas)…Thomas is the all-time record holder for home runs by a designated hitter. Coincidently, it is former teammate Harold Baines who, while he has more than 2800 hits…gets SLAMMED for having been a DH for most of his career.

Okay, so we know (or at least we’ve been told) how good Frank Thomas WAS. His stats stack up favorably to some old school Hall of Famers that we’ve all heard of…but frankly, they are merely footnotes in history.

Who here actually saw Mel Ott play? How about Jimmie Foxx?!? Case rested.

So, let’s talk about how good the “Big Hurt” IS.

You know that “Thomas is the ONLY player in baseball history to have seven consecutive seasons of a .300 average, 100 runs, 100 RBI, 20 home runs and at least 100 walks” I referenced earlier? Well, Thomas did this to START his career AND it includes the strike shortened season of 1994. Surely SOMEONE has had to come close to this feat, right?

Actually…yes, and his name is Albert Pujols.

Yes, THAT Albert Pujols who is seemingly EVERYWHERE right now. Minus the walks (Pujols doesn’t have the knack to frustrate pitchers like Thomas does) and one season where he had 99 runs scored…we’ve got virtually identical players at the plate.

That is…for their first seven seasons, which is all Pujols has on the books.

Both finished in the top ten in MVP voting each of those seven seasons. Thomas brought home two awards…Pujols one. All in all…Thomas has nine top ten finishes.

Let’s get back to the numbers.

Going into this season, Pujols had 4054 at bats. At the same point in HIS career, Thomas had 3821…but remember the walks, people. Pujols does have the edge in runs (847 to 785), hits (1344 to 1261), home runs (282 to 257), RBI (861 to 854) and average (.332 to .330), but one could argue that we’re in more of a power era that 1991 to 1997 when Thomas was in his heyday.

As an aside (and I am not insinuating in the least that Pujols touched “the juice”), look at Thomas when he broke in and look at him now…he’s pretty much the same size…a far cry from Barry Bonds or Jason Giambi. Here’s a guy was the ONLY active baseball player interviewed for the Mitchell Report.

He was so sure of his cleanliness…he did so voluntarily.

Why is Frank Thomas so forgotten? Is it because he was mostly used as a DH?

Possibly.

But the idea is to help your team win ballgames, right? Thomas did just that…and did it better than a LARGE percentage of the players ever to put on the cleats.

So again…why is Thomas forgotten?

Fifteen years ago, I would have said that Thomas got lost in the fanfare surrounding Bo Jackson, Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire. Simply put…he just didn’t have “it”. Fast forward to today…David Ortiz has a hard time stringing together more than a few words of broken English, yet he has more endorsement deals than I can count.

Outside of a 1995 Super Nintendo game, I couldn’t tell you one other time that I saw Frank Thomas being celebrated and as I referenced in the first line of this diatribe, I do live near the belly of the beast…the city that gave us the Rodney Dangerfield of Major League Baseball.

So what is it?

If it isn’t the accolades, the plethora of numbers or odd assortment of accomplishments, it can only be one thing…nobody cares about the White Sox.

***Note: Based on the "Is Frank Thomas a Hall of Famer" poll that was on the page...87% of you think "first ballot all the way". I agree.***



BallHype: hype it up!