July 25, 2008

Hooray for Saturday!

A lot of kids growing up get excited for the normal made up holidays…Valentine’s Day, Halloween, the last day of school. Me…I always got jazzed up about the day the Hall of Fame announcement was made.

Sure, it doesn’t have some fancy name or some wing at the Hallmark store dedicated to it, but it was, for a couple hours in January…my Christmas.

Well, TECHNICALLY, Christmas was Christmas…but you get the idea.

Then, after six months of thinking about it, we get what amounts to New Years Eve, a relative’s wedding or basically any other “holiday” where someone stands up and makes some clichéd speech about what an honor it is and how they never thought they would make it.

This weekend, we get the pleasure of hearing what I am sure is going to be another in a long line of self indulgent speeches when Rich “Goose” Gossage takes center stage.

Gossage is a guy who went from 33% of the vote to close to 86% in eight years. Somehow he convinced 300 votes that all of a sudden he was good enough to become the next great reliever to be inducted into the Hall. Apparently he wasn’t only a top notch closer…he’s a wizard! Heck, he’s not even the lone “Goose” to be elected into Baseball’s hallowed halls!

In my estimation, he was on the right ballot at the right time.

For some reason, voters don’t seem to want to enshrine Jim Rice or Andre Dawson and they live by some wacky code that SOMEONE needs to be voted in. But in an age of “did he” or “didn’t he”…the Hall wasn’t about to open its doors to the likes of Mark McGwire or Tim Raines. I get it.

Which brings me to what I saw recently on ESPN. Buster Olney and Buck Showalter were given five names of current Major Leaguers and were asked what they thought about their chances.

The names were no-brainers…Mike Mussina, Billy Wagner, Jim Thome, Omar Vizquel and Gary Sheffield. Let’s break ‘em down.


MIKE MUSSINA

To me, “Moose” is an interesting case. On paper, you see a HUGE winning percentage (.637), a brilliant 263 and 150 record and close to 2800 Ks. His career ERA is 3.69 and one could argue that had he not toiled for more than half of his career in Baltimore…he would be as much of a Hall candidate as Tom Glavine. HOWEVER, Glavine had five seasons with more than 20 wins. Mussina, while he’s hit double digits in wins seventeen straight years, has yet to eclipse 20. The Cy Young award has eluded Mussina as well. Unfortunately, six top five finishes and no hardware doesn’t make for the best Hall of Fame case. Showalter, said Mussina is a Hall of Famer…Olney disagreed. I’m with Olney on this one. Outside of wins and consistency, and this sounds stupid to say, Mussina just hasn’t SHOWN me anything spectacular.


BILLY WAGNER

Wagner should eclipse Eckersley on the all-time saves list this season and enter next year’s campaign firmly in fifth place all-time, third on the active list. That being said, he’s still WELL behind Trevor Hoffman, Mariano Rivera and Lee Smith AND is a guy who has never led the league in saves. By comparison, Hoffman has only led the National League twice, but he has nine seasons with more than 40 saves. Rivera has led the American League three times and has six seasons with more than 40 saves. Wagner has two. I’m not saying that Wagner isn’t a premier closer…I’m just saying that if Lee Smith can’t get a sniff at a time when Bruce Sutter, Eckersley and Gossage are…Billy Wagner is going to have a rough time competing for the writer’s affection with the likes of Hoffman and Rivera still out there. As for Olney and Showalter…they split again. Showalter was a “maybe”, while Olney “agrees” with me.


I’ve made the case for Thome and over the last year…he hasn’t done anything to make me feel otherwise. He’s got 526 home runs and barely 2000 hits. He’s going to have to do PLENTY more to sway me. Again, Olney and I are “no” votes…Showalter, predictably, was a “yes”.




Again, this is a drum I’ve beaten before and is one of those guys that I LOVE to bring into the conversation when it presents itself. Not surprisingly, Olney, Showalter and I agree across the board with “Sheik Omar”. As much as I would hate to see him hang it up…I think Omar needs to ride off into the sunset before he ruins his storied career.


GARY SHEFFIELD

Now…here’s a guy who, in all honesty, deserves his own column. Does he pass the smell test? Not sure…he plays alongside some FANTASTIC players. Matter of fact, he’s been overshadowed by plenty of them, but has put up some amazing numbers. A .294 career average, 2570 hits, 487 home runs and 1600 RBI puts him in a similar league as Willie McCovey, Mike Schmidt, Willie Stargell and Ernie Banks. HOWEVER…that’s where some of the similarities end unfortunately since each of the afore mentioned have bettered Sheff’s three top five MVP finishes by taking home the award at least once. I could go on and on about Sheffield (and I might just do that in the near future), but it is interesting to note that the nine time All-Star only once led the league in a major statistical category…he batted an NL best .330 in 1992. So…what did the ESPN experts think? Olney said “yes” and Showalter, for some reason, disagreed. Me? I agree with Buster…not Buck.

So what about you? I’ll put each up for vote…and you tell me what you think!

BallHype: hype it up!

July 24, 2008

Happy Anniversary you crazy bat, you

"I played 20 years in the major leagues, I did some good things, and the one at-bat I'm remembered for is an at-bat in July."
-George Brett

Unless you've been trapped in a cave (all apologies to those actually trapped in caves), you know that today is the 25th anniversary of the infamous "Pine Tar Game".

You know the story, my hero George Brett hits a home run off of Rich "I'm EVERYWHERE Nowadays" Gossage, he circles the bases, goes back to the dugout, Yankees skipper Billy Martin questions the legality of the bat, then...mayhem.

Apparently there was too much pine tar on the bat, but the funny thing...it wasn't lifelong troublemaker Martin who started the melee.

It was Graig Nettles.

Gossage has gone on record saying, "Graig knew the rule. The ump did his job. Everybody thought it was silly, but it's in the rules." Rule 1.10 (b) to be precise.
And here is that rule: the bat handle, for not more than 18 inches from the end, may be covered or treated with any material or substance to improve the grip. Any such material or substance, which extends past the 18-inch limitation, shall cause the bat to be removed from the game. Umpire Tim McClelland ruled that Brett's bat had "heavy pine tar" 19 to 20 inches from the tip of the handle and lighter pine tar for another three or four inches.

But did the extra pine tar aid Brett in HITTING the home run? Not likely. And that was the finding of American League President Lee McPhail who ordered the game be resumed.

So, three weeks, four days, four hours and fourteen minutes later the "Pine Tar Game" was resumed. The Royals ended up winning after closer Dan Quisenberry spent all of twelve minutes shutting down the Yankees to preserve the 5-4 victory.

And if you ever doubted the seriousness of the game...the Yankees "voiced" their disapproval by playing pitcher Ron Guidry in centerfield and left hander Don Mattingly at second base.

BallHype: hype it up!

July 16, 2008

This is the "last season at Yankee Stadium"...since when?!?


The All-Star break has officially come and gone…did you hear the one about this being the “last season at Yankee Stadium”?

If you didn’t…I’m pretty sure you’ve been in a coma. And if you did…you should have made a drinking game out of it. Hell, you’d have been more tipsy than David Wells throwing a perfect game had you decided to imbibe.

All that aside, I can’t bash the All-Star game. Some of my fondest moments as a lifelong baseball fan have come as a result of the Mid Summer Classic. Suffice it to say…I was ecstatic when I heard about FOX’s super hyped “Red Carpet” special PRIOR to the game.

This thing promised to feature everything you could ever want leading up to an All-Star Game…Hall of Famers, All-Stars and no Ryan Seacrest. Seacrest is officially everywhere now, right?!?

So here goes.

6:00pm CST The season long love affair with Yankee Stadium continues with this opening montage. Something tells me that if this game was played in Flushing…we wouldn’t get Darth Vader doing the voiceover. Odds are we’d get some James Earl Jones knock off LONG before we heard from the real deal. I don’t even want to think about the voiceover the last season at Riverfront or Veterans Stadium would have garnered.

6:01pm “Emerald green grass”…shown VIVIDLY in glorious black and white highlights.

6:02pm There’s Don Larsen’s no-hitter and Chris Chambliss blasting through the fans after his memorable walk off home run. Think we’ll see David Cone’s perfect game? Thought not.

For the record, I have no desire to EVER go to New York. That being said…I’d just about sell my soul for about an hour in Monument Park.

6:03pm “We celebrate these memories and look to make one more” says Darth Vader. Obviously this was edited long before the over fellating of Josh Hamilton and his Home Run Derby performance Monday night.

6:04pm Here’s that red carpet we’ve heard all about! Wait…this thing is sponsored by Chevy? Who knew?!?

They just informed us that a cab ride from Bryant Park to Yankee Stadium is twenty bucks? According to MapQuest…we’re looking at a three mile ride. Three miles for twenty bucks…why so cheap, New York!

And there’s A-Rod in a suit…pretty much destroying ALL belief that this is a “live” event.

Eck minus the mullet…I don’t like it.

Mark Grace ladies and gentlemen! Some would call Grace a Hall of Famer…not me. Sorry, Bushaw.

6:05pm Apparently New York is the home for some memorable parades.
1945…the Japanese surrender ending World War 2. 1960…JFK makes his way to the Big Apple. This past January…the Giants win the Super Bowl. Tuesday night…this disaster.

Yes…it’s taken all of five minutes to sour me.

6:06pm Oh, Mark Grace is making Joan Rivers jokes. These things are both as clever and timely as Monica Lewinsky references or the two guys being interviewed…Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra. My lame jokes aside, imagine the tail that Ford and Berra inherited just by hanging out with Mickey Mantle.

6:07pm Oh…it’s A-Rod again and yes, I will avoid any and all Madonna references. What I won’t avoid is the fact that he says he’s excited to see Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Willie McCovery.


McCovery?!?

6:08pm A-Rod just thanked the “good Lord” for his fan support. Nothing wrong with that I suppose…but how about thanking the fans for that support, hmmmmm?

6:09pm Did she just say “RYAN” Sandberg? On a side note…I don’t know how I feel about Ryno. Met him once…meh.

6:12pm This red carpet is full of ALL the All-Stars…including the North American VP of Chevrolet Ed Peper. Cha-ching!

6:13pm Did someone mention this thing was at Yankee Stadium? If not, my favorite (no joke) baseball player of all time, George Brett, was just asked about the “pine tar incident” which happened to occur at Yankee Stadium. As a nine year-old in 1983, I had NO freaking clue what this thing was all about. All I knew was that there was my hero freaking out and Goose Gossage and Billy Martin being involved. I cried.

6:14pm Jonathan Papelbon just referenced the need for him to be riding in the “Pope Mobile”. Classic.

Apparently there was some flack about Papelbon saying he’d close out the game if asked and that is what drew the ire (this time) of the Yankees faithful. Personally, I’m on the fence. Papelbon can be lights out…but Mariano Rivera looks like a cross between a zombie and a burn victim. And let’s face it…who wouldn’t want Ghost Rider on the bump in a close game?

6:15pm It’s nice to see some fan had the foresight to bring out some newspaper with a “PAPELBUM” headline. Stay classy, New York.

6:16pm Did they really just introduce Mayor Michael Bloomberg as New York’s “ultimate closer”? Why...did John Franco die?!?

6:17pm Oh look…as we head off to break, there’s Reggie Jackson situated right in front of a “Fringe” banner. How convenient.

6:20pm Okay…I’m confused. We’re twenty minutes in and so far, no mention of Jo…nevermind, there’s Josh Hamilton now.

6:21pm You know, I’m not sure if you knew this or not, but Hamilton had a substance abuse problem. Combine that with the talk about this being the last year of Yankee Stadium and somehow I’ve found my two least favorite pieces of information of the last decade.

6:24pm Finally, we get to hear from Reggie Jackson and to no one’s surprise, he is quick to reference his three home runs in the 1977 World Series. I mean, I’ve NEVER heard him talk about that…have you?

6:26pm “Mr. November” Derek Jeter just referenced this season as being the last one at Yankee Stadium. Has someone alerted the media? I’m not sure this has been publicized enough.

6:30pm Ooooh, highlights from the “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” contest (sponsored by Baby Ruth) judged by William Peterson and Bernie Williams. I mean, who would YOU have judge it? Please shoot me.

6:31pm Hooray…a 9-11 reference! I was wondering how long this would take.

6:32pm This “parade” was just called the “greatest collection of baseball stars in history”. Take THAT Hall of Fame induction ceremony!

6:33pm We just learned that Chipper Jones apparently became a switch hitter because his dad was a Mickey Mantle fan. Fair enough…why the stupid nickname, Larry?

6:34pm Hey look…Chase Utley and his dad! Nevermind…it’s only Mike Schmidt. And surprise, surprise, Schmidt just referenced Pete Rose. Give is up Mike…he’s not getting into the Hall of Fame.

6:35pm Hmmm…there’s Ben Sheets situated in front of another “Fringe” banner. What’s this “Fringe” show I’m, seeing so much about?

6:39pm Ugh…a shot of Terry Francona in the Yankees clubhouse. I think I’m going to be sick.

6:40pm Mark Grace just told us it would be “un-American” for him to NOT talk to a Cub. And who does he talk to…Kosuke Fukudome.

Grace just talked to “Mr. Cub” Ernie Banks who said he never played at Yankee Stadium. A two second search over at Baseball-Reference shows that Banks was the starting shortstop in the 1960 All-Star Game. Incidentally, that was the THIRD to last All-Star Game played at Yankee Stadium.

6:42pm Some dolt just told Hank Aaron that he “did a lot of winning”. Memo to world, Aaron appeared in THREE post season series in 23 seasons. Oh, and here’s a brain bender…Aaron appeared in 25 All-Star Games in those 23 seasons. Figure THAT one out, gang!

6:43pm What…Spike Lee is at a New York sporting event. Who knew?!? Good thing he was on hand to mention this being the “last season at Yankee Stadium”.

6:48pm Why do people feel the need to talk to Make-a-Wish kids like they are puppies?

6:51pm Willie Mays loves hearing himself talk. Something tells me that he could (and would) take 20 minutes to explain to you how to spell his name and he STILL wouldn’t have made any sense.

6:52pm David Duchovny is giving his Yankee Stadium memories (apparently this is the last year) and there was no mention of the upcoming X-Files movie. How does that happen, FOX?

6:55pm Last night Bon Jovi performed some All-Star Game concert. Nothing says “New York” like New Jersey! Just ask the Giants and Jets!

6:56pm Before this extravaganza was put to bed, we’re reminded again about this being the last season at Yankee Stadium. Since when?

6:57pm And if that wasn’t enough we were greeted with an abortion of a rendition of Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” sung by a bunch of random New York turds: Regis, Michael Strahan, some sidewalk vendor, future sidewalk vendor Lawrence Taylor, Whoopi Goldberg, a bunch of others and for some reason Darryl Strawberry.


What…was Roger Clemens not available?!?

I’d love to give some insight about the game, but why bother? It was a long, long night.


BallHype: hype it up!

July 8, 2008

Sorry Walker...here's my favorite Texas Ranger

I was in a meeting last week when, no joke, someone said…“there’s a reason why it is called the ‘Midsummer Classic’ and it isn’t because it is played in February”.

Dumb statement? Perhaps.

But it wasn’t long after I heard that, that I realized that we were indeed on the cusp of being deluged with All-Star game hype.

Who is in?

Who is out?

Is it wrong to want to see Ken Griffey, Jr. out there for what might be one last time?

All valid topics of conversation and every single one of them was answered this past Sunday when the teams were announced a la the NCAA brackets. I mean, do we really need an All-Star Selection Show?

The answer is “no”…but I digress.

By now, we all know that this is the last All-Star game at “Historic Yankee Stadium”, the Tampa Bay Rays have no starters, Junior fell out of favor over the past week and Jason Varitek is somehow going to be part of the festivities.

All of those are stories that we’re going to hear ad nauseam, but there is going to be one name that we’re likely going to get sick of hearing by this time next week.

Josh Hamilton.

I know, I know…he is a former number one overall pick, struggled with injuries and drug addiction, was out of baseball for a few years and is now back living up to the expectations everyone had of him ten years ago.

I get it…it is a nice story.

All that aside, there is one tidbit about Hamilton that I took notice of…he is the first Texas Ranger outfielder to start an All-Star game since Juan Gonzalez in 1998 and only the third Ranger outfielder (Gary Matthews, Jr. was the other) to be selected in the last twenty years.

That’s not terrible company considering Gonzalez left his own injury filled career sandwiched between ANOTHER Junior, Cal Ripken, and should be Hall of Famer Andre Dawson on the all-time home run leader list.

That’s right, Gonzalez quietly finished his career with 434 bombs…good for 37th all-time. Matter of fact, including Dawson…there are only four Hall eligible players (Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco and Dave Kingman are the others) with MORE home runs than “Juan Gone”.

Drafted at 16 and taking his first Major League cuts at 19, Gonzalez was considered by many to be the best Puerto Rican baseball player since Roberto Clemente...and he could have been. Here was a slugger whose numbers at the plate seemed to mirror those of Griffey, Jr. but never did he garner the adoration “The Kid” received.

Starting in 1992, and setting the 1994 strike year aside, Gonzalez had 35 or more home runs in seven out of nine seasons. From 1992 to 2001, Gonzalez hit 365 home runs out of the yard...Griffey sent 400 packing.

Imagine if Gonzalez would have stayed healthy!


Here is a guy who MISSED twenty or more games in all but FOUR seasons in his seventeen year career. At the time, “Juan Gone” made Junior look durable!

In 1996, Gonzalez won the first of his two MVP awards with a career high .643 slugging percentage, .314 average, 144 RBI and a staggering 47 home runs. And why are 47 home runs staggering considering that it was only fifth best in the American League? Gonzalez sat out close to 30 games and STILL led the Rangers to the playoffs.

His impact was THAT great.

In the 1996 ALDS, Gonzalez tied Jeffrey Leonard's
1987 NLCS record by homering in four straight post-season games and joined Reggie Jackson and Griffey as the only players to hit five home runs in a single post-season series.

Two years later, Gonzalez once again brought home some hardware by hitting .316, 50 doubles, 45 home runs and knocking in 157 runs. Unfortunately, this MVP season was all but ignored on the national stage given McGwire and Sammy Sosa delighting the world with their best Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle impersonation.

But yet again, the Rangers lost to the Yankees in the playoffs and “Igor” was pretty much a shadow of his 1996 postseason self barely hitting my dog’s weight….083.

But if postseason play means anything (and it probably doesn't in this case), Gonzalez's four-year peak, contributed to the only three postseason appearances in the Rangers' history and he also contributed greatly to the Indians' 2001 division championship.

Juan Gonzalez was pretty much an RBI machine throughout the 1990s.


Eight times, Gonzalez knocked in more than 100 runs and for his career, he knocked in a hefty 1404…more than Hall of Famers Orlando Cepeda, Johnny Bench, Duke Snider and only ten less than McGwire. Along with McGwire, there are only seven players eligible for the Hall that have more RBI than Juan Gonzalez.

In 1998, his 101 RBI at the All-Star break was the second most in history. Hank Greenberg had 103 at the intermission of the 1935 season. By comparison, the afore mentioned Josh Hamilton is leading the free world this year with 85 RBI…twenty more than the next closest hitter in the American League.

But let’s get back to McGwire (and I do so ONLY because there is that faction out there that believes he should be enshrined) and compare him to Gonzalez.

As I’ve said before…take away McGwire’s home run total and you’re basically left with nothing. Compared to Gonzalez, “Big Mac” has roughly 500 more plate appearances, but 300 less hits. “Juan Gone” finished just shy of 2000 for his career…McGwire had 1626.

Gonzalez bests McGwire in career batting average (.295 compared to .263), but does far short in both on base percentage and slugging (.343 and .561 versus .394 and .588).

McGwire blows Gonzalez out of the water with his OPS+, but honestly, he has 150 more home runs…he should. Gonzalez’s 132 OPS+ is better than Hall of Fame sluggers Dave Winfield, Eddie Murray and Carl Yastrzemski though.

When Cooperstown comes a callin’ (and I’m suggesting that maybe the writers take a longer look at Juan Gonzalez than they did, say, Albert Belle), it’ll be easy to dismiss him considering some of the talent he played against, the era he played in (his teammates at one time in Texas DID include Jose Caseco and Rafael Palmeiro) and the fact that he played in the Lone Star State for a majority of his career. He had one great year outside of Arlington, but outside of that…the guy is one of the best Texas Rangers to ever walk this Earth.

Sorry Walker.