April 30, 2009

The Legacy of Number 31

Take a look around the major leagues, team by team, and there are numbers that define the franchise.

In Boston, it is Ted Williams’ familiar Number 9.

Number 44 in Atlanta is synonymous with Hank Aaron.

And in New York, well…in New York, the Yankees have too many to mention.

On May 3, the Chicago Cubs will be adding a new number to their team’s historic legacy.


Joining Numbers 10 (Ron Santo), 14 (Ernie Banks), 23 (Ryne Sandberg), 26 (Billy Williams) and 42 (Jackie Robinson) will be Number 31.


However, the Cubs aren’t just retiring Number 31 for one player…they’re doing it one better and retiring it for two.

Fergie Jenkins and Greg Maddux.

And the case for both is pretty easy to make.

Jenkins made his way to the Cubs on April 21, 1966 (a week after Maddux was born coincidentally), along with John Herrnstein and Adolfo Phillips. In return, the Phillies received Bob Buhl and Larry Jackson.

Now, I’m not entirely sure how Buhl and Jackson panned out for the Phillies, but considering they were out of baseball shortly after Richard Nixon was elected suggests that the Cubs MIGHT have made out like bandits.

But what exactly did Jenkins accomplish while wearing Number 31 on his back for the Loveable Losers?

Well…

Jenkins was 167-132 with a 3.20 ERA in two stints (ten seasons) with the Cubs. In 1971, he brought home the National League Cy Young Award, while three other times, he was either the runner up (1967) or finished third (1970 and 1972).

All in all, Jenkins threw six straight 20 win seasons between 1967 and 1972 (the longest streak in the Majors since Warren Spahn did the same between 1986 and 1961), during his first stint with the Cubs.


In 1982, after eight seasons away from Chicago and stops in Texas and Boston, Jenkins returned to the North Side to push his career wins total to 284, which, at the time, ranked him 19th all-time. Twenty-five full seasons after his retirement, he is sitting at 29th all-time.

Prior to the 1984 season, Jenkins was released and left the Cubs as their all-time leader in games started and strikeouts. His 167 victories as a member of the Cubs is the most for the team since 1941.

What’s interesting about Jenkins is that he didn’t want Number 31 when he first joined the Cubs. Originally, he requested Number 30, but Cubs clubhouse man Yosh Kawano informed Jenkins that young lefty Kenny Holtzman already wore that number.“My birthday is December 13, so I reversed the numbers to make it 31,” Jenkins once told a reporter.

Given the crazy reasons that other people have had (Omar Olivares wore Number 00 to display his initials, Bill Lee wanted 337 so people could read his name while he stood on his head), reversing your birthdate makes perfect sense to me.

Maddux, on the other hand, had no such reasons.

When he made the big leagues late in the 1986 season, he stepped into the Cubs clubhouse and without asking…was given Number 31.

“I remember walking down the stairs into the clubhouse. (The Number 31 jersey) was there in my locker. Being 20-years-old at the time, the last thing I was going to do was complain about my number. I was just happy to be there,” Maddux told the Chicago Tribune last month. “I thought that was pretty cool that they gave me (Jenkins’) number.”

And like Jenkins, Maddux made the most out of his career with the pinstriped Number 31 on his back.

In his ten seasons with the Cubs, he was 133-112 with a 3.61 ERA. He also cemented himself as one of the top fielding pitchers of all-time by winning six of his 18 Gold Gloves on the North Side.

In 1992, Maddux’s best season as a Cub, he won his first Cy Young Awards. Of course, it was following that season when Chicago ceremoniously allowed him to flee to Atlanta and capture three more Cy Youngs.

All in a row.

In between his two stints with Chicago (the second coming from 2004 to 2006), Maddux finished just shy of 200 wins with the Braves and for his career, he ended with a staggering 355-227 record. He is the only pitcher in Major League history to win at least 15 games in 17 consecutive seasons and only Spahn and his 363 wins has more career wins in the post-1920 live-ball era.

Jenkins was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1991, his third try, with 75.4% of the vote. Maddux looks to be virtually unanimous when Cooperstown comes a calling in 2014.

Separately they are sure-bet Hall of Famers. But let me ask you this…did anyone else of worth ever don Number 31 for the Cubs?

The short answer is “no”, but most perplexing is how and why did ANYONE get to wear the number once Jenkins left the first time? Why wasn’t Jenkins’ number, at the least, the second number retired by the Cubs (Banks’ being the first in 1982) instead of the sixth?

I mean, here was a guy who, from 1967 to 1972 led the Majors with 127 victories, averaged 248 Ks (compared to 63 walks) and a 3.00 ERA. How did the Cubs dare relinquish his jersey to the likes of Tom Dettore (1975-76), Joe Coleman (1976), Jim Todd (1977) and Davey Johnson(1978).

The first three were, like Jenkins, pitchers, but their time with Chicago didn’t quite add up to Fergie’s. Mostly used in relief, the three pitchers were a combined 15-21 with a 4.92 ERA over three seasons.

Between the time Jenkins came back to the Cubs to finish up his Hall of Fame career and Maddux started his, another reliever, Ray Fontenot donned Number 31.

Fontenot continued the legacy of the afore mentioned three-headed monster by going 9-15 in 80 games.

Ugh.

So, Maddux inherits the number and holds on to it while he secures his spot as one of the greatest righties of the live-ball era. Surely, the Cubs learned their lesson and packed up Number 31 for good, right?

Nope.

Half a dozen players came and went through the clubhouse on the corner of Clark and Addison.


And again, much like Dettore, Coleman, Todd, Johnson and Fontenot…Kevin Foster (1994, 1997-98), Bobby Ayala (1999), Brad Woodall (1999), Mike Fyhrie (2001), Donovan Osborne (2002) and Mark Guthrie (2003) failed to re-capture the glory of Jenkins and Maddux.

And since I know you’re curious (and I did the math)…Foster, Ayala, Woodall, Fyhrie, Osborne and Guthrie were a less than stellar 36-41 with a 4.51 ERA.

With the Braves, Maddux was 194 and 88 with a 2.63 ERA. Add to that those three Cy Young awards and four other seasons where he finished in the top five and, well, there is no need to continue with the comparisons.

Suffice it to say, it is nice to see the Cubs FINALLY wise up and put Number 31 to bed. I know I’ll be watching on May 3 as they retire the number for good.

Will they send two flags up the foul pole or just one?

I guess we’ll find out.
***On May7, Jenkins will be making what is surely one of his first public appearances following the retirement ceremony when he visits Rockford, IL. For information on the benefit, please check out MELD's website.***


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April 28, 2009

Happy Mustache May from JB

***With Mustache May right around the corner, Hall contributor JB broke out the razor, said "goodbye" to the lip sweater and "hello" to the dawn of a new one. Here's his take.***

As a mild-mannered, soon to be 35 year-old, I find that few things excite me in life the way they used to.

Apart from “scoring” with my fiancé (anyone married or committed will tell you, yes, you do have to still put in work), playing with my dog, Hobbs (yes, after “Roy”) and my ever-improving golf game, there are not a lot of things that genuinely excite me the way that, say….how I felt when the original RBI Baseball came out for Nintendo.

That was until I found out about Mustache May.

I gotta admit, I jumped the gun a little and started growing a hybrid-horseshoe about three and a half weeks ago...much to the chagrin of my fiancé.

So when the "rules" were finally posted, I was pretty bummed.
At lunch, I had to trim the flavor-saver down to stubble and prepare for this Friday morning and plan my next ‘stached endeavor. I’m thinking a horseshoe-meets-Paul Teutul, Sr. from "American Choppers"...but we’ll see.

As I swept up the brown-black-reddish-orange-gray (thank you, Irish heritage) pieces of my once proud lip partner...I remembered that at one time I had nothing.


Above my lip that is.


I realize that all great mustaches start from scratch.

So as all you faithful HOVG followers plan out your facial features in the next two days, I’ll leave you with baseball’s most famous mustache’s 1970 Topps card (his 1969 rookie card was shared with Bob Floyd and Larry Burchart).

No excuses to those of you who feel you can’t (def: won’t) grow out a solidarity ‘stache for May. At one time, Rollie Fingers had nothing.

Above his lip that is.

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Mustache May is on, gang!

Friday marks the beginning of the Third Annual Mustache May.

The Inaugural Mustache May happened back in 2004, and didn't extend much further than the walls of one office building.The Second Mustache May was clearly the highlight of 2005.

Thanks to advances in modern internet technology, websites were made, an official Myspace (remember Myspace?) group was formed and t-shirts (still available HERE)
were sold.

Mustache May was now international.

Then we took a break for four years. Some things happened…we were busy.

Well, The Hall of Very Good (with the support of The American Mustache Institute) is helping bring back the ‘stache!

So, in a lead-up to the official May 1 start date, here are the three original rules of Mustache May:
  • Mustaches must be separated from any other facial hair by at least the combined width of a forefinger and middle finger. However, a mustache is permitted to connect to sideburns to attain that coveted "nose strap" look.
  • Mustaches must be started from scratch. If you already have a beard or mustache, you must lose the lip sweater by May 1.

  • Mustache May is a celebration and NOT a competition! However, if you shave your mustache before the end of the month…you lose.

Each day throughout the month of May (hopefully by 8am CST), The Hall is pleased to deliver to you a baseball ‘stache of the day replete with the player’s stats, significance to the game and style of cookie duster based on the AMI style guide.

Please leave a comment below and let us know what style you’re hoping to achieve or just keep us up dated on all your mustachioed goodness. Also…feel free to email The Hall so you can get hooked up with the Mustache May 2009 Facebook group.


As Dr. Aaron Perlut would say…carry on.

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April 24, 2009

The power of the 'stache

With 396 home runs under his belt, Oakland’s Jason Giambi sits four home runs away from 400 for his career. Sure, it doesn’t carry with it the same mystique that Gary Sheffield’s recent accomplishment does, but still…it’s impressive.

Not as impressive is the fact that the “Giambino” has yet to go deep this season.

And before you ask…yes, the drought that he is in right now is the longest time he’s gone homerless to start a season. The same couldn’t be said of his mid-season tear last season.

Going into last year’s All-Star Game, Giambi was vying for a spot on the American League roster and turned to an unlikely (some say logical) resource.

He grew a mustache.

Dr. Aaron Perlut of the American Mustache Institute followed Giambi’s exploits and even served as a correspondent for ESPN.


The following was submitted by the good doctor.

Up until just a few days ago, outfielder Rick Ankiel of the St. Louis Cardinals had been struggling at the plate early in this 2009 season, mustering just a .179 batting average.

But then something changed.

Something was different. Ankiel, the normally clean-shaven comeback kid, showed up to the ballpark with a thick, rich, luxurious chevron-style mustache.

Indeed, as demonstrated last year by Jason Giambi, the mustache is any major leaguer's ultimate performance enhancer. You may recall that "The Big G" (as he took to calling himself last year) batted 100 points higher with his mouth brow, than he did without it. And while Giambi's jump in cookie dusting-fueled hitting was extraordinarily high, the American Mustache Institute has conducted extensive studies of athletes' performance before and after growing lip curtains.

In baseball specifically, AMI cutting-edge research division led by Dr. Daniel T. Callahan has found mustaches increase a player's batting average by 39 percent. Ankiel, however, is far exceeding that average, as his flavor-saving protective mouth shade has raised his batting average .71 points to .250 as of April 24, and we can only assume there is more to come as long as he does not remove his new furry friend.

It's ironic that a player like Ankiel has chosen to use a labia sebucula (Latin for "lip sweater") to improve his batting average, as he plays in the home of the world's largest mustache…the Gateway Arch.

But irony is a fickle beast.

Regardless, the Mustached American community applauds him and the Cardinals organization for its support of our people and we hope this is the beginning of a trend for the team.


Sadly, and this is a little known but true fact, Albert Pujols petitioned and was denied by Major League Baseball to shave his goatee into a true flavor saving mustache. MLB argued that as Pujols is already hitting .339 this season, adding a performance enhancing mustache would give him too much of an advantage and possibly endanger opposing National League pitchers.

It is important to note for fans and economists alike that the upside of Ankiel's mustache doesn't just stop with performance. It never does. No, AMI research has shown that the Cardinals can now expect a 17.8 percent increase in female fans at Busch Stadium, important in these tough economic times, and all of the team's male fans should be thankful for Ankiel's unselfish, good looking gesture.

For the sake of Ankiel's performance, the Cardinals early season success both on the field and now with lady Cardinals fans, and for humankind altogether, we hope Ankiel keeps his mustache throughout the season. That's because according to the Dead Sea Scrolls, quite sadly, every time a mustache is shaved an angel in heaven dies and falls to earth.
Be sure to take AMI's new poll on the impact of a mustache on how a man is perceived HERE.

Carry on.

Read more from Dr. Aaron Perlut over at the American Mustache Institute website.

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April 18, 2009

Ticket punched

His first hit in the Majors was a home run for the Milwaukee Brewers, so it is fitting that his latest home run was against them.


New York Mets slugger Gary Sheffield thrilled the 36,436 in attendance when he hit home run Number 500 and became the 25th player to accomplish the feat. I laid out his Hall of Fame candidacy
a few weeks back after the Tigers released him...no need to repeat it.


That being said...here are ten OTHER things that might interest you about Sheff's 500 dingers.



250,000
On September 8, 2008 (as a member of the Detroit Tigers), Sheffield’s grand slam against Oakland was determined to be the 250,000 home run in Major League history.


334
Sheffield went yard against 334 different pitchers. The first…Mark Langston. The latest…Mitch Stetter. Tom Glavine and Jamey Wright were victimized the most, giving up six long balls apiece.


51
Sheffield’s home run Friday night was his 51st game tying home run. Over his career, 203 of his 500 were go ahead shots, while another 4 were grand slams.

42
In 1996, Sheffield went deep 42 times for the Florida Marlins, setting a franchise record for the fish. In 6 seasons in Miami, Sheffield hit 122 home runs.

41
When Sheffield sent one out of Citi Field Friday night, it meant he had hit a home run in 41 different Major League ballparks.

30…31?
Sheffield has hit a home run against all 30 Major League teams. If you count the Montreal Expos…he’s hit one against 31.


17.9
Sheffield hits a home run every 17.9 at bats, which nestles him right near Hall of Famers Reggie Jackson (17.52) and Duke Snider (17.6) on the all-time list.

8
Sheffield has played for and gone deep for eight teams. Milwaukee (1988-1991), San Diego (1992-1993), Florida (1993-1998), Los Angeles (1998-2001), Atlanta (2002-2003), New York Yankees (2004-2006), Detroit (2007-2008) and New York Mets (2009).

2
In 28 pinch hit at bats, Sheffield has 10 hits…2 of them (Friday night’s included) have been home runs. The other was July 20, 1994 off Jeff Brantley.

0
Sheffield is 6 for 21 (.286 batting average) against his legendary uncle Dwight Gooden. The “0” stands for how many times he circled the bases against him.


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April 17, 2009

Ichiro...the new hit king?

Like he has so many times before, Ichiro Suzuki slapped a single through the right side of the infield. Pretty routine if you think about it…but the historical significance was huge.

With that hit, Ichiro surpassed Isao Harimoto and became the all-time leader among Japanese baseball players.

But here’s the big question, how do we look at Ichiro’s 3086 (1808 in the states…1278 in Japan) hits?

When we talk about “great hitters”, do we place him between Craig Biggio (3060) and Dave Winfield (3110) or look solely at his MLB numbers?

As a for instance, I’ve NEVER heard anyone add Hank Aaron or Willie Mays’ Negro League totals to their MLB totals. Have you?

So, what is Ichiro to you? Is he the all-time Japanese hit leader with 3086 base knocks or the all-time hit leader among Japanese born MLB players with 1808 hits?

Maybe he’s both.

Any way you slice it (and I said this last August), I’m sure he’s opening Cooperstown’s doors to some of the other Japanese greats.


BallHype: hype it up!

April 16, 2009

Junior and Ichiro...beyond the numbers

A day after the Majors celebrated his legacy, it is important to point out that if you walk around any ballpark in the Majors, you’ll see Jackie Robinson’s 42 retired.

It’s true.

Since they retired it on April 15, 1997, no team has issued the number and outside of yesterday when EVERYONE wore it…only Mariano Rivera wears it on his back and that's because he's had it since before no one could.

Up in the Pacific Northwest...Robinson’s 42 is the ONLY number retired.

Sure, Ken Griffey Jr’s 24 and Ichiro’s 51 (also shared by Randy Johnson) will eventually make their way up to the rafters of Safeco Field.


And even though they have resisted handing out a few others...the Mariners have not yet retired any other number.

It is fitting that the Seattle faithful had something to cheer about on the anniversary of retiring Robinson's number.

Let me lay it out for ya.

In 2000, while with the Reds, Griffey became the youngest player to hit 400 home runs. Last night, back with the Mariners, Griffey hit number 400 for the Mariners. Sure, the next guy on the Mariners leader board is Jay Buhner with 309, so it is a no-brainer that Griffey’s 400 leads the pack.

And of the 43 players with more than 400 home runs for their career…more than half (23) have 400 or more with one team.

So…why was Griffey’s blast off of Angels hurler Jared Weaver yesterday worth noting?

Well, and I realize that I missed this when I did the AL West Milestone Preview a few weeks back, Griffey is now the ONLY player in Major League history with 400 home runs with one team and 200 or more with another.

"It means a lot. It's just, I don't worry about numbers," Griffey told the Associated Press. "You play long enough, you are going to rack up some numbers…some are good, some are bad.”

Also last night, Griffey and teammates welcomed Ichiro back to the lineup. And, not to be left out…he, too, hit a monumental home run.

With a seventh inning grand slam off Jason Bulger, Ichiro tied Isao Harimoto as Japan’s all-time hits leader.

Elected into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in 1990, Harimoto amassed all of his 3085 hits playing in Japan.
Ichiro, obviously, has split his.

The first 1278 came with the Japan’s Orix Blue Wave from 1992 to 2000. The rest (all 1807 of them) have come with Seattle.

Harimoto told MLB.com that Ichiro's hit total should be considered a record even though some of them didn't come in Japan.

And I couldn’t agree more.

Last August, I wrote THIS and now, eight months later…I couldn’t agree more.

Seattle Mariners official team policy states that number retirement is reserved for players in the National Baseball Hall of Fame who played for at least five years with the Mariners, or career Mariners players who narrowly miss election.

Something tells me that regardless of how Griffey and Ichiro end up (and I presume they will BOTH be Hall of Famers)…the Seattle brass will hang their numbers alongside that of Jackie Robinson.


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April 14, 2009

"24!"

***In a span of just a few short hours, Major League Baseball lost two of its most colorful characters. One was the voice of the City of Brotherly Love, the other...a goofball who spoke in a thick New England accent. Here is JB's take on the latter.***
My advanced apologies to those of you who think this article will happen between the hours of 11:00am and 12:00pm.

Sorry, Jack Bauer fans. Go rent Season One, put on your Snuggie and stop reading this article.

Right.

Now.

Ornithophobia aside, I was happy to see last week’s mention of the greatest-non-title-winning wrassler of all time Koko B. Ware here at The Hall. I loved the “Ghostbuster” and always broke it out on various home furnishings.

And even though I feared feathered-friends (still do…hate it when they are “free” in PetSmart), I even had a thing for the worthless bird, Frankie that he brought ringside with him.

Suffice it to say, Koko always “smelled” like a Hall of Famer to me.

Whether it was irony or something like the Mothman Prophecies (terribly horrible film, by the way), I felt compelled to write something about a bigger “Bird” that captivated our country, even before Koko was on the top ropes flapping his arms.

No, not the eight-foot tall, yellow S.O.B. from our favorite Street growing up.
You know…the one with the sexual identity issue.

Not him.

I am talking about a bigger “Bird,” one that transcended professional sports and made a country smile during a difficult economic time.

Mark “The Bird” Fidrych died Monday at the age of 54 in an apparent accident on the farm he retired to when injuries cut short his brief, spectacular career.

In 1976 when the United States was finally overcoming the division of the populace over a foreign war and facing struggling economic times (sound familiar?), “The Bird” gave us the opportunity to turn on the TV and not have to watch the doom and gloom of the world around us. Comedic actions aside (i.e. talking to the baseball, hand-grooming the mound and all apologies to college softball teams…starting the congratulatory handshake with an infielder after a run/game saving play), the guy could flat out pitch.

Fidrych brought a mid-90’s heater to the table along with a slider that fell off of one.


Granted, he is remembered for what he did on the mound and not the numbers he put up on it…but the man had talent that does not come around overnight.

As a 21-year-old rookie in 1976 (he would turn 22 later in the year), Fidrych put up numbers as insane as his actions. How does 19-9 with a 2.34 ERA and a .218 average against sound?

Good enough for the AL Rookie of the Year.

He should have won the Cy, but that was awarded to the prima donna in Jockey briefs that year. Sorry Mr. Palmer, but you shouldn’t have gotten the chicks AND the hardware that year.

All jokes aside, Fidrych threw 24 complete games that year.

24!

He was second in the Majors to Randy Jones 25 for the Padres, who in fact, DID receive the National League Cy Young Award. Only one pitcher has topped it since (Rick Langford had 28 for the A’s in 1980) and one other has reached that mark. Bert Blyleven had 24 in 1985 for the Indians and Twins.

Can you imagine Cito Gaston asking Roy Halladay (last year’s leader last year with nine) to finish another 15 games?

I know I can’t.

Point is, all the articles you will read on Fidrych in the next couple of days will be about his quirks, the kind of guy he was (outstanding, I have read) and the magical 1976 season he turned in.

Remember him, if you would, as a guy who helped people forget the tough times they faced each and every day and made people smile with his fastball as much as his mound-grooming antics did.

Try to picture Manny Ramirez (cue the reprehensible “I’m Back!!!!!” soundbite) or T.O. doing something to make you smile and not seethe. How about “Pacman” Jones making it rain at a Boys/Girls club rather than a strip club?

I know athletes donate to this or that all the time, set-up their own charities, etc…but can you say “tax write-off”?

Ask yourself as you watch highlights tonight the last time a pro athlete genuinely made you smile with his personality and not a charitable photo op.

I will leave you with a quote below from “The Bird,” as I go back to the doom and gloom of today’s world. Hoping and praying for the next Mark Fidrych to give us something to all smile about again.

"That ball has a hit in it, so I want to get back in the ball bag and goof around with the other balls in there. Maybe it'll learn some sense and come out as a pop-up next time."

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April 13, 2009

Kalas, Dye and Konerko...A Day Full of Highs and Lows

"We have lost our voice" Phillies president David Montgomery said in announcing the death of legendary Philadelphia Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas.

Less that 24 hours since he called Matt Stairs dramatic pinch-hit home run against the Colorado Rockies, Kalas was preparing to call the Phillies game against the Washington Nationals.

Fittingly, it was in the broadcast booth, where the 73 year-old Hall of Famer was found.

Kalas, the
2002 Ford C. Frick Award winner, was found by Phillies director of broadcasting Rob Brooks and was immediately taken to George Washington Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. He had been broadcasting Phillies games since 1971 and was known for his distinctive "outta here!" home run call.

And while fans of the 2008 World Series Champs mourn the loss of Kalas, fans of the 2005 World Series Champs are celebrating.

Last month's American League Central Milestone Preview, mentioned that Jermaine Dye and Paul Konerko (both of the White Sox) were each two home runs away from hitting 300 for their respective careers. What could have never been envisioned was them hitting them on the same day, in the same game...back-to-back.

But it happened in the second inning of their series opener at against the Tigers, when the sluggers went yard off Detroit starter Zach Miner.


It is fitting that both men reached the historic milestone in Detroit. Dye is tied with Joe Crede for the most home runs by a visiting player at Comerica Park at 15, while Konerko is tied for fourth with Jim Thome at 12.


BallHype: hype it up!

April 8, 2009

Wednesday with Monty...a closer's thoughts about Opening Day

A few months ago, I wondered if we were living in the “age of the closer” and to be honest…I still kinda do.

This off season saw a number of top flight closers change uniforms. Most notably, Francisco Rodriguez packed up his 2008 league leading 62 saves and made the cross country trek from Los Angeles to New York.

With “K-Rod” gone, Brian Fuentes fled Colorado to fill the void in Los Angeles. 2005 Rookie of the Year Huston Street went from Oakland to Colorado as part of the Matt Holliday deal and, well…you see where this is going.

All in all, more than a third of Major League teams have a new closer in place for the 2009 season.

One team that stuck with their hot hand was the Kansas City Royals, with Joakim Soria looking to, again, be one of the top closers in the American League. Soria’s 42 saves last year were the most by a Royal since Jeff Montgomery tied a franchise record with 45 in 1993.

In preparation of Opening Day, I had a chance to talk with Montgomery about some of his memories.

In six Opening Day appearances,
“Monty” was 0-1 with two saves. In 8 2/3 innings, he only gave up one earned run (a Mike Bordick single that plated Carney Lansford in 1992) and struck out 8.

Three of Montgomery’s Opening Day games were at home, the other three were on the road. So I asked him, was it easier throwing off the mound at Kauffman on Opening Day or in Oakland or Baltimore?

MONTY: (It) didn’t matter. Could have been Mars and I wouldn’t have known the difference.

HOVG: Of the Hall of Famers and future Hall members you faced, who was the toughest Opening Day hitter...Cal Ripken, Jr., Rickey Henderson, Rafael Palmeiro, Harold Baines or Roberto Alomar?

MONTY: Harold Baines.

For the record, Montgomery also named Baines as his “toughest out” when we spoke in November. Baines was 6 for 20 against Montgomery and led all opposing hitters with three home runs against the hurler.

HOVG: You also took on Albert Belle (got him to pop out) and Eric Davis (struck him out looking)...was there a batter in particular that made you nervous when he stepped up to the plate?

MONTY: All of them.

It’s worth mentioning that hitters batting .230 against Montgomery on Opening Day.

HOVG: Do your two Opening Day saves mean any more to you than the 302 other saves you picked up in your career?

MONTY: No.

HOVG: After Chris Sabo reached on an error on Opening Day in 1994, you struck out Mark McLemore, Jeffrey Hammonds and Brady Anderson...all swinging. Is it safe to say that that is one of your fondest Opening Day memories?

MONTY: Not really as I forgot about it. I remember going to the KISS concert afterwards.

HOVG: If striking out the side in Baltimore wasn’t your most memorable moment...what was?

MONTY: My first opening day in 1989 is the one I remember most. Can’t remember if we won or lost but I will never forget the electricity in the air.

HOVG: Is hearing your name on the PA the same when it is in front of close to 40,000 at home in Kansas City on Opening Day as it is when the crowd is a third of that size and it is the middle of August?

MONTY: (There’s) no difference. Opening Day was always special. All of the preparation, hype, the fact that Spring Training was finally over, and being back at home made it one of the best days of the year. Too bad the rest of the games on the schedule were not filled with the same level of excitement as Opening Day.

After being postponed on Monday, the Royals lost their Opening Day contest against the White Sox 4-2. The band KISS is currently touring South America.

***Jeff Montgomery played thirteen seasons in the Majors…twelve of them with the Kansas City Royals. He is a three time All-Star, a member of the Kansas City Royals Hall of Fame and their all-time leader in games pitched, games finished and saves. “Monty” resides in the Kansas City area and lends his expertise to Sports Radio 810 WHB-AM.***


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April 6, 2009

Ten Milestones to Watch for This Season

Welcome to Opening Day!

Every season begins with a number of milestones on the horizon (and if you followed the divisional breakdown the last few weeks...you know them), and 2009 is no different. Gone are history-makers like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Greg Maddux.

So, before the Bronx Bombers open the doors to their newest version of Yankee Stadium, let's look at ten milestones to watch for during the upcoming baseball season.

And because of injury, you'll notice that I conveniently ignored Alex Rodriguez. I harbor no ill will toward the man.

Maybe.

Ron Villone, TBD

Ron Villone, who changes uniforms so fast, team photographers can't keep up with him, will inevitably suit up for his major league record-tying twelfth team. When he takes the bump next, he'll tie pitcher Mike Morgan on the all-time list. Close on their heels? Matt Stairs. Stairs is currently with Philadelphia, his eleventh team.


Adam Dunn, Washington Nationals

The Nationals enter their fifth season since re-locating from Montreal with little to no fanfare. For the four Adam Dunn fans out there, you’ll be glad to know that he’s 22 homers away from 300 for his career, and if he gets to 40 this season, he’ll have done so for six straight seasons. Only Babe Ruth did it more consistently when he hit 40 out in a record seven straight seasons.

Joe Torre, Los Angeles Dodgers

Aside from Manny Ramirez (more on him later), the Dodgers do have some milestones to watch out for. Off the field...or more specifically, in the dugout, manager Joe Torre is 44 wins away from leap-frogging Sparky Anderson (2194) and Bucky Harris (2157) and moving into fifth place on the all-time list.


Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals

When 2008 came to a close, Albert Pujols became the only player in major league history to hit at least .300, with 30 or more home runs and at least 100 RBI in each of his first eight seasons. The only other players to accomplish the 100 RBI feat were Al Simmons, who did it in eleven straight, and Ted Williams, who stalled after eight. All in all, “Prince Albert” is 31 home runs away from 350, 23 RBI from 1000 and 53 runs from 1000.

And oh yeah, he just turned 29.


Greg Maddux/Fergie Jenkins, Chicago Cubs

While not exactly a milestone, the Cubs are doing something pretty cool and pretty monumental on May 3. Before the “North Siders” take the field against the Florida Marlins, they’ll retire number 31 for Fergie Jenkins and Greg Maddux. Each hurler won a Cy Young Award and combined for 300 victories while wearing the pinstriped 31.


Carlos Delgado, New York Mets

Raise your hand if you ever thought Carlos Delgado was going to be a member of the 500 home run club. No one? After Gary Sheffield hits number 500, which should have come in the first week of the season...Delgado is up next. The slugger has 469 home runs and should, barring injury, close out the Mets’ first season at Citi Field with a milestone.


Manny Ramirez, Los Angeles Dodgers

Last year, Ramirez came into the season needing 10 home runs to get to 500. This season, Manny comes in with 527 and looks to pass up Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Mantle, Mike Schmidt, and Reggie Jackson on the all-time list. Factor in his 2,392 hits and, by season’s end, you’ll be looking at just the sixth player to have more than 2,500 hits, 500 doubles, 550 home runs and 1800 RBI. The others: Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds, Willie Mays, Rafael Palmeiro, Frank Robinson, and Babe Ruth.


Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees

Mariano Rivera is 18 saves away from joining Trevor Hoffman as the only two closers with 500 saves. Next on the active list is Billy Wagner with 385. Savor save number 500, baseball fans. It’ll be awhile until we see it again. Saves are tricky to predict because it’s all dependent on how the Yankees fair this season. If you’re curious, Rivera has claimed his 18th save as early as May 29 (in 2004) and as late as August 6 (in 2007).


Gary Sheffield, New York Mets

A major leaguer at 18, Sheffield got off to a quick start by getting his first hit and first home run in the same swing. Now, 498 home runs later, Sheffield is on the cusp of becoming the 25th player to hit 500 long balls. Also worth mentioning, Sheffield comes into 2009 with 1633 RBI. Everyone who is Hall eligible and has more RBI than “Sheff” is enshrined in Cooperstown.

Randy Johnson, San Francisco Giants

Not since Bonds was knocking on the door of every home run milestone have the Giants had a milestone (or two) to watch for. Randy Johnson brought with him to the Bay a number of things worth noting. First and foremost, “The Big Unit” is five victories away from 300 wins. Only 24 pitchers have accomplished the feat. The closest active pitchers include Jamie Moyer (246), Kenny Rogers (219) and Andy Pettite (215).

And while he hasn’t hit 200 or more strikeouts since 2005, it’s worth mentioning that Johnson is 211 Ks away from becoming the second player to strike out 5000 batters. He won’t touch Nolan Ryan’s record at 5714, but burying his closest active competition in Pedro Martinez (3117) and John Smoltz (3011) has to be a little gratifying.

Also within reach for “Unit,” he is 15 hit-batsmen away from surpassing all-time leader Walter Johnson. He probably won’t get there (he has only 10 in the last two seasons), but passing up Eddie Plank (196) is a possibility. Something tells me that, deep down, Johnson wishes that hit-by-pitch magnet and former teammate Craig Biggio (who, ironically, “Unit” NEVER hit in 16 plate appearances) was still out there swinging a bat.

BallHype: hype it up!