June 30, 2012

HOVG Heroes: Scott Podsednik


CURT HOGG on SCOTT PODSEDNIK

The cavalcade of fourteen players to have hit walk-off home runs in the World Series boasts some of baseball's gargantuan sluggers, including Mickey Mantle, Mark McGwire, Kirby Puckett, Carlton Fisk, and...Scott Podsednik?

The highlight of journeyman and stolen base whiz's career undoubtedly came in Game 2 of the 2005 World Series, when he became the most improbable man to ever hit a walk-off round-tripper in the Fall Classic. After hitting no home runs in 507 regular season at-bats with the White Sox, Podsednik stepped up in the bottom of the ninth and laced the game winner to right center of Brad Lidge.

Ensue Podsanity,  National Scott Podsednik Day, and career impetus, right?

Not so much.

More often than not, the average baseball fan won't do much dignity to “The Podfather” and both his 2005 heroics and successful career that has gone largely under-the-radar.

To emphasize this, at a game at Miller Park featuring the Giants and Brewers earlier this season, the fan seated to my right and I struck up a conversation about baseball.

When he mentioned an anecdote about David Freese's 2011 Game 6 magic last season, I asked if he remembered the last walk-off homer in the World Series prior to that. His response: "Derek Jeter, right?".

When I offered that the name in question donned a Brewers jersey for two seasons, the name he came up with was... "Kevin Mench?"

Podsednik's aforementioned two seasons in Milwaukee not only enamored the ladies with the smeared eye black-wearing, chew-spitting, dirty-uniformed, high pant leg-rocking outfielder from West, Texas, but made a certain third grader strangely fall in love with him, so much so that, eight years later, he would even be willing to use run-on sentences to describe that connection.

In 2003, Podsednik's first of two seasons as a Brewer, the center fielder batted .314 with nine homers, 58 RBI, and 43 stolen bases. He evidently finished second in National League Rookie of the Year voting to Florida's Dontrelle Willis. The following season he led all of baseball with 70 steals despite only posting a .313 OBP.

In eleven Major League seasons, Podsednik has played for seven teams, including two stints with the White Sox. He opened his career in Seattle, only amounting for 26 at-bats over two seasons, before his breakout rookie season in 2003.

After three seasons in Chicago, he signed as a free agent with the Colorado Rockies in 2008 before experiencing a brief career revitalization with the White Sox again in 2009, hitting .304 and swiping 30 bases.

After spending 2010 with the Royals and Dodgers, he only appeared in the Phillies' farm system before hitting a home run in his first game for the Red Sox in 2012.

However, his career seemed likely to never even happen.

After being drafted by the hometown Texas Rangers in 1994, his debut in the Majors didn't come until he pinch-ran for Ichiro in July of 2001. It took him nine years to become an established player in the lineup every day. Even after spending the majority of seven years in the majors, Podsednik spent all of 2011 and the beginning of 2012 in the minor leagues, as well.

If being only one of fourteen players to have hit walk-off home runs in the World Series isn't good enough for Podsednik, he can claim to be the only person to beat Derek Jeter in the All Star Game's "Final Man" vote. In addition to beating out the future Hall of Famer, he received more votes than Torii Hunter, Carl Crawford, and Hideki Matsui. Those are no names to scoff at, especially back in '05.

Integral to Podsednik's style of play has always been his speed and steal on the base paths. Overall, he had the fifth-most steals between 2003 and 2009. and currently sits at 13th on the active list.

Currently, as a 36-year-old manning centerfield at Fenway Park, the man lovingly referred to as "Scotty Pods" by the baseball community and "Scottie the Hottie" by his female following while in Milwaukee sits at 13th on the active steals list.

Is he back to his 2005 form? Probably not.

But, as is being displayed in Boston, “The Podfather” is still the same effective ballplayer of days past.  He even boasts a .302 average over his past three seasons, totaling more than 1100 at-bats.

So here's to you, Scotty. May your 2005 Fall Classic magic never be forgotten, your prowess for stealing second and head-first triples be remembered, your 2004 Brewers bobblehead continue to bobble, and your passion for the game always be remembered.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Curt Hogg is a 17-year-old staff writer covering Brewers baseball at Reviewing The Brew, but perhaps is better known as "that Ryan Braun Kid". He has been featured on Deadspin, USA Today, Sports Illustrated's "Hot Clicks", and other national news sources, but this isn't his first appearance for HOVG.

In addition to blogging about baseball, Hogg lived in Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Peru for seven years but currently resides and attends school in Brown Deer, WI, and can run a 4:50 mile. Dare to follow him on Twitter, read his work about the Brew Crew, and order his FatHead on Amazon while supplies last!



June 29, 2012

HOVG Heroes: Tim Salmon


NATE ADERHOLD on TIM SALMON

The first real memory I can recall of my California Angels fandom is from Christmas morning 1993. Up to that point, as a six-year-old, my interests did not really span beyond Super Nintendo and Ninja Turtles. I enjoyed playing baseball and had attended a few games at the “Big A”, but any rooting interests I had were a result of proximity and familiarity rather than any real passion.

That morning, however, I received an autographed poster of Angels’ right fielder Tim Salmon and everything changed. I had no idea what Rookie of the Year meant at the time—and I didn’t understand why the “L” in his last name was silent—but it didn’t matter much. As far as I understood it, Tim Salmon was the best player in baseball and he played for my hometown team.

The framed poster, which commemorated Tim’s 1993 AL Rookie of the Year award, immediately found a prominent place on the wall above my bed and stayed there for years to come, surviving the ups and downs of both the Northridge earthquake and my tumultuous adolescence.

Looking back now, I was lucky to latch on to a player of Salmon’s caliber. I had no way of knowing Tim’s stellar plate discipline was an indicator of prolonged success, let alone that he would become the face of the franchise for the next decade. In other words, I feel great sympathy for any child in Minneapolis who received a Pat Listach poster the year before.

A third round draft pick out of Grand Canyon College in 1989, Tim Salmon quickly worked his way through the Angels’ farm system, winning the Minor League Player of the Year award in 1992 by mashing to the tune of .347/.469/.672.

After a small cup of coffee with the Angels in September 1992, the 24-year-old Salmon broke into the big leagues for good in 1993, becoming just the fourth American Leaguer in MLB history—and tenth player overall—to win the Rookie of the Year award in a unanimous decision.

As the California/Anaheim Angels struggled their way through the 90s, shut out of the playoffs for the second decade in team history, Salmon was a rare bright spot on the team. In his first eight full big league seasons—from 1993-2000—Tim averaged 29 doubles, 28 home runs and a stellar .294/.396/.532 slash line.

Despite his great numbers, the Rookie of the Year award would be the last real national attention Salmon would receive for the better part of a decade. Though Tim began his 1994 season right where his rookie campaign had left off—racking up 23 home runs and 70 RBI through 100 games—the media’s attention had turned towards the impending labor strike. By the time the strike ended in late April 1995, Bud Selig had introduced the Wild Card, chicks started digging the long ball and Salmon found himself out of the national spotlight.

While others were breaking unbreakable records and amassing numbers well beyond their means—here’s looking at you, Dante Bichette—Salmon continued his quiet but steady production, far from the flash and spectacle.

National writers who did cover Salmon at the time seemed to want to make up for his lack of “flashiness” in some way. Most did this by relying on terrible fish puns. Nearly every article I read in preparation for writing this piece included a piscine reference of some kind or another. While some unabashedly used phrases like “upstream”, “splash” and “big fish”, others used their puns in a more wink-wink, nudge-nudge fashion like “comes out smoking”.

What these writers failed to realize was that Tim’s numbers speak for themselves. Expanding his peak numbers to stretch a decade, Salmon’s 34.7 WAR from 1993-2002 was fifth best among right fielders and his .392 OBP was 15th in all of baseball. If you were to place that OBP clip in any other ten-year period between 1950 and 1993, it would be firmly in the top ten. Despite this dogged consistency at the plate, Salmon was overlooked to the point that he was never once named to an All-Star team.

Though Salmon was often out of the spotlight, he did not shy away the few times it was thrust upon him. The 2002 Angels made it to the postseason for the first time since 1986, sending Tim to his inaugural postseason after 1,388 games and 5,968 plate appearances in the regular season.

Once in the playoffs, Tim made the most of his opportunity. He hit .288/.382/.525 overall in the 2002 postseason and put up a 346/.452/.615 line in the World Series, including two clutch Game 2 home runs, leading the franchise to their first and only World Championship.

The 2002 postseason would prove to be Salmon’s lone playoff appearance, as injuries kept Tim off the roster for most of the 2004 and 2005 seasons. But even as health issues took their toll on Salmon’s career, the Kingfish always gave Angels fans something to root for. Some admired his hustle and fire on the field, others found inspiration in his outspoken faith and still others—like my friend’s mom—simply enjoyed watching Tim patrol right field in tight polyester pants.

Always an active member in the local community, Tim has always carried his tireless work ethic and positive attitude into his efforts off the field. This year, the Tim Salmon Foundation will host its 14th annual golf tournament on July 16 in an effort to raise money for charities assisting abused and at-risk children in the Orange County area. The annual tournament has raised over $900,000 to date.

I often wonder to myself what Salmon’s career would have been like had he broken in just a decade earlier, when his numbers would have made him a household name; that maybe the juiced ‘90s and early ‘00s were just the wrong time for Tim. But if his statements on the matter are any indication, perhaps he emerged at exactly the right time.
In a 1998 interview with Baseball Digest, Salmon said “I shy away from the limelight. I’m not comfortable with that. I’m just comfortable being me, a big kid playing baseball.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nathe Aderhold just finished his Masters program in London and is currently procrastinating on his dissertation by interning as an English teaching assistant in Amman, Jordan.

In the world of baseball, he is a contributor at Halos Daily, Bugs & Cranks and MLBDailyDish. Aderhold originally hails from Tustin, California, and is a graduate of Loyola Marymount University. He can be followed on Twitter at @AdrastusPerkins.




June 28, 2012

HOVG Heroes: Bill Buckner


WILL JOHNSON on BILL BUCKNER

As you’ll read below, Will Johnson is the art world’s definition of a “five-tool player”.  Actually, he’s more than that…he’s Bert Campaneris or Jose Oquendo. 

Dude can literally do it all...and he loves baseball.

"I think the game itself, no matter what level it’s played on, is one of the most incredible inventions of strategy, physics and geometry that humans have come up with," Johnson recently told Modern American Weekly.  "It’s humbling and humanizing.  As Willie Mays said: it’s 'violence under wraps'.  There’s a duality in its flawless simplicity, and consuming, psychological complexities."

One such player that epitomizes all of that is Bill Buckner.

Buckner has been both hero and goat on the field, but let’s not forget that lifetime .289 batting average and 2,715 hits he collected during his twenty-year big league career.


ABOUT THE ARTIST

Will Johnson drives a small pickup, is not presently on any medication, writes songs and plays in two bands with some friends that he loves a lot. He’s worked jobs on a farm, in maintenance and janitorial work, in comic book distribution, in a record store, in restaurants, teaching, delivering cars, transporting equipment, renting out tuxedos, making sandwiches and cleaning up radioactive and mercury-contaminated waste.

Most importantly, Johnson loves baseball. He has always loved baseball.  You can check out more of Johnson’s work and find out where he’ll be next over at his website.


June 27, 2012

HOVG Heroes: Eddie Yost


JEFF POLMAN on EDDIE YOST

Walks are a funny thing. Sitting in the stands at a ball park, is there anything less exciting than a base on balls? Yet over time, we’ve come to realize that drawing walks is not only the subtlest baseball art form, but are invaluable at the top of your lineup if you’re serious about creating runs.

With this in mind, how about a big Hall of Very Good vote for Eddie Yost?

Now that we know how valuable walks really are in the offensive scheme of things, how can we deny the free pass-crazy career of Edward Frederic Joseph Yost, aka “The Walking Man”? For 18 years, he was the poor man’s speedless Rickey Henderson, a leadoff man with a .394 on base percentage, leading the American League in walks six times, and finishing 11th on the all-time walks list. In 1956 he had a .412 OBP despite a .231 average, the lowest BA ever for a guy with an over-.400 OBP.

But there’s more. At third base, he set AL career records with 2,356 putouts, 3,659 assists and 6,285 total chances. All-time, only Brooks Robinson and Jimmy Collins have more third base putouts. He once played 838 consecutive games until tonsillitis knocked him out of the lineup in May of 1955.

The guy was a rock.

He was also completely shafted by spending 14 of his 18 years playing third for the Washington Senators—and not because the team was bad. Like a similar fate suffered by the Houston Astros’ marvelous Jose Cruz, Yost’s hitting stats were doomed by the cavernous yard he played in. Between 1944 and 1953, he hit 52 home runs on the road and just three at Griffith Stadium. When he finally got sent to power-friendly Tiger Stadium for the 1959 season, he bashed 21 that year, a season in which he also led the league in OBP (.435), walks (135) and 115 runs scored. The next year, he led the league in OBP and walks again.

He was a pest alright, but many times a powerful one.  He led off games with home runs 28 times, a record Bobby Bonds finally broke in the 1970s. His playing time dwindled when he was drafted by the expansion Los Angeles Angels, though naturally, he led the team their first year with a .412 on-base percentage.

His batting eye was extraordinary. In 1953 he once fouled off 13 consecutive pitches, then seven more his next time up. He still ranks tenth all-time in walks with 1,614. On the dreadful 1958 Washington Senators in my Mystery Ball Strat-O-Matic replay, the man puts himself on base when I go to the kitchen for a drink.

After he retired, in an interview with Sports Collector’s Digest, Yost explained his method.

“I hit from a slight crouch and during my swing I was able to make my strike zone even smaller by dropping my right shoulder.  Back then a lot of pitchers threw rising fastballs and I found that if I could lay off them and didn’t swing, they’d be called balls. And after a while I got a reputation for walking a lot and it seemed like the umpires began to give me the calls on the close ones.”

There’s no question that for years, walks were the bastard stepchild of baseball stats. It still takes a lot to convince the non-statheads among us how important they are, how they make non-walking .300 hitters like Enos Cabell and Juan Pierre seem less valuable all the time, but bases on balls are slowly, finally coming into their own, and Eddie Yost should be celebrated for being a modern pioneer.

Yost became a third base coach for the expansion Senators in 1963, before moving on to do the same for the Mets and Red Sox, finally hanging up his coaching cleats after the 1984 season.

He may have been raised in Brooklyn, but retired with his family to Wellesley, MA, where he still lives and works on antique clocks—a perfectly appropriate hobby for a man who took his sweet time in a batter’s box.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jeff Polman is the author of four “fictionalized replay” blogs, 1924 and You Are There, Play That Funky Baseball, The Bragging Rights League, and the current Mystery Ball ’58, a San Francisco-based murder mystery he calls a “season-long whowunit”.  His “1924” blog has also been published as a book by Grassy Gutter Press, and is available on Amazon in print and Kindle versions.

You can follow Jeff on Twitter at @mysteryball58.


June 26, 2012

HOVG Heroes: David Eckstein


BOB BLEACHER on DAVID ECKSTEIN

David Eckstine belongs in the Hall of Faem because I think be played baseball real good.

You know cares because his unifrim was is always dirty and he hustled. He went too two World Series and won an MVP award at one of those two World Serious. At an All-Star Game that fans voted him into, he played reel good and helped his team get the most points with hussle and grit. 

Looking at his carere stats he made real good in lots in impotent cattergories like hits, RBIs, and batting avenge. Although his his home run totals are not as high, it's important two note that because of his hart and good sole, he willed his player teammates to higher batting aevrages, homer runs, and 2b hits. Teams he played fore include the St. Lewis Cardinals, Toronto Canada Blue Jays, San Deego Padris, Arizona Diamondbecks, and the Anaheim Angles who have since moved to Los Angels to become the Los Angeles Angels. 

He was contribution in mind, body, and sprint, willing players like Alburt Pooholes and amny other to high numbers totals. He also has many sacrifise hits which means he is team player. Also he do not walk a lot because he is not a surrenderer and does not give up. He gets on bass on his own terms or not at all. He did not except handouts.

I liked Davis Ecksteen because he plays the basball the "right way" and does not pad his stats like Bobby Abroo and he is winner unliek pictures like Felix Hernandeez and Coal Hamils who do not win games. Win is the important stat in baseball and David Eckstine knows how to win baseball games. He is probably good dad who drives fas cars and has many WAGs.

This is why Daved Eckstien belons in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

IPadPornLadyGageBieber

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

I am Bob, I am boy who make slidshows of sport and WAGs for Blecher Reports dot com. I am featured column and I like sports and make slidshows. They like picture book and I write less words. Hobbies include SEO, SEM, rephrasing other sprot righters opinons and passin them off as mine own, and crayola craions. Expect Thinder to win NBA finals, Kings to win hockey game, and Yankess to win world seris This year. 

Here are list.
  • Favorite Athletes: Skip Bayliss, Mike Greenburgh, Lebrun James, Koby Brian, Kobe Chamberlin
  • Favorite Sports Teams: Lackers, Cowbois, Yankess
  • Favorite Coaches: Hayden Focks
  • All Time Sports Moment: When the Heet won 5 or 6 NBA finals after LeBron joned the team
  • Most Unbreakable Sports Record: Dan Marine's singel season Passing record
  • Ruth or Mays? Baby Ruth. I like candy bars
  • Unitas or Montana? Confused? Unitas isn't a state.  Is this a trick qestion?
  • Jordan or Russell? James Rusel
  • Gretzky or Orr? Don't follow?
  • Petty or Earnhardt? Tom Petty. I luv Free Falling
  • Schumacher or Senna? Skip Schomacher
 

June 25, 2012

HOVG Heroes: Matt Williams


FOR BASEBALL JUNKIES on MATT WILLIAMS

If you looked up "very good" in the dictionary (do they still have those?), you'd probably see a picture of Matt Williams.

The 17-year veteran compiled 1,878 hits and 378 home runs (respectable numbers, indeed) over the course of his career.  He rarely led the league in offensive categories but always seemed to find a way to earn an award for his all around play on the field.

All told, Williams was a five-time All Star, four-time Gold Glove winner at third base and a four-time Silver Slugger.  He was a tremendous fielder and a solid offensive player who was overshadowed by the big names of his era. 

Even though Williams deserves a lot of praise, he still falls short of Cooperstown enshrinement by most standards (he doesn't have 3,000 hits, 500 home runs or a career .300 batting average), but what's interesting and unique about Williams is that, by For Baseball Junkies (FBJ) standards, he's the only player to make two all-franchise teams and an all-decade team without being Hall of Fame worthy.

How do you pick an All-Time Team? 

The key to this whole thing is understanding how we pick and recognizing that numbers alone aren't everything.  We look for guys that best represent a franchise or decade.  When picking an all-time team, tenure probably holds more weight than prime length of time spent with that team is important.

All-Decade Teams are tough because you'll see more guys that broke onto the scene midway through a decade.  A player only makes more than one All-Decade team if he was among the elite all-time greats…guys like Lou Gehrig, Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle.

We did our best to pick the best decade and the best player in each situation with a focus on limiting repeats. 

Behind the scenes, our process starts with each contributor selecting his team.  Personally, I start by narrowing down the field to worthy candidates, focusing on things like All-Star appearances, major awards and the "eye" test.  From our three lists, we can start to see which positions need attention.  We typically have a back and forth discussion to iron out the wrinkles and sometimes, if the choice is really tough, it comes down to an internal vote. 

Given the diversity of the three contributors (ages ranging from 30 to 53), we often have very different opinions on key matters and agreements can get heated at times but we know that our style is unique because of our diversity.

What about Matt Williams...which teams did he make?

Williams was the choice at third base for our All-Time Giants, All-Time Diamondbacks and NL 1990's All-Decade Teams. 

The Giants nomination came down to two names with Matt Williams winning out.  Williams earned all of his personal awards with the Giants and was a great player, as mentioned.  He's fifth in Giants franchise history in home runs and was a great fielder. 

The other name that we considered was Hall of Famer Freddie Lindstrom.  Lindstrom of the New York Giants, by comparison has more hits (a couple of 200 hit seasons certainly aids his case) and a plaque in Cooperstown where he is generally regarded as one of the weakest Hall of Fame selections ever made by the Veterans Committee.  Lindstrom wasn't as good defensively as Williams - a switch to the outfield midway through Freddie's career validates that (along with historical accounts saying as much). 

Lindstrom was also the "goat" of the 1924 World Series, committing two errors in the deciding Game Seven that lead to the game tying and game winning runs (not a great way to be remembered). 

Williams also had more pop... he was the right choice.

The Diamondbacks team, in general, gave us fits because of the lack of history.  There were guys on that All-Time team that probably wouldn't make the cut on their All-Time High School rosters but you've gotta play the hand that you're dealt.  Williams was up against Mark Reynolds with the Diamondbacks and Williams won out because he made an all-star team, he was part of a World Series winning team and because he was a better all-around player.

The 1990 NL third base nomination hinged Chipper Jones being the right guy for the 2000 NL squad (which he was).  Once we got that out of the way, it came down the Matt Williams or Vinny Castilla.  The Coors factor weighed heavily on our decision and it became clear that Williams was the better pick.

So there you have it.  Matt Williams - good enough to make three FBJ All-Time Teams but not good enough for Cooperstown.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

For Baseball Junkies (FBJ) is a general baseball blog that focuses on the history of America's pastime.  The site is maintained by three contributors- The OCP, Mc and Hersh.  FBJ has a comprehensive All-Time Teams database which highlights the All-Time teams of all 32 current Major League franchises and every decade (both leagues) going back to 1920.  Periodically, we also run "Other" All-Time teams and lists (like best baseball movies, best nicknames and best baseball video games) and trivia. 

It's truly a great site for a baseball junkie to get his/her fix.


June 24, 2012

Youk's Brother Rips Boston

With a standing ovation and a tip of the cap, fan favorite Kevin Youkilis exited the field Sunday for the last time as a member of the Boston Red Sox.

According to numerous reports, the third baseman has been dealt to the Chicago White Sox.  In return for the career .286 hitter, Boston will add righty Zach Stewart and utility player Brent Lillibridge.

And while trading Youkilis had been talked about for a while, all signs seemed to be pointing toward the 33-year-old ending up in Chicago courtesy of his brother Scott hitting the Twitters Sunday afternoon and lashing out at BeanTown.


Yipes.


HOVG Heroes: Howie Pollet


TOM KNUPPEL on HOWIE POLLET

Born Howard Joseph Pollet on June 26, 1921, he later became a left-handed pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals.  Pollet had really good success in St. Louis, but had moderate success after his departure from the city.

His first professional baseball contract sent him to Houston to play in the Texas League for the Buffaloes in 1941.

It was the results he put up that season that caught the eye of the Major Leagues. He led the Texas League in strikeouts (151) and ERA (1.16) and won 20 of his 23 decisions.  His rookie season was a modest one with five wins and two losses, but that was what propelled him to a full-time spot in the rotation in 1943.

In 1943, he led the league with a 1.75 ERA and became an All-Star.

Three years later, after two years off for military service, he went 21-10 with a stellar 2.10 ERA. He struck out 107 in his 32 starts and completed 22 games for the Redbirds.

Pollet won 20 games and lost only 9 lost 1949.  Along with a 3.47 ERA, this was the pinnacle of his success.  He went on to win 14 the next season before being traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

In Pittsburgh, he struggled and never had another season where he was over .500. From then on, Pollet was traded from team to team and became a journeyman pitcher before playing his final game on September 23, 1956.

Pollet’s 14-year career record is 131-116 losses with an ERA of 3.51. After a few years away from baseball, he came back to the Cardinals and served as their pitching coach from 1959 until 1964.
After the Cardinals won the World Series that year, Pollet returned to his adopted city of Houston for one season as their pitching coach.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tom Knuppel is a retired High School English teacher that taught grammar, writing, American Literature and Speech Communications for 34 years. He loves to do Book Reviews. Knuppel’s passion for professional sports always originated around the St. Louis Cardinals. He is the primary writer for his son’s website CardinalsGM and is a secondary writer for another son at SaintLouisSports.

Knuppel’s Twitter feed is @CardinalsGM and he can be found HERE on Facebook.




June 23, 2012

HOVG Heroes: Bill Freehan


JOHN SHARP on BILL FREEHAN

It’s my honor to write about my baseball hero, Bill Freehan.

Freehan is a sure fire starter at catcher for the Hall of Very Good, and a first ballot HOVG…Hall of Very Good.  I really believe, had the catcher played in New York, Boston, Chicago, or LA, he’d be right there, in the discussion, as one of the best defensive catchers in baseball history.

Bill Freehan came to the Detroit Tigers for a brief time at the end of 1961, a bonus baby sign out of the University of Michigan, where he hit a Big Ten record .585…a record that still stands.

After going back to the minor leagues in 1962, Freehan was back to stay in Motown in’63, the start of a 15 year big league career wearing his famed Number 11, all with Detroit.

I became a Freehan fan soon after becoming a baseball fan, in the mid ‘60’s.

My Uncle Bob would come to Kalamazoo, or Muskegon, he’d drive us to Detroit, or we’d get on the train with my Grandmother Sharp, head to Motown, the Detroit Zoo, Greenfield Village, and a trip to a Tigers game.

The thing that stood out for me, about Bill Freehan, was that, like me, he was a catcher, and he was the Tigers catcher.

I remember sitting in Tiger Stadium, in 1969, looking at the Tigers annual yearbook, seeing Freehan on the cover, blocking home plate, tagging the Cardinals Lou Brock out before he touched home plate.

brockplay

One of the best defensive plays ever in a World Series game.  That play, in Game Five of the 1968 World Series, held the score at 3-2 Cardinals.

The Cards, defending World Series champions, had a 3-1 series lead, and were on their way to another win, an end to the series, the end of the Tigers season.  Brock led off the fifth inning with a double…he destroyed Tigers pitching in the series.

After a Javian Javier single to left, Brock was sent sprinting to the plate.  Willie Horton raced in, gloved the ball, and threw a strike to Freehan.

Brock, to this day, believes he scored.  Bill Freehan, the Tigers, and us Tigers fans, knew better.

Instead of a 4-2 St. Louis lead, the Tigers held, rallied, and won the game, 5-3, on an RBI single by Al Kaline in the seventh.  The Tigers headed to St. Louis, the momentum all theirs, and beat the Cardinals in Games Six and Seven.

The final out of the ’68 WS was a foul pop up caught by, you guessed it, Bill Freehan.


The Detroit Tigers and Bill Freehan…your 1968 World Series Champions!

Bill Freehan was a terrific catcher, logging 1,581 games behind the plate for the Tigers…the most ever by any Detroit backstop.

Suffering from a bad back, Freehan caught less and less in the early ‘70s until the end of his career, in 1976.  But at his best, in his prime, Bill Freehan was simply the best catcher in baseball.

Well, at least I think so.

From 1964, and through 1969, Freehan’s games caught were 141, 129, 132, 147, 138 and 120 games.  His fielding percentage was never below .990 in that period, with a high of .996 in 1965.  After that season, Bill Freehan was awarded the Gold Glove for American League catchers, his first Gold Glove Award.

For five years (1965 to 1969), Freehan would win the Gold Glove every year, five consecutive awards, the first catcher to ever accomplish that feat.  When he retired following the 1976 baseball season, he had a lifetime fielding percentage of .993…a record for catchers in big league baseball.

That number, .993, would be the Gold standard for catchers for two-plus decades, and why, I believe, he should be more highly regarded.  His defense behind the plate was what made him and the Tigers go.  He was the team’s leader on the field.

Bill Freehan was my hero as a kid, and I’d do anything to be like “Big Bill.”

On the sandlots and Little League diamonds of  Kalamazoo, Portage, and Muskegon, whenever I played baseball, I was Bill Freehan.  I wanted to wear Number 11 in Little League.  I crouched behind home plate like Freehan, and, at bat, my stance was a dead on match for the Tigers slugging catcher.

I would listen to any and every Tigers game on the radio, and if the Tigers were on TV, a big deal back then, I just had to watch.

I own every Topps baseball card of Freehan from 1963 to 1977 (he had a 1977 Topps card, but had retired after the 1976 season), plus a few more of the newer cards, including some very cool autograph cards, bat cards and jersey cards.

My pride and joy is his first Topps card, #466, in 1963.  That card, Topps #466, Freehan’s RC, was not easy to obtain.

I started collecting baseball cards around 1968 or 1969, and it took me until 1980, at a card show here in Jacksonville, Florida, to find it.

Back in the old days of card Topps released cards by series, and the high numbered cards, like the Freehan rookie, often never made it to store shelves, because the baseball season was near the end, and football cards replaced them.


In 1980 I paid $10.00 for the Freehan rookie card, a small sum, I know, but to me, any price would have been fine.  I would have found a way to get it.

Bill Freehan played in 11 All-Star Games for the American League, including every single year, from 1964 to 1973, and was the league’s starter from 1966 to 1972.  Most importantly, he was the starter in 1971 when the All-Star Game was played at famed Tiger Stadium in Detroit.

There are plenty of stats I could bring you, but I’ll just add a few…and none of them of the SABR variety.  You can check those out at his player page over at Baseball Reference.

In 1971, at Fenway Park in Boston, Bill Freehan hit three home runs. I was in the back seat of my Uncle Bob’s car when I heard home run number three.  I was a very happy 11-year old to say the least.

Overall, Freehan hit exactly 200 homers in the big leagues.

114…that’s the number of times Bill Freehan was hit by a pitched ball in 15 years, including an American League leading eight times in 1964, 20 times in 1967 and 24 times in 1968.  In 1967, Freehan lead the AL in intentional walks…with 15 free passes.  That one triple (one of 35 career triples) in 1967 must have caused A.L. pitchers and catchers some worrisome nights.

Bill Freehan should be more discussed, and more respected than he’s been, when discussing the great catchers in the history of big league baseball.

He may not be a Hall of Fame catcher, because of his offense, but he did play the majority of his games in the era of the pitcher.  And he did have some back problems later in his career, playing some first base along the way.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Sharp has loved the game of baseball longer than he can remember (at least 45 years) since I was seven.  He’ll talk about baseball, what’s going on now, what happened in the old days and what the future will bring to America’s Pasttime.

You can find him on Twitter at @freehan11 (yeah, it’s a very cool handle), on Facebook and at his blog.  Look him up sometime and talk about the great game, the best game, ever invented by man…the game of baseball.


June 22, 2012

Suspect Nabbed Because of Terrible Tattoo

It never surprises me where New York Yankees logos show up.  Think about it...they're literally everywhere.

Remember this little guy?

So, would it surprise you that a guy charged with shooting another guy in Arizona was nabbed because of the unfortunate placement of his Yankees ink.  Yup, 21-year-old Carlos Benito Sturgus (see below) was caught this past week in Mesa thanks to the terrible tat.

Here's the story courtesy of the Phoenix New Times.

According to court documents obtained by New Times, a witness told police he saw Sturgus and another man arguing on the balcony of the apartment above him, and when the other man walked downstairs to leave, Sturgus started shooting at him.

The other man began to shoot back at Sturgus while running through the apartment complex, and Sturgus eventually landed a shot in the man's back, according to the documents.

When police arrived, the man said he couldn't feel his legs, and was placed in the intensive-care unit at a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

He told police he didn't know who shot him, but said the shots came from a balcony.

And who was on the balcony?  You guessed it.

carlos-sturgus.jpg

***Thanks Deadspin!***

HOVG Heroes: Skip Caray


JOSH CARAY on SKIP CARAY

My father was one of the most unique people I have ever met, simply because he was able to establish himself as a great broadcaster by taking on a style drastically different from the one my grandfather portrayed.

Harry was bombastic, Skip was mellow.

Harry was a homer, Skip was cavalier.

Harry lived and died with every pitch, Skip took every game in stride.

To listen to the two, you would have never known they were related. But regardless of style, dad achieved iconic status by simply being himself. To make things more impressive, while Harry built his legacy in the thriving baseball metropolises of St. Louis and Chicago, dad did it in a city that, until 1991, had as much interest in baseball as America has in water polo.

In 1976, the Atlanta Braves were on the verge of moving to Toronto when Ted Turner, in sheer brilliance (and maybe lunacy), bought a floundering baseball team that had drawn a mere 534,000 fans the year before. Turner then took his acquisition a step further and, in an unprecedented move, put the vast majority of his team’s games on a nationwide superstation (TBS). Mind you, this was before ESPN, FOX Sports, or even WGN. Turner was the first to promote nightly, televised major-league baseball. In so doing, he may well have saved the future of the Atlanta Braves.

But in order for this endeavor to work, Turner needed voices; ringmasters for the beautiful circus that is baseball. He wound up finding three men, so different in style, he covered the spectrum in broadcasting decorum.

1) Ernie Johnson Sr.-Before his son became the host for TNT’s "Inside the NBA," Johnson was the Braves version of Vin Scully. A former player and WWII vet, Johnson brought the grandfatherly, campfire, story-telling vibe that so many try to emulate, but so few accomplish.

2) Pete Van Wieren-"The Professor" as he was affectionately known was just that; a professor of baseball. Pete could recite box scores, game stories, and historical occurrences at the drop of a hat. There was no one who out-prepared Pete Van Wieren. He was simply one of the great broadcasting minds of his generation.

3) Skip Caray-The "Voice of Braves Fans." The smart-aleck cynic who would crack jokes and make fun of the team’s misfortunes, which were quite frequent in his first 15 years in the booth. As Pete was reciting a statistic, or Ernie was telling a story, dad was talking about the guy in the stands with the funny hat.

And that’s the way it was. Three men, three different personalities who came together to bring some of the best baseball broadcasting there has ever been. Quite remarkable when you consider just how bad the Braves were in the 70s and 80s. As dad said just before a game during one of those low years: "Like lambs to the slaughter, the Braves take the field."

So what made my dad special? Very simple; he didn’t care what you thought, he didn’t care what you said, and he didn’t care how he was perceived. He took what he saw on the field and said whatever was on his mind. Did he make enemies in the process? Yes. Would my dad’s style work today? No. But it worked at a time when those Braves broadcasts needed some humor to make those difficult summers bearable. Even Ted Turner saw it. Dad would rip his own boss’s ball club and be allowed to do it because, quite frankly, it was the truth.

He brought laughter when, as a Braves fan, there wasn’t a lot to laugh about, which I suppose is what made him so endearing to fans. He wasn’t afraid to say what the typical fan sitting in aisle 102 would. That’s why he was the "Voice of Braves Fans."

Whether or not my father gets into the Hall of Fame is irrelevant. Fans of his say it’s an injustice that he’s not in already. But really, when you consider that other greats such as Johnson, Van Wieren, Tom Cheek, and Joe Nuxhall haven’t gotten their just dues, there really isn’t that much to complain about.

Dad was inducted into the Atlanta Braves Hall of Fame in 2004 and that was good enough for him. I just hope that the folks at ESPN and FOX remember that the pioneers to nightly baseball broadcasts were my dad, Pete, Ernie, and Ted Turner. If not for them and the success they created, who knows what would have become of sports networks. The chances they took and the broadcasts they gave paved the way for the 24-hour sports news cycle.

As for me, I miss my father. He was a strong guide early in my career and every success that I garner is lessened by the fact that he is gone. But I am strengthened in knowing that he brought so many smiles and so much excitement to so many people.


And if the Braves can ever achieve another World Series win, many fans are going to reiterate a phrase that my father made so popular:

Braves Win! Braves Win! Braves Win!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Josh Caray is a veteran minor-league broadcaster who, currently, is working as a news reporter for All News 106.7 FM in Atlanta.  Feel free to check out Caray's Friday Five from April 2011.



June 21, 2012

Jeff Kent Rumored to Star on Reality Show

I admit it, gang, I'm still a fan of the show "Survivor."

So when I read the news recently that former big leaguer (and future Hall of Famer?) Jeff Kent is rumored to be a cast member this upcoming season, I was excited.  Naturally, I reached out to my normal coterie of "Survivor" experts to get their opinion on the 44-year-old Kent and his chances in the Philippines.

"It's very exciting," two-time castaway Rob Cesternino told me, "but at one point Kimbo Slice and Carrie Prejean were rumored to be on Survivor 24, so I'll wait until it's a bit more concrete."

"I think it's hilarious.  He should be a much more fun character than Jimmy Johnson or Gary Hogeboom ever were," "Survivor" podcaster (and "HOVG Heroes" contributor) Mario Lanza said.  "Wasn't he considered one of the biggest a**holes in recent baseball history?  Now we have a celebrity villain, with an evil villain mustache. I am looking forward to it."

Suffice it to say, I'm looking forward to it as well.

Kent, the National League MVP in 2000, continues the current trend of former collegiate and pro athletes on the popular CBS show. 

In the past few seasons, we've seen Steve Wright and Grant Mattos, who both spent some time in the NFL and Albert Destrade, who played collegiate baseball.


HOVG Heroes: Steve Garvey


PETER CHEN on STEVE GARVEY

People used to refer to Steve Garvey as a future Hall of Famer. Today, he's merely referred to as a "Dodger Great".

But I'm not here to write about whether or not he's Hall of Fame worthy.

Steve Garvey was one of the best ballplayers of his era, period. During the 70’s and 80’s, just about every Little Leaguer in Los Angeles, myself included, wanted to be like Garvey, wanted to have those Popeye forearms. Labeled by some as a debonair, between the white lines, Garvey was anything but.

One only needs to watch vintage film to see Garv in action: jumping right back into the box after a close shave, hustling down the line, scattering line drives across the outfield, launching towering blasts, scooping balls smoothly out of the dirt, taking out middle infielders the right way, and one of my personal favorites, upending Graig Nettles at third base during Game 2 of the ‘81 World Series.

He played hard, he played hurt, he played smart, he played every day...Garvey flat out came to play. As a 10-year old watching Garvey step into the batter’s box and settle into his quiet focus, I always believed that something special was about to happen. Just ask the ‘84 Cubs.

This is the Steve Garvey I remember.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Peter Chen is an artist and graphic designer from Torrance, California who grew up during the heydays of 70's & 80's baseball. Baseball players of that era were like superheroes to him. He enjoys looking at baseball thru an artistic lens, and when he's not painting or pushing pixels, he enjoys keeping up with his beloved yet geographically-confused Angels.

More of Chen's work can be seen at www.IconicBallplayers.com.


June 20, 2012

Tampa Bay Unveils Faux-Back Jerseys

When I heard the Tampa Bay Rays were going retro for their June 30 game against the Detroit Tigers...two things immediately came to mind.

First.  I love the idea!

Second.  Just how retro can a team that debuted in 1998 get?

Ladies and gentlemen, I introduce to you...the "Faux-Back" uniform of the Tampa Bay Rays.  But here's the big question...does Dan Epstein (author of Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging '70s) think of the uniforms?

Av2-nw2cmaegsd0

HOVG Heroes: Boog Powell


DEAN HYBL on BOOG POWELL

The Baltimore Orioles of the 1960s and early 1970s boasted a roster busting with stars from top to bottom. While future Hall of Famers Brooks and Frank Robinson were the two best players on the team, the most imposing figure was a 6-foot-4, 240 pound first baseman who hit towering home runs and picked throws out of the dirt with ease. It was that player, Boog Powell, who became a favorite to many young fans, including myself.

Given the super-sizing of professional baseball players in recent years, Powell’s size may no longer seem particularly special, but during an era when most players were shaped like string beans, Powell was hard to miss. With tree trunks for arms that looked even larger when wearing the Orioles tight fitting gray uniform top, he spent more than a decade launching mammoth home runs and playing first base for the Baltimore Orioles.

A fair-skinned giant with reddish hair, Powell looked like a farm boy from the Midwest, but actually was born in Lakeland, Florida and grew up in the Sunshine State. Though his given name was John Wesley Powell, he earned the nickname “Boog” as a kid due to his mischievous nature. He seemed to always be getting into something and became known as Booger, as in, “What’s that little Booger doing now?” The nickname was eventually shortened to Boog, probably around the time he got big enough to beat the snot out of anyone who would dare call him Booger.

Powell’s prowess on the baseball field was evident from an early age. In 1954 he was part of the Lakeland Little League squad that played in the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

Signed as a free agent by the Baltimore Orioles in 1959, Powell quickly made his way to the majors. He led the International League in home runs in 1961 and made his major league debut that September.

The next season he became the starting leftfielder for the Birds and was an important reason the Orioles were steadily moving from perennial doormat to contender in the American League. Powell blasted 25 home runs in 1963 and the following season hit 39 homers and led the American League with a .606 slugging percentage despite playing in only 134 games due to a broken wrist.

In 1965 Powell moved to first base and for the next decade his soft hands helped make infielders Davey Johnson, Mark Belanger, Luis Aparicio, Bobby Grich and Brooks Robinson regular Gold Glove recipients. Despite the presence of so many Gold Glovers in the Orioles infield, and the fact that Powell posted a better fielding percentage than the league’s Gold Glove first baseman on several occasions, he never won a Gold Glove.

The 1966 season proved to be a breakout year for Powell and the Orioles. Baltimore won the American League Pennant for the first time and then defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers to claim the World Series title. Powell finished third in the voting for Most Valuable Player (behind Frank and Brooks) after hitting 34 home runs and driving in 109 runs.

The 1969 season began a six year stretch during which the Orioles reached three World Series and won five AL East titles. Powell set a career high with 121 RBI in 1969 and finished second in the AL MVP voting. The following season he blasted 35 home runs and drove in 114 runs to earn AL MVP honors as the Orioles won their second World Series title.


The 1971 season saw Powell’s numbers drop slightly to 22 home runs and 92 RBI, but he earned his fourth straight All-Star appearance. Injuries started to catch up with Powell over the next three seasons as he hit 21 home runs in 1972 and then a combined total of only 23 home runs during the next two seasons.

The Orioles parted ways with their popular first baseman following the 1974 season as he was traded to Cleveland for journeyman catcher Dave Duncan. The move reinvigorated Powell as he was reunited with his former teammate Frank Robinson, who was the player-manager for the Indians. Returning to the everyday lineup for the first time in three years, Powell responded with his best season since winning the MVP Award. He hit .297 with 27 home runs and 86 runs batted in while finishing third in the league in slugging percentage.

That proved to be Powell’s final productive season as he hit only nine home runs during the 1976 season before being released by the Indians during the 1977 spring training. He saw limited action as a pinch hitter for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1977, but was released late in the season.

While Powell’s play on the field was outstanding, the key to his great popularity was his status as a “gentle giant” of the game. Known for his sense of humor and fan-friendly attitude, Powell was a beloved figure in Baltimore and across baseball. That larger-than-life personality made Powell a popular figure in a number of Miller Lite television commercials following his retirement. When the Orioles opened their new Orioles Park at Camden Yards in 1992, it made perfect sense that Powell would play an important role in setting the atmosphere of baseball’s best park. A trip to the stadium isn’t complete without a visit to “Boog’s Barbeque.”

Though his career numbers (339 home runs, 1,187 RBIs, .266 batting average) aren’t worthy of consideration for the Baseball Hall of Fame, the accomplishments and personality of Boog Powell should never be forgotten.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dean Hybl is the founder of Sports Then and Now, a site dedicated to looking at the current sports world while also regularly taking walks down memory lane by remembering great players, teams, events, moments and games from the history of sports. Be sure and “like” Sports Then and Now on Facebook and also follow them on Twitter.


June 19, 2012

Diamondbacks Bullpen to Auction off Bieber Card

I think we can officially say the Arizona Diamondbacks have "Bieber Fever".

Remember last week, when Brad Ziegler tweeted the picture of teammate J.J. Putz and his prized Justin Bieber card?

Well, now, a week later, the duo (and fellow reliever Craig Breslow) are auctioning off the autographed card to benefit two great charities...Breslow's Strike 3 Foundation and Ziegler's Pastime for Patriots.

But here's the best part, the three pitchers, along with the Diamondbacks Foundation will match the winning bid for the card up to $2,500.

"It started out with [Ziegler] having a little fun at my expense that I enjoy Bieber's music and now we decided to raise money for two outstanding causes," Putz said Tuesday. "Hopefully we can help out a lot of people."
 
And hopefully, the Bieber hysteria doesn't end with the auction.
 
The popstar is scheduled to perform in Phoenix in September and the D-backs bullpen is hoping they can convince the singer to make a visit to Chase Field while in town.