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Monday, October 20, 2014

2014 World Series Prediction Podcast

My buddy Ron Juckett joins me to break down the 2014 World Series between the San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals?
Who do we pick? Find out on our 25 minute podcast.
(Spoiler: one of us is right. Shh.)
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You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Dave Roberts Stealing the Hearts of Boston Red Sox Fans: The Baseball Historian’s Notes for the Week of October 19

The 2014 World Series matchup has been determined with the surging Kansas City Royals taking on the battle-tested San Francisco Giants. The Royals are making the most of their first playoff appearance in 29 years while the Giants will now have appeared in three of the past five Fall Classics. Some don’t think that it’s much of a matchup but no matter how exciting it is, it will go down as another chapter in the annals of baseball history. That being said, on to this week’s notes…

*The eleventh anniversary of the “Steve Bartman game” has passed, marking an improbable Chicago Cubs loss in the playoffs to the Florida Marlins that was attributed to a hapless fan. Five outs away from a Chicago trip to the World Series in 2003, Bartman reached for a foul ball, a movement which impeded Cubs’ leftfielder Moises Alou from making the catch. Despite holding a commanding 3-0 lead, Chicago went on to give up eight runs in the inning and lose the game and eventually the series. This AOL.com article commemorates the game, but the real treat is the embedded video for “Catching Hell,” the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary about that game and the role of scapegoating in sports.

*Better late than never, a Wisconsin banker has returned a banner to the Royals that he “borrowed” as a college student in 1985 during their last World Series appearance. He kept it all these years as a conversation piece and because of embarrassment. However, the team’s recent success prompted him to return the flag, a gesture much appreciated by the organization.

*University of Delaware English professor Bernard McKenna is in the process of researching baseball during the time when the game was still segregated. Having grown up in the Baltimore area, his interest focused on that particular region. Recently, his work turned up a long-forgotten 1930 photo from the archives of the Baltimore Black African showing Hall of Fame pitcher Satchel Paige in the uniform of the Baltimore Black Sox—a team which he spent just one year during a lengthy career that saw him suit up for numerous squads. This rare find portrays Paige in just one of the many uniforms he donned during his lengthy and transitory career.

*Want to incorporate a little baseball history in your next vacation? Beth J. Harpaz from the Miami Herald has you covered, recently compiling a list of some of the best museums around the country that focus on that subject. Now that the heavy lifting has been done, gas up the Family Truckster and hit the road in search of these treasures.

*Former third baseman Ken Caminiti was one of baseball’s most recently polarizing players. He was talented and tenacious, who won the 1996 National League MVP in 1996 with the San Diego Padres but also openly past admitted steroid use in 2002 shortly after his career ended. His story became all the more tragic and complicated following his untimely death in 2004 at the age of 41. His career and demons have been explored in great depth and detail by Bleacher Report’s Scott Miller, which provides a lot more insight into one of the game’s great competitors, who also happened to have a very dark side.

*These days, when a player struggling at the plate wants to turn things around they might put in extra work with a coach or change up the equipment they are using. Times have changed, as the Baseball History Daily recently dug up a Hugh Fullerton article from a 1911 edition of The Chicago Examiner describing how former Detroit Tigers’ second baseman Jim Delahanty correlated receiving a blow to the head with increased success at the plate. The weirdness that is this story is best summed up by one of the former player’s teammates—’If I were you,’ said Davy Jones, ‘I’d hire a mule to kick me three of four times, and maybe I’d hit 1000 per cent.” A career .283 hitter, Delahanty must have taken a knock or two to the old noggin to have had success like that…

*The Boston Red Sox are an organization made up of many great moments and memories. However, perhaps none of them top the stolen base pinch runner Dave Roberts had in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS against the New York Yankees. With his team down three games to none at the time, his successful theft led to him scoring the tying run late in the game and jumpstarted the team to a historic comeback that culminated in them winning the World Series—the first time they had done so in 86 years.

Unbelievably, October 17th marked the 10-year anniversary of Roberts’ play. This clip from the ESPN 30 for 30 film Four Days in October bring the magic of the moment back to life.

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You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

2015 MLB Free Agent Predictions

Although the 2014 MLB postseason is still being battled out on the field, many teams have started looking towards next year. Once this season concludes, the gates to the free agent market will swing open and allow interested bidders to rush in like early birds at a swap meet.

Here is an early list of speculative predictions as to where the top 2015 MLB free agents might land:

Pitcher Max Scherzer- Chicago Cubs: Having won 70 games over the past four seasons with the Detroit Tigers, the right-hander is deservedly about to come into a large sum of money. However, with the $180 million extension rotation-mate Justin Verlander signed with the Tigers last year starting to look very iffy, the team may reluctant to go all in on Scherzer, who is just a year and a half younger. Additionally, this may be the team’s line in the sand when it comes to picking between re-signing him and left-hander David Price, who is slotted for free agency next offseason.

Look for the Cubs, who have declared their intentions to compete in 2015, to swoop in with their dump trucks full of money and snag a pitcher who can potentially lead their rotation for the next decade.

Pitcher Jon Lester- Chicago Cubs: Why have just one shiny new toy when you can have two? The veteran lefty’s history with Chicago president Theo Epstein should create a mutual level of comfort. Locking in a pitcher of this caliber to pair with someone like Scherzer would make it difficult for the team, even with a roster of comprised mainly of young talent, to not be immediate contenders.

Red Sox fans who have hoped for Lester’s return following a 2014 mid-season trade to the Oakland Athletics need a reality check. If he was going to stay with Boston long-term, an extension would have been hammered out earlier in the year. Having him return now would be bad business given the extra money (quite a bit given his strong 2014 season) and draft pick they would need to give up to their prodigal son.

Pitcher James Shields- Boston Red Sox: About to turn 33, and with at least 185 innings in each of the last nine seasons, the right-hander has more wear and tear than most. However, he is a first-rate gamer and the type of pitcher Boston needs to start rebuilding their rotation. The Kansas City Royals would undoubtedly love to have him back but the Red Sox and their recent fondness of inking players of this ilk to lucrative deals in the range of three or four years will impede them.

Signing Shields smacks of a classic Boston move, as he won’t cost as much in dollars or years as the top tier pitchers, yet has the ability to come close to matching them in production over the next few seasons.

Catcher Russell Martin- Los Angeles Dodgers: There is little doubt that the Pittsburgh Pirates would like to retain their All-Star receiver. Problem is they don’t have the deep pockets of a team like the Dodgers, who could really use an upgrade behind the plate. Although he will be 32 next year, Martin may receive an offer from Los Angeles he can’t refuse to return to the organization where he began his career.

Shortstop/Third Baseman Hanley Ramirez- Los Angeles Dodgers: The career .300 hitter has played shortstop for most of his 10-year major league career. Given his age (31 next season) and reputation as a below-average fielder, his future is likely at the hot corner (where 35-year-old incumbent Juan Uribe is signed only through 2015). He has played well in his two-plus seasons with the Dodgers, who have the ability to beat any other offer the right-handed batter might receive on the open market.

Outfielder Nelson Cruz- Baltimore Orioles: Despite leading the American League in home runs with 40 in 2014, the right-handed hitter batted just .249 over the second half of the season. A 2013 PED suspension, a decided lack of defensive skills and an upcoming 35th birthday have all contributed to him never receiving a lucrative multi-year contract expected for most players with his offensive production. He and the Orioles seem to have hit on a good mutual relationship this season, so the likely lack of strong competition for his services should mean his return to the Birds.

Third Baseman Pablo Sandoval- San Francisco Giants: Kung Fu Panda has hit a combined .294 and may be playing in his third World Series during a seven-year major league career. However, the switch-hitter has battled weight problems and doesn’t possess elite power. The Red Sox are another team that could probably use his services the most but their caution of late on the free agent market may mean they will pass on Sandoval and allow him to return to the team with whom he has been such a big part of their recent success.

Designated Hitter Victor Martinez- Seattle Mariners: Believe it or not, even though Martinez is a legitimate 2014 MVP candidate, he may have a relative shortage of serious suitors. As a DH, he is limited to the American League, where many teams already have established players in the role or use the lineup slot to rest aging veterans. Detroit can likely afford to let him go, as they have a number of offensively gifted and defensively challenged players in their lineup that can have their gloves benched 162 times a season. On the other side, the Mariners made great strides in 2014 and could see their momentum push them into the playoffs next year by adding a hitter with of patience and ability of the switch-hitter.

Outfielder Yasmani Tomas- San Diego Padres: The Cuban slugger has been generating significant interest since it was announced he was an eligible free agent. The success of some of his fellow countrymen, particularly likely 2014 AL Rookie of the Year Jose Abreu, should have teams salivating over the 24 year-old prospect. The Padres have already outed themselves as an interested party, which should come as little surprise given their lackluster .226 team batting average and .342 team slugging percentage this season.. Although there is risk in signing such a relative unknown, this may be the Padres’ best chance to inject their lineup with a possible difference maker without breaking the $100 million mark.

Outfielder Melky Cabrera- New York Mets: Cabrera bounced back from a disappointing 2013 season and PED suspension in 2012 with a nice campaign this year for the Toronto Blue Jays. Although the 30-year-old switch-hitter has hit a combined .309 over the past four seasons, he might not receive the same attention as might be expected due to his poor glove work and sketchy past. Nonetheless, he will be a nice pick-up for somebody and this seems like the type of mid-level bargain the cash-strapped Mets may be able to fit into their budget. With Eric Young and his anemic bat patrolling left field for much of this year, adding someone like Cabrera would be a major upgrade.

Pitcher Ervin Santana- Seattle Mariners: Santana isn’t an ace but has averaged 12 wins and 188 innings pitched over the first 10 years of his career—all but last year spent with the Los Angeles Angels in the AL West. Prone to the long ball, pitching half his games in the Mariners’ spacious Safeco Field would help mitigate that flaw on his under-appreciated resume.

Shortstop Stephen Drew- New York Yankees: Drew was awful this season, hitting just a combined .162 in 85 games with the Red Sox and Yankees. He may have played himself out of a good chunk of money but his steady glove and reputation as a solid hitter in the past will still land him a gig. The most natural fit is returning to New York, which has a black hole at second base, no shortstop with the retirement of Derek Jeter, and a soon-to-be 40-year-old third baseman who won’t have played a regular season game in a year and a half. Drew’s ability to play all of those positions makes his return a strong likelihood.

Infielder Asdrubal Cabrera- New York Yankees: See above. Once considered a rising star, the 28-year-old Cabrera has merely been an average player over the past couple of seasons. However, he has positional versatility and as recently as 2011 hit .273 with 25 home runs and 92 RBIs. Although the Yankees are well-known for their free-wheeling spending, they have so many large contracts on file that this could be the offseason where frugality wins the day. He won’t come cheaply, but Cabrera could be more reasonable than other options.

Pitcher Jake Peavy- Pittsburgh Pirates: He’ll be 34 by next year’s All Star break but after going 6-4 with a 2.12 ERA in 12 starts with the Giants after coming over from the Red Sox in a mid-season trade, he showed he still has gas left in the tank and may be a better fit in the National League. Past arm issues and production that has been in decline since his 2007 National League Cy Young win will impact his offers. Enter the thrifty by necessity Pirates, who could offer him a reasonable multi-year deal, which could be all the more appealing for the veteran because of their playoff appearances the past two years.

Third Baseman Aramis Ramirez- Boston Red Sox: Even if 2014 Boston starter Will Middlebrooks has a major comeback in him, the team may have already decided to move on next year. A 17-year major league veteran, Ramirez still has a productive bat and would be available on one of those shorter contracts the team so enjoys.

The emergence of Brock Holt means Ramirez wouldn’t be required to play every day, which would hopefully maximize his impact.  The team has struck gold with third basemen in their 30s in the recent past (Bill Mueller and Mike Lowell), so it wouldn’t be a shock to see that happen again. The Green Monster at Fenway Park would be an inviting target for his bat, which has launched 464 doubles and 369 homers during his career.

Outfielder Nick Markakis- Baltimore Orioles: The left-handed hitter does a little bit of everything but never developed into a star. The current longest-tenured member of the Orioles probably won’t have enough outside interest to lure him away from the team where he has spent his entire nine-year MLB career, so a return seems imminent.

Pitcher Brandon McCarthy- Boston Red Sox: It’s hard to imagine the Red Sox beginning next year with a rotation predominantly made up of rookies and youngsters but unless they sign or trade for at least two veterans to join the returning Clay Buchholz, that’s exactly what would happen. The right-handed McCarthy was stellar (7-5, 2.89 ERA) after being traded to the Yankees this July.

Although McCarthy has struggled with injuries in the past, he reached 200 innings for the first time in his career this season, keeps the ball in the park and is very analytically driven—much like Boston. Having pitched into at least the sixth inning in all but four of his 32 starts in 2014, he is a solid veteran who could help firm up the Red Sox’s rotation—at a fraction of the price of some of his fellow free agents.

Pitcher Francisco Liriano- Kansas City Royals: Still prone to bouts of wildness, the left-hander reclaimed his career during the past two seasons with Pittsburgh after flaming out with the Minnesota Twins. With the Royals appearing World Series-bound and facing a likely uphill battle to keep current ace Shields, adding another impact arm may be a necessity. An added benefit of signing Liriano would be the ability of teaming him with Danny Duffy and Jason Vargas and giving the team a heavy southpaw theme in 2015.

*These are predictions based on speculation from reviewing team needs, history etc... No direct sources were utilized in the forming of these opinions.

**Statistics obtained from BaseballReference.com

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Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Real Story of Donnie Moore: The Baseball Historian’s Notes for the Week of October 12

Baseball’s postseason is a magical time of year. Of the fortunate teams that make it to the last leg of the season, legends will be made and history written from the intense competition that determines the annual champion in the World Series.

The 2014 League Championship Series are currently being waged and have already created some amazing moments. Accordingly, a number of items in this week’s baseball historian’s notes relate back to postseasons past with teams and players that were once in the same position as the Kansas City Royals, Baltimore Orioles, San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals are this year.

*The October 4th game between the San Francisco Giants and Washington Nationals lasted a whopping 18 innings before ending in a 2-1 victory for the Giants. Not only was it an exciting contest, it was also the longest game in MLB postseason history, which has stretched for over a century. The game was so long (six hours and 23 minutes) that it spanned across two days and losing pitcher Tanner Roark actually turned another year older before it was over. To see some of the other longest games in postseason history, check out this list by USA Today’s Ted Berg.

*1947 and Jackie Robinson are synonymous for even the most casual fans of baseball in describing the integration of the game. While Robby certainly paved the way for many others who came after him, his early years in the majors were certainly no walk in the park. Joe Distelheim, over at The Hardball Times, has written an interesting article arguing that baseball became truly integrated in 1951, when black players had a better foothold and more teams were willing to utilize them.

*Despite baseball’s integration, black players, coaches and other employees continued to experience discrimination. Tommy Harper, who had an excellent 15-year major league career as an outfielder, experienced that first hand. Playing for the Boston Red Sox from 1972-74, and later working as a coach and front office staff in the early 1980s, he successfully sued the team in 1985 for improper termination and discriminatory practices.

Just recently, Harper sat down with The Boston Globe and provided more details about his experiences. It’s important to note he later returned to work for the team under different ownership and was lauded by them for helping bring to light and fix those issues that cast a long shadow on their organization.

*With the World Series on the horizon, it’s a good reminder that the Black Sox scandal of 1919 is now 95 years distant in our historical rearview mirror. Some players on the Chicago White conspired with gamblers to throw that year’s Fall Classic to the Cincinnati Reds. Although they were acquitted (wink, wink) in a court of law, eight of those players were ultimately banned from baseball for life, sparking nearly a century’s worth of debate over their innocence and punishment. An excellent write-up of the saga recently appeared on History.com.

* William “Bad Bill Eagan had a nondescript playing career during the latter part of the nineteenth century. However, off the field was a different matter altogether. According to a Chicago Tribune article, “stories of his badness are told all over the league.” He became notorious for his erratic behavior, which was inflamed by alcohol. A number of times he was imprisoned for drunkenness, violence, and once for the attempted murder of his wife.  Despite his actions, he was continuously given chances by teams because of his ability to play ball. It is an intriguing comparison given the rash of current athletes in trouble with the law, and show that sometimes things elude change. His story is told in two parts (here and here) over at the Baseball History Daily.

*The 58th anniversary of Don Larsen throwing the only perfect game in World Series history was celebrated on October 8th. In Game 5 of that year’s series, the right-hander for the New York Yankees shut down the Brooklyn Dodgers in spectacular fashion. This video, which includes a lot of vintage footage and interviews, captures the magic of that game.

The Dodgers’ lineup, which featured four future Hall-of-Famers, could not muster any offense against Larsen. Backed by a two-run home run by Mickey Mantle off Brooklyn starter Sal Maglie, the Yankees took the game 2-0, and went on to win the series in seven.

*Dizzy Dean was one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history. Between 1933 and 1936 he won 102 games (including 107 complete games) for the St. Louis Cardinals. Injuries curtailed his playing career but he became a well-known announcer and public figure later in life due in large part to his “aw-shucks” countrified persona—as seen in this classic clip from the television show Hee Haw.

*A baseball myth is that former All-Star closer Donnie Moore shot his wife and then killed himself in 1989 because he couldn’t live with having relinquished a home run to the Red Sox’s Dave Henderson in Game 5 of the 1986 ALCS; something which ultimately helped shift momentum of the series to Boston. Michael McKnight of SI Longform has completely debunked that with his thorough re-telling of the hurler’s final troubled years. A violent past, alcohol abuse, troubled family life and a dwindling career were the actual contributing factors to his actions.

The homer relinquished to Hendu may have been a defining moment of Moore’s career but he battled demons far darker throughout his life than that one pitch. The entirety of Game 5 is available for free on YouTube.

*Although outfielder Curt Flood hit .293 over 15 major league seasons, his refusal to play is what he is best known for. In 1969, he declined to report to the Philadelphia Phillies after being traded to them by the Cardinals. His actions challenged MLB’s reserve clause, which essentially made players paid indentured servants to teams, and ultimately paved the way for players to have the rights of free agency. The New York Times has released a short documentary on this titled Rebel Without a Clause. It’s required viewing for any fan of baseball, especially since Flood isn’t remembered nearly as much as he should be given his impact on the game.

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You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew