Monday, August 25, 2014

Top Rookies of 2013: Where Are They Now?

The Rookie of the Year Award has always been a blessing and a curse. While numerous recipients have moved on to productive careers after finishing at the top of their class, others have wilted under the pressure. The top ten freshmen of 2013 have met with mixed results this year.

American League
J.B. Shuck/ Angels OF
Originally an Astros prospect, Shuck had a call-up in 2011 with Houston. He performed well in limited duty. A free agent after 2012, he signed with the Angels. Shuck was 26 years-old during his official rookie season. He finished fifth in ROY voting, hitting .293 with 25 extra-base hits in 129 games. His follow-up season has been extremely disappointing so far. Through August 1, he was hitting just .167 and had logged extensive time in the minors with the Salt Lake Bees of the Pacific Coast League.  

Dan Straily/ Athletics P
Selected by the A's in a late round of the 2009 draft, Straily debuted in 2012. His rookie campaign was a success as he compiled a 10-8 record with a 3.96 ERA, placing fourth for ROY honors. In 2014, he posted a 1-2 record with a 4.93 ERA in his first seven starts. He was traded to the Cubs with two minor leaguers and a player to be named later. Making his first start for Chicago on August 16, he allowed 5 earned runs and 7 hits in 5-plus innings.

Chris Archer/ Rays P
Drafted by the Indians in the 2006, Archer was also property of the Cubs before signing with the Tampa Bay Rays. He made his major league debut in June of 2012. The following year (his first official rookie season), he logged a 9-7 record and a 3.22 ERA while striking out 101 opponents in 128.1 innings of work. He attained a rank of #3 in ROY voting. As of August 23 of this year, he had put up numbers similar to his rookie effort with a 8-6 record and 3.17 ERA in 25 starts. Archer's best pitch is his slider, which Baseball America has ranked as being among the top three in the Rays organization.

Jose Iglesias/ Tigers SS/3B
A Cuban export, Iglesias made brief appearances in 2011/'12, but didn't meet rookie qualifications until 2013. He started the season with the Red Sox and hit at a torrid .330 clip in 63 games. Traded to Detroit, he slumped a bit at the plate, but finished the season at .303. He placed second in balloting for ROY. An excellent defensive infielder, he sustained stress fractures in his shins during the spring of 2014. He has yet to appear in a game this year.

Wil Myers/ Rays OF
The American League's reigning Rookie of the Year was chosen in the 2009 amateur draft. A catcher in high school, he was converted to an outfielder in the minors--probably because he allowed a lot of passed balls and was mediocre in thwarting stolen base attempts. In his rookie season of 2013, he hit .293 with 13 homers and 53 RBI in 88 games, helping the Rays find their way to the postseason. A stress fracture in his right wrist landed him on the 60-day disabled list in 2014. As of August 23, he was hitting just .222.

National League
Julian Teheran/ Braves P
A product of Colombia, Teheran signed as an amateur free agent in 2007. He tossed a no-hitter in the minors and earned call-ups in 2011/'12 while still a teenager. In his rookie season, he posted a 14-8 record and averaged 8 strikeouts per 9 innings. This year, Teheran is in the midst of a convincing follow-up campaign. He was selected for the All-Star team though he didn't play. Through August 23, he had made league-leading 27 starts and won 12 games while sporting a handsome 2.96 ERA.

Hyun-jin Ryu/ Dodgers P
In 2006, Ryu captured Rookie of the Year and MVP honors in the Korea Baseball Organization--the first player to win both awards in the same season. Two years later, he helped the South Korean team to a Gold Medal at the Olympics. His major league debut was highly successful as he accrued a 14-8 record for the Dodgers with an ERA of 3.00. He was MLB's #4 pick for ROY. This year, it's been much of the same so far. Through mid-August, Ryu had posted a 13-6 record with an ERA of 3.28.

Shelby Miller/ Cardinals P
A first round pick in the '09 amateur draft, Miller turned pro right out of high school. He averaged 11 strikeouts per 9 frames in four minor league seasons before earning a September call-up in 2012. In his rookie year, he went 15-9 and accumulated 169 strikeouts, guiding the Cardinals to the postseason. Miller, who relies on his fastball, has fallen on hard times as of late. After a pair of rough outings on August 11 and 16, his record stood at 8-9. His ERA was somewhat inflated at 4.25.

Yasiel Puig/ Dodgers OF
A major star in Cuba, Puig defected in May of 2012 and took up residence in Mexico. He accepted an offer from the Dodgers for seven years at $42 million. He didn't disappoint in his rookie season, hitting .319 with 19 homers and 42 RBIs in 104 games. A high energy player, he has shown an alarming lack of discipline at times. During his brief stay in the majors, he has been arrested twice for reckless driving. In April of 2014, he was scratched from the lineup for showing up late to the ballpark. He has continued to be productive at the plate despite these issues. As of August 21, he was hitting .312 with 13 homers and 59 RBIs.   

Jose Fernandez/ Marlins P
A first round pick in 2011, Fernandez burst upon the scene at the age of 20. In his rookie season, he was 12-6 with a dazzling 2.19 ERA in 28 starts. He averaged just 5.8 hits per 9 innings--the lowest ratio in the majors. He finished third in Cy Young voting and was a lock for NL Rookie of the Year honors. Off to a 4-2 start in 2014, he was placed on the DL in May with an elbow sprain. At this point, Tommy John surgery is a likely option. What the procedure will do to his 98 mph fastball remains to be seen.         


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Game 7: Exciting World Series Finales (1960)

October 13, 1960
New York Yankees vs. Pittsburgh Pirates
Forbes Field, Pittsburgh, PA.

It's hard to believe that this Series lasted seven games. The Yankees collected an impressive total of 55 hits (27 for extra bases) and compiled a team batting average of .338. But the resilient Pirates recovered from blowout losses in Games 2, 3 and 6 to claim their first world championship since 1925. The finale included one of the most iconic moments in baseball history.

The Series had been almost anti-climactic prior to Game 7 with just one lead change in the first six games. The final contest was a see saw battle full of high drama. The Yankees sent Game 2 winner Bob Turlery to the mound against Pirates ace Vern Law, who had collected 20 victories during the regular season. Turley lasted just one inning as the Pirates jumped out to an early 2-0 lead. The Bucs added another pair in the bottom of the second and carried a 4-1 edge into the top of the sixth before a 4-run Yankee outburst left them scrambling to catch up.

The Yankees padded their lead with 2 more runs in the eighth, but the Pirates came storming back in the bottom of the inning. With a runner on first and no outs, center fielder Bill Virdon hit a hard grounder to Tony Kubek at short that looked like a sure double play ball. The ball took a bad hop and hit Kubek in the throat. He collapsed to the ground and started coughing up blood. Rushed to the hospital, Kubek was replaced by journeyman Joe DeMaestri. The freak play opened the door for a 5-run Pirate rally that was capped off by a 3-run homer by catcher Hall Smith.

The Pirates scarcely had no time to gloat as the Yankee bats came to life again in the ninth. Mickey Mantle delivered his second RBI single of the afternoon and Yogi Berra followed with a run-scoring grounder to tie the game. Among the greatest performers in Series history, Berra and Mantle combined for 4 homers and 19 RBIs while collectively hitting .361 in the Series.

With  the game knotted at 9 apiece in the bottom of the ninth, Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski stepped in to face Yankee right-hander Ralph Terry. A lifetime .260 hitter, "Maz" was known more for his sparkling glove work around second base. On this day, he provided one of the most heroic batting feats in Pirate history, lifting Terry's second pitch--a fastball--to deep left field. Yogi Berra sprinted toward the ivy-covered wall, but ran out of room as the ball landed in the seats for a walk-off homer. Mazeroski galloped around the bases waving his helmet and was mobbed by jubilant Pittsburgh fans. It marked the first time a 7-game World Series had ever ended with a home run.  

Asked about what he had thrown to Mazeroski years after the fact, Terry commented: "I don't know what the pitch was. All I know is it was the wrong one." (He would redeem himself in the '62 Fall Classic with a 4-hit Series-clinching victory in Game 7 over the Giants.) Yankee manager Casey Stengel was widely criticized for the loss. Casey, who had celebrated his seventieth birthday during the season, ended up being fired. In Stengel fashion, he commented comically: "I'll never make the mistake of being 70 again."          

In 2013, Mazeroski auctioned off more than 200 items of personal memorabilia, including his Game 7 uniform and cleats. He told reporters that he had been approached after the game by seven or eight different fans all claiming to have caught his home run ball and asking him to pay no less than $50 for it. The 2013 auction netted Mazeroski almost $2 million.  


Monday, August 11, 2014

Game 7: Exciting World Series Finales (1940)

October 8, 1940
Cincinnati Reds vs. Detroit Tigers
Crosley Field, Cincinnati

The Reds were looking to redeem themselves after getting swept by the Yankees in the '39 Fall Classic.The club's primary strength was pitching. Their rotation featured the one-two punch of Bucky Walters and Paul Derringer, who won a collective total of 130 regular season games between 1938 and 1940. Offensively, the Reds were led by two-time batting champ Ernie Lombardi and All-Star first baseman Frank McCormick--winner of the 1940 NL MVP Award. It had been an extremely difficult season for Cincinnati. Lombardi, a slow-footed catcher who would later be elected to Cooperstown, was injured multiple times during the year. His backup, Willard Hershberger, had committed suicide in a Boston hotel room on August 2. When Lombardi went down with a sprained ankle in mid-September, thirty-nine year old coach Jimmie Wilson was pressed into action. Wilson had appeared in just 2 games as a catcher over the previous two seasons. His presence in the lineup helped rekindle the Reds' spirits as they captured the National League pennant by a 12-game margin over the Dodgers.

The Tigers were a formidable club in 1940. Slugger Hank Greenberg had a monster year at the plate, leading the American League with 41 homers and 150 RBIs. Rudy York supplied plenty of additional power at first base while Hall of Fame infielder Charlie Gehringer hit .313 and compiled an impressive on-base percentage of .428. On the mound, the Tigers relied heavily on right-handers Bobo Newsom and Schoolboy Rowe, who combined for a record of 37-8. The American League pennant race came down to the wire with Detroit sneaking past Cleveland by a single game.

After beating the Reds in Game 1, Newsom learned that his father had passed away in a Cincinnati hotel room. The Tiger ace dedicated his 3-hit shutout in Game 5 to his father's memory. A sentimental favorite among fans, Newsom was summoned to pitch  on short rest in Game 7. He turned in a gutsy performance.

The Reds front office apparently had difficulty printing and distributing tickets for the finale. A sub-capacity crowd of 26,000-plus turned out to see a tight pitching duel that was played in a mere 1 hour and 47 minutes (unheard of nowadays). The Tigers struck first in the top of the third on an RBI single by Gehringer. The Reds answered with a run in the seventh on consecutive doubles by McCormick and Jimmy Ripple. Ripple later scored on a sacrifice fly by shortstop Billy Meyers to give Cincinnati a 2-1 lead.

Reds starter Paul Derringer faced the heart of the Tiger order in the eighth inning. After yielding a leadoff single to Gehringer, he retired Greenberg on a hard liner to short and Rudy York on a towering fly to center field. On the brink of elimination in the ninth, Tiger manager Del Baker called upon aging Hall of Famer Earl Averill to bat for Newsom with 2 outs and nobody on. Averill, who had hit .280 in limited duty during the regular season, managed a harmless grounder to second base. For the Reds, it was their first championship since the ill-fated 1919 affair.

In the Tigers' dressing room, Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis tried to console Del Baker with the sentiment: "Tomorrow's another day." Baker reportedly grinned at Landis and replied: "There isn't much you can say to a loser, is there?" The feel-good story in Cincinnati was outfielder Jimmy Ripple. Released by the Dodgers during the spring, Ripple had spent most of the season with Montreal of the International League. When the Reds tried to claim him off of waivers, the Royals put up a fight. With the intervention of Commissioner Landis, Ripple was transferred to Cincinnati in late-August. He hit .307 down the stretch and was among the Reds top offensive stars in the World Series (.333 BA/ 2 2B/ 1 HR/ 6 RBI). He also made 14 putouts in left field, including a game-saving catch in Game 6.           

Monday, August 4, 2014

Game 7: Exciting World Series Finales (1926)

October 10, 1926
Yankee Stadium, Bronx, NY
New York Yankees vs. St. Louis Cardinals

The Yankees had won the pennant by three games over the Indians. Lou Gehrig had his first great season at the age of twenty-three, driving in more than 100 runs while leading the league with 20 triples. Despite Gehrig's commendable efforts, most of the headlines were captured by Babe Ruth, who paced the loop in multiple offensive categories, including homers (47), RBIs (146) and runs scored (139).

In the National League, St. Louis barely managed to fend off Cincinnati. Strong offensive performances from Jim Bottomley, Rogers Hornsby and little known third baseman Les Bell helped the Cardinals capture their first pennant of the twentieth century. The big story in St. Louis during the postseason was veteran hurler Pete Alexander.

Alexander was one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history, winning six strikeout titles during his storied career. While fighting overseas during World War I, he was exposed to German mustard gas. A shell exploded near him, resulting in permanent hearing loss. Upon returning to the States, he was plagued by epileptic seizures. He also struggled with chronic alcoholism. His epileptic episodes were sometimes mistaken for drunkenness. Despite his health issues, Alexander won his third triple crown in 1920. While playing for the Cubs, he locked horns with manager Joe McCarthy, who grew tired of the hurler's lack of sobriety and discipline. "Old Pete" (as he came to be known) was traded to the Cardinals midway through the '26 slate. He won 9 games for St. Louis down the stretch, helping them capture the NL pennant.

Thirty-nine years old and approaching the end of his career, Alexander erased any doubts about his pitching abilities when he emerged with complete game victories over the Yankees in Games 2 and 6. With the Series knotted at three games apiece, the Cardinals sent Hall of Famer Jesse Haines to the mound against fellow Cooperstown inductee Waite Hoyt. Before a packed house at Yankee Stadium, the Cards loaded the bases in the top of the fourth. They ended up pushing 3 runs across on an error by left fielder Bob Meusel and a clutch single by Tommy Thevenow. In the sixth inning, the Yankees cut the St. Louis lead to 3-2. They threatened again in the bottom of the seventh, loading the bases with two outs. Haines had developed a blister on his throwing hand and had to be removed from the game. There were several reliable pitchers to hand the ball to, but St. Louis player/manager Rogers Hornsby made a surprising decision, summoning Alexander from the bullpen.

The alcoholic hurler had allegedly spent the entire night celebrating his Game 6 victory. Historians have never been able to definitively determine whether he was drunk, hung over or suffering from symptoms of his epilepsy. Whatever the case, he climbed onto the mound to face hard-hitting Yankee second baseman Tony Lazzeri. With a 1-1 count, Lazzeri lifted a long drive to left field that looked like a grand slam until it hooked just foul. On the fourth pitch, Alexander blew a fastball by Lazzeri to end the inning.

After the Yankees went down  in order in the eighth, Hornsby left Alexander on the mound to finish the game. The Cardinals had failed to pad their lead and the score remained 3-2 going into the last of the ninth. Earle Combs and Joe Dugan grounded out, bringing Babe Ruth to the plate. Ruth had homered in the third to put the Yankees on the board then walked in each of his subsequent at-bats. Working carefully to the Babe, Alexander ran the count full before missing the strike zone. The next play has remained a topic of debate for more than eighty years. With Bob Meusel at the plate, Ruth took off running on the first pitch. Despite his considerable bulk, Ruth actually had decent speed and was above average on the base paths. Meusel swung and missed as Cardinals backstop Bob O'Farrell threw to second base. Hornsby applied the tag to end the game.The underdog St. Louis squad had captured their first championship of the modern era.

Ruth's attempted steal has puzzled the masses for years. He explained that he ran because he believed no one would expect it. Though Yankee manager Miller Huggins was not always Ruth's biggest advocate, he defended the slugger's gambit, stating that the play would have been considered heroic had Ruth ended up safe at second. As it was, the Babe had smashed 4 homers in the Series and reached base by hit or walk a total of 17 times. He had nothing to be ashamed of. Alexander wrapped up the Series with a pair of wins and a save (though the statistic was not recognized in those days). He had two more good seasons before losing his effectiveness. "Old Pete" retired in 1930 at the age of forty-three with 373 career victories on his resume.