Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Greatest Players From Each Franchise (Part I--AL East)


Carlos Delgado
Delgado began his minor league career as a catcher at the age of seventeen. He was an early-October call-up in 1993, when the Blue Jays won the last World Series in franchise history (to date). The 'Jays failed to return to the playoffs for the next two decades, but it was no fault of Delgado's. From 1996-2004, the hard-hitting first baseman was a consistent run producer, averaging more than 30 homers and 100 RBIs per year. He led the league in the latter category during the 2003 campaign, finishing second in MVP voting. On September 25 of that year, he belted four homers in a single game. In 2001, he recorded a pair of three-homer games. Delgado had strong political opinions and was not shy about expressing them. He was opposed to the U.S. occupation of Iraq and refused to stand for the National Anthem or singing of "God Bless America" during the seventh inning stretch. When he was traded to the Mets in 2006, the New York brass forced him to put an end to his personal protest. He has contributed to multiple humanitarian causes in his native Puerto Rico.


Cal Ripken Jr.
Ripken's name is synonymous with consistency. He earned the nickname "Iron Man" for his amazing streak of 2,632 consecutive games played. The streak began on May 30, 1982 and continued until Sept. 19, 1998. During that span, Ripken suffered two ankle injuries and a severe knee strain (sustained during an on-field brawl) but kept on playing. Both of his children were born on days off, keeping the streak alive. Articulate and affable, he served as a sports envoy for the U.S. State Department in 2007. He was sent to Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou to train Chinese youths. They couldn't have asked for a more qualified teacher. From 1982-1997, Ripken drove-in 80 or more runs for the Orioles on fourteen occasons. He collected at least 20 homers in ten consecutive seasons. An eight-time Silver Slugger Award recipient, he was named AL MVP in '83 and '91. He captured Rookie of the Year honors in 1982. The accolades kept coming after his retirment as he collected 98.5% of the Hall of Fame ballot--the third highest total in history. Nowadays, Ripken has a line of children's books along with multiple instructional books and videos.


Babe Ruth
Ruth was in a class all by himself. In fact, the term "Ruthian" is still used to describe extraordinary feats of power at the plate. Though his all time home run record has been broken twice, the Babe was light years ahead of his time. When he retired in 1935, the closest runner-up (Lou Gehrig) was more than 300 homers behind. Ruth still holds the record for career slugging percentage (.690) along with several other more obscure marks. Immensely popular with the masses, Ruth was a major drawing card for the Yankees and Braves for twenty-two years. He received more than a dozen nicknames, including "The Sultan of Swat," "The Behemoth of Bust" and "The Prince of Powders." His teammates called him "Jidge"--slang for "George." Ruth was famous for his frequent salary disputes and when he asked for more money than President Hoover on one occasion, he justified his actions by telling reporters: "I had a better year than he did." Named AL MVP in 1923, Ruth led the league in assorted statistical categories more than sixty times.


Ted Williams 
Whenever discussions surface regarding the greatest players in Red Sox history, two names inevitably come to light: Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski. In many cases, it comes down to a popularity contest with the more personable "Yaz" getting the nod. True, Williams was volatile and prickly with press members and fans at times. Also true, he placed far more emphasis on the offensive side of the game. But in terms of sheer numbers, no one comes close to matching Williams' value to the club. In a career interrupted by long stints in the military, "Teddy Ballgame" still managed to finish among the top twenty of all time in runs scored, home runs and RBIs. He holds the all time record for on-base percentage at .482. Williams received two MVP Awards in his career and undoubtedly would have gotten more if he had not consistently alienated members of the press. He was runner-up four times. In 1941, when Joe DiMaggio compiled his 56-game hitting streak and claimed the honor, Williams won a batting title and led the league in seven other major offensive categories, including homers and walks. His .406 batting average that year has not been surpassed since. "A man has to have goals and that was one of mine," Williams once told a journalist, "to have people say 'there goes Ted Williams--the greatest hitter who ever lived.'" A convincing case can be made on his behalf. Though he expended little effort on honing his defensive skills, he managed to post the highest fielding percentage among players at his position (left field) twice. He finished in the top three on six other occasions.


Evan Longoria
The Rays are a relatively young franchise and don't have an extensive body of lore yet. But few fans would disagree that Evan Longoria is the cream of the Tampa Bay crop. A first round draft pick in 2006, Longoria found his way to the majors within two years of making his pro debut. He burst upon the scene in 2008, collecting 27 homers ad 85 RBIs in 122 games--numbers strong enough to earn him Rookie of the Year honors. Since then, he has made two All-Star appearances, captured a pair of Gold Gloves at third base and won a Silver Slugger Award. His efforts have helped the Rays to four postseason bids, including a successful pennant run in 2008. In thirty postseason games, Longoria has 9 homers and 21 RBIs. In 2008, he homered in four consecutive ALCS games. He is entering the 2016 season as the all time franchise leader in homers, slugging percentage, doubles and RBIs--among other categories. 


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Cooperstown Class of 2016--Who Will Get in?

Evaluating the Hall of Fame ballot has become an annual tradition for me. Though last year's results were somewhat surprising (in regard to the number of inductees) I don't believe that this year's voting will produce any unexpected results.

Front runners from the 2015 ballot include Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines. The best offensive catcher in history, Piazza came up a few percentage points shy of induction last year. He has been steadily gaining support. Bagwell is indisputably the greatest first baseman the Astros ever produced. Entering his sixth year on the ballot, he has been holding steady in the fiftieth percentile. Tim Raines is another player who has been gaining steam over the past few years, peaking at 55% of the vote in 2015. With 808 lifetime steals (fifth on the all-time list) and an 84.7% success rate, he will certainly get a fair share of support this year. 

On an interesting side note, this will be Alan Trammel's last appearance on the primary ballot. A six-time All-Star and four-time Gold-Glover, Trammel helped the Tigers to a World Series victory in 1984 and was MVP of the Series. Unfortunately, he played in an era dominated by high profile shortstops and was overshadowed by the likes of Cal Ripken Jr., Roberto Alomar and Ozzie Smith. Trammel was a great player in his own right, but he is not in the same class as those other guys.

First-timers on the ballot this year include Ken Griffey Jr. and Trevor Hoffman. Griffey hit 630 homers, drove-in more than 1,800 runs and captured ten consecutive Gold Gloves in center field. Hoffman was the all-time saves leader from 2006 until 2011, when his record was eclipsed by Mariano Rivera. He still ranks #2 in that category.

Who Will Make It?
Griffey and Hoffman will be popular choices among voters. Piazza will remain on the cusp. Raines and Bagwell will both lose a little support.  

Who Will Be Eliminated on the First Try?
Though Jim Edmonds, Jason Kendall, Garrett Anderson and Billy Wagner were all excellent players in their prime, none of them had Hall of Fame caliber careers. Edmonds and Wagner may get enough support to appear on future ballots. First-timers who will be eliminated include Troy Glaus, Mike Hampton, Luis Castillo, Randy Winn, David Eckstein and Brad Ausmus.  

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Weakest Bats in History (Part II--Active Players)

Completing my survey of guys most likely to keep the ball inside the park, here's a list of active players with virtually no power.  

Meunori Kawasaki
A good defensive infielder and energetic presence on the diamond, Kawasaki is popular among fans in Toronto. During his eleven seasons in the Japanese Pacific League, he averaged one homer per every 190 at-bats. Since signing with the Mariners in 2012, he has managed just 1 long ball in 612 plate appearances--among the lowest ratios in the majors. 

Ben Revere
Drafted in 2007 by the Twins, outfielder Ben Revere has worn three different major league uniforms. He led the National League in hits during the 2014 campaign and has maintained a .300 batting average for three straight seasons. But members of Revere's fan club shouldn't hold their breath waiting for him to hit one out. He has just 4 career homers in 2,497 at-bats. He went homerless in his first 384 major league games.

Brock Holt
Holt can play every position on the diamond except for pitcher and catcher. What the versatile Red Sox utility man can't do is hit for power. The left field foul pole at Fenway Park is a little over 300 feet from home plate. Even so, the lefty-swinging Holt went deep just twice in 509 plate appearances during the 2015 slate. 

Alcides Escobar
An All-Star, Gold-Glover and World Series champ, Escobar hasn't gained any acclaim for his power hitting ability over the past several years. He gathered just 3 homers in 662 plate appearances during the 2015 slate. In Game 1 of the World Series, he surprised everyone by going deep off of Mets right-hander Matt Harvey. To date, he has 2 postseason homers in 31 games.

Micheal Bourn
The thirty-two year old Bourn is a veteran of ten major league seasons. Though he reached a high of 9 long balls in 2012, he is currently riding a streak of more than 650 consecutive plate appearances without a homer. Known more for his base stealing ability (he has led the league three times in that category), Bourn's last circuit blast came in July of 2014. 

Eric Sogard
The slick fielding Sogard posted the highest range factor among AL second baseman in 2015. He also posted some of the weakest power numbers in the majors, generating just 16 extra-base hits in 401 plate appearances. The light-hitting infielder has gone deep just twice in the past two seasons. 

Cesar Herenandez
Promoted to the Phillies in 2013, Hernandez gradually emerged as the club's top second baseman. He didn't earn that distinction as a result of his ability to knock down fences. In 227 career games, Hernandez has hit just 2 homers. After going deep in game #43 of his career, he waited another 100 games to duplicate the feat.  

Delino DeShields
DeShields' father spent thirteen seasons in the majors, slamming 80 homers for five different clubs. Though it's way too early to tell whether the younger DeShields will surpass that number, he got off to a rather slow start in his 2015 rookie debut, managing just 2 long balls in 121 games. Those two homers were fewest among any Rangers player with at least 100 plate appearances. 

Brandon Barnes
Apparently, the air in Colorado doesn't affect Barnes the way it affects his teammates. Appearing most often in left field, Barnes hit just 2 homers in 106 games during the 2015 campaign. It was the lowest output among Rockies regulars.    


Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Weakest Bats in History (Part I--Inactive Players)

In baseball, every player has his role. While some are built to swing for the fences, others are severely lacking in the power department. Just for fun, I decided to compile a list of the least powerful hitters who are no longer active. I excluded pitchers and Deadball Era players for obvious reasons. I limited my search to players with lifetime batting averages significantly above the Mendoza Line. Here's what I came up with:   

Tommy Thevenow
Primarily a shortstop, Thevenow spent significant portions of time at second and third base. He played his entire career during baseball's offensive Renaissance of the 1920s and '30s. While many of his peers were breaking down fences at an impressive rate, Thevenow gathered just 2 homers in more than 4,000 at-bats. This included a drought that spanned twelve consecutive seasons.

Frank Taveras
A speedy shortstop, Taveras stole 40 or more bases for the Pirates every year from 1976-'79. He led the league in that category during the '77 slate. With guys like Willie Stargell and Dave Parker behind him in the lineup, Taveras didn't need to swing for the seats. He ended up going deep just twice in his career though he came to the plate more than 4,300 times. His first career homer--a grand slam off of Doug Capilla of the Reds in '77--came after he had logged 1,594 at-bats. No player with at least 1 career homer has ever waited so long.   

Tom Oliver
Oliver was an excellent defensive center fielder who spent four years in the majors (all with the Red Sox) from 1930-1933. Described as an opposite field slap-hitter, he stood directly facing the pitcher with one foot behind the other--a rather unusual way to hit. When he failed to generate a homer in 1,931 at-bats, he was banished to the minors for good.  His minor league career spanned more than twenty seasons. 

Mike Tresh
A righty-swinging catcher, Tresh spent most of his career with the White Sox during the 1930s/'40s. He was the club's most often used catcher for nine straight seasons. Behind the plate, he had a strong arm, finishing among the top five in assists and caught stealing percentage multiple times. Though he fashioned a serviceable .249 lifetime batting average, he had virtually no power--generating just 89 extra-base hits in over 3,500 plate appearances. Only two of those extra-base hits were homers, giving him an average of 1 per every 1,584 at-bats.

Emil Verban
 Nicknamed "Dutch," Verban played second base for the Cardinals, Phillies and Cubs from 1944 through 1950. He was named to three All-Star teams. A lifetime .272 hitter, he ended up with just 1 homer in 2,911 at-bats. Despite his glaring lack of power, he inspired a group of loyal Cubs fans to form the "Emil Verban Memorial Society" in 1975. Notable members included former President Ronald Reagan and two Supreme Court justices.

Duane Kuiper
Kuiper was a decent second baseman for the Indians and Giants from 1974-1985. He fashioned a .271 batting average over the course of his career. Typically appearing at the top of the order, he managed just 1 home run in 3,259 at-bats. The rare blast, which came off of Chicago's Steve Stone in August of 1977, ended a streak of 357 consecutive games without a long ball. He went homerless in 699 more games after that.

Jerry Remy
Not only was Remy pretty handy with a glove, but he could hit for average as well. While wearing a Red Sox uniform between 1978 and 1983, he topped the .300 mark twice and never fell below .275. Despite playing a majority of his home games at hitter-friendly Fenway Park, Remy logged 2,226 consecutive at-bats without a homer--among the longest power outages in history.

Larry Bowa
Bowa was nicknamed "Gnat" for his diminutive stature and bothersome nature. First baseman John Kruk, who played for Bowa when he managed the Padres in '87/'88, referred to him as an "asshole" and a "dickhead." Despite that denouncement, Bowa was among the premier defensive shortstops in the National League during the 1970s, capturing a pair of Gold Gloves while appearing on five All-Star rosters. He was also among the least powerful hitters in history. Including his minor league career, Bowa managed just 22 home runs in more than 11,000 plate appearances.    


Thursday, November 5, 2015

Underdog Stories: The 1955 Dodgers

I'm not sure if anyone else was underwhelmed by this year's World Series, but I thought it was a real clunker. Though I agree that both teams were overdue for championships, the feel-good story I wanted to see was the Chicago Cubs finally rising to glory after more than a hundred years of futility. Baseball can be a frustrating and anti-climactic sport at times--as evidenced by the Mets epic October collapse this year.

I would like to wind up my latest set of blogs with an excerpt from my upcoming book, which is due out next spring. It carries the title of Baseball's Dynasties and the Players Who Built Them. This particular excerpt deals with my favorite underdog story--the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers.

...Beginning in 1947, the Dodgers captured six pennants in a ten-year span. They came remarkably close on two other occasions. In 1950, they spent most of June in first place, ultimately finishing two games behind the Phillies. The following year, they remained on top for a total of 147 days, but couldn’t hold off the rampaging Giants, who posted a 54-23 record in the second half while winning eight of the last ten head-to-head matchups. On the final day of the season, the two teams were locked in a first place tie. A rare three-game playoff format was employed to determine the pennant winner.

The Giants took the first game at Brooklyn thanks to a pair of solo homers by Monte Irvin and Bobby Thomson. But the Dodgers came storming back in Game 2 at the Polo Grounds, battering three different New York hurlers for a 10-0 victory. The third contest contained one of the most epic moments in playoff history.

Brooklyn led 4-1 in the ninth inning of Game 3 when starter Don Newcombe ran out of gas. With one out, two men on and a run already in, manager Chuck Dressen made an unfortunate decision, bringing in right-hander Ralph Branca to face third baseman Bobby Thomson. Branca had coughed up a homer to Thomson in Game 1, but Dressen apparently figured that lightning couldn’t strike twice. He was wrong. Thomson hit his famous “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” as radio announcer Russ Hodges immortalized the moment by manically repeating the phrase: “The Giants Win the Pennant!” In some newspapers, the Giants victory took up more space than a Russian atomic bomb test. Years later, several Giants players admitted that manager Leo Durocher had set up a sign-stealing operation at the Polo Grounds to inform New York hitters what pitches were coming.

The Dodgers recovered from the trauma, capturing back-to-back pennants in ‘52 and ‘53. Again, the Yankees robbed them of glory both times. The ’53 Series was the eighth consecutive postseason loss for Brooklyn. After the final pitch had been thrown, Roy Campanella (the eternal optimist) commented disconsolately: “It was a wonderful season, but it ended in a heap of nothing.” Asked by reporters what the Dodgers needed to do to beat the Yankees, Pee Wee Reese admitted: “I don’t know what the answer is. I’ve been trying to find it for twelve years now.”

The solution finally arrived in 1955, when the Dodgers ran away with the pennant and met the Bombers for the sixth time in World Series play. After dropping the first two games at Yankee Stadium, Walter Alston’s resilient crew bounced back with three straight wins at home. But the Yankees would not go quietly. A five-run explosion in the first inning of Game 6 was all they would need with staff ace Whitey Ford on the mound. Ford scattered 4 hits and struck out 8 in a 5-1 victory. Southpaw Johnny Podres, who had posted a substandard 9-10 record during the regular season, became the unlikely Series hero for Brooklyn in Game 7, picking up his second win with a complete game shutout. “Just give me one run,” he had asked his teammates before clinching the Series for Brooklyn.

It was the first championship in franchise history and, though the game was played at Yankee Stadium, a large throng of fans swarmed onto the field to celebrate. An Associated Press writer described the scene in the Brooklyn locker room as follows: “There was shouting and back pounding, cheering and embracing, and it was spontaneous, genuine and totally unabashed.”  In Flatbush, church bells rang, factory whistles blew and thousands of people danced in the streets. Banners and bunting flew from windows and effigies of Yankee players hung from lampposts. The Dodgers held a celebration dinner at the Bossert Hotel.  Jackie Robinson offered the following words to the cheering crowd outside: “The whole team knows it was the fans that made it for us. It was your support that made this great day possible. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”

Monday, October 26, 2015

Underdog Stories: The 1954 Giants

The Cleveland Indians dominated the American League in 1954, posting a 111-43 record--best ever for a junior circuit team. Their pitching staff featured four eventual Hall of Famers-- Bob Feller, Early Wynn, Bob Lemon and Hal Newhouser. The offense was propelled by batting champion Bobby Avila and Cooperstown-bound outfielder Larry Doby, who had his most productive major league season with 32 homers and 126 RBIs. Collectively, the Indians belted more home runs than any team in the AL--even more than the powerful Yankees, who ended a string of five consecutive World Series championships when they finished eight gamed behind Cleveland in the standings. 

Over in the National League, the Dodgers were expected to claim their third straight pennant, but an unfortunate injury to superstar Roy Campanella left them scrambling for a competent replacement behind the plate. "Campy" sat out more than 40 games as the Dodgers finished second behind their oldest rivals. Managed by the fiery Leo Durocher, the Giants welcomed back All-Star center fielder Willie Mays, who had missed the previous two seasons to Army duty. The layoff didn't effect his abilities a bit as he hit .345 with 41 homers and 110 ribbies. Third baseman Hank Thompson chipped in with 26 homers of his own and corner outfielder Don Mueller, known as "Mandrake the Magician" on account of his knack for finding holes in the defense, posted a stellar .342 batting average. The New York bullpen was anchored by Hall of Famer Hoyt Wilhelm, who baffled opponents with his elusive knuckleball all season. Southpaw Johnny Antonelli, acquired from the Braves in the offseason, became the ace of the starting rotation with 21 victories.

The Giants entered the Series as 8-5 underdogs. While many sportswriters predicted that the New Yorkers would lose in six games, other sources believed that the Indians would sweep. In the end, it was the Giants who made quick work of their AL opponents. The Indians squandered leads in Games 1 and 2 then played catch-up for the rest of the Series as the Giants outscored them by a 21-9 margin. It was the first sweep by an NL club in forty years. A Chicago Sun Times correspondent remarked cheekily that "Custer has been avenged. The Indians could not have done a more thorough job on the unfortunate general and his minions than the Giants did on the Tribesmen of this trading post."

The Series is best remembered for one of the greatest defensive plays in history. With the score knotted at 2 in the eighth inning of Game 1, Cleveland slugger Vic Wertz smashed a 450 foot drive to deep center field. Infinitely familiar with the recesses of the Polo Grounds, Willie Mays sprinted after Wertz's drive with his back to the plate and made an over the shoulder catch. Completing one of the most astonishing sequences ever, he wheeled around and threw accurately to second, preventing the runners from scoring. The play would forever after be known as "The Catch." The Giants won on a tenth inning walk-off homer by seldom used outfielder Dusty Rhodes, who had compiled a healthy .341 average in 82 regular season games. Rhodes was the hero again in Game 2, tying it with a pinch-hit single then winning it with a 2-run homer in the seventh. In the third contest, Rhodes was at it again, delivering a bases loaded pinch-hit single. In all, he went 4-for-6 with a pair of homers and 7 RBIs. Rhodes never matched the success of his '54 season. A one-dimensional player, manager Leo Durocher once joked: "Any time you see a fielder get under the ball and pound his glove--even in Little League--you know he's going to catch it. I have seen Rhodes pound his glove and have the ball land twenty feet behind him."

Friday, October 16, 2015

Underdog Stories: The 1914 Braves

Long before the "Miracle Mets" of 1969, there were the "Miracle Braves" of 1914. Hailing from Boston in those days, the Braves had few notable stars on their roster aside from second baseman Johnny Evers and shortstop Rabbit Maranville, who would both be enshrined at Cooperstown on the strength of their defensive skills. Having finished in fifth place or lower for eleven straight seasons, the Braves weren't expected to seriously contend for the pennant in 1914 and no one was terribly surprised when they sank to last place by April 25. Owing much to an innovative platoon system implemented by manager George Stallings, Boston compiled an incredible 61-16 record in the second half, climbing into first place for good on September 5.

On an interesting side note, Stallings was among the most peculiar men ever to occupy a dugout. Described by a Chicago Tribune writer as "a pitiless and abusive critic," the volatile Boston skipper frequently subjected his men to profanity-laden tirades while games were in progress. In the clubhouse, he was a completely different person, offering encouraging words and joking around with players. His superstitious behaviors became legendary. If something positive happened on the field, he would remain frozen in place for long periods of time, believing that the practice would prolong his team's good fortune. He had an almost pathological distaste for scraps of paper, peanut shells and other assorted bits of garbage, which made him extremely anxious. 

While the Braves completed an improbable pennant run, the A's captured their fourth AL title in a five year span. Third baseman Frank Baker led the league in homers for the fourth straight season while second baseman Eddie Collins hit .344 and stole 58 bags. Chief Bender, Eddie Plank and Herb Pennock--the A's Hall of Fame pitching arsenal--combined for a 43-14 record and 2.63 ERA. Entering the Series as heavy underdogs, the Braves remained supremely confident. Johnny Evers boasted that the A's were about to receive one of the biggest surprises of their lives while Stallings maintained that his team would "knock [Connie] Mack's head off." 

Both statements proved prophetic as the Braves executed one of the most astonishing sweeps in Series history. Game 3 was a 12-inning nail-biter that ended with an unfortunate throwing error by right-hander Bullet Joe Bush, who had pitched relatively well to that point. The stirring 5-4 Braves victory was followed by a series-clinching 3-1 win the following afternoon at Boston. Though the Braves had played their regular season games at the Southside Grounds, Fenway Park had a larger seating capacity and the postseason games were held there. 

The Braves followed their unlikely championship effort with a second place showing. The following year, they slid back into the second division, where they would remain for three decades. Between 1917 and 1946, the club finished in seventh place eleven times and last place on four occasions.              

Monday, October 5, 2015

Underdog Stories: The 1906 White Sox

With the 2015 regular season officially concluded, it seems like a good time to share a few stories about unlikely World Series victors. Let's begin in the Deadball Era.

The only all-Chicago World Series took place in 1906.The White Sox had been in contention the previous year, ultimately finishing 2 games behind Connie Mack's Athletics. In August of '06, the Sox found themselves sitting in fourth place more than 8 games out of the running. Under the dynamic leadership of player/manager Fielder Jones, they assembled an incredible nineteen game winning streak that catapulted them to the top. The A's faded, but the Cleveland Naps and New York Highlanders refused to go away as the ChiSox waited until the final week of the season to clinch the pennant.

Meanwhile in the National League, the Cubs won a remarkable total of 116 games--still a major league record for a 154-game season and a mark that would not be matched until the 21st century. The Cubs infield, consisting of shortstop Joe Tinker, second baseman Johnny Evers and first baseman Frank Chance, would become the subject of a famous poem, entitled "Baseball's Sad Lexicon." All three men ended up in the Hall of Fame along with their staff ace, Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown.

When the 1906 World Series opened on October 9, the Cubs were heavily favored to beat their crosstown rivals, who had compiled a feeble .230 team batting average--second lowest in the majors. Journalists had dubbed the Southside squad "The Hitless Wonders." The White Sox pinned their hopes on a stellar pitching rotation that included right-hander Frank Owen and southpaw Nick Altrock, both of whom were in the midst of their last great seasons on the mound. Hall of Fame spitballer Ed Walsh, who would retire with the lowest career ERA in major league history, had a breakthrough season for the Sox in '06, winning 17 games--ten of them by shutout.

As anticipated, the Series featured strong pitching. Neither club collectively broke the .200 mark at the plate. The turning point came in Game 5. With the affair even at 2 games apiece, the Cubs took advantage of several White Sox errors, putting up 6 runs (only 1 of which was earned) against Ed Walsh. But the White Sox bats suddenly came to life, answering with 8 runs of their own. Before the finale, Cubs player/manager Frank Chance made a fateful decision to send "Three Finger" Brown to the mound on short rest. Brown had turned in a shutout two days earlier, but had nothing left to offer as he gave up 5 runs before being lifted for right-hander Orval Overall in the bottom of the second inning. The result was a Series-clinching 8-3 victory for the White Sox. 

Beer had been banned from the grandstand before Game 6, but a throng of jubilant (and presumably sober) Sox supporters lit fires in the streets and assembled outside the home of Fielder Jones, singing songs late into the night. Jones later said of his Cinderella squad: "It's true that their batting was light, but they hit at the right time...They won games because they were good ballplayers and a good ballplayer can't be manufactured out of batting averages." Rival manager Connie Mack gave Jones a large share of the credit for the improbably Series win, commenting: "He was a fiery competitor and imparted tremendous enthusiasm to his men...He was the highly strung type but as cool as a lime rickey in a tight spot." 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Goodbye Yogi

Being a lifelong Yankee fan, the death of Yogi Berra feels a lot like losing a friend. He was a Yankee icon and a genuine character who became firmly embedded in baseball history and American pop culture. A three-time MVP, he played in seventy-five World Series games and won ten rings--numbers that may never be surpassed by subsequent generations. I don't have any personal stories to share about Berra, but I do know that my father took my two nephews to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown when they were quite young. As they were walking up the street, they spotted Berra from a distance. Incredibly, when Yogi noticed he had been recognized, he actually crossed the street to say 'hello' and to tell them to 'have fun' inside the Hall. Few if any legendary players would have done that. Since my own words are woefully inadequate to capture the spirit of this man, I would like to share a few quotes from others who were close to Yogi.

Commissioner Rob Manfred
"Renowned as a great teammate, Yogi stood for values like inclusion and respect during the vital era when our game became complete and open to all. With his trademark humility and good humor, Yogi represented only goodwill to baseball fans." 

Bernie Williams
"What a beautiful man...What a Beautiful spirit. Celebrate the life of Yogi Berra today."

Hal Steinbrenner
"Yogi Berra's legacy transcends baseball. Though slight in stature, he was a giant in the most significant ways through his service to his country, compassion for others and genuine enthusiasm for the game he loved. He has always been a role model and hero that America could look up to."

Derek Jeter
"To those who didn't know Yogi personally, he was one of the greatest players and Yankees of all time. To the lucky ones who did, he was an even better person. To me, he was a dear friend and mentor. He will always be remembered for his success on the field, but I believe his finest quality was how he treated everyone with sincerity and kindness." 

Joe Torre
"We've lost Yogi, but we will always have what he left for us: The memories of a lifetime filled with greatness, humility, integrity and a whole bunch of smiles. He was a lovable friend." 

President Barack O'Bama
"Berra was an American original--a Hall of Famer and humble veteran, prolific jokester and jovial prophet. He epitomized what it meant to be a sportsman and a citizen with a big heart, competitive spirit and a selfless desire to open baseball to everyone no matter their background."

In closing, it seems fitting to include an exchange that took place between Yogi and his beloved wife Carmen one day.
Carmen: We live in New Jersey and you used to play ball in New York. If you go before I do, where would you like me to have you buried?
Yogi: Surprise me.



Friday, September 18, 2015

The Game's Biggest Whiffers

Any batter who swings for the fences is bound to strike out fairly often--it's an unavoidable fact. On the road to 700-plus lifetime homers, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds were victimized by opposing pitchers more than 1,300 times apiece. Reggie Jackson--considered by many to be the most reliable October slugger in history--struck out 70 times in postseason play while generating 33 extra-base hits (18 of them homers). Everyone loves the long ball and it seems that GM's and managers are willing to tolerate high strikeout totals in exchange for homers and RBIs. 

But how many strikeouts are too much? 

Of all the ways to be retired, a strikeout is the least productive. A guy who whiffs a lot is consistently failing to advance base runners. And though a healthy number of walks might help offset high strikeout totals, there's a point where the cost of a strikeout exceeds the potential benefits. The following men helped raise the bar for futility at the plate over the course of their careers.

Jake Stahl (1903-1913)
A .261 lifetime hitter, Stahl led the American League in homers while playing for the Red Sox in 1910. He would later serve as a player/manager during Boston's championship season of 1912. In an era when players were encouraged to make contact with the ball, Stahl was an accomplished strikeout artist. He led the league three times in that category, gathering more than 80 K's in six of his nine major league seasons. His 128 strikeouts in 1910 were a record at the time. He was the only player in the majors to reach the century mark that year.

Vince DiMaggio (1937-1946)
The oldest and least heralded of the three DiMaggio brothers, Vince enjoyed a few good slugging seasons in the late-thirties/early-forties. He put up double digit homer totals in seven of his nine seasons while driving-in 75 or more runs four times. He also led the NL in strikeouts on six occasions, peaking at 134 in 1938--a new single-season record. 

Jim Lemon (1950-1963)
 Lemon was among the Senators top run producers for a considerable stretch. Between 1956 and 1960, he clubbed no fewer than 26 homers four times while driving-in at least 64 runs each year. His production came at a rather high price as he finished among the top five in strikeouts for four straight seasons. In '56, he broke Vince DiMaggio's record with 138 K's. Over the course of his career, Lemon averaged one whiff per every 4 at-bats.            

Dave Nicholson (1960-1967)
Few people remember outfielder Dave Nicholson. During his seven years in the majors, he played for four different clubs and never appeared in more than 126 games in a season. He reached the peak of his offensive potential with the White Sox in 1963, tying for the team lead in homers with 22. On the downside, he broke Harmon Killebrew's single-season record for strikeouts with 175. He retired with an average of 1 strikeout per every 3 at-bats. 

Bobby Bonds (1968-1981)
For a good portion of his career, Bonds served as a leadoff man, combining speed with power. He was a member of the 30/30 club five times. He also captured three gold Gloves. But despite his many talents, he was vulnerable to the strikeout. He whiffed more than 100 times in seven consecutive seasons from '69-'75. In 1969, he set a new strikeout record with 187 K's. The following year, he raised the bar by two--a mark that would stand into the twenty-first century.

Adam Dunn (2001-2014) 
There are few hitters who have whiffed with more regularity than Dunn. A giant of a man at 6-foot-6, 285 pounds, he strung together five consecutive 40-homer seasons from 2004-2008. He reached the century mark  in RBIs on six occasions. Though Dunn drew quite a few walks--leading the league twice in that category--his strikeout totals are mind-blowing. He whiffed no fewer than 159 times during twelve of his fourteen seasons, averaging one K per every 3 at-bats. He broke Bobby Bonds strikeout record in 2004 and would have reset the mark multiple times had Ryan Howard and Mark Reynolds not beaten him to the punch.

Ryan Howard (2004-Present)
A prototypical slugger at 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, Howard was Rookie of the Year in 2004 and MVP the following year. He reached the 30 homer/100 RBI plateau in six straight seasons with the Phillies. He also held the single-season strikeout record briefly when he was victimized 199 times in 2007. Still active at the time of this writing, Howard was averaging 1 whiff per every 3 at-bats during his career. 

Mark Reynolds (2007-Present)
Reynolds has spent ample portions of his career at first and third base, fielding both positions below the league average. Though his offensive numbers have dropped off over the past two seasons, he was a top run producer for the Diamondbacks and Orioles between 2008-2012, averaging 33 homers and 88 RBIs per year. In that same span, he carved a small niche in the annals of baseball history with his high strikeout totals. For three straight seasons, Reynolds struck out more than 200 times, setting the all-time single-season mark in 2009 with 223. At the time of this writing, he was playing for the Cardinals and averaging one strikeout for every 3 at-bats during his career.


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Top Rookies Who Quickly Faded (2000-present)

Jason Jennings- Colorado Rockies
Rare is the occasion when a Rockies pitcher earns accolades for his accomplishments on the mound. But Jennings captured Rookie of the Year honors despite playing in baseball's most bountiful hitter's paradise. In his first game, he pitched a shutout and hit a home run--the only pitcher to do so. He never had another winning season after his 16-8 showing in 2002. In 2007, he underwent arm surgery that effectively ended his career.

Dontrelle Willis- Florida Marlins
With a flamboyant personality and dramatically high leg kick, Willis became the toast of the town when he helped the Marlins to a World series title in 2003. A resounding choice for Rookie of the Year, his career was star-crossed after that. Though he followed a sub-par 10-11 effort in '04 with a 22-win campaign in '05, his life began to unravel. In December of 2006, he was arrested for driving under the influence. In 2007, he began to lose the plate. By 2008, he was suffering from acute anxiety on the mound, which warranted a demotion to the minors. He made multiple unsuccessful comeback attempts.

Geovany Soto- Chicago Cubs
The Cubs rejoiced in 2008 when Soto landed among the top offensive catchers in the majors and received a Rookie of the Year nod. Though he continued to play well defensively after that, he lost his swing. In his sophomore campaign, he hit just .218. He bounced back in 2010 with a .280 mark at the plate, but the performance proved to be a fluke when he reached a personal low of .198 in 2012. He has served as a back-up catcher ever since.

Andrew Bailey- Oakland A's
According to Oakland's Moneyball philosophy, relievers are replaceable. Bailey seemed to be on his way to great things when he recorded 26 saves and captured Rookie of the Year honors in 2009. He saw increasingly less playing time over the next two seasons. Traded to Boston in 2012, he posted a 7.04 ERA in 19 appearances. He is currently property of the Yankees though he has spent most of the year in the minors.

Jose Fernandez- Florida Marlins 
The right-handed Fernandez was an All-Star and Rookie of the Year in his 2013 debut. His career was derailed the following year when he sustained an elbow sprain and underwent Tommy John surgery. He returned to the majors in July of 2015, but complained of shoulder stiffness in August. Only time will tell if he can fully recover.

Wil Myers- Tampa Bay Rays
Myers made his debut in June of 2013 and was named Rookie of the Year on the strength of his .293 batting average and 36 extra-base hits in 88 games. He slumped to .222 in 2014 after sustaining a wrist injury in an outfield collision. Traded to Padres before the 2015 slate, his fortunes have not changed any. As of this writing, he has missed close to 100 games and spent a significant chunk of time in the minors. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Top Rookies Who Quickly Faded (1980-1999)

Joe Charboneau- Indians
"Super Joe" was a breath of fresh air for the struggling Indians, hitting .289 with 23 homers and 87 RBIs in his debut. During spring training the following year, he was injured executing a headfirst slide. He was limited to 70 appearances in '81/'82 and, though he underwent surgery, he never returned to his prior form. He continued in the minors through 1984.

Steve Howe- Dodgers
Howe claimed the second in a line of four consecutive Rookie of the Year Awards given to Dodger players. He saved 17 games and won 7 more in 1980 while compiling a 2.66 ERA. Though he had a handful of decent seasons after that, he became infamous for his alcohol and cocaine use. During his twelve years in the  majors, Howe was suspended seven times. In 1992 he received a lifetime ban, which was overturned by his arbitrator. Out of the majors after '96, he died in a 2006 car accident.

Jerome Walton- Cubs
Great things were expected of Walton after his rookie campaign, in which he hit .293 with 46 RBIs while helping the Cubs to a division title. Perennially injured, he never matched those numbers in any other season. Though he appeared in 123 games in 1991, he managed a feeble .219 batting average. Aside from the '95 slate, he logged fewer than 100 at-bats every year from 1992-1998.

Pat Listach- Brewers
Primarily a shortstop, the speedy Listach was handy at second base and in the outfield as well. In his rookie season of '92, he stole 54 bases in 149 games. Multiple injuries limited him to no more than 101 appearances per year over the next five seasons. In 1996, the Brewers tried to trade him to the Yankees, but ended up sending pitcher Ricky Bones to New York in compensation when Listach failed to get into a single game due to injury. 

Bob Hamelin- Royals
 Hamelin had a promising first year with the Royals, smashing 24 homers with 65 RBIs in 101 games. But he never realized his potential. Slow afoot and below average defensively, he served mostly as a designated hitter over the next four seasons. He was out of the majors by the end of the '98 campaign.

Todd Hollandsworth- Dodgers
Though Hollandsworth hung around the majors for more than a decade, he couldn't match the success of his 1996 effort, when he was honored as the NL's top rookie with a .291 batting average, 42 extra-base hits and 21 stolen bases. The Dodgers eventually gave up on him in 2000, shipping him to Colorado. Hollandsworth would spend time with six more teams before retiring. He was property of multiple clubs during four of his twelve major league seasons.

Kerry Wood- Cubs
 Wood is considered one of the top strikeout artists in baseball history with a lifetime average of 10.3 K's per 9 innings. In his fifth major league start, he fanned 20 batters in a game--a record matched twice by Roger Clemens. The injuries began to pile up immediately following Wood's Rookie of the Year effort. He sat out the entire '99 slate with arm difficulties and ended up missing significant playing time in all but two seasons between 2000 and 2006. In '07, he was assigned to the bullpen. Though it lengthened his career, he never led the league in any major statistical category for relievers. He appeared in his last game during the 2012 slate.

Scott Williamson- Reds
This right-hander was a workhorse for Cincinnati in his rookie season of '99, winning 12 games and saving 19 with a handsome 2.41 ERA. The Reds hung onto him until July of 2003, when it became evident that he was not developing into a star. He was a major contributor for the Red Sox during the 2003 ALDS and ALCS, but faded back into obscurity immediately afterward. Though he entered 103 games between 2004 and 2007, he was credited with just 3 wins and a save. His ERA was an unwieldy 5.42 in that span.  In 2011, he put his World Series ring up for sale.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Top Rookies Who Quickly Faded (1947-1979)

Since 1947, major league baseball has honored its top freshman with a Rookie of the Year Award. The award was combined in '47/ '48 with only one player being chosen from both leagues. Though many recipients have gone on to long, fruitful careers, there are plenty of honorees who faded quickly into oblivion. Over the next several posts, we will take a look at these forgotten "flashes in the pan."

Sam Jethroe- Boston Braves
A speedy center fielder with wide range and strong arm, Jethroe spent most of his best seasons in the Negro Leagues. He was thirty-three years old by the time he reached the majors in 1950. The oldest player to be named Rookie of the Year, he led the league in stolen bases and scored 100 runs in consecutive seasons. In '52 His batting average plummeted to .232 and the Braves dumped him. The Pirates picked him up in '54, but quickly abandoned the project. 

Joe Black- Brooklyn Dodgers
Black developed his skills in the Negro Leagues before making his big league debut at the age of twenty-eight. He took the NL by storm, posting a 15-4 record primarily in relief with 15 saves and a 2.15 ERA. He was a starter In Game 1 of the '52 World Series, becoming the first black player to appear in the postseason win column with a 6-hit gem against the Yankees. In 1953, manager Chuck Dressen urged Black to experiment with a changeup and it seriously screwed up his mechanics. He never posted an ERA below 4.00 ever again. He was out of the majors after the '57 slate.   

Harry Byrd- Philadelphia A's
This right-hander had the misfortune of playing for one of the worst teams in the majors at the start of his career. Still, he would have fizzled in any city. After claiming Rookie of the Year honors with 15 wins and a 3.31 ERA in 1952, he led the league in earned runs, hit batsmen and losses the following year. Over the next three seasons, he played for four different teams, compiling a mediocre 20-19 record.

Don Schwall- Boston Red Sox
The BoSox rejoiced when this towering right-hander (standing 6-foot-6) posted a 15-7 record and a 3.22 ERA in his big league debut. But he was never terribly effective after that. In his '62 follow-up, he accrued a cumbersome 4.94 earned run average and lost 15 of 24 decisions. He was traded to Pittsburgh and Atlanta before disappearing from the majors after the '67 slate. He was one of only six Red Sox players to be named Rookie of the Year. All of the others went on to longer, more prosperous careers.

Ken Hubbs- Chicago Cubs
The Cubs thought they had found an ideal infield partner for Ernie Banks when Hubbs arrived on the scene. The smooth-fielding second baseman collected 172 hits and became the first rookie to win a Gold Glove Award. Though his batting average dropped to .235 in '63, he posted the second highest range factor in the league and was hailed as one of the premier defensive infielders in the game. Realizing that his debilitating fear of flying could endanger his career, he decided to confront it by taking flying lessons. In a tragic turn of events, he died when the plane he was piloting crashed in a storm shortly before the '64 slate.

Mark Fidrych- Detroit Tigers
Fidrych became a media sensation in his debut not only for his pitching performance but also for his peculiar on-field antics. His 19 wins, 2.34 ERA and 24 complete games made opposing teams envious. And his bizarre behavior--which included talking to the ball and grooming the mound with his bare hands--won him legions of fans throughout the baseball world. He was off to another good start in '77 before an arm injury ended his season prematurely. Though he had sustained a torn rotator cuff, it wouldn't be diagnosed for several years. He tried to pitch through it, but couldn't. He was finished in the majors by 1980.

 Butch Metzger- San Diego Padres
In the 1970s, closers were expected to work several innings at a time. Groomed as a reliever in the minors, Metzger ate up 123.1 innings for the Padres in '76, gathering 11 wins and 16 saves while posting a 2.92 ERA. He tied a major league record by winning the first 12 decisions of his career. After his Rookie of the Year effort, he never had another good season. Over the next two campaigns, he went 5-5 with a cumulative 4.30 ERA--way too high to be an effective closer. He converted just fifty-three percent of his career save opportunities.

John Castino- Minnesota Twins
Castino appeared to be on his way to bigger and better things when he captured Rookie of the Year honors on the strength of his .285 batting average and sterling defensive work around third base in '79. His follow-up season was even better as he topped the .300 mark at the plate and led the league in assists. Soon afterward, he began to suffer from chronic back pain. He sat out 61 games in '81 and 45 the following year. Out of the majors by '85, he obtained his Masters Degree and pursued a career as an investment advisor.              



Sunday, August 9, 2015

Immaculate Innings By Hall of Famers

On the surface, baseball may appear to be a simple sport, but in reality nothing could be more complicated. A man stands on a raised dirt platform and attempts to throw a rawhide sphere over a distance of sixty feet, six inches into an invisible quadrant measuring slightly more than three square feet past an opponent armed with a wooden club who has practiced the art of hitting flying projectiles for most of his life. All this under the scrutiny of an official who has been given the authority to make arbitrary and at times unjust decisions. Put in its proper perspective, the so-called "immaculate inning" is one of the most stupendous feats in all of sports.

Three pitches--Nine Strikes--Three Outs--One Inning

There are seventy four pitchers currently residing in the Hall of Fame. Of those men, only eleven have completed an immaculate inning. Details are as follows:

Rube Waddell of Philadelphia A's  against Baltimore Orioles at Columbia Park in Philadelphia. July 1, 1902.
Third Inning. Catcher: Ossee Schreckengost. Batters: Billy Gilbert, Harry Howell and Jack Cronin. Final Score: A's 2 Orioles 0.

Dazzy Vance of Brooklyn Robins against Cincinnati Reds at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. September 14, 1924.
Second Inning. Catcher: Hank DeBerry. Umpire: Bob Hart. Batters: Sam Bohne, Bubbles Hargrave, Eppa Rixey. Final Score: Robins 2 Reds 0.

Lefty Grove of Philadelphia A's against Cleveland Indians at at Shibe Park in Philadelphia. August 23, 1928.
Second Inning. Catcher: Mickey Cochrane. Umpire: Dan Barry. Batters: Eddie Morgan, Luther Harvel and Chick Autry. Final Score: A's 3 Indians 1.

Lefty Grove of Philadelphia A's against Chicago White Sox at Comiskey Park in Chicago. September 27, 1928.
Seventh Inning. Catcher: Mickey Cochrane. Umpire: Harry Geisel. Batters: Moe Berg, Tommy Thomas, Johnny Mostil. Final Score: A's 5 White Sox 3.

Robin Roberts of Philadelphia Phillies against Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. April 17, 1956.
Sixth Inning. Catcher: Andy Seminick. Umpire: Jocko Conlon. Batters: Carl Furillo, Charlie Neal, Sandy Amoros. Final Score: Phillies 8 Dodgers 6.

Jim Bunning of Detroit Tigers against Boston Red Sox at Briggs Stadium in Detroit. August 2, 1959.
Ninth Inning. Catcher: Red Wilson. Umpire: Nestor Chylak. Batters: Sammy White, Jim Mahoney, Ike DeLock. Final Score Red Sox 5 Tigers 4. (This was a one-inning relief appearance for Bunning)

Sandy Koufax of Los Angeles Dodgers against New York Mets at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. June 30, 1962.
First Inning. Catcher: John Roseboro. Umpire: Mel Steiner. Batters: Richie Ashburn, Rod Kanehl, Felix Mantilla. Final Score: Dodgers 5 Mets 0.

Sandy Koufax of Los Angeles Dodgers against Houston Colt .45s at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. April 19, 1963.
Fifth Inning. Catcher: John Roseboro. Umpire: Bill Jackowski. Batters: Bob Aspromonte, Jim Campbell, Turk Farrell. Final Score: Dodgers 2 Colt .45s 0.

Sandy Koufax of Los Angeles Dodgers against Cincinnati Reds at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. April 18, 1964.
Third Inning. Catcher: John Roseboro. Umpire: Al Barlick. Batters: Leo Cardenas, Johnny Edwards, Jim Maloney. Final Score: Reds 3 Dodgers 0.

Nolan Ryan of New York Mets against Los Angeles Dodgers at Shea Stadium in New York. April 19, 1968. 
Third Inning. Catcher: Jerry Grote. Umpire: Tom Gorman. Batters: Claude Osteen, Wes Parkeer, Zoilo Versalles. Final Score: Dodgers 3 Mets 2.

Bob Gibson of St. Louis Cardinals againsst Los Angeles Dodgers at Busch Stadium in St Louis. May 12, 1969.
Seventh Inning. Catcher: Joe Torre. Umpire: Al Barlick. Batters: Len Gabrielson, Paul Popovich, John Miller. Final Score: Cardinals 6 Dodgers 2.

Nolan Ryan of California Angels against Red Sox at Anaheim Stadium in Anaheim. July 9, 1972.
Second Inning. Catcher: John Stephenson. Umpire: John Rice. Batters: Carlton Fisk, Bob Burda, Juan Beniquez. Final Score: Angels 3 Red Sox 0.

Bruce Sutter of Chicago Cubs against Montreal Expos at Wrigley Field in Chicago. September 8, 1977.
Ninth Inning. Catcher: Steve Swisher. Umpire: Terry Tata. Batters: Ellis Valentine, Gary Carter, Larry Parrish. final Score: Cubs 3 Expos 2.

Randy Johnson of Houston Astros against Atlanta Braves at Turner Field in Atlanta. September 2, 1998.
Sixth Inning. Catcher: Brad Ausmus. Umpire: Gary Darling. Batters: Javy Lopez, Andruw Jones, Greg Colbrunn. Final Score: Astros 4 Braves 2.

Randy Johnson of Arizona Diamondbacks against Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. August 23, 2001.
Sixth Inning. Catcher: Damian Miller. Umpire: Mike Fichter. Batters: Tony McKnight, Gary Matthews, Jack Wilson. Final Score: Pirates 5 Diamondbacks 1.

Pedro Martinez of Boston Red Sox against Seattle Marineers at Fenway Park in Boston. May 18, 2002.
First Inning. Catcher: Jason Varitek. Umpire: Jerry Meals. Batters: Ichiro Suzuki, Mark McLemore, Ruben Sierra. Final Score: Red Sox 4 Mariners 1.
In examining the data, I believe that Randy Johnson's immaculate inning against the Braves in 1998 is the most impressive. With all the chanting and tomahawk chopping, Atlanta's Turner Field was a tough place for opposing pitchers during that time. Lopez and Jones were imminent power threats with 65 homers between them that year. Colbrunn was no slouch with a bat either, entering the game with a .307 average. Johnson had already thrown more than 200 innings at that point in the season and the Braves were making their third pass through the lineup against him. At least he had the benefit of Gary Darling's notoriously wide strike zone.