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.