Saturday, August 12, 2017

MY LATEST BOOK: LATINO STARS IN MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL: Players on the Cusp (Panama and Mexico)

Continuing with my list of honorable mentions from Latin America, here are a few players from Mexico and Panama who didn't make the final cut for my book but figured prominently into the mix.

ESTEBAN LOIAZA (MEXICO)

In 2003, Loiaza led the AL with 207 strikeouts and was the starting pitcher in the All-Star game. He made another All-Star appearance the following year. The hard-throwing right-hander spent portions of fourteen seasons with eight different clubs and finished with double digit win totals seven times. He was a runner up for Cy Young in 2003. Shoulder problems reduced his effectiveness and shortened his career. He retired with 126 wins.

AURELIO LOPEZ (MEXICO)

A right-handed reliever, Lopez spent most of his career with the Tigers. He lasted eleven seasons in the majors, earning an All-Star berth in 1983. He made 3 postseason appearances with the Tigers in 1984, allowing no runs and picking up a pair of wins as Detroit ended a long World Series drought. Lopez entered 459 games during his career and retired with a creditable 3.56 ERA.

MARCO ESTRADA (MEXICO)
 
Currently property of the Blue Jays, Estrada began his career as a reliever. He became a swing-man in 2011 with Milwaukee, making 7 starts and 36 appearances out of the bullpen. In 2014, the Brewers called upon him to start 18 games while using him in relief 21 times. Upon signing with the Blue Jays in 2015, Estrada became a regular member of the starting rotation. As of this writing, he had compiled a 26-24 record in that capacity for Toronto. He earned an All-Star berth in 2016, but his best all around season (to date) came the previous year, when he won 13 games and posted a 3.13 ERA.

ROBERTO OSUNA (MEXICO)

Just 22 years old, Osuna is at the beginning of a promising career with the Blue Jays. He finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting in 2015 and made his first All-Star appearance this season. He has averaged more than 12 strikeouts per nine innings so far in 2017. He is also on pace to break his career-high mark of 36 saves, set in 2016.

ROBERTO KELLY (PANAMA)

Kelly is perhaps best remembered for his days as a starting outfielder with the non-contending Yankee teams of the early-'90s. He made consecutive All-Star appearances in '92/'93. In the latter season, he was traded to the Reds for Paul O'Neill, who proved to be one of the missing links for the Yankees. Kelly continued to play competently after his departure from the Bronx. He compiled a lifetime .290 batting average over fourteen seasons. 

BRUCE CHEN (PANAMA)

The left-handed Chen was an enigma to several of the eleven teams he played for during his career. But his stuff was good enough to keep him at the major league level for portions of seventeen seasons. Enjoying stretches of brilliance, he was plagued by inconsistency at times. Even so, he was a versatile starter, middle reliever and mop-up man. Between 2005 and 2012, he put up double digit win totals on four occasions. He averaged close to 7 strikeouts per nine innings over the course of his career.  


 

Monday, July 24, 2017

MY LATEST BOOK: LATINO STARS IN MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL: Players on the Cusp (Cuba)

To date, the island of Cuba has produced well over 200 major league players. Because of obvious restrictions on immigration, many of those players went through virtual hell to get to the United States. Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig was held hostage by the criminals who smuggled him out of the country. White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu nearly drowned in 15-foot waves. The struggles that many Cuban players have endured make their stories all the more triumphant. My latest book project features the profiles of 25 Cuban standouts--one of whom is currently enshrined at Cooperstown (Tony Perez). Of the remaining group, I gave serious consideration to five candidates. Their thumbnail bios are as follows:

YONDER ALONSO
Now playing in his eighth season, Alonso earned his first All-Star selection in 2017. At the time of this writing, he had already slugged 21 homers--a single-season high for him. A solid defensive first baseman, his career fielding percentage is among the top ten marks for active players. He appears to have reached his prime and there is every reason to expect great things from him in the future. 

YUNIESKY BETANCOURT
Betancourt had quite an ordeal trying to defect to the U.S. Not only was he forced to hide out on a Bahamian beach to avoid the Coast Guard, but he was later arrested by Mexican authorities while trying to obtain a visa. He enjoyed six highly productive years with the Mariners, Royals and Brewers. He was a key ingredient in Milwaukee's 2011 championship bid, driving in 68 runs during the regular season. He collected 6 more RBIs in the postseason and scored 7 times in 11 playoff games. His last major league appearance came in 2013.

YUNEL ESCOBAR
Currently property of the Angels, Escobar is among the top ten active shortstops in putouts and assists. He has been a dependable offensive presence for five different clubs. Between 2007 and 2016, he hit .288 or better six times. He topped the .300 mark in 2015/ '16. He was a serious candidate for Rookie of the Year in 2007.  

TITO FUENTES
Fuentes was one of the biggest hot dogs of his era and fans in San Francisco loved him. He had a highly unusual batting stance and flipped his bat on home plate before every at-bat. Giants fans were known to chant his name when he came to the plate. A spray hitter, he was tough to strike out, averaging just 1 "K" per ever 11 plate appearances. He retired with a respectable .268 lifetime batting average. A gifted infielder, he made only 6 errors in 160 games at second base during the '73 slate. This was a record at the time. 

REY ORDONEZ
Ordonez had his ups and downs at the plate, but he was one of the slickest fielding shortstops in the majors for several seasons. He won a Gold Glove every year from 1997-1999. His best offensive effort came with the Mets in 1999, when he drove in a career-best 60 runs while hitting .258. He helped New York to an NLCS appearance that year. 

  

Sunday, July 16, 2017

MY LATEST BOOK: LATINO STARS IN MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL: Players on the Cusp (Venezuela)

Venezuela is another Latin American country with a rich tradition of sending players to the majors. 25 of the 369 Venezuelans who have worn (or currently wear) big league uniforms found their way into my latest book. Several others warranted serious consideration. They are as follows:

ASDRUBAL CABRERA
Playing in his eleventh season, the switch-hitting Cabrera is a two-time All-Star. He won a Gold Glove with the Indians in 2011. From 2008-2013, he was a regular in the Cleveland lineup. Cabrera generates decent power, having collected 15 or more homers on four occasions. He has slammed at least 30 doubles during six seasons. A reliable glove man, his fielding percentage is above the league average at second base and shortstop, which is his primary station. He is currently with the Mets.

MIGUEL CAIRO
This versatile utility man played seventeen seasons, spending time at every infield station except pitcher and catcher. Primarily a third baseman, his career fielding percentage is among the top 50 marks of all time. Cairo showed off his speed with 69 stolen bases between 1998 and 2000. He appeared in the postseason with four different clubs and hit .282 in 29 games.

 ALEX GONZALEZ
Gonzalez was a reliable hitter and solid shortstop who led the league in fielding percentage and double plays once apiece. His major league career spanned portions of sixteen seasons. He hit .273 in the Marlins World Series victory over the Yankees in 2003. He was an All-Star in 1999.

CARLOS GUILLEN
A three-time All-Star, Guillen was a fixture on the infields of Seattle and Detroit from 2000 through 2009. In that span, he hit .276 or higher in six consecutive campaigns. He surpassed the .300 mark on three occasions. His best all around effort came in 2004 with Detroit. He hit .318 with 20 homers and 97 RBIs. 

RAMON HERNANDEZ
Hernandez was Oakland's starting catcher for five straight seasons. He later held first-string status for three campaigns in Baltimore. Though he led AL catchers in errors four times, his defense grew stronger over time. He put forth his best offensive effort in 2006 with the Orioles, hitting .275 with 23 homers and 91 RBIs. He was an All-Star in 2003. He hit .375 in the 2000 ALDS and .455 in the 2005 NLDS.

OMAR INFANTE
An All-Star with Atlanta in 2010, Infante spent portions of 15 seasons in the majors, primarily with the Tigers. A lifetime .271 hitter, he led the league with 17 sacrifice hits in 2011. Infante has an extensive postseason resume that includes twelve October series. He was productive in three World Series, accruing a .316 average in twelve games. He was a dependable second baseman, logging a lifetime fielding percentage in the top 100 of all time.

MELVIN MORA
Mora was a steady performer for Baltimore over portions of ten seasons. From 2003-2008, his batting average never slipped below .274. A two-time All-Star, he hit .340 in 2004, earning a Silver Slugger Award. He also led the AL with a .419 on-base percentage that year. In the 1999 NLCS with the Mets, he logged a .429 batting average. Defensively, Mora appeared at every position except pitcher/catcher. His fielding percentage was well above the league average at third base, where he spent most of his time. He twice drove in over 100 runs.  

GERARDO PARRA
Parra has been a quietly consistent outfielder for the Diamondbacks, Brewers and Rockies over the past nine seasons. He got off to a .333 first-half start at the plate in 2017. He was among the top ten Rookie of the Year candidates in 2009 and has won two Gold Gloves since then. 

PABLO SANDOVAL
Nowadays, it appears that Sandoval's best years are behind him. But before he joined the Red Sox in 2015, he helped the Giants to three World Series titles. He was MVP of the 2012 Fall classic gathering 8 hits (3 of them homers) in 4 games. Sandoval posted double digit home run totals in seven straight seasons beginning in 2009. He hit .330 that year. He is a strong defensive third baseman, having compiled a lifetime fielding percentage above the league average.    
 

    

Friday, July 7, 2017

MY LATEST BOOK: LATINO STARS IN MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL: Players on the Cusp (Puerto Rico)

In this installment, I'd like to take a look at some players from Puerto Rico--a country that has produced four Hall of Famers to date (Roberto Alomar, Orlando Cepeda, Roberto Clemente and Ivan Rodriguez). Of the 250-plus Puerto Rican-born players who have aspired to the majors over the years, 22 of them ended up being featured in my book. There were a dozen other players I gave serious consideration to. They are as follows:

SANDY ALOMAR JR.
Brother of Hall of Famer, Roberto, and son of major leaguer, Sandy Sr., Alomar logged 20 years of major league experience. He was a six-time All-Star. In his first full season, he captured Rookie of the Year honors along with a Gold Glove. He helped Cleveland to five postseason appearances and hit .367 in the '97 World Series against the Marlins. He was MVP of the All-Star game that year.


CARLOS BAERGA
 Baerga's career spanned portions of fourteen seasons. A three-time All-Star, he also claimed a pair of Silver Slugger Awards. He exceeded the .300 mark at the plate every year from 1992-1995 and retired with a commendable .291 average. He had decent range at second base, leading the league in assists three times. A reliable run producer, he drove in 100 runs on two occasions.

JOSE CRUZ JR.
Cruz's father is included in my book. His uncles, Hector and Tommy, didn't make the cut. Jose Jr. finished second in rookie of the Year voting during the '97 campaign. He hit 26 homers in his debut then collected 15 or more on six other occasions. He reached the 30-homer mark in 2000 and 2001. He was also a competent outfielder with a strong arm. He led the league in putouts in 2000 and won a Gold glove in 2003.

IVAN DEJESUS
DeJesus spent 15 years in the majors with seven different clubs. He peaked with the Cubs and Phillies in the late-'70s/early '80s. His best offensive effort came in '78 when he led the league with 104 runs scored. He had an excellent arm and good range in his prime. He led the league in assists twice. His range factor per 9 innings is among the top 20 figures of all time. 

ED FIGUEROA
Figueroa had established himself as one of the most reliable pitchers in the AL when an elbow injury derailed his career. Between 1975 and 1978, he posted a 71-43 record with an ERA in the low-three's. He was a member of two world championship Yankee squads. He won 20 games in 1978.

ROBERTO HERNANDEZ
A right-handed reliever, Hernandez was a two-time All-Star. He gathered 30 or more saves on six occasions. He peaked in '96 while playing for the White Sox, leading the league in closing appearances (61). He ended up with 38 saves and a stellar 1.91 ERA that year. He has the most career saves (326) among Puerto Rican born pitchers.

WILLIE HERNANDEZ
For one magical season, Hernandez was the top reliever in the majors. In 1984, he helped guide the Tigers to a World Series victory with a 9-3 record, 1.92 ERA and 32 saves. He entered a league-high 80 games that year during the regular season and six more during the postseason. He was rewarded with an All-Star berth, a Cy Young Award and an MVP nod. Two more All-Star selections followed in '85 and '86. By '87, he had faded into mediocrity.

SIXTO LEZCANO
In the late-'70s, Lezcano was among the Brewers most powerful hitters. He peaked in 1979 with a .321 batting average, 28 homers and 101 RBI. At one point, he homered in four straight games. He also won a Gold Glove. Lezcano is the only player to hit a grand slam on opening day twice.

WILLIE MONTANEZ
Well traveled, Montanez spent time with nine different clubs over fourteen seasons. His high energy level and volatile temperament were too much for some clubs. In 1971, he finished second in Rookie of the Year voting. He posted double digit home run totals eight times and drove in no fewer than 60 runs on ten occasions. His best season came in 1975, when he hit .302 and gathered 101 RBIs for the Phillies and Giants. He flashy "snatch-catch" was later emulated by Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson. 

JOSE VALENTIN
Valentin collected at least 10 homers every year from 1994-2004, peaking at 30 long balls in the latter campaign. He drove in no fewer than 70 runs five times in that span. He helped the Mets and White Sox to postseason appearances. A versatile defensive player, he played every position except pitcher and catcher. 

JOSE VIDRO
Vidro logged twelve years of major league service. A three-time All-Star, he was the Expos top second baseman from 1999-2004. He averaged 17 homers and 73 RBIs per year in that span. He retired with a .298 batting average. Defensively, he was equipped with a strong arm. He led players at his position twice in assists. His lifetime fielding percentage is among the top fifty marks of all time. 

JAVIER VAZQUEZ
A right-hander, Vazquez posted double digit victory totals for twelve straight seasons. He peaked with the Expos in 2001, going 16-11 with a 3.42 ERA. He had another phenomenal year with the Braves in 2009, posting a career-best 2.87 ERA in over 200 innings of work. Vazquez was known for his durability, reaching the 200 inning mark in nine seasons. He was a 15 game winner three times.   



 

Monday, June 26, 2017

MY LATEST BOOK: LATINO STARS IN MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL: Players on the Cusp (The Dominican Republic)

With the release of my latest book, Latino Stars in Major League Baseball, I thought it might be interesting to list some of the players who didn't quite make the cut. I had no specific criteria for inclusion, but as I began my research it became obvious that some stars shone brighter than others. Since I had no intention of producing an encyclopedia of Latin American ballplayers, I had to draw the line somewhere. Over the next few posts, I'd like to share some thumbnail bios of guys who were on the cusp of inclusion. I'll start with the Dominican Republic, which has produced the highest number of major leaguers to date. 

JESUS ALOU
The youngest of the three Alou brothers, Jesus generated 82 pinch hits between 1963 and 1979, developing a reputation as a reliable bench player. He hit .280 over fifteen seasons, primarily as a part-timer. His best offensive effort came in 1965. Playing with the Giants that year, he got into 143 games and reached career-high marks in homers (9) and RBIs (52).

ERICK AYBAR
Now playing in his twelfth season, Aybar is currently property of the Padres. A reliable shortstop, he has led the league in double plays twice and fielding percentage once. He captured a Gold Glove in 2011 and made the All-Star team in 2014.

MELKY CABRERA
Cabrera was a coveted Yankee prospect at the beginning of his career then blossomed outside of the Bronx. Between 2011 and 2014, he topped the .300 mark at the plate three times. He was an All-Star in 2012. In the 2009 ALCS, he led the way for the Yanks, hitting .391 in six games as New York went on to win the World Series. Cabrera has played for six different teams. He has been with the White Sox for the last three seasons. 

DEIVI CRUZ
 Cruz broke in with the Tigers in 1997 and finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting. Primarily a shortstop, he held his own at three other infield stations. Cruz had some power, peaking at 14 homers in 2003. He had his best offensive season in 2000, gathering 61 extra-base hits while hitting .302. He last appeared in the majors during the 2005 slate. 

MARIANO DUNCAN
Duncan wore five uniforms over twelve major league seasons. In his 1985 debut, he finished third in Rookie of the Year voting. He enjoyed his finest all around season with the Reds in 1990, when he led the NL with 11 triples and hit .306. He was named to the All-Star team in 1994. With the Yankees in 1996, he compiled a .340 batting average in 109 games, helping the Bombers to their first Word Series title in over a decade. 

JUAN ENCARNACION
At 6-foot-2, 160 pounds, this slender outfielder didn't look very powerful. But he generated no fewer than 16 homers six times between 1999 and 2006. His best offensive season came with the Marlins in 2003, when he collected a career-best 94 RBIs and 62 extra-base hits. His efforts helped the club to a surprising World Series upset over the Yankees. Encarnacion returned to the October showcase with the Cardinals in 2006, earning his second World Series ring.

PEDRO FELIZ
Primarily a third baseman, Feliz could field and throw with the best of them, leading players at his position in fielding percentage, double plays and assists once apiece. His most productive stretch in the majors came between 2003 and 2009. He clubbed 20 or more homers in four straight seasons and gathered 80 or more RBIs the same number of times. Three of his clubs made it to the World Series. He was a member of the World Champion Phillies in 2008.

RAFAEL FURCAL
Furcal got off to a hot start, capturing Rookie of the Year honors with the Braves in 2000. He earned three All-Star selections during his fourteen years in the majors. With a pleasing combination of speed and power, he stole 20 or more bases in eight straight seasons. He peaked at 46 steals in 2005. He also finished with double digit home run totals four times. His ten triples were tops in the NL during the 2003 campaign.

ALFREDO GRIFFIN
In his first full season (1979), Griffin was named Rookie of the Year. He earned an All-Star selection in 1984 and a Gold Glove in '85. Griffin had excellent speed on the bases, peaking at 33 steals in 1986. He led the American League with 15 triples in 1980 and was a useful member of three World Series squads.

JOSE GUILLEN
Guillen played for ten different clubs during his fourteen years in the majors. He was traded in mid-season on four occasions. Wherever he went, he provided power and reliability at the plate. With the Angels in 2004, he drove in 104 runs and gathered 58 extra-base hits. With the Mariners in 2007, he fell one ribbie short of the century mark. He peaked at 31 homers in 2003.

JULIAN JAVIER
 Javier was a superb defensive player, leading the NL in putouts twice. A two-time All-Star, he started for the 1963 NL squad alongside three of his St. Louis infield mates--Ken Boyer, Dick Groat and Bill White. Javier's 3-run homer in Game 7 of the '67 World Series helped clinch the title for the Cardinals. He hit .333 in four World Series. 

RAMON MARTINEZ
When Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez arrived in the majors, he was overshadowed by his older brother Ramon. Impossibly slender at 6-foot-4, 165 pounds, Ramon was one of the Dodgers top pitchers for a majority of the 1990s. He received serious consideration for the Cy Young Award twice. In 1990, he gathered 20 wins and led the NL with 12 complete games. In 1994, he paced the league in shutouts. He finished with double digit win totals during seven seasons. 

NEIFI PEREZ
Perez was a wide-ranging shortstop who led the NL in putouts, assists and double plays three times apiece. He captured a Gold Glove with the Rockies in 2000. He peaked offensively in Colorado, averaging 10 triples per year over portions of five seasons. Away from the hitter-friendly confines of Coors Field, he was less extraordinary, but he retired with a creditable .267 batting average.
   
ERVIN SANTANA
Santana deserved much better in 2011 when he compiled an 11-12 record with the Angels despite his handsome 3.38 ERA. The same could be said of his effort in 2013, when his 3.24 ERA produced a 9-10 record for the Royals. A fifteen game winner on three occasions, Santana is off to a hot start in 2017. As of this writing, he had logged a 10-4 record for the Twins and was leading the league with 3 shutouts.

MARIO SOTO
Known for his durability, Soto led the NL in complete games twice and logged at least 237 innings of work in four straight seasons. He started his career with Cincinnati's "Big Red Machine" and stuck around after the club fell into mediocrity. Soto posted double digit win totals six times during his career and was among the top ten in Cy Young voting on four occasions. He was named to three All-Star teams.

JOSE VALVERDE
Valverde was a lights-out closer between 2007 and 2012, leading the league in closing appearances and saves three times apiece during that span. His 288 saves are fourth on the all-time list among fellow countrymen.     



   

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

REVISITING SOME OF MY PAST WORK (Part III)

One of my favorite projects from the past is Baseball's Most Notorious Personalities, which was published in 2013 by Scarecrow Press. In it, I got to dish the dirt on some of the game's most infamous events and ornery characters. Naturally, this included one of the most hair-brained promotional schemes in history--the 1974 debacle in Cleveland known as Ten Cent Beer Night. 

Here's an excerpt from the book:
 
"The Cleveland Indians have traditionally had difficulty maintaining a fan base. From 1960 through 1974, the club placed fifth or lower in the standings on twelve occasions. And though some talented players passed through that region of Ohio, such as Frank Robinson, Gaylord Perry and Graig Nettles, the Indians averaged less than 10,000 patrons per game in that span. The lack of support was made glaringly obvious night after night by Cleveland Municipal Stadium's spacious capacity of more than 70,000. The run-down edifice came to be mockingly referred to as 'The Mistake by the Lake.'

In 1974, Indians Executive Vice President Ted Bonda called a board meeting to discuss the club's sagging attendance and how to improve it. Someone suggested they follow the example of the Texas Rangers, who had hosted a successful "10-Cent Beer Night." The board agreed and the date for the promotion was set for June 4. It would turn out to be an evening that would live in Baseball infamy.

To begin with, the Indians failed to request the presence of Cleveland police. There were few if any on-duty cops at the stadium to help control the sizeable crowd of 25,000, many of whom showed up drunk or stoned at the onset. There were also no regulations in place to control the distribution of beer. Fans were allowed to buy up to six cups at a time. There were no safeguards to prevent people from buying the allotted six, handing them off to anyone in the stadium and then promptly returning for more...

The Rangers jumped out to a second-inning lead on a homer by designated hitter Tom Grieve. With beer flowing and half the attendees exhibiting "the glow," a woman ran into the Indians on-deck circle and bared her breasts. It was only the beginning. After Grieve had homered in the fourth to put the Rangers up 3-0, a naked man ill-advisedly slid into second base. In the bottom of the inning, the crowd joined together in a hostile chant when Texas Rangers pitcher Fergie Jenkins was struck in the stomach by a line drive. The stadium reverberated with a chorus of: "Hit him again! Hit Him again! Harder! Harder!"

The frat party continued in the fifth, when two more men hopped over the wall and mooned Rangers outfielders. Numerous other fans in various states of undress were dragged off the field by security as the evening wore on, prompting a rain of beer cups, batteries, and golf balls. At one point, firecrackers were tossed into the Rangers bullpen...

Unbeknownst to many in attendance, there was a heck of a game going on. Trailing 5-1 in the sixth, the Indians rallied to tie the score in the bottom of the ninth. They had the winning run on second base when a man jumped out of the stands and tried to steal right fielder Jeff Burroughs's cap. Burroughs turned to defend himself and clumsily fell over. In the Texas dugout, manager  Billy Martin had seen enough. He armed himself with a bat and headed toward the outfield. His players trailed behind him as chaos ensued.

Rangers personnel soon found themselves surrounded by drunken hooligans, some holding knives, chains and blunt instruments torn from stadium seats. Realizing the peril their opponents were in, Cleveland players sprang into action under orders from Manager Ken Aspromonte. Indians reliever Tom Hilgendorf was hit on the head with a chair. Rangers first baseman Mike Hargrove threw a fan to the ground and beat the man senseless. Texas catcher Duke Sims sparred with several thugs. Banding together the players managed to escape to their clubhouses rooms with the wounded in tow...

With insufficient security to control the crowd, the unruly mob rioted for nearly a half hour, stealing bases and anything they could get their collective hands on. Umpire Nestor Chylak was nearly hit by a thrown hunting knife. He was bleeding from the back of his head when he declared the game a forfeit in favor of Texas and exited the field with the rest of the crew. Speaking to members of the press, he referred to those in the crowd as "f--ing animals." 
 


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

REVISITING SOME OF MY PAST WORK (Part II)


I have always been fascinated by the game's early history and the way it was played in the very beginning. This is a topic I have explored in several of my books. In my 2014 release MUDVILLE MADNESS, I described 19th century game play in the following introductory passage: 


"The first officially recorded baseball game took place in 1846 at Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey. The rules had been established by a New York bookseller and volunteer firefighter named Alexander Cartwright the year before. Any modern fan in attendance would have found the early conventions quite odd.

Batters were referred to as "strikers." runs were called "aces" or "counts," and outs were commonly known as "hands." There was no defined batter's box and the striker could move forward or backward from the ball. Pitchers stood just forty-five feet from home plate. They were allowed a running start but were required to deliver the ball underhand so that strikers could hit it. There were no called balls or strikes and the first team to score twenty-one times was declared the winner. Nine-inning games were still a few years off.

Players were clad in flannel shirts with wool pantaloons and straw hats. Fielders wore no gloves and catchers stood ten to twelve feet behind home plate without the benefit of protective equipment. A striker could be put out in several ways: (1) a standard ground out, (2) having a ball caught in the air or on one bounce, or (3) being thrown out by the catcher after missing a third swing.

Umpires sat at a table on the third baseline. Their job was to keep a scorebook, make fair or foul calls and settle disputes between teams. There were long spells in which they had very little to do."

In my 2012 book, CELLAR DWELLERS: THE WORST TEAMS IN BASEBALL HISTORY, I elaborated on the sport in the decades that followed.

"...Protective equipment such as helmets, batting gloves and shin guards were unheard of in the early days. Mitts were poorly designed and sparsely padded. A veteran of twenty-six major league seasons, catcher Deacon McGuire fell into the habit of placing raw beefsteak inside his glove to absorb the impact of pitched balls. Even so, X-rays of McGuire's hands taken years after he retired revealed evidence of nearly fifty dislocations or breaks.

Since the rules were not yet refined, unusual occurrences were not uncommon on the diamond. In a game for the New Brunswick championship, a University of St. Joseph player literally collapsed and died while rounding third base. Following close behind, a teammate picked up the lifeless form and carried it to home plate. Incredibly, the umpire counted both runs.

Strategies were far different in the days of old...Before 1895, infielders could deliberately bungle shallow pop-ups in the interest of turning cheap double plays. (The infield fly rule put an end to that practice.) Umpires worked alone and the rulebook was somewhat lenient. Consequently, players got away with murder. First basemen sometimes grabbed the belts of opponents to slow them from advancing to second. They were also known to shove runners off the bag after signalling for a pick-off throw from the pitcher. By the same token, runners took great liberties on the basepaths, occasionally cutting directly across the diamond from second base to home when an umpire's head was turned." 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

REVISITING SOME OF MY PAST WORK

With a new book due out at the end of June, I thought I would share some favorite excerpts from my previous projects. I'll lead off with Mudville Madness, which was released in 2014 through Taylor Trade Publishing. The book recounts some of the more unusual on-field events in baseball history. Here is one of the most bizarre. It's hard to believe that this actually happened. 

AUSGUST 17, 1957


What are the odds? In a game between the Phillies and Giants at Connie Mack Stadium, Philly leadoff man Richie Ashburn hit the same fan twice with foul balls. Ashburn was known for his extraordinary bat control and his ability to spoil good pitches by slapping them foul. Over the course of his 15-year Hall of Fame career (spent mostly with the Phillies), he led the NL in walks and on-base percentage four times apiece.

During the game in question, Ashburn hit a foul that broke the nose of Alice Roth, wife of Philadelphia Bulletin sports editor Earl Roth. Incredibly, as Mrs. Roth was being removed from the game via a stretcher, Ashburn hit her again, in the leg! Informed of her injury, the congenial center fielder visited her in the hospital the next day and apologized. As the story goes, he didn't even know he had hit her a second time until she told him. Ashburn remained friendly with the Roth family for years as their son was a Phillies batboy. 


After his playing days were over, Ashburn moved on to a successful career in broadcasting. 


STAY TUNED FOR MORE EXCERPTS IN THE COMING WEEKS!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

REMEMBERING THE FEDERAL LEAGUE



In 1912, baseball promoter John T. Powers assembled an independent circuit known as the Columbian League. Though it crashed and burned before opening day, Powers was able to generate enough interest to construct a new league the following year. Considered an “outlaw" organization, the Federal League began play in 1913 as a six-team minor circuit. Powers served as president during its inaugural season, but ended up stepping aside to make way for entrepreneur James A. Gilmore. Under Gilmore’s leadership, the Federal League declared itself a major league and began to compete directly with the AL and NL.



There were plenty of major leaguers willing to make the jump to Gilmore’s circuit. Seduced by lucrative contract offers, future Hall of Famers Joe Tinker and Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown left their respective clubs behind. In the early stages of his career, fellow Cooperstown inductee Edd Roush suited up for the Feds as well. In late-June, Hal Chase--the game's premier defensive first baseman--defected from the White Sox. Attendance at games was respectable and the pennant race was tight. The Indianapolis Hoosiers waited until the last day of the season to clinch the pennant over the Chicago Feds. Heralded as the “Ty Cobb of the Federal League,” outfielder Benny Kauff—who had previously played for the New York Highlanders—carried the Hoosiers to the top with the finest effort of his career. He paced the circuit in nearly a dozen offensive categories, including batting average (.370), runs scored (120) and total bases (305--a lofty figure for the Deadball Era).



With the relative success of the 1914 campaign, several other players of note joined the Federal League, among them Cooperstown-bound hurlers Eddie Plank and Chief Bender. The 1915 season featured a slightly different assortment of clubs. The Hoosiers disappeared and the Newark Peppers made their debut. Two other teams changed their nicknames. The Chicago Feds became known as the Whales while the Buffalo Buffeds played as the Blues. The campaign saw five different teams seriously competing for top honors. Again, the pennant race came down to the last day of the season with the Chicago club emerging victorious. Benny Kauff continued to dominate offensively, winning a second consecutive batting crown. He also led the league with 55 stolen bases.



In the 1914/15 offseason, Federal League owners filed an anti-trust suit against the American and National Leagues. The case found its way to the desk of future baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis. It remained in limbo as Landis tried to bring about a peaceful settlement. In the meantime, the Federals began to flounder financially. After the 1915 slate, baseball’s third “major league” disbanded. Whales owner Phil Weeghman bought the Cubs and moved the club into Weeghman Park (later known as Wrigley Field). Terriers owner Phil Ball purchased the Browns. Other owners were offered cash settlements. The Federal League was the last serious challenge to the monopoly of the American and National Leagues.     

Sunday, April 9, 2017

THE ECCENTRICITIES OF PETE BROWNING



Baseball has had its share of unusual characters and Pete Browning was undoubtedly among the most colorful. Born in Louisville, Kentucky, he had a troubled childhood. Afflicted with a rare disorder known as mastoiditis, he lost a majority of his hearing and dropped out of school. He remained semi-literate throughout his life. Making his formative years even more difficult, his father was killed in a cyclone, leaving his mother to raise eight children alone.



An excellent athlete, Browning aspired to the major league ranks in 1882 with the Louisville Eclipse of the American Association. His medical affliction caused him to suffer from crippling headaches. At some point, he began to self-medicate with alcohol, telling one reporter: “I can’t hit the ball until I hit the bottle.” Tales of his epic hangovers abound. He once literally fell asleep while leading off of second base. On another occasion, he was in such a daze at first, he allowed opposing pitcher Dave Foutz to wander over and tag him out. 

Browning was obsessed with his eyesight. He referred to his eyes as “lamps” or “peepers” and believed that it improved his vision when he stared into the sun for extended lengths of time. On at least one occasion, he held his head outside the window of a moving train to cleanse his eyes and ended up getting cinders in them. He was also known to soak his “peepers” in buttermilk.



He demonstrated a host of other eccentricities as well, fielding fly balls on one leg, refusing to slide into bases and never failing to touch third on his way to his outfield position. He was a monumentally poor fielder, committing 269 errors in 998 outfield assignments—an average of one miscue for every four appearances. Players didn’t use mitts in Browning’s era, but that was no excuse. His lifetime fielding percentage was a dozen points below the league average. One of Browning’s managers allegedly complained that the team would be better off with a wooden cigar store Indian in the field since there was an odd chance that a batted ball would hit the statue and bounce back toward the infield. 



Despite his shortcomings, Browning was an outstanding batsman. He hit for the cycle twice during the 1880s and won three batting titles in a ten-year span. He had above average power for the era, gathering more than 400 extra-base hits over portions of thirteen seasons. He kept a running tally of his batting averages on his shirt cuffs and would sometimes declare himself the current batting champion when he stepped to the plate. He retired with a lifetime .341 average.



Browning is best known for putting Hillerich and Bradsby on the map. He was the first to purchase bats from the company, popularizing a product that would later be named the “Louisville Slugger” in his honor. Browning established a personal relationship with each of his bats, talking to them and giving them names—often of biblical figures.



After his retirement as a player, Browning’s physical and mental health deteriorated. In 1905, he was briefly committed to a psychiatric facility. He died in September of that year due to a host of ailments, among them cancer, cirrhosis and alcohol-related brain damage. He received some consideration for the Hall of Fame but ultimately fell short.      

Saturday, March 25, 2017

MEMORABLE OPENING DAY HAPPENINGS



Opening day of the major league season is among the most anticipated events in all of sports. It marks the arrival of spring and the beginning of a new chapter in baseball history. It’s a day filled with hope and promise. Even the worst teams start out with a clean record. And the most obscure players can have a major impact. As a collective unit, the American and National Leagues will celebrate their 114th anniversary in 2017. To honor the occasion, I’ve compiled a short list of remarkable opening day events.




1907

With the Giants trailing the Phillies 3-0 at the Polo Grounds, fans begin to wander onto the field while the game is in progress. Other unruly spectators participate in a massive snowball fight, forcing umpire Bill Klem to declare a forfeit in favor of Philadelphia. Another point of interest, Hall of Famer Roger Bresnahan becomes the first major league catcher to wear shin guards during a game. He is widely ridiculed for it.

 

1915

A’s southpaw Herb Pennock holds the Red Sox hitless for 8.2 innings. With two outs in the ninth, Boston’s speedy right fielder Harry Hooper beats out a high chopper for an infield hit, spoiling Pennock’s no-hit bid. The Hall of Fame hurler settles for a 1-hit shutout.    



1923

After sharing the Polo Grounds with the New York Giants for a decade, the Yankees open their new stadium for business. Fittingly, Babe Ruth is the first player to go deep, thrilling the crowd of 74,000-plus with a moon shot off of Red Sox starter Howard Ehmke. For Ruth, it’s the 198th home run of his career. Including the postseason, he’ll add 530 more before he retires.  



1940

Bob Feller picks up where Herb Pennock left off 25 years earlier, going 8.2 innings without yielding a hit to the White Sox. With two-outs in the bottom of the ninth, former batting champ Luke Appling draws a walk. But Feller bears down and retires right fielder Taffy Wright on an easy grounder to second base. It’s the first opening day no-hitter in history. The feat has not been duplicated since. 



1946

In preparation for their home opener, the grounds crew at Braves Field applies a fresh coat of red paint to the outfield bleachers. Unfortunately, damp weather prevents the paint from drying completely. Hundreds of disgruntled fans go home with crimson stains on their clothes, obligating the Braves to cover dry-cleaning costs. The game ends well for the hometown crew as they walk away with a 5-3 win.



1947

Ignoring multiple death threats, Jackie Robinson appears at first base for the Dodgers, officially breaking the Major League color barrier. More than 26,000 fans at Ebbets Field watch the “Bums” beat the Boston Braves, 5-3. Robinson scores the first run of his career and handles 11 chances without an error.  



1974

On his first swing of the season, Hank Aaron takes Reds starter Jack Billingham deep, tying him with Babe Ruth for the all-time home run lead. Four days later, Aaron will club #715 off of Al Downing, becoming baseball’s reigning home run king.