Saturday, November 12, 2011

Introducing the Miami Marlins

The Miami Marlins unveiled their new logo and new uniforms yesterday night in front of about 700 people at their new stadium.  I don't love the new uniforms, but I definitely think they're better than the old ones the Marlins wore.  The new attitude the organization has put on display looks like it should be a positive for the city of Miami.  The ballpark is amazing, Ozzie Guillen is the new manager, and ownership is willing to increase payroll to try and put a winning team on the field.  If Jose Reyes, Albert Pujols, Mark Buerhle or any other big free agent signs with the Marlins, the NL East could be a very competitive division next season.  Here is video of the unveiling ceremony on Friday.


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Theo Epstein Fires Mike Quade

See ya later Quade!  Epstein took little time to make his first major remolding move with the Cubs, firing incumbent manager Mike Quade.  It was a move that many people expected after Quade's first season as manager was a disappointment.  The Cubs finished 71-91, good for fifth place in the NL Central.  Even though they weren't supposed to be great, 90 losses was never the expectation.  Quade spent nine years in the Cubs organization, including time as the third base coach from 2007 until he took over for former manager Lou Piniella with 37 games left in the 2010 season.

One thing Cubs fans shouldn't get excited about is the possibility of Ryne Sandberg taking the reins in the dugout.  Epstein said today that "The next manager must have leadership and communication skills; he must place an emphasis on preparation and accountability; he must establish high standards and a winning culture; he must have integrity and an open mind; and he must have managerial or coaching experience at the major league level."  That excludes Sandberg, who has been a spectacular minor league manager but has no big league coaching experience.  Reports are now saying that the Cardinals will interview Sandberg to replace Tony La Russa, which will send Cubs fans into psychotic episodes of rage (In reality, even though I'm a Cubs fan, I'll send my congratulations to Ryno if he gets a promotion to manage for the World Series champs.  Still, Ryno in a Cards uniform is like a scene from the deepest depths of Hell).

So who will Epstein hire to lead the Lovable Losers in 2012?  ESPN has mentioned Terry Francona as a possible selection, but he might need a break after the Red Sox September fiasco.  Other candidates could include former Red Sox coach Dale Sveum, current Sox bench coach DeMarlo Hale (both will be candidates for the Sox job as well), Phillies bench coach Pete Mackanin, Rays bench coach Dave Martinez, and Indians bench coach Sandy Alomar Jr.

I'm not sure Epstein will want to hire the manager he just worked with for eight years, but if Francona was energized by the possibility of managing in Chicago, I'd put him on the short list.  Mackanin would also be a great fit in Chicago.  He started his coaching career with the Cubs and would be good at instituting a professional, hard-working atmosphere in the clubhouse.  Epstein said the managerial search begins immediately, so we'll see how long it takes for him to find the right candidate.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Girlfriends and Baseball

Last week, watching the World Series was more challenging than usual.  It had nothing to do with the fact that I dislike both teams that were competing in the 2011 Series (Especially the Cardinals.  As a Cubs fan, it pains me to watch them win another championship.), or that I had a lot of work to get done for my college classes, or even that the games are on late and take forever to finish.  In fact, if it were up to me I wouldn't have done any work and I would have skipped my morning classes so that I could stay up and watch every out without missing out on a solid eight hours of sleep.

What made watching the World Series slightly challenging (but funny at the same time) was sitting next to my girlfriend for a few of the games.  She's knows her sports (she plays basketball and runs track), but she still loves to ask questions when we're watching baseball.  The typical "who's that?" or "why is he doing that?"  The best question came during game two, when she asked why a baseball runner ran to second, even "if he was going to get outed." 

Watching a baseball game with your girlfriend definitely involves more questions than watching the game with your buddies.  Buy hey, the fact that she's willing to sit and watch a game on TV means something.  Anyone who knows me knows that even watching a game alone I get animated, stressed out easily, and sometimes yell at the TV.  If Paige is willing to sit through that spectacle, then I'm willing to indoctrinate her into the world of baseball nuances and terminology.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Cardinal Walk-Off Caps Amazing Game 6

After the Rangers scored three runs in the top of the seventh inning, taking all the momentum that the Cardinals had gained a half-inning earlier, it looked like Texas would cruise to its first World Series title.  The Cardinals had been a comeback machine all season, but they finally looked like they were running out of steam.  The Texas clubhouse was ready for a party, and the great state of Texas was ready to forget that it's football season.

Too bad nobody informed the Cardinals that their season was supposed to end.  Down to their last strike in the ninth inning, down 7-5, homegrown product David Freese stepped to the plate for the Cardinals and laced a ball into right field.  The game should have ended with a Nelson Cruz catch in right field, and Texas should be in the middle of a celebration.  Instead, Freese hit a game-tying triple that scored two runs.  Cruz made the inexplicable mistake of allowing a ball to fly over his head with two outs in the ninth, up by two runs.  THAT CAN'T HAPPEN.  The Rangers were playing a no-doubles defense because only the second base runner mattered.  The only ball that should travel over an outfielder's head in that situation is a home run.  Cruz was out of position, took a bad route to the ball, and slowed down as he reached the warning track.  It would be considered a terrible mental mistake during the regular season, let alone the most important game in franchise history.  Kudos to Nelson Cruz for giving us the first Game Seven in a decade.

Freese's triple pushed the game into extra innings.  Yet again the Rangers took the lead, this time on an improbable home run from star Josh Hamilton.  Hobbled by an injured groin for the entire postseason (one that would have put him on the DL during the regular season), Hamilton had struggled to hit with any power and his go ahead home run last night was his first bomb of the postseason.  Again, it seemed like it could be the perfect ending: the former addict winning Game Six and leading the Rangers to World Series glory.

However, down to their final strike yet again, the Cardinals managed to come back from the dead.  Rangers manager Ron Washington brought in veteran Darren Oliver to try and close out the game in the tenth.  It was an  interesting choice by Washington since Oliver is mainly a setup/situational pitcher, not necessarily someone who you want closing out a huge playoff game.  Oliver promptly gave up two singles and a sacrifice bunt pushed them to second and third.  Washington brought in reliever Scott Feldman (who should have started the inning).  Ryan Theriot grounded out, scoring Daniel Descalso, and then Feldman intentionally walked Albert Pujols to bring up Lance Berkman.  Berkman hit a two strike single to score John Jay to tie the game.  Watching the action, it seemed like even though the Rangers got out of the inning with a tied score, they were deflated and on the verge of losing.

Texas couldn't score in the top of the 11th inning and the rest is history.  David Freese led off the bottom of the eleventh with one of the greatest walk-off home runs in World Series history and the Cardinals survived to force a Game Seven.  St. Louis will turn to ace Chris Carpenter tonight as they try to become one of the most improbable World Series champs in recent memory.  For the Rangers, last night's devastating loss may signal a heartbreaking end to their championship hopes.  They were so close, and yet they allowed the Cardinals to become the first team ever to be down to their last strike twice and still come out with a victory.    For Game Seven, tune into FOX tonight at 8:05 ET.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

World Series: Game 6 Preview

Jaime Garcia
After yesterday's decision by Major League Baseball to postpone Game Six of the World Series, the Rangers had to wait an extra night to try and win the franchise's first World Series.  At 8:05 ET tonight, they will take the field at Busch Stadium with two games left to get the ever-elusive fourth win of the series.  This has been one of the most exciting World Series in recent memory, with a great balance of close games and breakout performances.  Three of the games have been decided by two runs or less, Game Four was a one-run game until the sixth inning, and the one blowout (the Cardinals 16-7 win in Game Three) featured the single greatest individual performance in Series history (King Albert: 5-6, 3 HR, 6 RBI, 4 R, 14 TB, CRAZY).

Game Six features a rematch of the Game Two starters as Texas pitcher Colby Lewis will face Cardinal lefty Jaime Garcia.  In Game Two, both pitchers shut down the opposing offenses, but the Rangers scored two in the ninth inning and escaped with a 2-1 victory which tied the series at one game apiece.  Lewis has been great on the road all season, and has compiled a 2.95 ERA in three starts this postseason.  Garcia hasn't been too shabby either, giving up only one run over his last two postseason starts.

Colby Lewis
The offenses for both teams have been producing at roughly the same rate, and with an expected game-time temperature around 49 degrees expect another low scoring affair in Game Six.  The Rangers can see the finish line and after losing in the World Series last season they must be chomping at the bit to break through and win their first championship.  However, the Cardinals have been playing from behind all season and they haven't been ousted yet.  Did the one day delay slow down the Rangers' momentum, or can they secure ring number one in the hostile atmosphere of Busch Stadium?  The 2011 World Series has a chance to be the first one in  a decade to go a full seven games, but will it end tonight?  Tune into FOX at 8:05 ET to find out.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Epstein's Replacement: Who is Ben Cherington?

Even though the deal isn't finalized yet, Theo Epstein has agreed with the Cubs on a five year deal to run baseball operations in Wrigleyville.  According to Yahoo Sports, Red Sox Assistant General Manager Ben Cherington has already been told that he will replace Epstein as the GM in Boston.  So who is Ben Cherington?

A New Hampshire native (shout-out to the 603), Cherington graduated from Amherst College where he pitched on the baseball team before a labrum injury during his junior year.  He stayed with the team as an unofficial pitching coach and learned more about the game by studying from the dugout.  After Amherst, Cherington completed a master's in sports management at UMASS-Amherst.  Former Sox GM Dan Duquette hired Cherington in 1997 as an intern and he has served the organization in many roles since he was hired full-time in 1999.  In 2005, Cherington and Jed Hoyer were named co-general managers during Epstein's short 86-day hiatus from the front office.  For the last three years, Cherington has served as Epstein's Assistant GM.

Cherington will have a difficult task ahead of him when he formally takes over the GM job from Epstein.  He will have to replace manager Terry Francona, who left the team right after the season, and he will need to try to fix the lackadaisical clubhouse attitude that was detrimental  in September.  Sources believe Cherington is calmer and more reserved than Epstein, which may help an organization that has been filled with chaos ever since the worst regular season collapse in history.  The Red Sox are smart to hire someone with intimate knowledge of the organization, but is promoting someone from within a good way to solve all the Sox problems?  Once Theo officially leaves for Chicago, it will be interesting to see what steps Cherington takes in order to get the Red Sox back to the postseason in 2012.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

How Tito Should Have Handled September: Bull Durham Style

If only former Red Sox manager Terry Francona had taken a page from Bull Durham late in the season and treated the Red Sox players like lollygaggers, maybe they wouldn't have collapsed.  I know he was pretty mild tempered, but hey, nothing else was working.

Epstein Would be a Smart Hire for the Cubs

Multiple sources, including ESPN and The Sporting News, are reporting that Red Sox GM Theo Epstein has agreed to a five year deal worth more than $15 million with the Chicago Cubs.  While the Sox and Cubs are still discussing compensation for Epstein, since he is still under contract with Boston, sources are saying that finalizing the deal is close.  Epstein would most likely be named Cubs President, a promotion from his role in Boston.

So is Theo really a good hire for the Cubs, or is he just a big name to make the Cubs owners, the Ricketts family, look good?  People have doubted Epstein's ability, especially after Boston's historic collapse this season.  There is the argument that Epstein led the Red Sox to the 2004 World Series on the heels of good moves by the previous Sox GM, Dan Duquette.  Epstein has also come under fire for throwing big money at players like Carl Crawford and John Lackey, who haven't performed well in Boston.

However, Epstein gets way more criticism than he really deserves.  Sure, Duquette made moves that helped the Red Sox win the World Series, but Epstein made important moves that finally got them there.  He signed David Ortiz to a cheap contract after he left the Twins.  He brought Terry Francona to Boston after the Grady Little fiasco in the 2003 playoffs, which paid off immediately.  He chased down Curt Schilling on Thanksgiving and made the crucial decision to trade Nomar Garciaparra for Orlando Cabrera at the trade deadline during the '04 season.  He stocked the Red Sox farm system with solid talent, drafting All-Stars Jonathon Papelbon, Dustin Pedroia, Clay Buchholz and Jacoby Ellsbury in his first three drafts from 2003-2005.

Epstein's moves to sign Lackey and Crawford have been criticized, but most of it has come in hindsight.  Lackey was 31 games over .500 in his career with the Angels with a 3.82 career ERA.  Crawford hit .295 from '02-'09 with the Rays along with averaging 23 doubles, 12 triples, 11 home runs, and 45 stolen bases a season during that span.  Yes, Epstein probably overpaid for both of them, but as the GM of a wealthy team he can afford to do that in order to sign the best players available.  Is anyone yelling at Theo for giving up big prospects to get Adrian Gonzalez (and then giving Gonzo a huge contract)?  Exactly.  If the Crawford and Lackey signings had worked out well, no one would be giving Epstein any crap.  Crawford could end up having a great career with Boston.  Lackey really does suck, but hey, give Theo a break for one bad signing.

The Cubs need a big change after John Hendry continuously overpaid players who were overrated to begin with, or who could only perform well for the first couple years of their contracts.  The Ricketts family would be smart to hire Epstein, who would not be intimidated by a big market with fans who are dying for a World Series title.  Epstein will energize fans in Chicago and won't be afraid to make the moves needed to win soon.  He drafts relatively well and kept the Sox stocked with a good core of homegrown players, while still going after free agents.  He won a World Series title in Boston, which no one had managed to do in 86 years, and then went out and built a team that won another one.  The positives far outweigh the negatives and Epstein could really help the Cubs become a consistent contender.

Friday, September 30, 2011

American League Playoffs Start Today

After the regular reason ended with a bang on Wednesday night, the playoffs are set to begin today.  The four AL teams will face off against each other today, while the NL teams will wait until tomorrow to begin their games.  The Rays, who squeaked into the playoffs on an Evan Longoria walk-off home run on Wednesday, will play the Rangers starting at 5:07 ET in Arlington, Texas.  The Yankees and Tigers will battle in prime time (8:37 ET) at Yankee Stadium.  That should be the game to watch today, as CC Sabathia will go up against Justin Verlander.

Tampa Bay Rays at Texas Rangers, 5:07 ET

Keys for the Rays: Right now Tampa Bay fans are proclaiming "In Matt Moore we trust."  The heralded rookie will start game one for the Rays after a stellar minor league season and a good September call-up.  Moore made his first start on September 22 pitching five innings against the Yankees, giving up no runs on four hits and striking out 11.  In 9.1 big league innings this season, Moore is 1-0 with a 2.89 ERA and 15 strikeouts.  This year's Rangers team is even better than last season and their offense absolutely mashes so Moore will have his hands full.  Can he keep his composure and can the Rays score enough runs to offset the Texas lineup and their ace, C.J. Wilson?

Keys for the Rangers: C.J. Wilson has been better than expected all season and has developed into a legitimate ace.  Luckily for him, the Rangers lineup has been even better than last season.  With additions like Adrian Beltre, Texas has scored 63 more runs than they have this season.  If they can put runs on the board early and rattle rookie Matt Moore, it could be an easy opening game at home for the Rangers.

Detroit Tigers at New York Yankees, 8:37 ET

Keys for the Tigers:  Justin Verlander is making his postseason start since 2006 and he is much more mature than the pitcher who compiled a 5.82 ERA in four starts during the '06 playoffs.  He was only average against the Yankees this season, with two no-decisions and a 4.50 ERA.  If the Tigers want to win the series, Verlander needs to come out firing in game one.  If he can shut down the potent New York lineup, it could signal good things for the Tigers in the ALDS.

Keys for the Yankees: If the Yankees let Verlander settle in it could be a long night, even with CC on the mound.  If Verlander can go deep into the game with a lead, the Tigers can immediately go to the best part of their bullpen, Jose Valverde, who didn't blow a save all season.  Sabathia has been spectacular for most of the season, and Yankee fans should not expect anything less tonight.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Wild Card Races Tied

It has been 161 games and nothing has been decided in either wild card race.  The Red Sox managed a win against the Orioles, while the Rays beat the Yankees to stay tied in the AL.  In the NL, the Braves were beaten again by the Phillies and the Cardinals took advantage, besting the Astros 13-6.  Now, everything comes down to game 162.  It has been six months since the beginning of the season, yet the Sox and Rays are deadlocked at 90 wins and the Braves and Cardinals have both accumulated 89.  For all the critics who complain about the length of the MLB season, this shows that every single game is important.

On the last day of the season, both the Sox and the Rays will trot their aces out to the mound in hopes of avoiding a one-game playoff.  Jon Lester, who has lost his last three starts, will look to rebound and shut down the Orioles in the season finale.  David Price will take the mound for the Rays at Tropicana Field, where he has struggled this season (he has a 4-9 record at home in 17 starts).  Both the Braves and Cardinals will also have reliable starters on the last day of the season.  Tim Hudson will hope to keep the Phillies from a franchise-best 102 win, while Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter will hope to continue his success against the Astros (he holds a 2.79 career ERA against Houston).

Tomorrow's Games:

Red Sox at Orioles, 7:05 ET
Key for the Sox: Lester needs to come out strong and deliver a statement on the hill.

Yankees at Rays, 7:10 ET
Key for the Rays: The Rays offense need to provide run support for Price, who has a losing record at home despite a 3.45 ERA at Tropicana Field.

Phillies at Braves, 7:10 ET
Key for the Braves: Atlanta needs their offense to show up to the park.  It has been terrible in the first two games of the series.

Cardinals at Astros, 8:05 ET
Key for the Cardinals: Albert Pujols has been quiet in the series so far, but a big game from him could push the Cardinals to victory.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Ozzie Guillen Leaving White Sox

Ozzie Guillen's tumultuous tenure with the Chicago White Sox has finally come to an end.  Guillen's contract doesn't expire until after the 2012, but he had publicly stated that he would not return without a contract extension.  He met with White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf on Monday and after leaving the meeting with no extension he managed his last game, a 4-3 win over the Blue Jays.  In eight years with the White Sox, Guillen is 678-617.  He led the White Sox to a World Series win in 2005.  Chicago retains the right to be compensated if Guillen takes a new job for the 2012 season.

Guillen is expected to sign a contract with the Marlins to manage next season.  The Marlins are opening a new ballpark, which includes the renaming of the team (Miami Marlins), new uniforms and a new logo.  Guillen was the team's third base coach in 2003, when the Marlins won the World Series.  For the Marlins' sake, hopefully he can get some fans to actually attend games in Miami.  According to sources, Guillen's contract with the Marlins would be for four years.

He could end up being a great fit for Miami (its weird not to say Florida), who has a talented young core that may need a fiery manager to get things going.  As long as he gets Hanley Ramirez to stop underachieving and to mature, the Marlins could be on the right track.  For a city with a large Hispanic population and a team in need of a strong leader, Guillen could be the perfect fit.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Wild Card Race Update

Thanks to a three-run homer by Jacoby Ellsbury in the 14th inning, the Red Sox finally won again and managed to keep a game between themselves and the Rays.  After a poor first inning on Sunday night, John Lackey pitched surprisingly well, giving up three earned runs in six innings.  After Chris Dickerson's sacrifice fly scored Brett Gardner in the seventh inning, both teams were held scoreless for six innings until Ellsbury's game-winning shot.  Papelbon pitched well in relief for the Red Sox, throwing 2.1 scoreless innings (which included getting out of Daniel Bard's bases loaded jam in the bottom of the ninth).

The Rays beat the Blue Jays 5-2 on Sunday Afternoon thanks to eight strong innings by Wade Davis.  Their five runs all came on the long ball: B.J. Upton and Ben Zobrist hits homers in the first inning, Evan Longoria went deep in the third, and Kelly Shoppach homered in the sixth.  Combined with Boston's doubleheader split, the Rays now sit one game behind the Sox in the AL wild card race, with three games to go.

In the National League, the Braves offense didn't show up the ballpark and Atlanta dropped their second straight game to the Nationals by a score of 3-0.  Ross Detwiler pitched six shutout innings for the Nats, while the Washington offense scored their runs on home runs by Wilson Ramos and Michael Morse.  The Braves' road to the playoffs doesn't get any easier, as they host the Phillies in a three-game set to end the season while nursing a one-game lead over the Cardinals in the wild card.

St. Louis managed to move closer to Atlanta yesterday with a close 3-2 win over the rival Cubs.  Octavio Dotel picked up the win in relief of starter Edwin Jackson, and the Cardinals scored two runs late on home runs by Yadier Molina and Rafael Furcal.  The Cards will be on the road in Houston to end the season, and they have a very good chance to overtake the struggling Braves.

Today's games:
Red Sox @ Orioles, 7:05 ET
Yankees @ Rays, 7:10 ET
Phillies @ Braves, 7:10 ET
Cardinals @ Astros, 8:05 ET

Friday, September 23, 2011

Braves and Cardinals Battle for Wild Card

For a season that wasn't supposed to have any exciting playoff races, there are suddenly two close races to watch out for.  The Boston Red Sox have been in a tailspin since the beginning of September and the Tampa Bay Rays have taken advantage to pull within two games in the AL wild card.  The Sox epic collapse has caused people to overlook the mediocre play of the Atlanta Braves in the NL.  Once considered a virtual lock to win the wild card, the Braves have gone 8-13 in the month of September.  Coupled with a resurgence by the St. Louis Cardinals, who have gone 14-6 in September, the NL wild card gap is now only two games.  St. Louis missed a golden opportunity to move within one game yesterday, blowing a 6-2 lead in the ninth inning against the Mets on a night when the Braves were off.

With six games left who is in a better position to win the wild card?  Based on each team's schedule, the edge goes to the Cardinals.  St. Louis will play three games each against the Chicago Cubs and the Houston Astros, two of the three worst teams in the NL.  Atlanta will play three against the Washington Nationals and three against the Philadelphia Phillies.  The Nationals are 8-2 in their last 10, including a sweep of Philly.  The Phillies have lost six straight but still easily have the best record in the game and may want to capture some momentum before the playoffs start.  Luckily for the Braves, there aren't many games left to make up the two game gap.  However, it would not be surprising to see the Cards run the table while Atlanta falters.  Look for St. Louis to take home the NL wild card.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Can the Red Sox Hold On?

After falling 7-5 tonight to the Orioles, the Red Sox have now lost two of three games so far in the current series and they are now 5-15 in the month of September.  This is the same team that, after starting 0-6, rolled through the middle months of the season.  The Sox looked like possibly the best team in the American League, a title that absolutely no one would reward them with now.  With only seven games remaining, Boston could become the laughing stock of baseball.  Former Boston pitcher Curt Schilling even publicly stated "I don't think they're going to make it."

So why have things gone so wrong?  The list of problems is too long for a team with such a high payroll.  Third baseman Kevin Youkilis is injured.  Left fielder Carl Crawford has underachieved all season.  John Lackey may actually be the single worst starter in baseball (He's lucky the Sox have scored enough runs to get him 12 wins).  Injuries have forced the Sox to start Tim Wakefield 22 times, Andrew Miller 12 times, and Kyle Weiland five times.  Ace Jon Lester hasn't been great down the stretch and neither has set-up man Daniel Bard, who was stellar for a long stretch earlier in the season.  There's more reasons, but you pretty much get the point.  For a team with such high expectations, this would be a classic pre-2004 Red Sox collapse.

With only seven games left, could the Red Sox possibly blow their tiny two game lead?  If there was ever a time for Boston fans to root for the Yankees, the time is now.  The Yankees beat the Rays tonight leaving the gap at two games, but the Sox had better hope that the Evil Empire continues to beat up on Tampa Bay during their remaining five games.  The Rays also play three more games against the Blue Jays, which bodes well for Boston.  However, if the Sox continue to lose to the Orioles and play poorly in New York this weekend, what was shaping up to be a great Sox season could end in disaster.  With how pitiful the pitching has been, the Red Sox will need their prolific offense to carry them to a wild card berth.  The Sox held a nine game lead in the wild card race as recently as September 3, but they are ever so close to one of the worst collapses in the history of the game.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Best Right Fielder of All-Time: Babe Ruth vs. Hank Aaron

This is the toughest debate of any position.  When looking at right field, the question of who is the greatest comes down to two of the greatest players in the history of the game: Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron.  One redefined the game by absolutely mashing pitches the way nobody else had until he came around, and the other was so consistent that he became the all-time home run king (the title should still be Aaron's, Bonds doesn't deserve it) and all-time RBI leader.

First, Ruth.  There's too much to write in one paragraph, but let's start by saying that he completely revolutionized the game.  He gave fans during the end of the dead ball era what they wanted to see, and that was long balls.  Despite playing in humongous ballparks (yes, he was helped by the short porch in right at "The House  That Ruth Built," but Yankee Stadium also happened to be 490 feet to center when Ruth played there) and being  out of shape for most of his career, he still held 56 MLB records when he retired in 1935.  He still holds the best ever career slugging percentage (.690), OPS (1.164), and WAR (wins above replacement, 190).  He also holds top 10 marks in home runs, OBP., AVG., runs scored, total bases, RBI, walks, and extra base hits.  He was, and still is, baseball's most famous icon.  (Ruth's stats)

Hank Aaron didn't put up the monstrous totals that Ruth did, but his consistency over 23 seasons allowed him to pass Ruth's home run record in 1974 and to become one of the greatest players of all-time.  He never hit more than 47 home runs in a season, but he did average 33 home runs a season from 1954 through 1976.  He never drove in more than 132 runs in one season, but he still averaged 100 a season and broke Ruth's RBI record.  He was a better base runner and defensive player than Ruth was, stealing 240 bases in his career while also winning three Gold Glove Awards in a row from '58-'60.  He was an All-Star every year from 1955-1975 and won the 1957 NL MVP. (Aaron's stats)

Both Ruth and Aaron are all-time greats, but in the end the choice for the greatest right fielder of all-time is Ruth.  Yes, Aaron hit 41 more homers and drove in 84 more runs than Ruth did, but it took him 3965 more at-bats to accomplish those feats.  Aaron may have been the most consistent player of all-time, but Ruth was a more explosive hitter.  From the time Ruth became a more full time hitter in 1918 to the time he retired in 1935, he averaged 39 home runs and 120 RBI per season.  He also slugged a ridiculous .699 over that time frame.  Aaron was great, but the Great Bambino was the greatest.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Verlander First to 20 Wins

Justin Verlander pitches on Saturday.
Tigers ace Justin Verlander pitched Detroit to another victory, becoming the first pitcher in the big leagues this season to win 20 games.  Verlander didn't shut down the opposition as easily as usual, yielding four runs, but the Tigers generated enough offense to beat the Twins 6-4.  The Twins scored their runs by scoring two in the fifth and two in the sixth.  In the fifth, Verlander gave up back-to-back home runs to Luke Hughes and Jason Repko.  In the sixth, Hughes struck again, doubling home Danny Valencia and Rene Tosoni.  Verlander gave up eight hits in his six innings, but five of those occurred during the fifth and sixth innings.  Verlander struck out six and walked three in the victory.  The Tigers scored two in the first inning on home runs by Miguel Cabrera and Alex Avila, two in the fifth on a double by Ryan Raburn and a single by Austin Jackson, and two in the seventh on singles by Delmon Young and Miguel Cabrera.  Jose Valverde picked up his 39th save and has yet to blow a save all season.

MVP voters must consider Verlander as a serious candidate.  Clearly, the MVP is rarely awarded to pitchers (the last pitcher to win the award was Dennis Eckersley in 1992).  However, Verlander has been just that good on the mound and just that important to the Tigers.  With his 20th win today, Verlander is the first pitcher since Curt Schilling to win 20 games before September.  Think about that... 20 wins is considered an amazing season and Verlander still has an entire month to win more games.  He leads the AL in strikeouts (218), WHIP (0.90), and batting average against (.190).  He is second in ERA (2.38), K/BB ratio (4.71), and second in K/9 (9.10).  Need I say more?  Without him on the roster, the Tigers don't make the playoffs.  However, if the Red Sox don't have Adrian Gonzalez and the Yankees don't have Curtis Granderson, both teams still probably make the playoffs.  Verlander has been the best player in the AL as well as the most valuable player to his team.  He is going to win the Cy Young Award and with a good September, let's hope that he gets the MVP respect that he deserves.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Mike Flanagan's Death Ruled Suicide

Former left-handed pitcher Mike Flanagan's death has been ruled a suicide.  According to the police, he died of a self-inflicted shotgun wound to the head.  He was found 250 feet from his home on Wednesday after a neighbor who went to check on him couldn't find him at the house.  Flanagan's family released a statement, which said, "We thank you for your support and kind words at this difficult time.  Thank you for respecting our privacy as we grieve."  Flanagan was 59 years old

Flanagan was currently a TV analyst for the Orioles.  During his playing career, which lasted from 1975 to 1992, Flanagan had two stints with the Orioles.  He also spent part his career with the Blue Jays.  Over his 18    years in the big leagues, Flanagan compiled a 167-143 record with a 3.90 ERA and 1491 strikeouts.  He was an All-Star in 1978 and won the AL Cy Young in 1979 with a 23-9 record, 3.08 ERA and a 1.186 WHIP.  After retirement, Flanagan was the Orioles pitching coach in 1995 and 1998 and he served as the executive vice president of baseball operations for the team from 2006 through 2008.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

What is the Best "This is Sportscenter" Baseball Commercial?

One of the best parts of watching ESPN's Sportscenter is also being able to watch the commercials that go along with the show.  "This is Sportscenter" commercials have become one of the best parts of the network.  They've been doing them for years and they always manage to get the biggest names in sports to participate while keeping everyone at home laughing.  If you want to check them all out, this YouTube playlist has 82 of them.

There have been numerous ballplayers who have done "This is Sportscenter" commercials, and the question now is which one is the best?  The following videos are my top three favorites and below those are the other baseball themed "This is Sportscenter" commercials.  What are your favorites?  Leave a comment and share your favorite ESPN commercials.

Here are the rest of the baseball "This is Sportscenter" commercials:
Joe Mauer
Manny Ramirez #1
Manny Ramirez #2
Josh Hamilton
David Wright
Jose Reyes

Check Out the New COTB Page on Facebook

So I finally decided to make a Facebook page for Crack of the Bat.  I figured it was another good way to share my writing, spread more cool baseball stories, and connect with others who love the game.  You can check out the page by following this link: or you can check it out by going to the Facebook box in the right hand column of my blog.  Thanks and I hope you like the page!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

This Day in Baseball: Eric Bruntlett's 2009 Triple Play

Click on the clip to watch Bruntlett's play.

On August 23, 2009 Phillies second baseman Eric Bruntlett turned an unassisted triple play in the ninth inning against the Mets for a 9-7 Philadelphia victory.  Bruntlett almost ruined the game for Phillies closer Brad Lidge, as he made an error and allowed a second batter to reach on an infield hit.  With the runners in motion, Bruntlett was ranging towards second base, where he caught Jeff Francoeur's line drive for out number one, stepped on second base to double up Luis Castillo, and then tagged out Daniel Murphy coming from first base.

Bruntlett's triple play was only the fifteenth of its kind in MLB history, only the seventh turned in NL history, and only the second game-ending triple play ever.  The first game-ending triple play was turned by Detroit Tigers first baseman Johnny Neun on May 31, 1927.  He caught a liner for the first out, tagged the runner off first, and managed to tag second base before the base runner got back to end the game.  A triple play itself is amazing, an unassisted triple play is absolutely nuts, and a game-ending, unassisted triple play is downright one of the coolest plays a fan good ever witness.  Bruntlett ends a New York rally at Citi Field and still manages to make the fans cheer.  Obviously, he had to be in the right place at the right time, but this is still a great play to look back on.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Check Out the LLWS and This Year's Hometown Team

For any die hard baseball fan, the Little League World Series is a great change of pace from watching Major League teams.  There's nothing like watching twelve year old ballplayers in front of thousands of fans - if only I could have played in that kind of atmosphere during little league.

If you haven't kept up with this year's action, the team from Clinton County, Pennsylvania has gotten most of the attention.  They are the first local team to play in the LLWS in years.  The team is located only 30 miles from Williamsport.  They played their district tournament games at Volunteer Stadium in Williamsport and now they're back for the LLWS.  So far, each of the team's three games (including tonight's) has been played at Lamade Stadium, which has permanent seating for 9,000.  The grassy berm beyond the outfield fence has come in handy, as in their first game Clinton County helped to set a new LLWS attendance record when 41,848 people showed up (that number was bigger than 12 of the MLB games played on the same day).  Their next game brought over 30,000 people  to Lamade Stadium and tonight's game apparently has over 30,000 again.  Those numbers are unheard of this early in the tournament.

If you want to tune in and watch some great baseball (where the players aren't in it for millions of dollars), change your channel to ESPN2 or go to and watch Louisiana vs. Pennsylvania, which is currently in the second inning.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Strasburg Will Pitch for First Time Since Surgery

Last August when Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg torn his ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow, which required Tommy John surgery, he was expected to miss one year to 18 months in order to recover from the injury.  However, less than a year after surgery, Strasburg will pitch one or two innings for the Class A Hagerstown Suns.  Nationals manager Davey Johnson said that as long as Strasburg throws well in his side session on Thursday, he will pitch on Sunday against the Greensboro Grasshoppers. 

Johnson hopes to have Strasburg back with the Nationals by September, but I'm not sure that is the best idea.  Strasburg wasn't supposed to be back until the 2012, and while pitching this early is good progress, the Nationals shouldn't push him too hard, too fast.  Sure, it would be great for the Nationals to get their best pitcher back (especially to put people in the seats in Washington), but the risks outweigh the benefits.  Let him continue to rehab in the minors this season, make sure he's completely healthy and then have him start on Opening Day in 2012.  The Nationals have way too much invested in Strasburg to risk another injury in a meaningless big league game late in the season.  What are your thoughts?  Leave a comment with how you think the Nationals should handle the Strasburg situation.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Cubs: The Definition of Deadline Losers

Jim Hendry: The look of a misguided man.
Honestly, at this point every Cubs fan should be completely fed up with GM Jim Hendry.  I've been a Cubs fan my entire life and it was depressing to watch the trade deadline come and go with only one move by Hendry. Could you really only get rid of Kosuke Fukudome!  It isn't like the Cubs are anywhere close to contending with the roster they have, so why keep players like Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Zambrano, Carlos Pena, Reed Johnson, Marlon Byrd Jeff Baker, etc.?  Obviously, no-trade clauses and obscene contracts (THANKS again Jimbo!) prevented some of the bigger names from moving, but HELLO, the only untouchable on the entire roster should be Starlin Castro.

Hendry should have followed the lead of Ed Wade in Houston and really broken up the team.  Sure, Wade didn't necessarily get the best return for Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn, but he sure as hell knew that his team would never win with the current roster, and he tried to start building for the future.  He didn't get great prospects for Bourn, but he landed two mega prospects for Pence (Jonathan Singleton and Jarred Cosart).  Wade probably torpedoed Houston's attendance for the rest of the season, but it was necessary to start moving in the right direction.  Hendry and the Cubs owners, the Ricketts family, should stop worrying about what attendance will be like for the rest of the season.  They needed to start getting rid of players who shouldn't be part of the Cubs long term plans.  As much as seeing Wrigley with empty seats depresses me, it's much worse to know that the Cubs front office stood pat and didn't make enough moves.

Trade Deadline Deals: Braves Finally Make a Move

The trade deadline came and went, but before it passed the Braves finally made a move.  Without giving up any really valuable prospects, the Braves were able to trade for center fielder Michael Bourn from the Astros.  They gave up much less than the Phillies did for former Astros outfielder Hunter Pence, but the Braves still gained an impact player who can help them make the playoffs.  The Braves needed more help than both the Phillies and Giants, as their offense has been terrible (and underachieving a lot) all season.  Their leadoff hitters have hit .254 with an on-base percentage of .306 (pitiful).  Bourn fixes that.  Center fielders for the Braves have hit .241 with a .322 on-base percentage.  Bourn fixes that.  He also plays great center field defense, has already stolen 39 bases, and will fit perfectly into Atlanta's lineup.  So far in 2011, Bourn is hitting .303/.363/.403 with one home run and 32 RBIs.  Sure, Bourn doesn't have the power that Pence or Beltran has, but he doesn't need to because he is a perfect leadoff hitter.  Congrats to the Braves for finding someone who should fit seamlessly into their lineup, and for not giving up any truly important prospects to do it.

Other intriguing moves:

Eric Bedard (from Seattle) to the Red Sox: After the deal for Rich Harden fell through, this is the only starter the Sox could get?  For their sakes, at least the Yankees chose not to do a single damn thing to improve their pitching (good luck Brian Cashman, because everyone but CC is hanging on by a thread).

Mike Adams (from San Diego) and Koji Uehara (from Baltimore) to the Rangers: Two great moves by the Rangers to shore up the back end up the bullpen.  Texas, just like last year, made moves that could propel them deep into the playoffs.

Ubaldo Jimenez (from Colorado) to the Indians: The number of people who actually thought that Cleveland was going to land Ubaldo can be counted on one hand.  However, total props to the Indians for making a bold move that could win them their division.  Jimenez has started to pitch much better as of late, and the Indians needed a big splash to stay in the AL Central race.  They gave up some great pitching prospects (Drew Pomeranz and Alex White), but pitching prospects are so volatile that it was smart to give away a lot in order to get a pitcher who has already proven he can be an ace at the big league level.  Now the Indians are hoping that Jimenez can revert to his form from the first half of last season.

Here is a link to the Yahoo Sports Trade Tracker, with all the moves made by MLB clubs:;_ylt=AuzSuzbRwQWolJdDCbWFGu4RvLYF?slug=jp-passan_mlb_trade_tracker_deadline_073011

Friday, July 29, 2011

Phillies Add Pence in Exchange for Prospects

The Giants traded for Carlos Beltran, and the Phillies felt they needed to make a move.  Tonight, they were able to beat out the Braves and successfully trade for Hunter Pence of the Astros.  With Beltran off the market, Pence was the next big offensive piece available, but the Astros had quite a hefty asking price (which is what they should have done, as Pence is about the only player who was putting fans in the seats at Minute Maid Park this season).  The Phillies are sending Houston top pitching prospect Jarred Cosart (9-8 with a 3.92 ERA for the Class A Advanced Clearwater Threshers), top hitting prospect Jonathan Singleton (.284 with 9 home runs and 47 RBI for Clearwater), and two more players, one of which is suspected to be Double-A pitcher Josh Zeid.  The Braves apparently offered four prospects to the Astros for Pence, but they were still discussing pieces when the trade was made this evening.

The move to grab Pence will help the Phillies push the Braves farther behind in the standings and will put them in a better position should they need to face the Giants again in the playoffs.  The Phillies offense was already better than that of San Francisco, but not by much.  The right field combo of Ben Francisco and Domonic Brown has been below average, batting .233 combined with 11 home runs and only 49 RBIs.  Pence himself is batting .308 with 11 home runs and 62 RBIs.  He isn't great defensively, but he plays with a high level of intensity and he produces.  He hit 25 home runs each of the last three seasons.  Pence is also under contract through 2013, an advantage that Carlos Beltran did not have.  The Phillies offense has gained some steam in recent weeks and it should only continue to get better with Pence, who is a career .300 hitter at Citizens Bank Park.  Now that the Phillies have responded to the Giants trade for Beltran, the Braves are the team most in need of a bat.  Without one, they will be in trouble as the Phillies and Giants have positioned themselves well for deep playoff runs.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Derek Jeter 3K Premieres Tonight

Derek Jeter 3K premieres tonight on HBO and details his pursuit of 3,000 hits.  As a Red Sox fan, I despise all things Yankees.  However, I do have the utmost respect for Jeter.  If you get HBO, be sure check out the hour-long documentary starting at 9 pm.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Giants Land Beltran

The Carlos Beltran sweepstakes are over, and the Giants won the big prize.  Beltran left Cincinnati and is joining the Giants tonight in Philly (of all places, the Giants just happen to be in the city of their main NL competitor).  The Giants will give up prized pitching prospect Zack Wheeler, who is 7-5 with a 3.99 ERA and 98 K's in 88 innings pitched for the San Jose Giants of the Class A Advanced California League.  The Mets will also include $4 million that will go towards paying Beltran's contract.

This was a great move by the Giants, because their offense is downright anemic.  Coming into tonight's game with the Phillies (which the Giants won 2-1) their .241 team batting average was fourth worst in the National League.  They are 15th in the NL in runs scored and they have the third worst on-base percentage in the NL at .307 (entering tonight's game).  Beltran adds immediate pop to a lineup in desperate need of it.  When he joins the Giants, he will suddenly be the only player on the roster who has a double-digit home run total.  He has a better batting average than all but two regulars.  Last season, the Giants won with pitching, but at least they had Buster Posey in the middle of the lineup.  With the rotation the Giants have, it would have been a crime to fall short of last year's success because of the inability to put a few runs on the board.  Now with Beltran, the Giants have catapulted themselves ahead of the Braves in terms of NL contenders.  Sure, Wheeler is one heck of a prospect to give up for a rental player, but the Giants already have the pitching to win now (again, for that matter).  All they needed was some pop.  By adding Beltran, the Giants could now be on a collision course for a rematch with the Phillies to determine the best team in the National League.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Best Center Fielder of All-Time: Willie Mays

There have been plenty of great center fielders: Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Ken Griffey Jr., Tris Speaker, Duke Snider.  However, the greatest center fielder to play the game had to have been Willie Mays, and in my opinion that's a pretty easy choice.  He was the epitome of a five-tool player and he was a superstar during his 22 seasons playing with the Giants and the Mets.  It's hard to argue against Mays being the best all-around baseball player ever.

Mays began his professional career in 1947, when he played with the Chattanooga Choo-Choos during the summer while he was still in high school.  After playing for the Choo-Choos for a short time he returned home to Alabama in order to play with the Birmingham Black Barons.  The New York Giants signed Mays in May of 1950 and he made his Major League debut on May 25, 1951.  He was only twenty years old.

So let's start with his offense.  During his career the "Say Hey Kid" compiled a slash line of .302/.384/.557 (avg./obp./slg.).  He is eleventh all-time in hits (3,283), fourth in home runs (660), seventh in runs scored (2,062), tenth in RBIs (1,903), and 20th in walks (1,464).  He was a great base runner as well, swiping 338 stolen bases during his career.  If Mays hadn't missed a season and a half due to military duty, he may have broken Babe Ruth's home run record before Hank Aaron.

On defense, Mays was just as much of a force.  He won 12 Gold Glove Awards (in consecutive years) and holds the all-time record for putouts by an outfielder with a total of 7,095.  "The Catch", which took place in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series against the Indians, is the most iconic defensive play in the history of Major League Baseball.  He owns a career fielding percentage of .981.

During his career, Mays appeared in 24 All-Star games.  He won the 1951 Rookie of the Year award, as well as the National League MVP award in 1954 and 1965.  He was the MVP of the All-Star game in 1963 and 1968 (back when players actually played most of the game: he played all nine innings of an All-Star game 11 times).  He was ranked second to Babe Ruth among the 100 greatest baseball players of 20th Century by "The Sporting News" in 1999.  ESPN ranked him eighth in their ranking of the top 50 athletes of the 20th Century.  He will always be remembered as one of the best ever to play the game.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Great Article on Kei Igawa in NY Times

Bill Pennington of the New York Times wrote a great article on Kei Igawa that was published this past Saturday, about Igawa's time in the minor leagues.  In Kei Igawa: The Lost Yankee, Pennington describes the life Igawa currently lives as a secluded pitcher toiling in the minor leagues.  Most of you, myself included, probably assumed that Igawa had gone back to Japan after his disastrous stint with the Yankees.  However, he has been playing out the remainder of his contract for both the AA Trenton Thunder and the AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees.

The Yankees have tried to send him back to Japanese pro teams twice, but Igawa refused the trade both times, instead saying that he still has the dream of pitching in the big leagues and that it is his duty to do his best, no matter the situation.  The article tells the story of a pitcher who still commutes from NYC to minor league games, and who despite his huge contract and lack of success in the bigs, still has a relatively positive outlook (which definitely hides some disappointment).  I definitely recommend that you check the article out, it's worth the read.  Again, here is the link for the article:

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Radical Plan for Realignment

With Bud Selig and the Players Association open to realignment in the game of baseball, the question remains as to what form of realignment would be the best?  The following plan is most certainly more radical than what will actually happen, and many baseball fans probably wouldn’t be excited about a huge change.  However, the following plan will create two even leagues and focus on natural geographic rivalries to create more fun for fans.  

One of the keys to the plan is the addition of two expansion teams, which will even out the two leagues at 16 teams apiece.  If one team was to move over from the NL to the AL, as planned, then the leagues would be even at 15 teams apiece, but there would always be one odd team left out.  There are plenty of cities which are big enough to support a big league ball club: San Antonio, Indianapolis, Portland (Oregon), Memphis, Sacramento, San Jose, or even Las Vegas.  If realignment is going to happen, it would be a good opportunity to expand the big leagues and to even out the NL and AL.

The next step would be to completely redefine the boundaries of the two leagues, in order to create inter-divisional rivalries with teams that are in the same geographic region.  Fans today like interleague play partly because you can watch teams that reside in the same region, but are part of different leagues, compete.  For example, more consistent matchups like Cubs-White Sox, A’s-Giants, and Dodgers-Angels, would create regional hype that would surpass what is seen at the present time during interleague play.  Obviously, the NL and AL as we know it would be destroyed and while it may be best to have no divisions at all, I can’t see leagues without divisions ever getting passed through the Commissioner’s office, the owners and the Players Association.  So, each league would have four divisions with four teams each, all built on geographic location.  For example...

League 1, Northwest Division:
Oakland Athletics
San Francisco Giants
Seattle Mariners
Portland/Sacramento/San Jose Expansion Team

League 1, Pacific Division:
Arizona Diamondbacks
Los Angeles Angels
Los Angeles Dodgers
San Diego Padres

League 1, Southwest Division:
Colorado Rockies
Houston Astros
Texas Rangers
San Antonio/Memphis Expansion Team

League 1, Midwest Division:
Chicago Cubs
Chicago White Sox
Kansas City Royals
St. Louis Cardinals

League 2, Northeast Division:
New York Yankees
Boston Red Sox
Philadelphia Phillies
New York Mets

League 2, North Division:
Detroit Tigers
Milwaukee Brewers
Minnesota Twins
Toronto Blue Jays

League 2, Mideast Division:
Baltimore Orioles
Cincinnati Reds
Cleveland Indians
Pittsburgh Pirates

League 2, South Division:
Atlanta Braves
Florida Marlins
Tampa Bay Rays
Washington Nationals

The best possible playoff system for a realigned league would involve the best four teams from each league reaching the playoffs, but that would involve two leagues without divisions.  With divisions, each division winner would make the playoffs and then anywhere from two to four wildcard teams as well, depending on how many teams Selig and the owners wanted.  Either way, the regular season would need to end earlier in order to accommodate a longer playoff season.

While radical, the preceding plan would work to even out the two leagues and match divisional teams based on geographic rivalries.  Most likely, fans will only see the Astros, Diamondbacks, or Marlins change to the American league.  That will be the extent of realignment, but it may not work as well as a more radical, less popular option.