erik lundegaard

Baseball posts

Sunday October 01, 2017

Good-bye To My Favorite Team of the 21st Century

It's the last day of the 2017 MLB regular season and Joe Posnanski has a nice piece on the final game together for three foundational members of the 2014-15 Kansas City Royals—Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain—all of whom will become free agents, and all of whom helped the Royals, the sad-sackiest team of the 1990s and 2000s, to two pennants and a world championship. These grafs in particular:

Then the Royals drafted Moustakas and Hosmer in back-to-back years, not only because they both had the precious talent that Kansas City lacked (power) but because they seemed confident, cocky even. That cockiness was what Royals general manager Dayton Moore wanted more than anything. He wanted players who would not be drowned by the overwhelming weight of the Royals' longtime awfulness.

“Guys,” Moore told them after they were drafted, “this is YOUR team. I don't want to put pressure on you, but that's how it is. The Royals will go as far as you carry us.”

I recently rewatched the game that really began it all, the 2014 wild card match with the Oakland A's, when the Royals were down by four in the 8th inning, 7-3, then made it 7-6 with runners in scoring position but couldn't tie it. Until the 9th inning when they did. In the 12th the A's went ahead 8-7 but the Royals came back again, scoring two to win it and go on. And on. And on. Sometimes with more insane come-from-behind victories. Sorry, 'Stros. 

Watching that wild-card game again, the thing that struck me was the way Hosmer scored the tying run in the bottom of the 12th—sprawling across the plate ahead of the throw on Christian Colon's high chopper. It looked so much like that iconic moment a year and a month later, when, in Game 5 of the 2015 World Series, Hosmer made his mad dash home to tie the game against the Mets and send it to extras, where the Royals won it all. The Royals' back-to-backs are bookended by these Hosmer mad dashes and sprawling slides.

Is this Royals team my favorite team of the 21st century? I certainly give props to the 2004 Boston Red Sox for their humiliation of the New York Yankees, coming back in unprecedented fashion with an almost carefree manner. M's teams? I always liked the 2000 squad and their surprise run, while the 2001 club, with all of those wins but nothing to show for it, is a little too heart-achey. I've liked the M's the past two years, too, the Robinson Cano/Nelson Cruz-led M's. They've been about as fun as a team who hasn't gotten anywhere could be.

But this Royals team? Man. Speed, defense, the sturdiest bullpen in the world. Forever putting the ball in play. Forever coming from behind. When I was a kid and read about how the St. Louis Cardinals won the 1946 World Series—Enos “Country” Slaughter scoring from first on a single—I could never wrap my head around it. How does anyone score from first on a single? Well, Lorenzo Cain did it twice during the 2015 postseason—including what would be the winning run in the 8th inning of Game 6 of the ALCS to send the Royals to the World Series again, this time against the Mets, the one they would win.

That's all over. It was over before, as Joe mentions, with the depatures of Wade Davis and Johnny Cueto, Ben Zobrist and Jarrod Dyson. But now there's no doubt. 

Godspeed, guys. Just don't sign with the fucking Yankees.

Lorenzo Cain scores from first on a single by Eric Hosmer  

The mark of Cain: 1st to home on a single. 

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Posted at 08:48 PM on Oct 01, 2017 in category Baseball
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Friday September 15, 2017

50+ Homeruns in a Season: By Decade

Giancarlo Stanton

Giancarlo: 54 and counting.

Giancarlo Stanton's pursuit of 60+ homeruns had me looking at the 50+ club all over again.

When I was growing up, it was a magical number that nobody could touch. Killebrew kept hitting 49. Hank Aaron's high was 48. The last guy to do it was Willie Mays in '65, and it seemed like no one would ever do it again—particularly when the Major League high in 1974 was Mike Schmidt's 36. But then George Foster did it in '77 (an expansion year) and ... that was it. Until Cecil Fielder in 1990. For a quarter-century, it was just one guy: George Foster.

Then suddenly it seemed like any old player could do it. By decade:

  • 1920s (4): Babe Ruth (4)
  • 1930s (4): Hack Wilson, Jimmie Foxx (2), Hank Greenberg
  • 1940s (3): Ralph Kiner (2), Johnny Mize
  • 1950s (2): Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle
  • 1960s (3): Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Willie Mays
  • 1970s (1): George Foster
  • 1980s (0):
  • 1990s (12): Cecil Fielder, Albert Belle, Mark McGwire (4), Brady Anderson, Ken Griffey Jr. (2), Sammy Sosa (2), Greg Vaughn
  • 2000s (12): Sammy Sosa (2), Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez (3), Luis Gonzalez, Jim Thome, Andruw Jones, David Ortiz, Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder
  • 2010s (3): Jose Bautista, Chris Davis, Giancarlo Stanton

You know what's fascinating? The first eight guys to hit 50+ HRs in a season—all of whom did it before the leagues expanded in 1961—are in the Hall of Fame: Ruth, Hack Wilson, Foxx, Greenberg, Kiner, Mize, Mays, Mantle. 

Since then, 29 other players have hit 50+ HRs in a season. You know how many of those 29 are in the Hall of Fame? One. Ken Griffey Jr.  

Either they're career stats weren't good enough (Maris, Foster), or they're tainted by PEDs (McGwire, Bonds), or both (Greg Vaughn). 

Other points of interest:

  • The fewest career HRs were a 50-HR guy? No surprise: Brady Anderson with 210. A quarter of the homers in his 15-year career were in 1996. His next-highest single-season total is 24 in 1999.
  • The Fielders bookended the great flurry of 50+ HR seasons: Cecil began it in 1990, Prince, his son, kinda/sorta ended it in 2007.
  • The Fielders retired with the exact same number of career HRs: 319.
  • Mickey Mantle is the only homegrown Yankee to hit 50+ HRs. The other three (Ruth, Maris, A-Rod) were acquired via trade.

Ironically, I now view the 50+ HR season the exact opposite of the way I did as a kid. I don't want to see them. I certainly don't want to see a string of them. I'll worry it's the bullshit of the '90s and '00s all over again.

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Posted at 05:52 AM on Sep 15, 2017 in category Baseball
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Saturday August 12, 2017

No. 11

Edgar Martinez

Our man Edgar: patient at the plate and in life.

On Saturday the Seattle Mariners are finally retiring the number of Edgar Martinez, our beloved 3B/DH, now hitting coach, a future Hall of Famer and a .300/.400/.500 man who knew only one team: us. I've written about him many times. I've also urged the organization to do this very thing for years. There was no reason not to. We treated him shitty, he never left us, he left his mark in the record books. But the Mariners are the Mariners. They keep doing the wrong thing. 

Tonight they'll finally get it right. 

I was going to go to the game, bought tickets, 300-level behind homeplate, but life intervenes. But thoughts go out.

Edgar will be only the second Mariner to have his number retired (after Junior last year), and I'd encourage the team that never listens to someday retire a few others: #51 for both Ichiro and Randy, #34 for Felix, and maybe #19 for Jay Buhner. Others? Moyers' #50?

This is a relatively new phenomenon, by the way. Teams didn't put numbers on players' backs until 1929 (Indians, Yankees), and originally the number was the order in which they batted. That's why #3 for Babe Ruth, #4 for Lou Gehrig. It was to let the fans in the stands know who was who. Since lineups change often, it probably became too difficult to maintain this conceit and things morphed into what they are.

The first retired number was announced on July 4, 1939, Lou Gehrig Day, Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth day, when, with Gehrig suddenly dying of the disease that would bear his name, the Yankees basically announced: “No one is fit to wear this uniform again.” For some reason, the New York Giants retired Carl Hubbel's #11 in 1944, and four years later, Babe Ruth's #3, which seven other Yankees wore after Ruth was cut from the team in '35, was retired on the silver anniversary of Yankee Stadium. A month later, the Giants' retired Mel Ott's #4.

In general, particularly in the early days, retired numbers were reserved for either great players (DiMaggio in '52) or men dying young (Fred Hutchinson of the Reds in '64, Jim Umbricht of the Astros in '65). Don't see much of the latter anymore.

The '70s were the decade when the phenomenon really took off:

  • 1930s: 1
  • 1940s: 3
  • 1950s: 4
  • 1960s: 8
  • 1970s: 29

The last year when no numbers were retired? 1981. That awful strike-shortened, dual season year. The year I graduated high school.

This year, the following numbers have already been retired: #20 for the Indians (Frank Robinson), #34 for the Red Sox (David Ortiz), #56 for the White Sox (Mark Buehrle), and #2 for the Yankees (Derek Somethingorother). Now add Edgar. About time. He's been patient. He's been as patient with the Mariners as he was with every pitcher he ever saw.

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Posted at 05:20 AM on Aug 12, 2017 in category Baseball
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Wednesday August 02, 2017

The Curious Case of Frank Verdi, Yankees Shortstop

Apparently there are other Moonlight Grahams besides Moonlight Graham. 

For the non-baseball fan: Archibald Wright “Moonlight” Graham (1877-1965) was made famous by W.P. Kinsella, who included him in his novella “Shoeless Joe,” which was made into the 1988 hit movie “Field of Dreams.” Graham was the country doctor (Burt Lancaster), who, as a young man (Frank Whaley), made it to the bigs for exactly one game with the New York Giants in 1905. He was a defensive sub who never got to the plate so his career batting line looks like this: 1 G, 0 PA, 0 AB, 0 H, 0 R, 0 2B, 0 3B, etc. Basically a 1 with a lot of zeroes after it. He was a ghost—there and not. 

Frank Verdi, Yankees SS

As Casey said, you can look it up.

Turns out he's not the only ghost. The other day I was checking out retired numbers on Baseball Reference (don't ask) and was curious who else wore #44 for the Yankees (subsequently retired for Reggie Jackson). Turns out six other guys did, including, in 1953, Frank Verdi, shortstop. His career batting line? 1 G, 0 PA, 0 AB, 0 H, 0 R, 0 2B, 0 3B, etc. He was there and not. He was a ghost. 

But the great thing about Baseball Reference? You can find that game in the modern era. It was May 10, 1953, and the Yankees were down to the Red Sox in Boston 3-1 in the top of the 6th. But then McDougal and Martin singled, Silvera sacrificed them over, and future Hall of Famer Johnny Mize, in his last year in the bigs, pinch-hitting for pitcher Allie Reynolds, hit a sac fly for a run. Two outs, Martin on second. So Casey (yes, that Casey), pinch-hits again: Joe Collins for his leadoff hitter and shortstop Phil Rizzuto. Why pinch-hit for the leadoff man? Casey was probably playing the percentages, as Casey was wont to do. Sox pitcher Sid Hudson threw right, Rizzuto batted right, Collins batted left. A better shot. And Casey was not throwing away his shot.

But Collins grounded to short. 

Now Stengel needed a new shortstop (Collins played 1st) and that's when he tapped #44, Frank Verdi. What was Verdi doing on the team at this point? Who knows? He'd had some good years in the minors, hitting over .300 for the Binghamton Triplets in 1950 and '52. When had they brought him up? And why? And how excited/nervous was he to trot out and field practice grounders and then set up behind Vic Raschi in the bottom of the 6th at Fenway Park? It was an easy inning, 1, 2, 3—ground out to third, fly out to center, strikeout—and Verdi jogged back to the dugout with the rest of the team. He didn't know it, but that was it for him. 

If the Yankees hadn't rallied, would that have been it? Good question. In the top of the 7th, Hudson got two quick outs, then gave up back-to-back singles to Mantle and Woodling. So in came Ellis Kinder ... who gave up a single and a double, and the Yanks took the lead 5-3. Then Kinder intentionally walked Silvera to get to the pitcher, Raschi, because that's what you do. But Raschi drew a walk to load the bases. 

Those intentional walks will kill you. They certainly killed Verdi's chances.

If Raschi had struck out, say, I'm sure Casey would've left Verdi in the game, and he would've led off the next inning and probably gotten his chance at the plate. But now the bases were loaded with two outs, and the Yanks had a chance to bust the game wide open. Casey took it. He told Verdi to sit and tapped Bill Rena to pinch-hit. Playing the percentages again, right? Nope. The new pitcher, Ken Holcombe, was a righty, as was Verdi, as was Rena. But at the time, Rena was hitting .353 in a limited role so maybe that's what decided it for Casey. 

And Rena grounded to third to end the inning.

Verdi (one assumes): Hell, I could've done that. 

Just think of the moment for a second. The Yanks were beyond powerhouses. They had won the last four World Series in a row, which only one other team, the 1936-39 Yankees, had ever done. It was early in the season. They were 14-7 and held a 1/2 game lead in the American League over perennial second-placers Cleveland. They were winning this game, 5-3. And Casey was still making moves like it was D-Day. He gave the kid a chance and then took it away: one game, no at-bats, no plate appearances, no chances in the field. There and not. A ghost. 

Baseball Reference has more on Verdi here. He's got his own Wiki page, too. Could a novel be far behind? Or, given the name, an opera?

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Posted at 05:53 AM on Aug 02, 2017 in category Baseball
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Sunday July 30, 2017

3,000 for Beltre

3,000 for Beltre

The 31st member of the 3,000 hit club

The last three guys to reach 3,000 hits all have one thing in common besides the obvious: They all played for the Seattle Mariners but didn't break the record with the Seattle Mariners: A Rod did it in June 2015 with the Yankees, Ichiro did it last year with the Marlins, and today Adrian Beltre did it with the Texas Rangers. It's the first time someone got their 3,000th in a Texas uni. 

Another interesting note: None of the three did it with a single. A-Rod went deep, Ichiro legged out a triple, Adrian got a two-bagger: 4, 3, 2. Apparently the next one (Pujols, at 2,911) will be a single.

Actually this is part of a deeper trend when it comes to 3,000 hits. For the first 100 years or so, 1897 (when Cap Anson did it) to 1995 (Eddie Murray), 15 of the 20 guys, or 75%, got there with a single. The other five were all doubles. Since then we've had 11 more join the club, and only three of them, or 27%, did it with a single. We've also had three HRs, two triples, and now three doubles. 

Not that far back, my friend Jim and I were commenting that if not for his *meh* years with the Mariners, Beltre might have been a Hall of Famer. He came in here gangbusters and after he left he was gangbusters again. But with us, in what should have been his prime years, he hit 20 points below his current career batting average, and slugged 61 points below his current career slugging percentage. Then he kept on, and Jim and I realized he was going into the Hall despite the shitty Mariner years. Good for him. 

So who else is up after Pujols? Maybe Carlos Beltran? He's got 2,695, but he's 40 and is currently hitting .237 with a .697 OPS. He'll have to claw his way there. Miggy (34, 2,603) seems a lock. The next in line after him? Our own Robinson Cano, 34, and sitting on 2,309. After this season we've got him for another six seasons. If he holds on, and we hold onto him, he could be the first guy to do it in an M's uniform. Would be a nice change of pace. 

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Posted at 02:29 PM on Jul 30, 2017 in category Baseball
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