Baseball postsFriday April 17, 2009
A gentle reminder to Yankees fans everywhere that, as of this moment, their team is the losingest team in the history of New Yankee Stadium. Yesterday afternoon, in their $1.6 billion stadium debut, they got drubbed by the Cleveland Indians, 10-2. Some firsts at the new park:
- First pitch: by C.C. Sabathia, a ball, at 1:09 PM eastern time
- First batter: Grady Sizemore, groundout to first
- First strikeout: Victor Martinez, by Sabathia, in the top of the 1st
- First Yankees batter: Derek Jeter, fly out to center
- First basehit: Johnny Damon, single, bottom of the 1st
- First extra-base hit: Ben Francisco,Cle., double in the top of the 2nd
- First run: Ben Francisco,Cle., who scored from first on a two-out double by Kelly Shoppach in the top of the 4th
- First homerun: Jorge Posada, NY, nobody on, bottom of the 5th
- First grand slam: Grady Sizemore in the top of the 7th
Not exactly names that might ring through the ages, right? Francisco is 27 and his double was the 38th of his career. Shoppach is 28 and the RBI was the 103rd of his career.
The inning was so bad that by the end of it, some fans shouted, “We want Swisher!” — as in Nick Swisher, the outfielder who tossed a scoreless inning in a blowout at Tampa Bay on Monday.
May the streak continue.
Welcome to my favorite day of the year. Here are your active career leaders, with all-time rankings in parentheses:
- Games: Omar Vizquel, Tex.: 2680 (30th)
- At-Bats: Omar Vizquel, Tex.: 9745 (30th)
- Runs: Ken Griffey, Jr., Sea.: 1612 (39th)
- Hits: Ken Griffey, Jr. Sea.: 2680 (58th)
- Doubles: Ivan Rodriguez, Hou.: 524 (34th)
- Triples: Johnny Damon, NYY: 92 (193th) — second place, only two behind, is Jimmy Rollins, Phi., who was 29 years old last season.
- Home Runs: Ken Griffey, Jr., Sea.: 611 (5th)
- RBIs: Ken Griffey, Jr., Sea.: 1772 (18th)
- Walks: Jim Thome, CWS: 1550 (15th)
- Strikeouts: Jim Thome, CWS: 2190 (3rd)
- Stolen Bases: Juan Pierre, LA: 429 (56th)
- Caught Stealing: Omar Vizquel, Tex.: 156 (19th)
- Batting Average: Albert Pujols, Stl: .334 (20th)
- On-Base Percentage: Todd Helton, Col.: .428 (10th)
- Slugging Percentage: Albert Pujols, Stl: .623 (4th)
- Games: Trevor Hoffman, Mil: 930 (18th)
- Games Started: Tom Glavine, Atl.: 682 (11th)
- Complete Games: Randy Johnson, SF: 100 (395th)
- Shutouts: Randy Johnson, SF: 37 (58th)
- Innings Pitched: Tom Glavine, Atl.: 4413 (29th)
- Hits: Tom Glavine, Atl.: 4298 (24th)
- Walks: Tom Glavine, Atl.: 1500 (12th)
- Strikeouts: Randy Johnson, SF: 4789 (2nd)
- Wins: Tom Glavine, Atl.: 305 (21st)
- Losses: Tom Glavine, Atl.: 203 (43rd)
- Saves: Trevor Hoffman, Mil.: 554 (1st) — Mariano Rivera is second, 72 behind.
- ERA (5 yrs. minimum): Mariano Rivera, NYY: .228 (17th)
Some quick observations:
1) A lot of 1990s Mariners on the list. Would that they’d stayed together to win something. Or one thing.
2) A quarter of the traditional pitching categories are negative (hits, walks, losses), while only 2/15 of the traditional batting categories are (strikeouts, caught stealing). Seems like a raw deal for pitchers. But I guess the options for positive results from a batter (single, double, triple, homer) are so much more varied than for a pitcher (out, strikeout). Still, seems odd to tabulate the number of hits a pitcher gives up and a batter gets, but not the number of outs for both. I’ve been a fan of the game most of my life and I never realized this?
3) Jim Thome leads all active players in both strikeouts and walks, and has 541 career homeruns. Meaning in only about half (52%) of his 9029 plate appearances did the ball land in an area where a fielder had a shot at it. Wonder where he ranks in this non-category?
4) Whenever anyone talks about unbreakable career records in baseball and doesn’t mention triples (for batters) and complete games (for pitchers)? They don’t know what they’re talking about.
5) Play ball!
Two Hoots for Junior
So while I was gabbing about the Oscars this week, the Seattle Mariners, a team that has no shot at any kind of post-season, and barely a shot at a season, went and signed favorite son Ken Griffey, Jr. Good. There are sound arguments against the signing, that it's a move made with the heart and not the head, but baseball's always been a game of the heart. You lose that, you lose something fundamental about the game. Sure, I probably wouldn't say this if the M's had a chance in hell this year but they don't. They're not even in a quote-unquote “rebuiliding year” since they don't have much to rebuild with. This is the year, if anything, to test whether Jeff Clement can be a major league catcher, and if he can't whether he can be a major league first baseman, and if he can't whether he can be a major league left fielder, and the Griffey signing, if everyone understands their role, doesn't get in the way of this. My favorite argument in favor of the signing comes from ESPN's Jim Caple, who writes:
I don't understand the criticism that signing Griffey is primarily a move to boost attendance. Yeah, gee, we sure wouldn't want to give loyal fans who have sat through so many miserable seasons something actually worth watching in exchange for their $40 tickets and $8 beers.
Right on. Here's another trip down memory lane. The following was published on the Op-Ed page of The Seattle Post-Intelligencer in May 1995 after Ken Griffey, Jr. fractured his wrist catching a fly ball at the Kingdome. We never got to that magical 700 number I hoped for, but 600+ ain't bad.
Two Hoots for Junior
Feel free to tell me to get a life.
I returned to baseball four years ago with what I thought was an adult attitude about the game. No matter if my team won or lost I kept things in perspective. Randy Johnson strikes out fifteen guys, I'm still working the same job. Edgar Martinez injures his ankle, I've still got the same problems, the same goals, the same friends, the same enemies. Nothing about my life has changed except this or that vicarious victory or defeat.
It's an attitude I later found summed up in the film, “A Bronx Tale.” A boy is depressed because Mickey Mantle and the New York Yankees lost the 1960 World Series to the Pittsburgh Pirates. A local mob boss — who has befriended the kid — tells him, Hey, you think Mickey Mantle gives two hoots about you? He doesn't care about you. He doesn't even know you exist!
That's the way I felt. I wanted the Mariners to win, but I knew Lou Pinella didn't give two hoots about me. I knew he didn't know I existed. I was properly, emotionally distant
Until this Griffey thing happened.
I was at the game. My friend Mike and I were sitting in the box seats in right field, past the visitors' bullpen. We had a perfect view. I saw him go for the ball. I saw him crash into the wall. And, contrary to Steve Kelley's subsequent reporting, the stadium did not hush; there was no “sickened silence” from the Kingdome crowd. The people around me were cheering like maniacs. I know because a sickened silence came upon me. I thought, “Nobody — not even Junior — slams into a wall with such speed, at such an awkward angle, without doing damage to himself.”
Still, the people around me were going nuts. Of course these were the same kind of people who make the “whup! whooo!” noise when the opposition relievers warm up — the kind of people, in other words, who don't even pay attention to the game — so I didn't pay any attention to them.
Then right fielder Alex Diaz started making a circular motion with his hand as if some big deal was going on. At first I thought he was encouraging the fans in their cheering, and, reluctantly, I went along. Then I realized, no, he was calling for the trainer.
Earlier in the game, Griffey hit a homer off the right field foul pole above our heads. It was his 998th career hit. Since I already had tickets for the next night's game — and since Junior was in a groove — I felt assured of seeing him hit no. 1,000.
In the eighth inning we got the news. Fractured wrist. Out for three months. It was like a blow to the solar plexus. A pall was cast over the game. I didn't even want to go to the Kingdome the next evening. It would be like returning to the scene of a crime.
I tried to keep my emotional distance. I repeated my mantra. My life is the same. Same job, same troubles, same goals. Ken Griffey Jr. doesn't give two hoots about me. He doesn't know I exist. He is a multi-millionaire seven years my junior. We have nothing in common.
Still I cared.
And I think I cared for three reasons.
The first is the way he injured himself. If he had fractured his wrist, say, playing basketball, or slipping in the shower, I would've rolled my eyes. But no. He injured it trying to fly. He injured it for the team. He injured it right in front of me.
The second reason is the effect it will have not so much on the Mariners but on the perception of the Mariners. I know we still have a good line-up. I know we'll still win. But Junior gave us something else. He actually made the Mariners scary. He was the constant roadblock in our lineup. You have to get by this guy in order to beat us.
More, he made us glamorous. Last year, when Mike was at Wrigley Field, two kids in Cubs hats found out he was from Seattle. “You mean you get to watch Ken Griffey Jr. play?” they asked enviously. Mike said it was the first time anyone actually envied him for going to the Kingdome.
Finally, the third reason. A couple of seasons ago I began keeping my ticket stubs and writing on the back not just the final score but any significant events that occurred. Randy Johnson strikes out fifteen Royals. Jay Buhner hits for the cycle. Things like that. The impetus for this — I can now admit — was to keep track of how many Ken Griffey Jr. homeruns I had seen (14, so far). And the reason this statistic was important was, well, these were historic homeruns. Because he was going to hit a lot of them. 500. 600. 700? The sky seemed the limit.
Now the sky has fallen. Tiles one year and the sky the next.
Now there's a metal plate and six screws holding together his valuable left wrist.
Now I find myself caring a little too much about a guy who hit homeruns too much and caught fly balls too well.
And now if you'll excuse me I'll go get a life.
Hall of Fame Links
A batch of fun articles on ESPN.com yesterday about Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice being elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by (lest we forget) the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA). How great that the most prestigious awards in our national pastime — Hall of Fame, MVP, Cy Young — are doled out by observers rather than participants? Image, for example, the most prestigious film award being that scroll from the National Society of Film Critics.
How good was Rickey? He was, according to Tim Kurkjian’s article, “too good.” Kurkjian gives us the stats but this is the one I like: The career stolen-base gap between Henderson in first place (1,406) and Lou Brock in second (938) is 468 — which is more than the entire total for the active leader, Juan Pierre (429).
Great quotes from pitchers, too. Here’s Mike Flanagan:
“He was, by far, the most dynamic leadoff hitter I've ever seen. If you got 2-0 on him, you were fearful of throwing it down the middle because he could hit a home run. But if you threw ball three, he was going to walk, and then he's on second base. We had many, many long discussions on our pitching staff about how we could control this guy. He was irritating, infuriating and great.”Tom Candiotti is less diplomatic:
“I hated Rickey. Really, I couldn't stand him. He never swung at my knuckleball, he never swung at my curveball. He never swung until he got two strikes. He had the strike zone the size of a coffee can.”Rob Neyer returns to that career stolen-base record and argues why no one will ever break it. He keeps drilling down. Active leader Juan Pierre is 31 percent of the way to Rickey’s record but he’s also 31 years old. Next on the list is Omar Vizquel, who’s 41. Among young speedsters, Jose Reyes, is 25 with 290 steals. During the last four years he’s averaged 65 steals per season, and to catch Henderson, Neyer writes, “all Reyes has to do is continue stealing 65 bases per season … for another 17 seasons.” Last season Reyes stole 56 bases so he’s already off the mark. So Neyer creates a fictional speedster and tells us what he’ll have to do. He’ll have to arrive in the majors early, steal a lot early, last 20 seasons, and average 70 steals per season for those 20 seasons. The catch? “In the first nine seasons of this new century, only two players — Reyes and Scott Podsednik — have managed to steal 70 bases in even one season.”
Finally, it’s worthwhile to check out Neyer’s arguments against Jim Rice and for Tim Raines, not because I necessarily agree — I haven’t crunched the numbers — but as a reminder of how difficult it is to measure quality. Few industries are as meritocratic as baseball. Entire professions — scouts and coaches — have been created to judge and aid excellence in baseball. Then there are the numbers players leave behind. We know their quality by their quantity: 1,406; 755; 511; .366. And yet we still have these arguments. Most industries don’t nurture talent so systematically, and there are no numbers. We’re forced to rely on other means. These means. Imagine baseball with no scouts and no stats and you have some idea how the rest of the world is working.