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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Ramble On Podcast: What to Make of Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval Signing with the Boston Red Sox

Check out the current edition of the Ramble On podcast with myself and Ron Juckett as we discuss the recent acquisition of free agents Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval by the Boston Red Sox. We also debate whether or not we think Jon Lester makes a return to Beantown.

Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate!

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Pokey Reese Perseveres: The Baseball Historian's Notes for the Week of November 23, 2014

Baseball free agency kicked off in high gear with catcher Russell Martin inking a lucrative long-term deal with the Toronto Blue Jays. The signing not only indicates that the Jays are in it to win it in 2015, but that there should be plenty of cash flowing around over the next few months. It used to be that only a few select teams would be serious spenders, but these days there is much more parity when it comes to who dips into the available talent pool.

Now, let’s move on to the notes for the week.

*Unbelievably, former pitcher Dwight “Doc” Gooden recently turned 50. A teenaged phenom who came up with the New York Mets in the mid-1980s, the right-hander had an excellent career, but one that was stunted because of off-field issues. The Studious Metsimus Blog takes a look at how he was able to persevere despite his troubles.

At the age of 20, Gooden was an incredible 24-4 with a 1.53 ERA with the Mets in 1985, winning the Cy Young. While he had other strong seasons, he never approached that level of dominance again. His career spanned 16 years with five teams, and he accumulated a 194-112 record and 3.51 ERA. However, given his struggles with substance abuse, the way he finished out strongly (including winning the 2000 World Series with the New York Yankees in his final season) is a testament to his redemption.

*Sadly, it seems every week there is at least one death of a current or former ballplayer to report. Most recently, Ray Sadecki passed away at the age of 73. During an 18-year major league career that spanned 1960-1977 with six different teams, the left-handed pitcher was a combined 135-131 with a 3.78 ERA. His best season came in 1964, as he went 20-11 with a 3.68 ERA for the St. Louis Cardinals. That culminated in him winning one of his two starts in that year’s World Series, as his team edged the New York Yankees four games to three.

Sadecki was perhaps best known for being traded in 1966 by the Cardinals to the San Francisco Giants straight up for slugging future Hall-of-Famer Orlando Cepeda, who at the time was at the peak of his career.

*Moe Berg was a nondescript journeyman backup catcher for 15 major league seasons from 1923-1939. He hit just .243 with six home runs during that time in just a total of 1,813 at-bats. He was better known for his intellect, multiple Ivy League degrees and later his reputation as an international spy. That’s right; he was literally an international man of mystery in addition to his work on the baseball diamond. This podcast is an hour of all things Moe Berg for anyone wanting to know about this fascinating character from the game’s past.

*During an eight-year major league career, infielder Pokey Reese was best known for his cool name and super slick glove. He hit a combined .248 with 44 home runs, 271 RBIs, 144 stolen bases and two Gold Glove Awards for the Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates and Boston Red Sox. Interestingly, his last game as a big leaguer was the clinching Game 4 of the 2004 World Series, as the Red Sox took home their first championship in 86 years.

Despite his commendable career, nothing has come easy for Reese, who has experienced a good deal of tragedy. Now ten years removed from a major league roster, he is the subject of an excellent profile by The State’s Neil White.

*Hall-of-Famer Paul Molitor was recently hired as the newest manager of the Minnesota Twins. Prior to that, he was one of the best hitters baseball has ever seen—no thanks to the umpires. Following a disputed call in 1995, he was ejected by Al Clark, who filed the following mandatory report detailing the incident. It’s quite an interesting read, but if you really like it, you can actually buy it through an auction. It’s never too early to be on the lookout for holiday gift ideas!

*A hat tip to @RonJuckett for the following tidbit. A recent piece in Golf Digest by W.G. Ramirez details golfer Jeff Flagg winning the 2014 World Long Drive Championship at the Las Vegas Paiute Golf Resort. What brings this back to baseball is that prior to smashing drives down the fairways, he was crushing balls as a professional ballplayer.

Flagg was a 2008 27th-round draft choice of the New York Mets. He played a total of five seasons as a first baseman in the minors and with independent league teams, hitting a combined .247 with 58 home runs. His best season was his last, as he hit .248 with 20 homers and 83 RBIs in 96 games for the Traverse City Beach Bums of the Frontier League in 2012.

*Here’s a really classic black and white photo of Mickey Mantle at old Yankee Stadium.
*And here are some photos of old baseball stadiums back when they were in their glory. It is worth a watch, especially for anyone who reminisces about the “good old days.”

*The 125th anniversary of the formation of the Players League, an attempt at a player-run professional baseball league that folded after its lone season of 1890, just passed. Deadspin’s W.M. Akers nails a profile of the efforts of players, led by shortstop and lawyer John Montgomery Ward, to create something that would allow them to play the game professionally, but not under the thumb of penny-pinching owners.

Ward, who is enshrined in the Hall of Fame, is one of the most interesting yet relatively unknown figures in baseball history. In addition to being an outstanding player, he was also an intellect and social figure (even marrying a Broadway actress). In 1885 he founded the Brotherhood of American Base Ball Players, in an attempt to unionize players. Although it eventually petered out, it was a genesis for the powerful MLB players’ union that operates today.

*Slugger Dick Allen was known for his prodigious power, cracking 351 home runs in a 15-year major league career. The right-handed hitter could park them no matter where he was playing. What made his feats all the more impressive was the tree trunk-esque bats he swung. This short video clip is of Allen describing the 42-ounce lumber he would bring to the plate. The kind of torque it takes to turn around a 90+ MPH fastball is one thing, but it is another thing entirely altogether when doing it with such a heavy cudgel.

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Tyler Hill: Catching Up With the Boston Red Sox's Toolsy Outfield Prospect

When you are young player in the Boston Red Sox’s organization, you are immediately under the microscope. So rabid is the fan base that the progress of the rosters of the various minor league teams are followed much more closely than you might expect. Not all prospects enter the system with great fanfare but can build that up as they proceed with their development. Outfielder Tyler Hill is in that boat, and having just begun his career, is about to have the spotlight shone on him more than your average minor leaguer.

The 18-year-old right-handed hitter attended Delaware Military Academy in Wilmington. As a senior, he hit an impressive .432 with six home runs and earned a place with nearby Wilmington University. However, an opportunity in professional baseball came knocking and he answered the bell.

The Red Sox made Hill their 19th-round selection in the 2014 draft, clearly enamored by the potential of the toolsy outfielder. At least one scouting report indicated the youngster checks all the boxes when it comes to his projectability as a hitter, power potential, speed, defense and throwing ability.

After signing, Hill was assigned to the Gulf Coast League. Raw players of his age are seldom rushed, and this was no exception. He got just seven hitless at-bats over four games but had his first taste of the professional game and will undoubtedly be ready to open things up in 2015.

I had the pleasure of recently catching up with Hill and asking him some questions about his career. Keep reading for more, and if you would like to follow him and see how he does in the coming years, you can also find him on Twitter.

Tyler Hill Interview:

Who was your favorite team and player when you were growing up, and why?: Ironically, I have always been a fan of David Ortiz. The emotion he brings to the game and the impact of his leadership he displays is really how the game is supposed to be played in my opinion. My uncle was always a Yankees fan but I loved the way the Sox worked. From the beards, to the characters that have been through the organization, those things have just always caught my eye.

How did attending a military academic in high school prepare you for a career in professional sports?: Delaware Military Academy benefited myself not only in professional baseball but just life. Self-discipline, leadership, and respect were the core values we were taught, and although some people had trouble with going through with it for four years, I looked at it in a positive way because it really did make me a better person. I can also thank my parents for that because I thought it would be a struggle going to a military high school but it wasn't too bad. I'm thankful I have a great family that guides me day in and day out.

How difficult was it to choose between starting your baseball career and attending college at Wilmington University?: My decision between Wilmington and pro ball was very difficult. Although playing at home with Wilmington would have been great, I would tell myself there's no guarantee in three years that I would be sitting in the same position I was this past June. Coach August runs the best college program in Delaware in my opinion, so it was very tough turning him down. He is a great guy and understood the position I was in. Another factor that made it tough was that when watching WU play, it looked like a big brotherhood and it reminded me of football, and being a part of that would have been a great feeling. However, I just felt like I was ready to take that big risk and start my career.

How did you first find out that the Red Sox were interested in you, and what was your draft experience like?: I met Chris Calciano at a workout at All Star Baseball Academy in the fall. I introduced myself and he was throwing some batting practice, and soon after I got an email from him with a questionnaire attached. I was very excited to see this, especially because the Sox were my favorite team. It was a dream come true getting picked up by the Red Sox.

The draft process was honestly stressful for me from hearing different numbers and rounds I was projected and things along those lines; I was sort of lost. The first two days of the draft were miserable, but when I heard my name called on that third day, it was like the days before never even happened. The pure joy on the faces of my family really captivated me on that day. I was so excited to get things started.

What is your favorite moment from your first professional season with the Gulf Coast League?: Without a doubt my favorite moment from my first year of professional ball was winning the GCL championship. Despite myself getting hurt and not being able to play much, I have never been a part of something like that, especially at this level. You could definitely tell that we were gonna finish the year out on a high note. Everyone had each others’ back and you could feel that brotherhood-like atmosphere all around the facility.

What is the one part of your game that you hope to improve on the most?: I will always look to improve my game in all aspects, but I just need more repetitions in the outfield so I can feel more comfortable since this was my first full year out there after being a catcher all my life.

Who is one pitcher from any time in baseball history that you would like to face, and how would you approach the at-bat?: I think I would like to face Mariano Rivera, one of the greatest of all time. I would probably just think middle and look for a single because there's most likely someone in scoring position and that run is probably huge, but I wouldn't try to do too much and would stay within myself.

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Time Babe Ruth Fought a Wall and Lost: The Baseball Historian's Notes for the Week of November 16, 2014

Baseball has always stood strong when one of its own passes away. This was proven during the untimely death of St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Oscar Tavarez during the World Series last month. Tavarez and his girlfriend were killed in a horrific car accident in his homeland of the Dominican Republic. However, the most recent update is that the former top prospect was severely intoxicated at the time of the crash.

While the loss of these two young people will rightfully be continued to be mourned for some time to come, perhaps it will not be in vain. The best possible outcome of this tragedy is using it as a springboard to educate both professional ballplayers and fans alike on the dangers of operating vehicles while impaired. It looks like the Cardinals are already on this path. If this can prevent even one person in the future from making the same mistake some good will come out of all this.

Now, on to the notes for the week…

*Graham Womack over at Baseball Past and Present has done it again. The talented writer and researcher published his list of the 25-most important figures in baseball history. Over 250 voters participated in the project and made their picks from among the titans of the game, both current and those from the past. Some selections and placements may surprise you, while others may not. One spoiler I will give you is that Ned Yost did not make the list; at least not this year.

*Boston Red Sox television announcers Jerry Remy and Don Orsillo have been a dynamic duo for a number of years. Their camaraderie not only provides for excellent game narrative but also the likelihood of hijinks in the booth. This clip from a 2014 game against the Chicago Cubs caught the unusual situation of Remy losing a tooth during the contest, and he and his partner’s ensuing conversation regarding what he should do about it. Hint; it involved a bit of do-it-yourself dentistry.

*Another baseball passing to report in former Oakland Athletics’ first baseman Kelvin Moore, according to the Idaho Statesman. The 57-year-old played parts of three seasons for Oakland from 1981-83, appearing in a total of 76 regular season games. He hit a combined .223 with eight home runs and 25 RBIs, and chipped in two singles in 16 at-bats during the 1981 playoffs. He was much more successful as a minor leaguer during his career, with a .288 batting average and 132 home runs in eight years. He leaves behind a wife and three children.

*Getting to sit next to an athlete during a flight is something many fans talk about but rarely experience. The Washington Times’ Todd Dybas had that rare opportunity when he had Los Angeles Dodgers legendary speedster Maury Wills as a seatmate on a trip to Phoenix. The chance encounter led to a broad discussion of his career and battle with alcoholism among other things.

Wills, who had 586 career stolen bases, including leading the National League in the category six consecutive seasons from 1960-65 is one of the more underappreciated stars from a bygone era. Now 82, reading some of his reflections is an interesting reminder about his place in the history of the game.

*Slugging Hall-of-Famer Babe Ruth was known for slamming balls over outfield walls. Unfortunately, there was also at least one time where he tried to go through a wall himself. This photograph shows an unconscious Bambino after a collision while chasing a fly ball against the Washington Senators in a game that occurred on July 5, 1924 while he was with the New York Yankees. In a nod to a different time, Ruth actually stayed in the game, going 3-for-3. He even played later that day in the second game of a double-header, and played in 153 of 154 regular season games on the year, leading the league with a .378 batting average and 46 homers.

*Major League Baseball was recently on tour in Japan, parading a team of decidedly average players abroad. This is far from a new practice, as squads have been playing exhibition games in the Land of the Rising Sun for the better part of a century. A major difference is that those teams used to be comprised of many All-Star and Hall-of-Fame caliber players. This collection of clips contains some of the home movies of Hall-of-Fame slugger Jimmie Foxx, who was part of the 1934 tour. An excellent book on that subject is Robert Fitts’ Banzai Babe Ruth, which goes into great detail about that year’s 18-game tilt and the experiences of the star-studded roster (including Foxx, Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Connie Mack among others).

*Former player and manager Alvin Dark has passed away at the age of 92. Primarily a shortstop, he had a 14-year playing career with five teams from 1946-1960, with his best years coming with the New York Giants. He compiled career marks of a .289 batting average, 126 home runs and 757 RBIs—star numbers for a player at his position at the time. He also made three All-Star teams and played in three World Series (his 1954 Giants squad winning his only ring as a player). After hitting .322 with the Boston Braves in 1948, he was named the National League’s Rookie of the Year.

Following his playing days, Dark skippered for 13 seasons with five different teams. He had a career record of 994-954 and won the 1962 pennant with the San Francisco Giants and the 1974 World Series with the Oakland Athletics.

*Finally, yet another reminder of how much the game has changed over the years. This clip of Kansas City Royals’ Hal McRae taking out the Yankees’ Willie Randolph to break up a double play in Game 2 of the 1977 ALCS is something you would never see today. Calling McRae’s play a hard slide would be like categorizing a Bazooka as a water pistol. More reminiscent of something that might be seen in the WWE, this shows just how far baseball has come in the past generation when it comes to rough levels of play and decreasing aggressive play.

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew