Top 100 Baseball Blog

Monday, February 19, 2018

Boston Red Sox Finally Get Their Man with Sensible J.D. Martinez Contract

Good things come to those who wait. After literally waiting him out for months, the Boston Red Sox are bringing free agent slugger J.D. Martinez into the fold just as spring training opens. Not only have they landed arguably their top off-season target, they have done so on more or less their terms, which is a rarity for teams in today’s game.

It is reported that Martinez’s contract is a five year pact worth $110 million. He will get $50 million the first two years and then has opt-out options after the second and third years. Although free agency was undeniably slow this year—to the point that there have been whispers of collusion, there is no denying that this deal is an incredibly strong move for Boston.

The 30-year-old right-handed hitting Martinez is coming off a career year where he hit a combined .303 with 45 home runs and 104 RBIs in 119 games with the Detroit Tigers and Arizona D-Backs. He brings a major sense of swagger and power to a Boston lineup that has sorely missed those identities since the retirement of the iconic David Ortiz.

The invitingly close left field wall at Fenway Park serves to have dreams of possibilities dance through the heads of Boston fans, knowing Martinez’s ability to hit the long ball. The rival New York Yankees may have a virtual brigade of power, but Boston’s free-agent pick up may serve to unite an already talented offense they have of young players ranging from Mookie Betts to Rafael Devers.

Martinez’s major question mark is health. He has appeared in more than 123 games in a season just once (2015) in his seven year career. That being said, his greatest value to the Red Sox will be if the only time he steps on the field for the team is with a bat in his hands. For as talented as he is with the lumber, his defense can be aptly summed up as offensive. Nearly all numbers suggest that he provides significantly negative value as an outfielder—a position where the team is already well-stocked.

It was rumored that Martinez and his agent Scott Boras were looking for a contract in the neighborhood of eight years and $200 million. Counter reports always indicated that Boston was not budging off five years and $110 million. Given that the Red Sox essentially got their man without upping their offer (not that the opt-outs aren’t a significant concession if he lights the world on fire), this is a major win for the team.

The Red Sox are playing up front for potential, to the tune of $50 million over the first two years. If he is a complete bust and decides not to opt out, the $60 million they owe him the remaining three years is a bit more palatable than some of the mega deals that teams have swung and missed on. If he continues his star play and checks on the open market after two years, it still allows Boston to take a gut check and see how badly they still want a player who will be entering his age-33 season.

The signing effectively pushed the disappointing (both in health and in results) Hanley Ramirez to a likely platoon at first base with Mitch Moreland. Ramirez, who will be paid $22.75 million in the last year of his contract (barring a vesting option for 2019 that will kick in with 497 plate appearances this year) is decent insurance unless he is used as a chip to flip for another team’s albatross contract.

Martinez, who has hit 51 home runs in his last 162 regular season games, is a welcome addition to the Red Sox. After months of Boston posturing and making like they didn’t need the slugger that much, they pulled the trigger and inked the man that they actually needed most. For a team that won 93 games last year despite a decided lack of power and some chemistry issues, the only way is up. Martinez and his potential to put an offense on his back is the rocket fuel that could propel the team back into serious championship contention. Time to play ball.

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Sunday, February 18, 2018

Jackie Robinson: Revisiting an Interview With a Baseball and Civil Rights Legend

The age of the internet is a blessing in that it allows for the preservation of so many primary sources—the collection of video, audio and written materials from our past. This is particularly important to baseball history, where there is so much to keep track of.

On April 14, 1957, legendary player and civil rights activist Jackie Robinson appeared on a radio/television broadcast of Meet the Press, less than a year removed from his final major league game. The Library of Congress has a transcript of his appearance, which covered a number of topics. I will share some of the parts I found most interesting, along with some of my own commentary in italics.

When asked if he thought baseball team owners were interested only in money and if they treated players like “pawns and chattel”: “I can't say it is completely true, no. I think in most cases many of the club owners do have the thinking of the ball players in their hearts, but there are many, many instances where ball players are moved around. What the answer to eliminate it is, I don't know.”

This may well be a generous take by Robinson, who was traded to the New York Giants following the 1956 season after a decade with the Brooklyn Dodgers. The deal was never consummated, as he elected to retire from playing in lieu of taking a position with Chock full o’ Nuts coffee company. It is hard not to imagine that the ability to control his own destiny and not take on a new team and a new challenge at the age 37 appealed to him.

Speaking on whether or not he thought the Reserve Clause was good: “If there were some other means to handle the situation, I would think it should be handled, but I don't know of any other. If they didn't have the reserve clause, when we came down to the last month of the season where a ball club may need a good ball player to have them win the pennant, a club with a lot of money who would only be interested in a pennant could, by offering this ball player - if there wasn't some kind of a law to keep him from it - a lot of money, and I doubt very seriously if the player would refuse it.”

It’s interesting, to say the least, to see Robinson seemingly come down on the side of maintaining the “purity” of the game over the individual rights of the players.

On whether the New York Yankees and their money was stopped in any way by the Reserve Clause: “I don't think that is the reason why the Yankees are so successful. I think that, very frankly, a lot of ball players when they are young are very, very anxious to join the Yankee chain. I think that tradition that they hear about so much has a lot to do with it, and they get in the organization. I believe that is what it is, personally.”

The popularity of the Yankees was no doubt a factor in helping them attract many good young players in the years before and since Robinson. However, it is foolish to overlook the impact of their ability to purchase players—especially from second-division teams who sold off their fledgling talent as a way to stay financially afloat. At one point, the Kansas City Athletics were practically a farm team for the Bronx Bombers. Hello, Roger Maris!

Was Robinson satisfied at the time of his retirement over the place of African Americans in baseball?: “Oh, no, I am never satisfied; let's face it.”

With three major league teams yet to field a black player during a regular season game at the time of this interview (not to mention the many other problems associated with racism and segregation) there is little surprise here. Even today, African Americans face unfair and unjust challenges within baseball.

At the time of this interview, what sport did Robinson think gave black athletes the least chance at equal treatment?:  “I would say golf. In the over-all picture there are cases where Negroes are allowed to participate in the golf tournaments, but in the great majority of tournaments they are not allowed.”

This was obviously a terrible question, with blacks in the throes of segregation in jobs, sports and society in 1957. The fact that Robinson had to and could successfully identify which sport was most racist is an incredibly sad commentary on the state of things at that time.

Did unfair treatment that Robinson received as the player who broke baseball’s color line contribute to his supposed so-called “tart tongue and terrible temper?”: Oh, indeed not. Mr. Spivak (interviewer Lawrence Spivak), I can say this honestly; things weren't as bad as a lot of people would have liked to have made them out to be. I received very, very fine treatment in most cases. So, therefore, my activities on the ball field had absolutely nothing to do with the way that I conducted myself at any time.

Robinson’s reluctance to back down to anyone was allegedly one of the attributes that made him a desirable candidate to integrate baseball. Although he undoubtedly had his allies and moments of endearment (although not all apparently exactly as remembered) there is no denying the abuse he took from those who wanted no part of him in the game. His unflappability and not allowing individuals or their negative actions to change his demeanor or how he conducted himself is a reflection on his immense strength and character. These were hallmarks of his legend as a player and person and helped him become such a titan in sports and humanity.

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Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Baseball Game Played On Ice Skates: The Baseball Historian's Notes

Spring training is finally here! Like a long-anticipated oasis arising from the glittery sand dunes of the desert, the 2018 season is upon us. Over the next week or so, players will gradually trickle into their respective camps and get their bodies and minds into shape for another season. Surprises and excitement are sure to abound, as every team will be steeled in preparedness for 162 games of regular season action; not to mention the yet-to-be determined playoffs. Buckle up and enjoy the ride! Now, on to the Baseball Historian’s notes for the week.

-Brooklyn Dodgers catcher Roy Campanella was paralyzed in an automobile accident in the winter of 1958 that ended his playing career. Despite the tragedy, he was back at Dodgers’ spring training the following year as a coach/advisor. This video clip shows him talking with manager Walt Alston about helping the team, which went on to win the World Series that year.

-Newly elected Baseball Hall of Fame member Jim Thome will be wearing a Cleveland hat at his induction and on his plaque. However, he is making sure that is a very specific hat. The retired slugger has announced that his Cleveland cap will be the one with the “C” emblazoned across the front instead of the traditional (and racist) Chief Wahoo logo. Not only has he earned the right to make this request after spending 13 of his 22 major league seasons in Cleveland, it is refreshing to see him take a stand on such an important issue.

-Well-regarded general manager Kevin Towers passed away from cancer at the age of 56. Following a career as a minor league pitcher, he helmed the front offices of the San Diego Padres (for whom he was a first-round draft pick in 1982) and Arizona D-Backs for the better part of two decades. Widely respected in the game, a high point of his career was helping the Padres to the 1998 World Series, where they eventually succumbed to the New York Yankees.

-Recently retired shortstop Jimmy Rollins should be enjoying himself immensely now that he has a bit more free time on his hands. The switch-hitter recently plunked down $10.65 million for a luxurious mansion in a gated community in Encino, California. With eight bedrooms and 10 bathrooms, he now has the ability to accommodate a full baseball team should he ever choose to make a foray into the world of Airbnb.

-Players are getting antsy since many of their free agent brethren remain unsigned with spring training right around the corner. Whispers/accusations of collusion are starting to waft through the air, with some suggesting that a player shutdown this spring isn’t out of the question. Salaries may be soaring, but by all accounts the game is strong. It would be unfortunate to see squabbles over money interfere this momentum.

-Baseball has traditionally attracted multi-sport athletes. While some have chosen the sport as their primary pursuit, others have decided to concentrate elsewhere. Yahoo!’s Mark Townsend has compiled an all-time baseball team comprised of players who were also involved in football. Some, like Bo Jackson, may be obvious, but the team is stacked with many who may come as a surprise.

-Some neat footage here of a brief conversation between Earl Averill and Joe Vosmik of the Cleveland Indians during spring training in 1934. The two were among the best outfielders in the game at the time, and despite their best efforts, the team ultimately finished in third place, well behind the Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees.

-Recently, the 157th anniversary passed of the Charter Oak and Atlantic Baseball Clubs playing a baseball game on a frozen pond in Brooklyn. The players wore skates and modified the rules to accommodate for their unusual playing surface. It must have been quite the spectacle, as Atlantic prevailed by a score of 36-27.

-Oscar and Emmy winning filmmaker Ezra Edelman will be moving forward with making a biopic of Hall-of-Fame outfielder Roberto Clemente. Edelman, who has received the most acclaim for his documentary O.J.: Made in America, will have his work cut out to capture the life of the Puerto Rican legend. No word yet as to who will depict the subject of the movie or hold other roles.

-Reinstating the use of the bullpen cart has been suggested as a way to speed up baseball games that continue to be seen by many as interminable. This piece celebrates the history of the handy vehicle and the impact it has had on the game over the years. Anyone who assumes bullpen carts are just lightly dressed up golf carts have another thing coming.

-Country music singer Charley Pride is a Hall-of-Famer in his artistic genre. However, some might be surprised to find out he originally was on the path of a professional baseball player. He never made the major leagues but did briefly pitch in the systems of the New York Yankees and Cincinnati Reds. He also played in semi-pro leagues, particularly making his mark in Helena, Montana, where he later gained even greater distinction with his musical talent. This piece tells that story.

-Finally, more sad news in the death of former outfielder Wally Moon at the age of 87. The left-handed hitter was renowned for hitting opposite field “Moon shots” home runs while with the Los Angeles Dodgers when they played at the old Coliseum. All told, he played 12 years in the majors with the Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals (1954-1965), hitting a combined .289 with 142 home runs.

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Sunday, February 4, 2018

How Chick Fewster of the New York Yankees Cheated Death: The Baseball Historian's Notes

Cooperstown, New York will be crowded later this summer thanks in part to the bumper crop of new inductees that will be on hand to have their plaques hung. Four players, including Chipper Jones, Trevor Hoffman, Jim Thome and Vlad Guererro will be joining fellow 2018 Hall of Famers Alan Trammell and Jack Morris for the festivities. Although there should be an inordinate length of thank you speeches, the candidates are all well-deserved and it’s great to see the hallowed hall grow with the addition of such deserving fresh blood. Now, on to the Baseball Historian’s notes for the week.

-Legendary Puerto Rican right-handed pitcher Julio Navarro has passed away at the age of 82. Although he posted a modest record of 7-9 and a 3.65 ERA with three major league teams spanning six seasons, he pitched at various professional levels for 22 years. His best big league season was in 1963 with the Los Angeles Angels, where he contributed a 2.89 ERA and 12 saves in 57 relief appearances. His son Jaime enjoyed a productive 12-year career in the majors between 1989 and 2000.

-The Los Angeles Angels (AKA California Angels) have been a major league team since 1961. However, the Angels name has been connected to baseball in California for much longer—stretching back the 19th century. Jessica Deline uncovers the interesting history in this piece for Halos Heaven.

-Another member of the baseball community passed away in 32-year-old Marcos Carvajal. The right-hander died in his native Venezuela from pneumonia complications that were worsened by medical supply shortages. He had stints with the Colorado Rockies in 2005 and the Florida Marlins in 2007, going a combined 0-2 with a 5.21 ERA in 42 relief appearances. His first big league strikeout was Arizona Diamondbacks slugger Luiz Gonzalez, and he last pitched professionally in 2011 with the Montepaschi Orioles Gorsseto of the Italian Baseball League.

-The Cleveland Indians will stop using their controversial Chief Wahoo team logo in 2019. This will include its use on uniforms, banners and other displays on the field. Major League Baseball was quoted as saying Chief Wahoo was “no longer appropriate" to be used on the field. The cessation of its use coincides with the team hosting the 2019 All Star game. Since the Indians will retain the copyright to the logo and continue to sell items bearing its likeness even after this change, it remains a mystery as to why this continues to be deemed as appropriate off the field by failing to see this change through fully.

-Despite an excellent career on the field, Ray Chapman is best-known for being the only player in major league history to die as the result of an injury suffered on the field during a game, as he was hit in the head by a Carl Mays pitch in 1920.There have been other close calls , bother before and since. Another, which also occurred during spring training in 1920 when utility man Chick Fewster of the New York Yankees was beaned by Big Jeff Pfeffer of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Despite a fractured skull and bleeding brain hemorrhage, he not only returned to play later that season, but played professionally until 1929. Matt Ferenchick tells his story here.

-For decades, the 1918 Boston Red Sox were held in the highest esteem by fans of the team, as it took nearly a century (86 years to be exact) for another championship trophy to grace the boys of the Hub. Now that the Red Sox have won three World Series in the past 14 years, the Boston Globe’s Kevin Paul Dupont says the squad from one-hundred years ago deserves to be looked at differently.

-Although voting for the Hall of Fame is over for another year, some are already looking forward to the future. Jay Jaffe of Sports Illustrated has taken a deep look into the next five elections and who he believes are the mostly likely to get the next nods from the writers. He is not only forecasting a number of players to be inducted, but who he believes will fall short may surprise many.

-Vince Pesky, the younger brother of Red Sox legend Johnny Pesky recounted seeing legendary pitcher Satchel Paige on the mound with the Portland Beaver. Pesky, who was 94 when he recorded the interview in 2015, still had strong memories of witnessing the Hall-of-Fame right-hander do his thing.

-Here is some raw footage of the ballyhoo surrounding the 1939 All Star Game. There may not be sound in the clip, but fans are sure to recognize some of the biggest names to ever grace the denizens of professional baseball.

-Finally, another baseball passing to report in Oscar Gamble, who succumbed to the effects of a tumor at the age of 68. He was a talented outfielder, who hit .265 with 200 over 17 major league seasons (1969-195) with seven teams—most notably the New York Yankees. Although his career splits (.266 batting /.828 OPS versus righties and .263 batting average/.705 OPS, the left-handed hitter played sparingly against Southpaws during his career. He was perhaps best known for sometimes sporting an impressive Afro that made him the subject of some of the most popular baseball cards ever made.

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