Top 100 Baseball Blog

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Ted Williams: The Hidden Sides of the Former Boston Red Sox Superstar

Former Boston Red Sox outfielder and Hall of Famer Ted Williams is one of the most fascinating players to ever set foot on a diamond. Impossibly talented, he was also often an enigma to the media and fans who closely monitored him.

Williams played for 19 seasons in a Boston uniform between 1939 and1960. He missed nearly five full years of his career because of multiple stints in the military as a pilot. Even so, the left-handed hitter finished with amazing statistics that include a .344 batting average, 521 home runs and 1,839 RBIs.

Despite the sometimes contentious relationship he had with press, he was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1966. Deceased since 2002, he remains an iconic figure in baseball—the man with the quintessential lefty swing that will never be matched.

This space has been used to re-examine insightful interviews from baseball figures of times gone by. I have uncovered another that gave a deep look at Williams during the waning years of his career. On August 1, 1955, Sports Illustrated published a piece by Joan Flynn Dreyspool entitled Subject: Ted Williams. At that time, the outfielder was 37 and struggling with injuries and the idea of the mortality of his career. Completely open, he provides a rare glimpse of himself, his background and what made him tick.

The entire article can be found HERE.

For the sake of closer inspection, I pulled out what I found to be the most interesting portions of Williams’ interview, and included my own thoughts and insights beneath each quote in italics.

Williams could hold a grudge: "When somebody says nice things about me, it goes in one ear and out the other, but I remember the criticism longest. I hate criticism—and the sportswriters who write the way they feel instead of what they've actually seen.”

Williams was notorious for his ability to not forget slights, and for his disdain for press. It even took him 40 years to tip his cap to the Boston crown after hitting his final big league home run in 1960. Not appreciative of the spotlight from media, he garnered only 93.4% of votes when he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1966. A huge number, but a player of his talents should have been a good bet for unanimity.

He had a great deal of modesty about his military service record: "Everybody tried to make a hero out of me when I was in Korea. There were from 60 to 100 pilots in our two squadrons and I think that 99% of them did a better job than I did. I certainly was the least 'Gung Ho.'

"Not that I ever had any doubts about my own ability as a pilot, but in aviation I feared two things. I wasn't too well trained in instrument flying and I was forever worried about running into instrument weather which I didn't know too much about. It's been proven the only way to become an instrument flyer is through practice and experience.

"My other fear was that the damn plane would blow up and I'd have to bail out—because I knew I'd leave my kneecaps in the cockpit—I was cramped in so tight. I'd have to bail out with a can opener."

You’d be hard-pressed to find another professional athlete that had as extensive a military record as Williams. He flew 39 missions across two wars and won a cabinet full of awards. As a result, he lost nearly five years in the midst of his baseball prime. If he had played during times of peace, his baseball legacy might be immeasurably more significant than it already is.

Williams didn’t think he was anything special; he just worked harder than everyone else: "They say the secret of my hitting is natural ability and my good eyesight. A lot of people have as good eyesight as I have (20-15) and probably better, and still they're always ready to say 'eyesight's the reason he does it and natural ability.' That's so easy to say and to give credit for. They never talk about the practice. Practice! Practice! Practice! Dammit, you gotta practice!

"Ask anybody who had anything to do with T. S. Williams and they'll tell you he practiced more than anybody. Joe Cronin'll tell you that I hit before the games and after the games. There's never been a hitter who hit more baseballs than Williams. Hell, when I was a kid, I used to get to the schoolhouse before the janitor opened the doors. I'd get the balls and bat, and practice. Then at lunch time, I'd run home, one, two, three, four, five blocks, and grab a bunch of fried potatoes and run back to school before anybody was through eating; and I was practicing again. Always practicing."

It would seem that Williams’ intense practice routine grew out of not having much else to do growing up in San Diego. His mother was a Salvation Army worker and kept long hours. As a child, he didn’t have many constructive places to be besides a ball field, and he made the most of it.

Williams may not have had much as a kid but he had pride: "I was a funny-looking kid, a string bean, a terribly scrawny-looking thing. I certainly had no muscles. My mother used to get notes from the health officer, 'this kid is underweight; tonsils need checking, everything.'

"I was awfully self-conscious as a kid—about everything—the way I looked and the things I didn't have that some of the other kids did. Still I wasn't the poorest kid in the neighborhood. There were some poorer. My mother had to work, and of course, she couldn't be around the home as much as she wanted to be. She was only interested in baseball because of me. She didn't think I'd get hurt in baseball.

"I used to spend all my time at the playground. I was 14, 15, 16. Rod Luscombe, who was about ten years older than I, was playground director. He was a baseball nut too, and in his heart I think he wanted to be a big league player; but he used to just love to play and practice. He'd pitch to me. I'd pitch to him. I was a pitcher in those days. Rod gave me the competition I needed. He'd bear down on me and try to get me out. I'd bear down on him. He was a perfect guy to have around the playground for a kid like me."

A lot of children buckle under the weight of having a tough home life or being left to their own devices. Williams developed an uncanny ability to commit laser focus to baseball, likely because it was the one area of his young life where he was able to show he was the best and have justified pride.

Williams on his first exposure to scouts: "I was still in high school, when I worked out several times with the San Diego Padres. A few of the scouts saw me play my last high school game, and one of them, a top man from Detroit, was sitting with my mother.

"I was 6-feet-3 inches tall then and I weighed 145 pounds. When the Detroit scout saw what I looked like, he told my mother, 'If you send that boy out and have him play professional ball, it'll kill him.' Geez, my mother came home crying and everything. She was just sick. I didn't say anything because I knew I hadn't played very well that day.

Despite his impossible slimness when he was younger (which undoubtedly contributed to his nickname of the “Splendid Splinter”), it’s difficult to imagine that scouts wouldn’t have been awed by his sweet left-handed swing, which may still be the best the game has ever seen.

Williams may not have been as confident/arrogant as he came across: "I'm going to tell you something about sports which I think is the most overrated expression regarding being a success or a failure in sports. To my knowledge, this has never been said. People always say, 'you have to have confidence in yourself.' I know in my own experience that the less confidence I've had, I've always fared better. If I start doing something with a lot of confidence I never do it well. It's happened 100 times to one that any time that I knew this guy was an extra tough pitcher—and knew I was going to have trouble—I'd come through 100 times more than if I said, 'Geez, I can hit this guy in my sleep!' Psychologically, this is better to me than to figure 'I can knock this bum any time I want to.' That kills me every time.

Because of his ridiculous statistics, it is easy to assume Williams was supremely confident. However, it appears he actually used fear of failure to drive himself. Given his background, such an approach makes complete sense.

Baseball wasn’t all that inspired Williams: "The guy I envy more than anyone else I've seen or read about is Zane Grey. I've got a collection of all his books on fishing. I'd want to do just what Zane Grey did. He bought himself a big three-masted schooner and he roamed the world. He fished all the great fishing spots in the world.

"I used to be dreaming about someday being way far away where I'd have the only fishing waters around. If I had the money and facilities to do it I'd certainly roam the world."

A noted outdoorsman, Williams went from being a city kid to craving wide open spaces as he got older. The peace and quiet he sought would have been light years away during his playing career, operating in the fishbowl that is and was the Boston sporting scene. 

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

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Boof Bonser: What's in a Pitchers Name?

In baseball, it’s not easy to forget a name like Boof Bonser. It belongs to a right-handed pitcher who has never been a star but through his ability has carved out a lengthy professional career and ensured he will be remembered long after he retires.

In 2000, Bonser was a first-round draft choice (21st overall selection) of the San Francisco Giants out of Gibbs High School in St. Petersburg, Florida, where he had a career record of 24-9 with a 1.99 ERA.

After a rough first professional season, Bonser was phenomenal during his sophomore campaign in 2001 with the Single-A Hagerstown Suns. He was 16-4 with a 2.49 ERA and 178 strikeouts in 27 starts, showing what had made him so highly coveted in the previous year’s draft.

He continued pitching well and making steady progress in San Francisco’s system, reaching Triple-A in 2003. However, that offseason, he was traded with pitchers Joe Nathan and Francisco Liriano to the Minnesota Twins for catcher A.J. Pierzynski and cash.

Although he maintained his success in Minnesota’s system, Bonser didn’t get called up to the majors until 2006. During his rookie season, he put in a nice effort in the Twins’ starting rotation by going 7-6 with a 4.22 ERA in 18 starts.

He pitched with Minnesota through the 2008 season but missed all of 2009 because of shoulder surgery. Since then, he has had brief stints in the majors with the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics in 2010, has pitched for their minor league affiliates, and also been in the minors with the New York Mets, Giants and Cleveland Indians.

Most recently, Bonser appeared in a combined 18 games (16 starts) in stints with Indians and Giants Triple-A affiliates, going 2-8 with a 5.89 ERA. He wound up pitching in Taiwan at the end of the season, but the 32-year-old’s career is far from over. It will be interesting to see where he lands in 2014, and if he can work his way back to the majors at some point before it is all said and done.

Last year, Bonser was gracious enough to answer some questions regarding his career. Keep reading for more on the pitcher with the unforgettable name.

Boof Bonser Interview:

If you could sit down and pick the brain of any pitcher, current or former, who would that be and why?: I don’t really have one guy. My thing is if I could talk to any old-time pitcher that would be great. 

If you were pitching in Game 7 of the World Series, who would you want as your catcher, and why?: Well I have only had three catchers in the bigs that I was able to throw to. [Joe] Mauer, [Jason] Varitek, and [Kurt]Suzuki. Anyone of those guys would be great.

Can you elaborate on the origins of your name?: There is really nothing to my name. It was just a nickname that my parents gave me as a kid, and it stuck with me.

What is your favorite moment of your playing career?: My favorite moment would have to be when I got the call that I was going to the big leagues. 

What is your current thought process about trying to get back to the majors after having already been there for parts of four seasons?: Well the biggest thing for me is just trying to stay healthy. So when everything is healthy, it’s just about pitching good and getting back to the bigs.

Which coach or manager has been the most influential on your career?: Every one of my coaches where great. Each one had something different for me to learn and think about.

How does it feel being back with the organization who made you a first-round draft choice in 2000?: It is great. I’m just hoping I can get up to the big leagues with them. That would be like a dream come true.

What are you looking forward to the most for the 2014 season?: My biggest thing is getting myself back to the big leagues and staying there.

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

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The 3 Best Baseball Movies Ever Made

Baseball is so ingrained in the fabric of American society that it has been a popular topic of Hollywood films for many years. Ranging from comedy to drama and genres in between, the game has more than enough intricacies to make for compelling fodder.

Ranked lists of movies are rife on the internet but are often tied to factors like quality of cinematography and costuming. There will be none of those pretensions here. While I can appreciate the finer qualities of films, when it comes to those about baseball, I am looking for something that either gives me greater insight about the game and/or the warm and fuzzies because of how well the topic is celebrated.

Although I haven’t seen all the baseball movies ever made, here are the three that have earned spots on my own top-ranked list.

3. Sugar: The 2008 drama directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck tells the story of Miguel “Sugar” Santos, an impoverished but talented Dominican pitcher who is signed out of a baseball academy and starts a professional career in the minor leagues in the United States.

“Sugar,” who has nothing to fall back on but a baseball career, discovers the path to his dream is dotted with obstacles. Simply trying to navigate in the foreign world that is Midwest America is as big of a challenge as he has ever experienced in his life. When he cannot find the same level of success as a professional as he did as a starry-eyed up-and-comer back home, he is forced to re-evaluate his goals, ambition and connection to baseball.

A melancholy film, the notion that professional athletes have it easy, is dispelled early on. In particular, the bigotry “Sugar” experiences, and the need for him to adapt to a whole new society and game when he is not even out of his teen years is an excellent reminder of the silent majority in baseball. These are the real-life non-American players who have come before and since this movie, and have toiled under similar constraints before fading away to unknown fates without ever fulfilling major league aspirations.

Of special note is former Cincinnati Reds pitcher Jose Rijo, who appears in a small role as a baseball consultant. Ironically, he was forced to take a leave of absence several years later in his former real-life job as a special assistant for the Washington Nationals, after a scandal broke regarding a Dominican player he had helped discover.

2. Eight Men Out: Directed by John Sayles, this 1988 film is an adaptation of Eliot Asinof’s 1963 book by the same name. It covers the infamous Black Sox scandal, where eight members of the Chicago White Sox were banned from baseball for life for their alleged roles in throwing the 1919 World Series in exchange for bribes from gamblers.

The film takes some Hollywood liberties by including unsubstantiated scenes for dramatic effect (‘Say it ain’t so, Joe’ never happened) but overall it is an incredibly strong representation of the doomed team.

The cast is full of heavy hitters, both literally and metaphorically, and highlighted by a young John Cusack as third baseman Buck Weaver, a surprisingly athletic Charlie Sheen as centerfielder Hap Felsch, and John Mahoney (the dad from Frasier) as manager Kid Gleason.

However, the film is carried by a vastly underrated performance by D.B. Sweeney in the role of Shoeless Joe Jackson. Not only does he look good on the field (an important part of any effective acting in a baseball movie), but he also captures Jackson nicely by portraying him as a country bumpkin who isn’t necessarily as stupid as many think.

Eight Men Out shows the grimy underbelly of baseball during a time when it was spreading around the country like wildfire as the game of heroes. It’s tight, has acceptable on-field action and tells the story from all points of view. It may not be the perfect movie but when it comes to those about baseball, it’s about as good as it gets.

1. Field of Dreams: Let’s get this out of the way first. Ray Liotta is a fine actor. A great actor even when considering his work in films like Good Fellas. Unfortunately, his turn as Shoeless Joe Jackson in this 1989 Phil Alden Robinson fantasy-drama is not among his best work.

It’s not that Liotta stammered his lines or hammed it up. He simply wasn’t Jackson. The real-life player was an uneducated left-handed hitter, while Liotta plays him as a righty with the propensity to wax poetic. As it turns out, while the portrayal is a bit of a distraction, it ultimately doesn’t matter.

Based on W.P. Kinsella’s book Shoeless Joe, Field of Dreams is the story of Iowa corn farmer Ray Kinsella, played by Kevin Costner, who is struggling with approaching mid-life, his failed relationship with his dead father, and the fact he is hearing strange voices in his fields.

Much to the chagrin of his family and his militantly conservative neighbors and in-laws, Ray builds a baseball field in the middle of his crops in compliance with the sweet nothings murmured from the depths of his corn. To his surprise, Jackson and the rest of the Black Sox appear from the silky stalks and start playing on the diamond.

James Earl Jones nails his part as Terence Mann, a cynical iconic writer who used to love baseball and may once again.

The real delight is screen legend Burt Lancaster, who makes a cameo as former player turned kindly doctor Moonlight Graham. Anyone who can watch his scenes without a major lump in their throat are stronger than I.

Slowly, Ray starts to realize why he was directed to build the field and how the power of baseball can make ties that bind.

I have probably seen the movie 45-50 times in my life, and the final scene where Ray comes to have an emotional game of catch with an unexpected partner in the shadows of a beautiful setting sun has never failed to make me lose it. Not once.

The beauty of Field of Dreams is how it is able to seemingly flip a switch with viewers, creating emotion and connection from the way it wonderfully intertwines baseball, family and the concept of never giving up on dreams. Accordingly, this remains the Mona Lisa of the silver screen, and the standard that all other baseball movies should be measured against.

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

Monday, February 17, 2014

Blather Up: Ryan Dempster’s Sabbatical, Stephen Drew’s Fate and Other Boston Red Sox Chat

With spring training starting up, Ron Juckett, the editor for Red Sox 101, and I have recorded our second installment of Blather Up, a podcast of Boston Red Sox chat.

This week we discuss Ryan Dempster’s sudden decision to sit out the 2014 season, the fate of Stephen Drew, which players face make-or-break seasons, and much, much more.

Check out the podcast HERE.

For more, make sure to follow Ron on Twitter at @RedSox_101 or his personal account of @ronjuckett. Of course, you can also find me @historianandrew and through my work with

Another edition of Blather Up, with all new topics of conversation, will be coming at you shortly, so stay tuned.

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

Sunday, February 16, 2014

How Ryan Dempster's Departure Will Impact the Boston Red Sox

The Boston Red Sox received surprising news Sunday when veteran starting pitcher Ryan Dempster announced he will not pitch in 2014 in order to focus on his family.
Dempster has pitched for five teams during a 16-year major league career, going a combined 132-133 with a 4.35 ERA.

He signed with the Red Sox last offseason to a two-year deal, and went 8-9 with a 4.57 ERA in 32 games (29 starts). However, he lost his spot in the rotation towards the end of the year, and was used mainly in a mop-up role from that point through the playoffs.

According to multiple reports, Dempster’s decision means he will be placed on the restricted list by Boston, and his $13.25 2014 salary will come off the books. Expected to compete for a spot in the starting rotation, or failing that, to be used in relief or as trade bait, the announcement from the 36-year-old right-hander seemingly came out of the blue.
Here are three ways Dempster’s sabbatical will impact the team:

Brandon Workman may get a chance to start: The top of Boston’s rotation seems relatively set in stone with Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and John Lackey. Beyond that, Dempster, Felix Doubront and Jake Peavy were expected to battle it out for the final two spots. However, now that Dempster is out of the equation, assuming that the starters are set would be a mistake.
Doubront showed up to camp last year out of shape. Additionally, he has faltered down the stretch during his career, with a 6.51 ERA in regular season games that came after August 31.
Peavy was 4-1 with a 4.04 ERA in 10 starts for the Red Sox in 2013 after being acquired in a trade, but was very uneven in the playoffs.

That brings us to Workman. The 25-year-old right-hander was 6-3 with a 4.97 ERA in 20 games (three starts) as a rookie last season, finishing as an important bullpen piece in the playoffs. However, the 2.45 ERA and 1.04 WHIP the Texan had in his three starts should be enough to earn him a long look this spring for a spot in the rotation.

More money to spend: Obtaining an additional $13.25 million of flexibility is a major coup at this stage of the season, especially when it comes at the expense of Dempster, a player who was likely going to play a marginal role at best.

The Red Sox have strove to avoid exceeding the luxury tax threshold, and the accompanying financial penalty that would come from doing so. The 2014 threshold is set at $189 million, and the newfound windfall provides a significant amount of leeway if the team chooses to pursue additional expenditures at any point this season.

Last year’s starting shortstop Stephen Drew is still waiting for a new home. Boston is reportedly still interested him, but only on their terms. Dempster’s savings could make them feel a bit more comfortable extending themselves to bring the infielder back into the fold.

There is also nothing like having a nest egg for a rainy day, so the Red Sox may choose to just sit on the new money. After all, there’s no telling if an interesting trade opportunity or an emergent need will develop at some point later in the season. It’s always better to leave a bullet or two in the chamber when it comes to navigating through a long and unpredictable MLB season.

Puts a little more pressure on the youngsters: Offseason talk often centered on the enviable pitching depth of the Red Sox. While the absence of Dempster won’t completely eliminate that advantage, it certainly does give it a good-sized dent.

The team still has a full pitching staff with plenty of arms ranging from the youthful (Workman) to the aged (closer Koji Uehara). The loss of a veteran like Dempster means that the top young arms in the farm system (of which there are many) will likely be one step closer to being asked to fill in if needed.

The pitching prospects most ready to contribute if called upon include right-handers Allen Webster, Anthony Ranaudo, Rubby De La Rosa, Alex Wilson and Matt Barnes. Additionally, left-hander Drake Britton got his first taste of the majors last season, and prized southpaw prospect Henry Owens is getting closer to being ready by the day.

The departure of Dempster will certainly have more impact than the three reasons listed above. By all accounts he was a dedicated player and a great teammate. Although he has decided to step away and address his life off the field, on it the game must go on. The team has already started for life without him, and while there isn’t time to stop and process too long, here’s wishing him all the best this year and in the future.

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

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Boston Red Sox Prospect Mike Meyers: Not the First But Aiming to Be the Best

Being the first at something is often awarded great importance in life. However, it should not be considered the end-all, be-all. Hopefully, that’s something Boston Red Sox infield prospect Mike Meyers realizes as he continues his journey to the major leagues.

Meyers isn’t the first Meyers or even the first Mike Meyers to be employed by the Red Sox, as left-handed reliever Mike Meyers appeared in 90 games with the team in 2004-2005.

The most recent Mike Meyers was a star shortstop for Silverado High School in Las Vegas. He was taken by Boston in the 12th round of the 2012 draft (391st overall selection) and signed on, thus beginning his professional career. He got his first taste of pro ball that year, playing shortstop and second base. The right-handed hitter appeared in 30 games in the Gulf Coast League, hitting .337 with a home run and 10 RBIs.

Last season, he moved to outfield but only got into 28 games between the Gulf Coast League and the short-season Lowell Spinners because of injuries. He combined to hit .255 with seven RBIs. Although it wasn’t a great statistical season, it hopefully got his feet underneath him with the position change and primed him for a breakout campaign in 2014.

Recently, the 20-year-old Meyers answered some questions about his playing career. In addition to getting to know Boston’s prospect a little better, make sure to give him a follow on Twitter and keep up with his progress this season.

Mike Meyers Interview:

Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?: My favorite player growing up was Derek Jeter. I grew up watching pretty much every Yankees game because my dad is a huge Yankees fan and because I played shortstop growing up, so it was pretty easy to look up to Derek Jeter.

Jeter could do anything on a baseball field in his prime and was always so humble. I’ve always enjoyed watching him be able to hit the ball to all fields and make amazing plays on defense.

How difficult was it to weigh going to college against going pro?: It was extremely difficult. I was always a good student in school, and with both my parents being teachers, good grades has always been a top priority.

I got drafted a little later than I had expected, so at first I was leaning towards going to college but as I weighed my options I realized that playing professional baseball was my dream, and mentally I felt like I could deal with the hard times of the minor leagues. So once the Red Sox agreed to give me a large amount for school when I was finished with baseball, I decided I couldn't pass up the opportunity.

How did you first find out that the Red Sox were interested in you?: I found out when the Red Sox area scout, Jim Woodward, arranged to come to my house and meet with me and my family, and told us the Red Sox were interested in drafting me.

What position do you believe you will ultimately play, and what are the primary skills you bring to the table?: That is a tough question. I just moved from second base to outfield and I think I can play both pretty well. So for now I believe the outfield, either left or center field, is where I will ultimately play. But I think I will always be able to come back to the infield if needed.

The primary skills I bring to the field every day would have to be my ability to hit the ball to all fields, and speed. I haven't mastered how to steal bases yet, but I believe it will become an important part of my game in the next few years.

What do you like to do outside of baseball?: Outside of baseball I enjoy fishing and golfing. There are not many places to fish in Las Vegas, but whenever me and my dad get a chance to go out on a fishing trip, we take it.

I just recently got more interested in golf, and I’m hooked. It’s a sport I only play in the offseason because I don't want it to mess with my swing. But whenever I get the chance to play I do.

What is the most impressive thing you have ever seen on a baseball field?: The most impressive thing I have ever seen on a field is how talented a player Joey Gallo is.  In a playoff game in high school, Joey hit a home run off us that probably went 500 feet, and then in the next inning he came in to pitch and hit 100 mph on the gun. Pretty impressive.

Have you received any mentoring from players from the major league squad?: I wouldn't really consider it mentoring but when I first signed and was assigned to the Gulf Coast League team, Jacoby Ellsbury was down in Ft. Myers rehabbing and I got to take batting practice with him for a few days. In those days he really tried to help me with my swing and gave me some advice about how to deal with different situations in the game that I will never forget.

What career would you have pursued if not for baseball?: If not for baseball, I would be in school studying to be a doctor.  I’ve always wanted to be an anesthesiologist, and if baseball doesn't work out that is what I will work towards becoming.

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

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Derek Jeter’s Retirement Should Be Sad News to Fans of the Boston Red Sox

The countdown has begun for the end of one of baseball’s all-time legends. New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter announced on his Facebook page that he will end his illustrious 20-year major league career following the upcoming 2014 season. The decision will undoubtedly be a blow to many, but surprisingly, it should be very sad news for fans of the Boston Red Sox, the team that was his arch rival.

Throughout his career, Jeter has stacked up numbers and accolades like cordwood. With one more year to go, the soon-to-be 40-year-old has hit a combined .312 with 3,316 hits, 256 home runs, 1,276 RBIs, 348 stolen bases, 535 doubles and 1,876 runs scored.

He won the 1996 American League Rookie of the Year Award, placed in the top-10 in MVP voting eight times, claimed five Gold Gloves and made 13 All-Star teams.

As Jeter has gone, so have the Yankees. He has been part of an amazing 16 playoff teams, including five that won the World Series. In 158 career postseason games, he has hit .308 with 20 home runs and 61 RBIs, making him perhaps the greatest October performer of all time.
What do all of Jeter’s numbers and accomplishments add up to for the Boston Red Sox and their fans? He was a giant pain in the ass.

Sometimes a worthy opponent can be as difficult to find as a good friend or teammate. Those wanting to be the best should also want to beat the best to reach those goals. With Jeter as the face of the Yankees for the past two decades, the intense rivalry between the two American League East teams couldn’t have been more fiery.

Although the Yankees took down the Red Sox a number of times during the shortstop’s career, there were also moments when Boston came out on top; with the 2004 ALCS being the most notable, and likely the sweetest.

If you are going to take your lumps in a fight, being able to return a few licks makes the whole endeavor worthwhile. Jeter’s teams usually gave the Red Sox all they could handle and then some, which is why the moments where they were vanquished produced moments of unbridled joy for fans.

It’s easy for one to say that they hate their rival. However, the best matchups come out of taking on those who hold your respect. No matter what offensive t-shirts and “Jeter sucks” chants floated around Fenway Park over the years, a rational Red Sox fan would be hard-pressed to claim with a straight face that they didn’t respect Jeter.

Although the Boston-New York rivalry is played out on athletic fields, make no mistake that at its heart it is a regional beef. Jeter may have grown up in Kalamazoo, Michigan, but over time he came to personify the New York big city stereotype with his polished efficiency, elevating the rivalry even more in the process.

His competitive fire, reserved demeanor and consistency were reminiscent of famous Yankees before him like Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Don Mattingly. Part of what made the Boston-New York rivalry fun during Jeter’s career was the subconscious hope that he would one day be taken down a peg, be exposed as a fraud, or somehow shown to be less than how he came across publicly. If he wasn’t the classy top-notch player with all the hype, it would be a major victory for Boston fans. He never gave them that satisfaction.

Over the years Jeter has seen a number of high-profile teammates take mighty plunges from grace over connections to performance enhancers—the biggest bugaboo in the sport during his career. Through it all, he has managed to emerge as pristine as the day he debuted in the majors. Certainly, his reputation has likely ratcheted down the intensity of inquiry, but he has also never given anyone a reason to give him a hard look. In today’s day and age that’s a mighty accomplishment in itself.

Despite playing on baseball’s biggest stage and possessing movie star good looks, Jeter has always had an air of humility about him that is becoming increasingly rare in professional sports. Sure, there was the occasional fling with starlets, but he was never an in your face kind of person. He was as professional as an athlete can be in today’s culture that glorifies bad-boy behavior from rich young stars, especially athletes. His headlines were about what he did on the field, not what he was trying to hide off it.

Gratingly perfect to the end, his closing remarks in his retirement announcement precisely display what Boston and every other opponent has been up against over the years. “I want to soak in every moment of every day this year, so I can remember it for the rest of my life. And most importantly, I want to help the Yankees reach our goal of winning another championship.” Those are fighting words, especially because he means every one of them.

It’s true. Jeter is/was an absolute pain for the Boston Red Sox and their fans. However, his skill and love for the game only raised their levels as well. In sports, respect can be disguised as hate. You may not find a Sox fan willing to admit their love for the shortstop, but show me one who says they don’t respect him and won’t miss him, and I’ll show you a liar.

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

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Preston Tucker: Prospect Slugging Way to Majors for the Houston Astros

The Houston Astros may have lost 111 games in 2013, but make no mistake about it, they are a team on the rise. That optimism is largely based on the strength of their minor league system, with ESPN’s Keith Law even recently ranking them (subscription required) as the best in baseball.

One of Houston’s prospects that has made an ongoing splash since joining the organization is outfielder Preston Tucker. The 23-year-old left-handed slugger has begun his professional career with a bang and has an opportunity to earn a spot with the major league club in the future if he can continue his strong play.

Tucker played collegiately at the University of Florida. The Gainesville Sun reported he was a two-time All-American, and upon leaving school in 2012, did so as their all-time leader in a number of categories, including hits, games played, RBIs, doubles and total bases.

For his Gator career, he hit .329 with 57 home runs (second in school history and 258 RBIs in 265 games.

Tucker was selected in the 16th round of the 2011 draft by the Colorado Rockies but returned to school for his junior season. The moved paid off handsomely, as he moved up to the seventh round and the Astros in 2012.

After signing, he played in 42 games for Houston’s short-season affiliate, hitting an impressive .321 with eight home runs and 38 RBIs.

He was moved up to full-season ball in 2013, and proved he could more than handle the promotion. Appearing in a combined 135 games with the High Single-A and Double-A teams, he tuned up opposing pitchers at a .297 clip with 25 home runs and 103 RBIs. Perhaps most noteworthy was his excellent plate approach, which resulted in a 56/91 walk/strikeout ratio.

It figures that Tucker will start 2014 in the upper levels of the minors. If he continues swinging a big bat, a major league debut may not be far away.

During the 2012 season, I had a chance to chat with Tucker when he was playing on the road with the Tri-City Valley Cats. It’s clear the young outfielder is very focused, and given his results, all his hard work is paying off.

Preston Tucker Interview:

How did you first get interested in baseball?: Obviously baseball is a little slower than some other sports, so it wasn’t my first interest. I liked soccer and some other fast paced sports. I got into it in Little League and found out I was pretty good at it so I decided to continue.

Did you have a favorite team and player when you were growing up?: I’m from Tampa. My favorite team has always been the Rays. Player? Back in Little League and high school I always liked to watch Ken Griffey, Jr. play. He was always my favorite.

What was your experience like playing at the University of Florida?: You obviously see all the talent of the guys who are going to play for a long time around you, so that’s fun. You’re playing intrasquad games and you are watching really talented players develop and grow

What was your draft experience like? How did you find out the Astros were interested in you?: Well you know, teams talk to you in the fall and you see what teams are interested and which teams aren’t. I was actually at practice when I got selected. It was a pretty cool experience. It was obviously an exciting way to get drafted.

Having signed your first professional contract, do you plan to do anything to celebrate for yourself or your family?:
You know, my brother plays ball too; he’s travelling around. Actually when I came to terms I was with my mom and sister at home, and my dad and my brother were off somewhere else. So we just went out to dinner. It was something small. I’m sure when I get back we can all do something together.

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

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Adam Greenberg: MLB's One At-Bat Inspiration

Only a tiny fraction of baseball players are fortunate enough to have a professional career. Even fewer earn the opportunity to make it to the major leagues and achieve the distinction of playing at the game’s highest level.

Even after making it, a player can have everything taken away in an instant, even if it is through no fault of their own. Adam Greenberg discovered that the hard way, but he never quit and emerged as one of baseball’s best kinds of success stories.

An outfielder, the left-handed Greenberg was a ninth-round draft choice of the Chicago Cubs out of the University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill in 2002. A strong hitter for average, he possessed good speed and a strong glove; skills that allowed him to move quickly through the team’s system.

Midway through the 2005 season, he was called up to the majors. He made his major league debut on July 9th, pinch-hitting in the ninth inning for pitcher Will Ohman. With his family in the stands, Greenberg faced left-handed Florida pitcher Valerio De Los Santos. On the very first pitch he saw in the big leagues, the rookie took a fastball off the back of his head. Fortunately, he was able to leave the game under his own power, but suffered a concussion and saw his season cut short because of the ensuing symptoms.

Coming back in 2006, he was sent to the minors but couldn’t shake all of the after-effects of his injury, saw his production decline and was released by the Cubs in June. After that, he bounced around, playing in the minors for the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Los Angeles Angels and the Kansas City Royals—but he was never able to get back to the majors and resume what had been taken away so quickly.

In 2009 he joined the Bridgeport Bluefish of the independent Atlantic League and started a new phase of his career, producing very good numbers.

His brief major league stint remained an unjust memory for many fans. One, named Matt Liston, started an online petition, calling for Greenberg to receive an official major league at-bat. Incredibly, the Marlins stepped to the plate and signed the outfielder to a one-day contract in 2012 to give him the chance that had eluded him years before.

Greenberg, who donated his Marlins’ salary to charity, pinch hit for outfielder Bryan Peterson in the bottom of the sixth inning of a game against the New York Mets on October 2, 2012. Facing knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, he finally got his official major league at-bat after more than seven years in the making. Although he went down on strikes, it was the kind of wonderful moment that makes baseball such an emotional and enjoyable game.

After signing and being released before the end of 2013 spring training with the Baltimore Orioles, Greenberg played in 30 games with Bridgeport, but hit just .220. The soon-to-be 33-year-old recently officially retired, ending one of baseball’s best underdog stories.

In addition to his brief time in the majors, he hit a combined .262 with 43 home runs, 331 RBIs, 261 stolen bases and an excellent .372 OBP in 11 seasons in the minors and independent ball. More information about his career statistics is available at

Last year (before he retired), I had an opportunity to ask Greenberg some questions about his career. It was fascinating to find out a little more about one of baseball’s good guys and great stories, so keep reading for more.

Adam Greenberg Interview:

Who was your favorite team and player growing up?: The New York Yankees and Don Mattingly.

Can you talk a bit about what your draft experience was like?: It was exciting time for sure. This was everything I had worked for growing up. My family and I watched the draft online from home.

How did you first find out you were being called up to the majors for the first time?: I happened to be in a Days Inn in Tennessee when the Cubs called.

Can you explain your feelings after being injured in your first major league at-bat and how it impacted your career?: At first there wasn't any concern. I thought I would have been back right away, but that wasn't the case.  When I realized there were issues with the positional vertigo, there was definite concern for my health and whether or not I could continue my career.  Everything happens for a reason and I have no regrets.  I am currently in the best shape of my life and playing ball at the highest level right now.

What are your current baseball plans?: I played extremely well with the Orioles organization this spring and have no regrets. I know I have the ability to contribute to a major league ball club and help them win games. My current plan is to continue to work out and wait to see if another team calls. 

How did your contract with the Marlins come about last year, and what was that experience like?: The contract came about from the generosity of Matt Liston and his One-at-Bat campaign.  Matt and his team were able to get 25 thousand signatures on a petition to get me back to the big leagues for an at-bat. With the help of social media and the human spirit, they were able to bring tons of media attention. The experience was like no other...a dream come true! Leading up to the at-bat and stepping back in the box on the major league level was amazing. 

I can't thank Matt, the fans, Marlins and Major League Baseball enough!

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