Would Stephen Strasburg and/or Chris Sale be HOFers if Their Career’s Went Like This?

June 25, 2012

Two young pitchers who have performed very well in their brief major league careers are Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals and Chris Sale of the Chicago White Sox. Both youngsters were dominant in college. Strasburg was the top overall pick in the 2009 draft, while Sale was selected 13th overall a year later.

Both made their major league debuts very quickly. In fact, Sale signed right after the 2010 draft and was in the majors after only 10 innings in the minor leagues.

Strasburg has been solely a starting pitcher while Sale started in the bullpen and this season became a starting pitcher (Sale did have a relief appearance earlier this season, when he came in relief after the White Sox moved him back to the pen because of elbow stiffness). Strasburg and Sale, after both were called up to the major leagues in mid-season during 2010, have been downright dominating at times.

Strasburg has gone 15-5, 2.51 ERA in his short career, while Sale has a 12-5, 2.41 ERA. Both have similar WHIPs, ERA+ and H/9 numbers, with high K/9 rates. Strasburg’s numbers have been affected by his Tommy John surgery and Sale’s overall numbers by his two-year bullpen stint.

Each filled a glaring need for their teams. Strasburg became an attendance draw for a franchise in the early throes of their resurrection. Sale, however, was needed to become a stopper in the bullpen for two years before his transformation to starting pitcher, a role he has known throughout his entire career.  

Let’s fantasize a little and plot out one of these young pitchers careers. We can choose either Strasburg or Sale in our “for instance”, and since I am an American League fan, I will select Sale. Remember, although I will consistently reference Sale, these scenarios could also play out for Strasburg.

For arguments sake let’s say Sale, who has two Grade A pitches (fastball & slider), plus a very nice developing change-up, continues to pitch well in 2012 leading the White Sox to a playoff run.  He ends up winning 16 games, losing 7 while posting a great ERA of 2.85. Bothered by some arm issues the following season, Sale regresses to a record of 9-7.* The White Sox resist the Joba Chamberlain urge to move Sale back to the bullpen and he comes back strong in 2014, winning 22 games, losing 5 with a stellar ERA of 2.54. His strikeouts pile up consistently during that 2014 season, and Sale finished with 267 whiffs.

He will, of course, win his first Cy Young award.

*Sale does have a wicked delivery, one that if off-line to the plate and takes his throwing arm back way behind his body, getting into a high “Inverted W” arm action. Many evaluators believe this type of delivery is great for his velocity, but terrible for his health, and some have predicted a future arm surgery. While predicting future arm surgeries are not difficult for today’s pitchers (many, many pitchers who are babied have them –including Stephen Strasburg), I believe Sale’s delivery (except being off-line to the plate) is more like Randy Johnson’s. Johnson leaned over when delivering the ball, giving the image of a terrible delivery, when his delivery was actually not harmful to his health.

Over the next six seasons (while hitting his prime), Sale racks up totals of 20, 18, 17, 21 (another Cy award), 18 and 18 wins. American League hitters are oftentimes in awe and state “Sale is the premiere pitcher in the A.L…,” and “the movement on his pitchers sometimes make him impossible to hit.” After a devastating 19 strikeout performance against the cross town Chicago Cubs in the summer of 2015, a Sports Illustrated writer quotes the home plate umpire as saying, ” that was the best pitched game I have ever umpired.”

Remember that Strasburg (despite still being on strict pitch counts and innings limits) is putting up equally gaudy number in the National League. Because of these two phenoms, the drafts of 2009 (Strasburg, Dustin Ackley, Zach Wheeler, Drew Storen, Shelby Miller and Mike Trout) and 2010 (Sale, Bryce Harper, James Taillon, Manny Machado, Matt Harvey, Christian Yelich, Zach Lee) is now being considered two of the best drafts of all time.

After those 7 great seasons, Sale runs into some unforeseen difficulties and more elbow problems, posting only 31 wins over the next 4 seasons. But, in 2025 he bounces back, making 34 starts and going 21-7 with a 2.30 ERA and 295 strikeouts.  A third Cy Young award takes its rightful place in his trophy case (just missed his fourth in 2015, placing second to Ivan Nova of the New York Yankees). But, late in the comeback 2025 season Sale has a recurrence of the elbow problems which had plagued him over the prior four seasons.

With the White Sox clearly wanting him to continue playing, at age 36 Sale decides to take the Sandy Koufax/Mike Mussina route and retires gracefully from the game, and as George Costanzo would likely approve, he exits on a high note.

His career numbers are exceptional with a record of 213-118, an ERA of 2.97, with 2882 strikeouts recorded in slightly more than 3000 innings. He won the three CY Young awards and helped lead his team to at least one World Series title.

Remember it could also be Strasburg that has this career.

After that type of career, do you think Sale or Strasburg would be a Hall of Famer? Absolutely they would!

The writers would be falling all over themselves to proclaim Sale/Strasburg as the “best pitcher of his generation” and are predicting they might generate close to the vote totals of Greg Maddux, who became the first unanimous player voted into the Hall of Fame. 

So why then is there any debate at all about Roger Clemens’ chances for Hall of Fame induction?

Those career “fantasy numbers” presented above are exactly Clemens’ career totals AFTER the 1997 season in Toronto. This was the season BEFORE he has been named by his trainer Brain McNamee of being on the receiving end of “performance enhancing steroids” and human growth hormone (HGH).

Early in Clemens’ career, he had shoulder surgery and bounced back to go 24-4, slightly better than what Sale or Strasburg “did” above. But Clemens also won four Cy Young awards during this early period, before his ultra-competitive nature allegedly pushed him into the forbidden zone of performance enhancers.

About 99% of the baseball public has already persecuted Clemens, and an informal survey of 80 probable Hall of Fame voters, taken the day after the Mitchell Report came out, witnessed 28 saying they would vote YES for Clemens, 21 voting NO, with 31 UNDECIDED. Many undecided’s are clearly in the NO category after Clemens’ recent trial acquittal.  

The source of Clemens’ involvement was his long time trainer, Brian McNamee, who said he personally injected Clemens with steroids and HGH during the 1998, 2000 and 2001 seasons. Most people who have an opinion believe McNamee, but what McNamee said was under direct pressure from the federal government to “tell the truth” or face deep prosecution for distributing controlled substances.

While Greg Anderson kept his secrets regarding Barry Bonds, McNamee felt compelled to tell what he knew. And like I mentioned earlier, mostly everyone believes him.

But for the powers that be (the writers) to reduce Clemens’ entire body of work before the allegations made by McNamee is ridiculous.

Clemens is a Hall of Fame player with HOF credentials. If you add in the seasons which McNamee said he didn’t administer PEDs to Clemens (1999, 2002-2007), the non-alleged PED numbers are even more staggering. If you want to remove all the seasons from Clemens’ career after his first use of PEDs, then you still have a tremendous career. Clemens (and Barry Bonds) were HOF players before they became supposed “cheats.”

Should we then remove Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker from the HOF, great ball players who were implicated in a game-throwing scandal during the 1919 season? Do we remove from the HOF all the players like Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Willie Stargell and Mike Schmidt who supposedly used “greenies” and other amphetamine drugs to stay on the field during the 1960s and 1970s?

Is it OK because the use of greenies (and reds, etc)  that was widely accepted in the game back then?

MLB writers constantly call on the game’s umpires to just call the game and not impose themselves into the game. Now it appears like the writers are not only calling the HOF game, but are actually imposing themselves into the contest.

And that is bad for baseball.

 

 


Happy Birthday, Frank Robinson!

August 31, 2010

Today, August 31, is Hall of Famer Frank Robinson’s birthday. He is 75 years old. I met him two years ago at the baseball Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, and he was gracious and kind.

He was with baseball commentator Ed Randall, who said, “See Frank, someone does remember you!” And Robby laughed.

The Judge, as he was sometimes known, was one of the most underrated ball players of his generation. And it is tough to be underrated when you are  Hall of Famer! He played the game hard all the time and was one of the fiercest players on the diamond.

Robinson is one of my favorite all time players, and not just the way he played the game.

We share the same birthday.

But Robinson is not the only Hall of Famer born on this day. Eddie Plank, a left-handed pitcher for Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s team in the first two decades of the 20th Century was also born on August 31st. Plank won 326 games over 17 season with 2.35 career ERA.

Five times he threw over 300 innings, with a high of 357 IP in 1904 when he won 26 games.

Maybe we can get another HOFer born on this date as Tim (Rock) Raines was born today, too.  Rock received 30.4% of the ballots this year, his third on the ballot.  He is currently the manager of the Newark Bears in the independent Atlantic League.

Other well-know ballplayer born on August 31st include Tracy Stallard (Gave up Roger Maris’ 61st HR), Claudell Washington, Tom Candiotti, Von Hayes, Hideo Nomo and Ramon Ramirez.

These are good baseball players, but none were better than Frank Robinson.

Happy Birthday, Frank!


The One Man Who Can Stop Albert Pujols From Winning the Triple Crown

August 25, 2010

During Monday night’s St. Louis Cardinals loss to the last-place (and worst record in baseball) Pittsburgh Pirates, Albert Pujols was 3-for-5 with a double, raising his batting average to .322.

I know this stat is not important to saber heads (please bear with us), but for this argument it is imperative.

Meanwhile, on the west coast, Cincinnati’s Joey Votto went 1-for-4 in a 13-5 drubbing by the now offensively resurgent San Francisco Giants. That effort dropped Votto’s season average to .323, a single point above Pujols.

With Pujols ahead in the National League in home runs (33) and RBI (92), the batting crown is the only leg of the Triple Crown he doesn’t lead.

Adan Dunn, with 31 jacks, and Votto, with 29 dingers, are right behind Phat Albert in the HR race. And with 86 RBI, Votto is six back of Pujols, I believe Albert is safe in both power departments. He is on a roll with the power and when that happens, usually a tidal wave of home runs (and RBI) ensue.

In fact, Albert’s August barrage of nine home runs, 20 RBI while hitting .436 is what has put him back into the Triple Crown race.

While Votto is leading with a .323 average entering Wednesday’s games, Colorado’s Carlos Gonzalez is currently hitting .319, while Atlanta’s Martin Prado is at .317. Both could also end up with a higher average than Pujols in his quest to become baseball’s first Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastremski in 1967*.

*If you have never looked into Yaz’ stretch run in 1967, when he was not only attempting to win the Triple Crown, but more importantly, trying to lead Boston to the AL Pennant, you need to look into it. It is perhaps the best clutch performance of any player of all time.  

While fending off Detroit, Minnesota, and Chicago (what no Yankees?) in a four-team race for the pennant, Yaz went 7-for-8 in his final two games with a double, HR, and six RBI including a 4-for-4 performance on the final day. During the September stretch run, Yaz hit .417 with nine homers, but hit .541 with four homers and 14 RBI over the last 10 games.

It was truly a remarkable performance.

Pujols is starting to turn it on with his incredible month of August, but it is probably the batting average category which could forestall any thoughts of a Triple Crown.

But despite all of Pujols’s greatness, there is one guy who can keep Albert from winning the Triple Crown. Joey Votto, right?

Wrong.

It is Omar Infante of the Atlanta Braves.

What? Yes, you saw it correctly. Infante is the one player who can keep Pujols from winning this year’s Triple Crown.

Entering today, Infante is hitting .349 this season as a utility player for the first place Braves, and was having such a fine season at the break, he even made his first All-Star team.

But he only has 342 plate appearances thus far, and with the Braves already playing 126 games, Infante currently needs 391 to qualify (3.1 plate appearances per team game played).

Infante is not just a utility player anymore, and has been a regular in Bobby Cox’s lineup since late July. And he is not slowing down now that he is a regular. He has hit a robust .370/.400/.560/.960 OPS clip for August (37-for-100) with four home runs.

This is coming off him hitting .429 in July (27-for-63).

With Atlanta only 2.5 games ahead of Philadelphia, Cox has no reason not to play the red-hot Infante every day. With Chipper Jones out for the season, Infante is now the starting second baseman, with Martin Prado moving from second over to third.

Even when Troy Glaus comes back, I still see Infante in the lineup every day until the end of the season. 

So let’s do the math.

Infante has 342 plate appearances, but needs 502 to qualify for the batting title. For a conservative estimate, lets give him four plate appearances for each of the next 36 games the Braves have left.

That will allow for some games of five PA, while he may sit a game to get some rest. He may even be dropped in the batting order, who knows? He has hit in every spot in the lineup this season but fifth, but has been in the leadoff spot the last couple weeks.

That gives him another 144 plate appearances (36 games x 4 PA per = 144), and add that to his current 342 would give Infante 486 PA for the season. That is still 16 PA short of qualifying for the title.

Lets also say that Infante (even after his very hot July and August), hits only around .320 the rest of the way. Infante does not walk much (another no-no for any saber head HOF consideration), so lets say all his 144 PA become actual at bats.  

If Infante gets 46 hits in his 144 remaining at bats (a .319 average), he will end up .33978 for the season (158 for 465). This leads Votto and Pujols at their current averages for the batting title.

But under our situation, Infante is still 16 PA short of a title. This is where playing with the numbers comes into play. Major League Baseball rules regarding a batting title state in order to become eligible, a player must accumulate 3.1 PA for every team games played, or 502 PA.

But if the player with the highest average in a league fails to meet the minimum plate-appearance requirement, the remaining at-bats until qualification are hypothetically considered hitless at-bats; if his recalculated batting average still tops the league, he is awarded the title.

Thus if we give Infante an additional 16 “hitless” at-bats to a total of 481, he would then have a batting average of .32848, still about five points higher than Votto or Pujols is hitting right now. Reduce Infante by one hit, and his average would then be .32640. Reduce by another hit (only 156 hits/481 AB) would reduce his average to .32432, still slightly above where Votto and Pujols are.

This tactic of adding “hitless” at-bats was started in 1967, and was implemented most recently in 1996 when Tony Gwynn won the batting title while only having 498 PA.

I believe Infante will hit around .320 (or better) the rest of the season, and pose an issue for the batting title and possible Pujols Triple Crown. At the end of the season with an average in the .326 to .333 range—after the hitless at bats are added.

This is all moot, of course, if Votto or Dunn, Gonzalez, or even Martin Prado gets hot at their specialties and pushes Pujols out of one or more of the other two categories. 

Throw in a Cincinnati and St. Louis Divisional race down the stretch and the last six weeks become even more interesting for Pujols, Votto, and the rest of the National League.


Ubaldo Jimenez 2010 vs. Bob Gibson 1968: Who’s the Better Pitcher Through June?

June 29, 2010

Ubaldo Jimenez has a great start to the 2010 campaign, where he has a 14-1 won/loss record to go along with a 1.83 ERA and 1.05 WHIP. It measures up against many of the great pitching starts to any individual season.

But how does it measure up against the start of one of the greatest pitching seasons of the modern era? The 22-9, 1.12 ERA, 0.853 WHIP, 258 ERA+ of Bob Gibson’s 1968 campaign?

By the end of June, Gibson was a rather pedestrian 9-5, but his ERA was 1.14, and he already had lost games by scores of 1-0 and 2-0. The league ERA at the end of June was 2.93, so Gibson ERA+ was around 257  after three months of work.

 These figures are right in line with Gibson’s seasonal marks of 1.12 ERA and 258 ERA+. It speaks volumes on how Gibson was extremely consistent throughout that amazing season.

During that entire season, however, the Major Leagues were terrible hitters across the board. For example, only one American League batter, Carl Yastrzemski, hit over .300 (barely at .301), and very few batters in either league hit for power. Willie McCovey of the San Francisco Giants led the National League with 36 home runs and was the only NL player with over 100 RBI, racking up 105.

The NL in 1968 had a slash line of .243 BA/.300 OBP/.341 SLG/.641 OPS. Only one team, the Cincinnati Reds had a team OPS over .700. The average runs scored per game that season in the NL was 3.43.

These were terrible offensive statistics.

The biggest factor was the size of the mound. In 1968, the mound was 15 inches high, but reduced to 10 inches beginning in 1969. But wasn’t the mound height 15 inches in the seasons prior to 1968?

Of course, they were 15 inches high since 1903 (sometimes higher), so why weren’t the ERA’s well below 2.00, and near Gibson’s 1.12 ERA in the preceeding seasons?

Maybe the pitchers did not pitch as well. Pitchers do have different seasons all the time. Mechanical faults often lead to missing locations of pitches. This usually leads to more runs scored for the opposition.

But those great pitching seasons do come around from time to time,and the 1968 season was the post-war “Year of the Pitcher.” Of the 16 post war (World War II) seasons which had sub-2.00 ERA’s, and with Gibson leading the way the 1968 season produced seven of them.

In the year of the pitcher, Hoot was by far the best.

By the end of June, Gibby had a .775 WHIP. In June alone, he had a 6-0 record, six complete games, a 0.50 ERA and five consecutive shutouts. Does it matter that he was facing some anemic hitters. Why didn’t everyone in that era then perform like that?

Whereas Gibson was facing poor hitters, Jimenez is facing a more potent lineups, with pretty much any hitter from 1-8 in the National League able to hit the ball over the fence at any time. 

During Jimenez’ great 2010 start, the major leagues are hitting at a slash rate of .259/.329/.405/734 OPS, much superior to the National League hitters of the 1968 season. Hitters today are much more advanced than their predecessors, with video clips, better ideas on hitting mechanics, a tighter strike zone, and that lower mound.

But despite the great 14-1 record thus far, Jimenez has a higher ERA than did Gibson through June at 1.83, and a higher WHIP at 1.053. His ERA+, which measures his performance against league average, is 246, lower than Gibson’s 257 through June.

Ubaldo’s ERA+ has also significantly declined each of his last two starts.

Two starts which have yielded a win and a no-decision, allowing ten earned runs in 11.2 innings. His record in June is 4-0 with a 4.41 ERA and 1.439 WHIP.

Those last two numbers are far worse than league average of 4.11 ERA and 1.379 WHIP.

Gibson allowed more than three earned runs only twice in his 34 starts in 1968, one which was over 11 innings.

With his combination of complete games, five straight shutouts (48 straight scoreless innings) and extremely microscopic ERA of 1.14, Bob Gibson had the better three-month start to his 1968 season over Ubaldo Jimenez’ 2010 start.

And the best part is that Gibson keeps up that pace through the season, while Jimenez has shown signs of mortality over his last couple starts.

Bob Gibson’s 1968 campaign was the best ever for a pitcher in the modern era, and we will likely be saying that for decades to come.


Lou Gehrig: An Underrated New York Yankee Legendary Ballplayer

June 23, 2010

The term underrated is thrown around quite frequently. It can be used to describe pretty much any situation, but is most often used for sports figures and their on-field exploits.

Yesterday, June 21st, was the 71st anniversary of Lou Gehrig’s retirement. While Gehrig removed himself from the Yankee lineup prior to the game on May 2, 1939, he remained with the team as captain for another six weeks.

Gehrig was one of the greatest all-around baseball players of all time, but much of his greatness was often overshadowed by the great Yankee teams and players. He was part of the first Yankee dynasty’s back in the mid-to-late 1920’s through the mid-1930’s.

He is widely considered the greatest first baseman of all time.

His records are numerous. He has the most grand slams with 23, has the most seasons with 400+ total bases with five (only four other players have two or more—Rogers Hornsby, Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx all had two, Philadelphia Phillies slugger Chuck Klein has three), and Gehrig AVERAGED 147 RBI per season.

Since Gehrig retired in 1939, only 16 times has 147 RBI in a single season even been eclipsed! It has only happened 52 total times, with Gehrig attaining this level seven times himself.

He hit 493 career home runs, accumulated a staggering 1,995 RBI, scored 1,888 runs, and had a career batting average of .340. At the time of his retirement, Gehrig was second all time in home runs, third in RBI, and third in runs scored.

But how can the greatest first baseman of all time, and the best run producer baseball has ever had, be underrated?

Easy. The biggest reason was the player he is most associated with, Babe Ruth.

Gehrig was overshadowed his entire career by the hitters who hit in front of him.

Gehrig wore uniform No. 4 because he hit fourth (cleanup) in the Yankee lineup. The player before him, Babe Ruth, wore uniform No. 3 because Ruth hit third, just in front of Gehrig.

Gehrig put up all those great production seasons even hitting immediately behind the other big run producer of that era. In 1927 when Ruth hit 60 HR’s and drove in 164 runs, Gehrig came to the plate at least 60 times with the bases empty.

But Gehrig made the most of his men on base opportunities, driving in an amazing 175 runs that 1927 season hitting behind Ruth. On a continuous basis, Gehrig was denied many opportunities to increase his statistics, and yet, still was the eras top RBI producer.

And it was not only Ruth, because two seasons after Ruth left the Yankees, they acquired Joe DiMaggio from the Pacific Coast League’s San Francisco Seals. The young Yankee Clipper phenom hit third in front of Gehrig for the remainder of Lou’s career.

Play on the field was not the only way both Ruth and DiMaggio overshadowed Gehrig.

Both Ruth and DiMaggio were huge personalities; Ruth very gregarious while Joe D. was a more quiet celebrity who was a private person, but certainly relished the New York nightlife.

Gehrig was more reserved, a quiet family man. He did not fraternize with others during the train rides or when they were on the 1934 Tour of Japan. He had Jan Brady syndrome, the middle child between big brother Babe and the young, talented brother DiMaggio.

While Gehrig was renowned as a slugger, his fielding and speed on the bases were vastly underrated.

Gehrig was swift around the first base bag, with quick feet and an innate ability to position himself correctly. His good footwork could have been a product of his time as a fullback for the Columbia University football team.

Gehrig had a career .990 fielding percentage at first base. Two of the best recent defensive first baseman in New York were Don Mattingly (.992) and Keith Hernandez (.994).

With terrible field conditions compared to the modern era and comparably deficient equipment, Gehrig still held his own percentage-wise compared to the first basemen of today.

Still, for a big guy, Gehrig had great speed. He did not steal bases, but in reading reports of that time showed Gehrig was one of the most fearless baserunners.

He scored from first base most of the time on doubles, accumulated 163 career triples, and hit six inside the park home runs. In 1926, he led the league with 20 three-baggers.

He also stole home an amazing 15 times in his career. Lou Brock never stole home.

Yet, even though Gehrig was an all-around ballplayer, not just a slugger, he is often overlooked when “the best players in history are discussed.”

Lou Gehrig played in seven World Series with the Yankees, with his team winning six titles. Gehrig dominated these contests, hitting .361 BA/.477 OBP/.731 SLG/1.208 OPS with 10 home runs and 35 RBI. All numbers which are considerable better than his career stats of .340/3447/.632/1.075 OPS.

His only “bad” series could be 1938, with the ALS disease already ravaging his body, when he only hit .286 with no extra base hits. Gehrig scored eight game winning runs in World Series competition. Yet it is Ruth’s gigantic 1928 Series against the Cardinals, and Ruth’s 1932 Game Three “Called Shot” which always got the headlines.

With his unknown deadly disease crippling him, Gehrig continued to play. His consecutive game streak is now toppled, but the stories are still there. Future X-rays of his hands revealed many broken bones which he played through, and he came back from a beaning in 1933, staying in that game.

It has been documented that once a person is diagnosed with ALS, the disease which now carries Gehrig’s name, the person usually lives about five years.

Gehrig lived only two years after diagnosis, indicating he played major league baseball at a high level with the disease for three seasons.

Yet he only thought about others. When he went to manager Joe McCarthy before taking himself out of the lineup, Lou said, “I’m benching myself for the good of the team.”

The consummate team player.

He was a great slugger, but also a great runner, fielder and person. Overshadowed throughout his career by Ruth and DiMaggio, many people only remember “The Iron Horse” from his consecutive game streak and the disease which took his life.

On June 3, 1932, Gehrig was the first 20th Century player to hit four home runs in one game, and would have had five if Philadelphia A’s center fielder Al Simmons did not rob Gehrig of another with a great over the shoulder catch.

With Shibe Park’s 470 foot distance to that area of the field, it probably would have been an inside the park homer.

After that game, McCarthy said to Lou, “Well, Lou, nobody can take today away from you.” On the same day, however, cross-town manager John McGraw announced his retirement after thirty years of managing the New York Giants.

McGraw, and not Gehrig, got the main headlines in the sports sections the next day. 

A typical occurrence for one of the most underrated players in baseball history.


Derek Jeter’s New Yankee Contract Should Be 10 years – $200 Million

January 31, 2010

Johnny Damon was discussing his divorce from the New York Yankees to any media outlet who wanted to listen. On the WFAN radio show in New York, Damon discussed his Yankee divorce with host Mike Francesca. I want to say that I did not hear the interview live, but listened to the podcast and read its excerpts in the New York newspapers.

It is not the first divorce in Damon’s professional, or even personal life. One of the reasons bandied about Damon wanting to play solely for more money is that he lost millions in the divorce from his first wife. Then he supposedly lost even more in the Florida-based Allen Stanford $8 billion investment scandal.

Damon might have been better off marrying Stanford and investing money with his first wife.

During the interview Damon said, “Hopefully this doesn’t happen with Derek next year. I say there’s no way Derek can go anywhere else.”

While Damon did acknowledge that Jeter’s situation is completely different, he hopes Jeter doesn’t encounter similar negotiating difficulties with the team when the franchise’s all-time hits leader becomes a free agent next winter.

“… I hope he’s not offered a 40-45% pay cut. But I know Derek’s going to go out and produce this year and I know they will treat him with respect.”

I guarantee, Johnny, that the Yankees will treat Jeter with respect, and that Jeter will treat the Yankees with respect, too.

Jeter is the home grown winning Yankee star of my 12 year old son’s generation, just like Thurman Munson was of my generation and Joe DiMaggio was of my father’s generation. Those three players were our childhood heroes of three generations of Joseph DelGrippo’s. (Wow, three generations of opinionated sports fans is just way too much.)

All three of those Yankee greats were private individuals who won back to back World Series titles. Munson was the consummate family man, ultimately dying because of his desires to see his family during the season.

Jeter was more similar to DiMaggio. Both single, classy, and New York City savants who owned the Big Apple – if they so wanted, but both usually stayed behind the scenes loving their privacy.

Jeter knows his Yankee history, knows his place in that history as the leader of the late 90’s dynasty and the latest in the short list of Yankee Captains. He respected the Iron Horse when he broke Lou Gehrig’s All-Time Yankee hit record, he respected the Yankee fans with his great impromptu speech after the last game at the previous Yankee Stadium.

And he will respect the great DiMaggio by leaving the Yankees the same way the Yankee Clipper left the team (and the game) after the 1951 season, by retiring when he felt he was beginning to embarrass himself on the field, and “the game was no longer fun.”

Speculation has run over the last several years what the Yankees will do with their current icon. With all the money spent over the last three seasons on Jorge Posada, Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett and Mark Teixeira, the Yankees have doled out many future millions to these star players.

Will Jeter want or get similar money? Yes, he will.

That is why the Yankees will re-sign Jeter to an approximate 10-year, $200 million contract extension before, during or immediately after the 2010 season. Same length as his current deal with a little bit more money, so as not to have that Damon “pay cut” situation. Derek will then be a Yankee forever, and the long contract will eliminate all speculation about his future.

Why would the Yankees sing an aging (albeit very productive) 35 year old player to a 10 year contract?

The key to this deal is that the Yankees will not even have to pay the entire contract.

According to the MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement, if a player is placed on the Voluntary Retired list, he forgoes his contracted salary. It happened recently with Salomon Torres, who retired from the Milwaukee Brewers after the 2008 season, leaving almost $4 million on the table.

Jeter will retire well before that entire new contract will be over, and the Yankees will not have to pay the entire $200 million.

Jeter is the type of Yankee hero and dignified person that he will not let his career spiral downward to that of Willie Mays or even Mickey Mantle, guys who every else knew was done well before they retired.

Mays was a shell of his former self his last two seasons (ages 41 & 42), and should have retired after the 1971 season – on top. Mantle often said the one regret he had was he did not hit .300 for his career (he hit .298) because he held on too long. Jeter will not let that happen to him and, similar to DiMaggio, will leave well before it begins to get embarrassing.

Lets say Jeter signs that type of big contract, gives the Yankees five more good to great seasons and, while beginning to shows signs of declining productivity he reaches age 40 with about 3,700 career hits. He will be on the precipice of becoming the third player to garner 4,000 hits.

With the Yankees penchant for milestones, they will allow him to get to 4,000….if Jeter wants. If Jeter is productive enough, he will continue to play to get that number or if begins to “not be fun” Jeter will elect to bow out of the game gracefully – while on top.

Jeter has always wanted to be the shortstop for the New York Yankees and will be able to play that position as long as he wants. But if Jeter begins to decline significantly, he will not let milestones or even millions of dollars affect his decision. And he will not go to any other team, ever.

And that type of spending is different to what Damon went through with the Yankees.

First, Jeter is a home grown Yankee icon, and paying him that type of future money is a bonus as much for his past heroics and it is for future production. This is similar to how the Baltimore Orioles overpaid at the end for Cal Ripken’s services and the Chicago Cubs overpaid for Ryne Sandberg.

At that time in 1992, both Ripken’s and Sandberg’s contracts were the highest ever in baseball.

Second, Jeter is not the greedy soul that Damon appears to be, and will not stay on just to collect the money.

He has too much class for that. Grace and class like DiMaggio playing the game on the field and exiting the same game moving off the field.

Jeter will leave the game before his career has a chance to end.


Here’s Hoping the Indianapolis Colts Lose in the First Round of the Playoffs

December 27, 2009

Today was New York Football TV watching day. It is rare that I actually watch both the New Jersey Giants and Jets on the same day, but both games were important to the decent to slim playoff chances each team had.

Also, my Dallas Cowboys team did not play until the NBC Sunday night game at 8:20.

The Giants blew their season because they can’t stop the run. The Jets, with help in three early 1:00 PM games, had destiny in their hands. They only had to beat the undefeated 14-0 Indianapolis Colts and win next week at home versus the Cincinnati Bengals.  And with 5:06 left in the 3rd quarter, losing 15-10, the Jets won the game.

That is because the Colts continue with their ridiculous premise of resting their starters late in the season so they don’t get risk injury. Never mind that all their stars, including Peyton Manning, have been unscathed the entire season.

In fact, Manning has started EVERY GAME in his 12 year career. He has NEVER suffered a major injury.

The best part of Manning’s game is his preparation and intelligence. He continually knows where all the defenders are on every play, and on passing plays seems to know where the pressure is coming from. From there, he moves well in the pocket to avoid direct hits. He has been sacked only 10 times this season and 215 times in his career.

I have not witnessed every game the Colts have played, but I have never seen Manning take a huge hit where you think he might be hurt and miss a game.

Back in 1972 (and in prior NFL seasons), the home teams in the playoffs were decided based on a yearly divisional rotation, excluding the wild card teams who would always play on the road. Therefore, in their undefeated season of 1972, the AFC Championship game was already predetermined and the Dolphins, despite their perfect record, did not host the AFC title game. That game was played in Pittsburgh.

That means while the Dolphins held the overall best record, they were not playing late in the season for playoff positioning. At the end of the regular season, they did what Herman Edwards stated so eloquently – “You play to win the game!”

And with no playoff positioning to attain, the 1972 Dolphins played the final six regular season games for an opportunity at a perfect season. (I said the last six games because the next best record in the AFC East was the New York Jets at 7-7).

In the last few weeks starting QB Earl Morrall played most of the games, as did running backs Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Mercury Morris plus star wide receiver Paul Warfield. The veteran Morrall was the starter the last nine weeks after Bob Griese broke his ankle in Week 5.

Morrall was only removed from the final few games after the game was well in hand. Reserve QB Jim Del Gaizo came in for mop up duty in Week 12 and Griese, back from his injury, came in late in Week 14. The Dolphins wanted to make history and they achieved their goal, a perfect 17-0 record and the franchises first Super Bowl victory.

The 1972 Dolphins players could have used the baby, sorry I mean safety time off like the 2009 Colts received, even more than the Colts needed. The Colts have home field advantage throughout the playoffs and get a first round bye. The 1972 Dolphins did not have a bye and played the first playoff game the following week.

In the 2007 and 2005 seasons with a first round playoff bye wrapped up, the Colts also rested their players (especially Manning) the final week, essentially giving him TWO consecutive weeks off. They proceeded to lose their first round games. In 2005 the Colts began the season 13-0 before losing versus San Diego. They mailed in the next game as Manning only played a half, and won the final game without Manning playing. The best and most important player in the league therefore had almost three weeks off from competitive football. Last season, Manning sat for most of their final game and lost against the San Diego Chargers in the first round of the playoffs.

I like Peyton Manning. He is a superstar player who always tries to perfect his craft. He watches an ungodly amount of film to learn all he can about his opponent, and based upon his overall 117-59 (now 60) record, he learns very well.

He stays out of the public eye off the field and appears to be the all around type guy you would want your son to emulate.

But I really am now rooting for the Indianapolis Colts to lose their first playoff game three weeks from now. You absolutely know now after today’s loss that Manning and his starters will sit most of the game next week, too. I want the Colts to lose to teach them about the shot at history then gave up on.

One of the best parts of sports is the history. While the Dolphins are the only undefeated NFL team since the Super Bowl era began, there have been other teams which have knocked on the door.

As recently as 2008, the New England Patriots played all their starters the last several games of the season and came one miracle play from an undefeated 19-0 season. Their final regular season game against the Giants was a classic game with both teams, knowing what was at stake, going all out.

The 1984 San Francisco 49ers team went 15-1 in the regular season and clinched home field advantage throughout the playoffs by week 13. Starting QB Joe Montana started every game at the end and was never pulled from a game until the game was out of reach. In Week 16 he started and played the entire game in a 19-16 victory over the Los Angels Rams. They went on to go 18-1 and won the Super Bowl.

A year later, the 1985 Chicago Bears had home field wrapped up by Week 14, and their starters Jim McMahon and Walter Payton both played every game down the stretch, even a 37-17 Week 16 dismantling of the Detroit Lions. They ended up similar to the 49ers at 18-1 and Super Bowl Champions.

But unlike their predecessors the Colts mailed it in today, relinquishing their chance at history to save a few plays from one of their stars getting hurt. With almost 19 minutes left in the game and the lead, Manning would likely have thrown the ball maybe 12-15 more times. That is 12-15 drop backs and possible chances at injury. Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my!

An injury which would never occur. As I mentioned earlier, Manning has been sacked 215 times in his career and has never missed a game. And make no mistake about it, even though other starters like Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark were pulled early, this was about Manning.

Decades after they played the great football teams are looked upon on how many championships they won. The 1960’s Packers won a few NFL titles and the first two Super Bowls. The 1970’s Cowboys finally got the monkey off their back and won two Super Bowl titles themselves.

Those Cowboys beat the Dolphins once, then the Fish won their back-to-back Super Bowls. Both those teams lost AFC Championship games and Super Bowls to the great 1970’s Steelers teams, which won four Super Bowls and are considered one of the greatest NFL dynasties.

Then the 1980’s San Francisco 49ers won their run of Super Bowls, the 1990’s Cowboys won their three and this decades New England Patriots won their three.

While the Colts have amassed an amazing amount of regular season wins during the Manning era, they are only 7-8 in playoff games. They have an amazing six one and dones where they lost their first playoff game of a post season.

The Colts have constantly sat their starter, but particularly Manning the last game of the season many times and only once, in 2004, have the Colts won their first game of the playoffs. But that was with no bye in the first round, and it was against the same team (the Denver Broncos) they lost to that final week.

Manning has only reached the AFC Championship game TWICE in his storied career, losing to the Patriots in 2003 before winning the Super Bowl in 2006.

It is no coincidence that in both those seasons, Manning was forced to play that final week of the regular season, then the next week in the playoffs.

But this first year new coach Jim Caldwell (probably under the direction of President Bill Polian) went against what history has dictated to this franchise, that when Peyton plays late in the season, they win in the playoffs.

Now that Peyton was sat to avoid a non-existent injury and the Colts cheated their fans and the NFL at a shot at history, I hope that the Colts lose again.

Three weeks from now in the first round of the playoffs.


A Dominant World Series Performance while on the Mound at Yankee Stadium

October 29, 2009

An in-his-prime Cy Young Award winning pitcher was making the start in Game One of the World Series on the hill at Yankee Stadium (one of the few stadiums left that does not receive money for naming rights). He completely dominates the Bronx Bombers power laden lineup, and out dueled the Yankees ace left handed pitcher.

Having won the prior years World Series, his team was seeking to become the first National League team since the Big Red Machine in 1975-76 to repeat as a World Series Champions. The Yankees meanwhile, had not been to the Series in years and were looking to continue their comeback kid way of the prior playoff series.

However, on this Game One night only the Yankee shortstop and lead off hitter, Derek Jeter, crossed the plate, while a former Boston Red Sox hitter batting second for the Yankees had one of the few hits allowed by this veteran stud pitcher. 

A young slugger for this pitcher’s team hit two home runs, one a mammoth shot whose sound of bat meeting ball reverberated throughout the stadium, that is until the entire stadium went quiet. After the second home run in as many at bats, the way this starter was pitching, it was apparent to Yankee fans knew the game was likely out reach.  

Even this Yankee fan predicted that the Yankees would win Game One.

And on this night, the Yankee bullpen put gasoline on the fire, doing their part to allow that loss to materialize.

This pitcher had the Yankees waving at pitches all night, continuing his utter dominance in the post season. Up to this game, the pitcher started Game One in both prior series, was undefeated with a ridiculously low ERA and WHIP, handily defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers along the way.

His great start and solid offense from his teams lineup gave the Yankees thoughts that the Series might not go as they expected. They knew that even if they won the next couple games, they would have to face this ace once again.

After Game One, a Yankee hitter lamented that the next time his team “might have to beat that guy 1-0 or 2-1 the next time they face him.”

Could the Yankees beat this guy the second time around, likely going head to head again with that lefty Yankee ace on the hill?

Of course they can…and they already did! And that pitching rematch was one of the classic duels in World Series history, and the Yankees went on to win the World Series title.

Cliff Lee and 2009? Hardly.

We are talking about John Smoltz and 1996. He tore through the playoffs that season, and beat the Yankees in Game One , with Andruw Jones smacking the ball over the fence twice. Smoltz and Andy Pettitte both came back again in Game Five with masterful performances, only to see the Yankees win that duel 1-0. 

And that was AFTER the Yankees lost Game Two at home to a magician on the mound named Greg Maddux, similar to a magician the Yankees face tonight in Pedro Martinez.

So, all those prognosticators who think this 2009 Series has already taken a bad turn for the Yankees because of Lee’s dominance should look back at 1996. There was nobody better than Smoltz that season, and the Yankees beat him 1-0 the second time around.

MATSUI’S GAFFE

Anytime a ball is hit in the air within the infield, it is the runners job to get back to the bag. If the ball drops, it is the batter’s job to hustle down the first base line to beat a throw. Do your job and don’t worry about the other guy.

No matter what happened to that mini-pop up hit by Robinson Cano last night, Hideki Matsui should have been on first base immediately after the ball was hit. He never would have been safe on second anyway! Cano hustled down the line and thought he beat the relay throw, but he was actually out on the catch. Matsui needed to be back to the bag (and not on the infield grass!).

And where was the first base coach during all of this? Why was he not yelling to Matsui to come back to first? Stupid play all around and it goes to show that some ballplayers live on talent, and not on brains.

YANKEE HITTERS

Many times last night the Yankee hitters were consumed with home plate umpires Gerry Davis strike zone. Most of the times the strike zone was too tight as Cliff Lee, Phil Hughes and David Robertson were all severely pinched, but Cano and Melky Cabrera showed displeasure when strike calls were made.

Showing disgust toward the ump will get you no sympathy as the umps usually have long memories. As a hitter you will not get many calls your way after complaining.

Disgust on the field also takes the hitter out of his approach at the plate. While now a hitter is thinking about the SOB calling balls and strikes, the hitter should be concentrating on the pitcher and the count.

Don’t ever let the umpire dictate how you approach the at bat. If the zone is bigger than you thought, don’t swing at bad pitches early, but expand the zone with two strikes.

But players need to feel out the umpire and adjust accordingly. I would much rather see hitters voice displeasure than pitchers get squeezed. A bigger zone puts more balls in play. When I first began umpiring (now doing high school and college level baseball), I was told to start out thinking every pitch will be a strike, then after the ball is thrown find a good reason why it should not be.

WORKING THE COUNT – TAKING TOO MANY PITCHES

Rogers Horsnby was the greatest right handed hitter ever . His 1921-1925 seasons were absolutely sick. His first mantra was to GET A GOOD PITCH TO HIT. Ted Williams stuck to this mantra his entire career.

But now the game has changed to taking good pitches to hit. That is a bad move.

The Yankee hitters were taking too many fastballs down the middle early in the game. Do the Yankees really think they are going to pitch count Lee out of the game? This working the count is the biggest crock in baseball, especially the World Series game one. If the game was tight near the end, Charlie Manuel was NEVER going to pull Lee out of the game. He learned that lesson in the NLCS when he pulled Pedro too early and lost Game Two in Los Angeles.

The way to get Lee out of a game like that is to knock him around by spraying balls all round the field. And you do that by going after good pitches to hit early in the count.

You hear the announcers all the time saying, “So and so should be able to go another inning because he has a good pitch count.” Go another inning?

How about demanding to you manager that you will go nine innings and then shove the ball down the oppositions throat. Intimidate the other lineup by letting your ace dominate. Tell the other team, you can’t beat me and I won’t let you ease your minds by allowing the bullpen to come in this game. Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa made that mistake in the NLDS by removing Adam Wainwright after eight brilliant innings against the Dodgers.

UMPIRES

There was almost another umpire mistake on the Cano infield pop up, but the correct call was eventually made. But the real problem is not the lack of umpire knowledge, but that umpires do not like to break that cardinal rule of overruling another umpire, especially a veteran guy.

After the second base umpire called Cano out on Jimmy Rollins’ catch he should have called Matsui out also when he saw Ryan Howard tag out Hideki. He should have rules on the out at first immediately EVEN IF IT IS NOT HIS CALL. he is the only one who clearly saw the catch made, so he should have the say on the first base call, too.

It appears these umps are too timid to make an immediate call, and replay on everything will only make that worse. Umpires should run the game and not worry about feelings or god forbid, worry about the media.

And in the next TV contract negotiations, Major League baseball should tell the networks that the strike zone F/x garbage shown on every pitch should be outlawed. It leads to too many psuedo-baseball fans complaining about every pitch.

AJ BURNETT

I have read many pieces today that all the pressure is on AJ Burnett to live up to that $80 million contract and pitch the Yankees to victory.

Fans at the game should just let the guy pitch tonight without putting more pressure on him. He gets out of whack quickly and fans jumping down his throat will only aggravate the situation.

That is such garbage. Sports contracts are like investments and those disclaimers at the bottom of the prospectus or spoken really fast at the end of a commercial. These disclaimers say that “past performance is not indicative of future results.”

Burnett was paid that money based upon what he did last season, pure and simple. It does not indicate how he will pitch in “big spots” or “pressure games.”

Big contract’s don’t force players to play better. If that was the case, would giving CC Sabathia another $100 million last winter forced him to pitch better last night?

So, before Yankee fans boo every ball out of the strike zone thrown by AJ and boo every out Alex Rodriguez makes, just remember that these guys will be here many more years and as a fan, you are not making it any better or easier.

Let these guys play and leave them alone.

Yankees win tonight 7-3 as Pedro gets knocked around.


A Long Game Won on a Home Run by a Future HOFer

August 10, 2009

Two teams going at it for 15 innings with zeroes down the line. Two great lineups with future HOFers and former MVP’s.

But there were two equally as effective, and downright dominating, starters who went toe to toe, keeping those potent lineups at bay.

The game finally ended late with a home run off the bat of a future Hall of Famer, winning the game with a walk-off blast for the home team.

Friday night’s Yankee-Red Sox game won on an Alex Rodriguez two-run home run? Nope.

We are talking about the epic 16 inning contest between the Milwaukee Braves and San Francisco Giants on July 2, 1963 at Candlestick Park, which ended on a Willie Mays one-out, solo HR in the bottom of the 16th. 

The big difference between Friday night’s Red Sox-Yankees game and the game 46 years ago is while the most recent game used 14 pitchers, the game 46 years ago used 2.

Both starters, Juan Marichal of the Giants and Warren Spahn of the Braves went the distance. When the game ended it was 16 innings (and the win) for the Dominican Dandy and 15.1 innings (and the loss) for the 42-year old Spahn.

No bullpen needed, no lefty on lefty matchups, no strategy sessions between manager and pitching coach.

Marichal faced 59 batters, allowed seven hits, struck out 10 and walked four. He has said he threw 227 pitches in the contest. Spahn likely threw a far fewer amount because he only struck out two and walked one. He faced 56 batters and allowed only nine hits.

True iron men indeed!

Marichal also said that manager Alvin Dark came out in the 9th, 10th and 15th innings in an attempt to remove him from the game. In a recent interview, the 25 year old Marichal recalled the last meeting on the mound,  “I told Dark in the 15th, ‘I’m not leaving while that old guy is still on the mound.’ I remember I kept telling myself, ‘Okay just one more inning.’ I just didn’t want to leave before him. I didn’t want that old man lasting longer than me. But he was incredible, and I wound up staying there a lot longer than I thought I would.”

Marichal’s performance scored a Game Score of 112, the highest Game Score for any pitcher in the Post WWII era.

Both games are epics (how many times will we see the most recent contest on the YES network this off season?), having extended into the early morning hours of the next day, giving the remaining fans hope that their team will win.

After Mays’ homer, the game finally had a winner, but the real winners were the two iron men who dueled it out for 15+ innings each. With the prevalence of intense media scrutiny, agents overseeing that their pitchers aren’t “overworked,” Baseball Prospectus article such as this and Tom Verducci writing his yearly anti-pitching article, games like the Marichal-Spahn duel will never occur again.

Baseball Prospectus actually updated their findings five years later.

Both Marichal’s and Spahn’s intense will, determination, refusal to be removed and ability to throw strikes led to their success that summer night in San Francisco, as well as their eternal success in reaching the Baseball Hall of Fame.

They also are recognized as one of the greatest mano-y-mano pitching match up in baseball history.

It would have been great if AJ Burnett (7.2 IP, 118 P) and Josh Beckett (7 IP, 115 P) did the same, but they didn’t.

In addition to Marichal and Spahn, even Austin Wood is laughing.


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