Help – Save Me

How can a Pitcher get credited with a Save when he never shook the Catcher’s hand after the final out of the inning and the game wasn’t actually over? In August of 2013, the Tigers Bruce Rondon came on in relief against the Indians in the top of the 7th inning protecting a 5-2 Tigers lead. After allowing one hit and then getting the final out of the inning, he calmly walked to the dugout. The Tigers proceeded to score two additional runs in the bottom of the 7th and eventually, the game was called after seven innings due to rain. Opening up the newspaper the following morning, the box score of the game shows Rondon getting his first Save of the season! How would you like to lose your Fantasy Baseball League by one point in the Saves category?

 

When the founding fathers of Rotisserie baseball included a “Saves” category back in the early 80’s, they probably didn’t anticipate the type of angst that would be cascading down on the owners of Fantasy teams. In the original 4×4 format, an established closer could cost more than 10% of your roster’s budget at the Draft table. Maybe even more challenging, however, is the changing landscape that is part of the quest for Saves. Lets see a show of hands for all the experts who were spending mid-July targeting Roberto Osuna, Sean Doolittle, Kirby Yates, Ken Giles, Ian Kennedy and Wade Davis.

 

Saves didn’t become an official stat until 1969 and now, in the age of specialization, it isn’t uncommon to see Closers save 30, 40 or even 50 games. It certainly wasn’t like that in the 1950’s & 60’s, but thanks to baseball-reference.com and other baseball researchers, the history of Saves can now be tracked back over the last hundred years of baseball. For today’s baseball card collecting adventure, we’ll find the rookie cards of the Saves leader for each of the 20 seasons prior to the official birth of Saves in 1969. As always, the card values are based on “Near Mint” (NM 7) condition.

 

> 1949 – Joe Page, Yankees, 27 Saves – This tall lefthander was a starting pitcher when he first joined New York in the mid-40’s but became the last guy in the bullpen in 1947. To illustrate how the role has changed, he appeared in 60 games, finishing 48, with 135 IP and 13 Wins. Not an unsung hero, he also finished 3rd in the AL MVP balloting. This workload, however, took a heavy toll and his career was essentially over after 1950. His rookie card is from 1948 Bowman (#29) and books for $75.

Page RD

> 1950 – Jim Konstanty, Phillies, 22 Saves – Philadelphia won the NL Pennant and Casimir James Konstanty was a major contributor. When you digest his stats, it is clear to see why he won the NL MVP…appeared in 74 games, finishing 62 of them!! Pitched 152 innings and had 16 Wins to go along with his Save total. You can find his rookie card in the 1950 Bowman set (#226) with a value of $50.

 

> 1951 – Ellis Kinder, Red Sox, 14 Saves – Nicknamed “Old Folks”, he was an excellent starting pitcher for four seasons prior to moving to the bullpen in ’51. In 1949, for example, he went 23-6 and led the AL with 6 shutouts. His performance in this season was amazing and included an 11-2 record in 127 IP while finishing 41 games. The 1950 Bowman set is also home to Kinder’s rookie card (#152) and it books for $30.

Kinder RD

> 1952 – Al Brazle, Cardinals, 16 Saves – “Cotton” was another starting pitcher from the late 40’s who transitioned to the bullpen. He even started 6 games in this season and went 12-5 for the year. The 1949 Bowman set has his rookie card (#126) and $30 will add it to your collection.

 

> 1953 – Ellis Kinder, Red Sox, 27 Saves – Still effective at age 38, this tied Page’s record for the most Saves in a season. He also led the AL with 69 games pitched and 51 games finished. Oh, and his ERA was 1.85!

 

> 1954 – Jim Hughes, Dodgers, 24 Saves – A journeyman who didn’t get to the majors until age 29, he also led the NL with 60 appearances. His 1953 Topps card (#216) books for $45.

 

> 1955 – Ray Narleski, Indians, 19 Saves – The starting rotation was Early Wynn, Herb Score, Bob Lemon & Mike Garcia with a spot starter named Bob Feller. This slender right-hander also led the league with 60 appearances and added a 9-1 record. His 1955 Topps card (#160) is worth $45.

Narleski RD

> 1956 – Clem Labine, Dodgers, 19 Saves – The “Boys of Summer” had a great staff and this veteran closed the door by finishing 47 games. His rookie card is the jewel of this collection, as it comes from the high-numbered run of the famous 1952 Topps set (#342) and books for $415.

Labine RD

> 1957 – Bob Grim, Yankees, 19 Saves – The 1954 AL Rookie of the Year award winner when he went 20-6, Grim transitioned to the bullpen and added a 12-8 record to this All-Star season. The 1955 Bowman rookie card (#167) is worth $45.

 

> 1958 – Ryne Duren, Yankees , 20 Saves – Sort of a cross between Ricky Vaughn and Nuke Laloosh, this hard-thrower wore eyeglasses that looked like Coke bottles and always threw his first warm-up pitch all the way to the back-stop. He finished 2nd in the Rookie of the Year race and had 87 K’s in 75 IP. His 1958 Topps card (#296) can be found for about $25.

 

> 1959 – Turk Lown, White Sox, 15 Saves – Actually, a three-way tie with NL leaders Lindy McDaniel & Don McMahon, we’ll stick with Omar Joseph Lown. He led the NL in games finished for ’56 & ’57 with the Cubs and then went cross-town to the Pale Hose. He added 9 Wins in this stellar season for a 35 year-old. His 1952 Topps rookie card is also from the scarce series (#330) and books for $300.

 

> 1960 – Lindy McDaniel, Cardinals, 26 Saves – He and his Brother Von both pitched for the Redbirds in the 1950’s. This outstanding season included a 12-4 record and a 3rd place finish in the Cy Young voting. Led the NL in Saves again in 1963. His rookie card is from 1957 Topps (#79) and books for $20.

McDaniel RD

> 1961 – Luis Arroyo, Yankees, 29 Saves – Not the prototypical closer at 5″ 8″, he had one of the greatest bullpen seasons ever for the pennant winning Bronx Bombers. Led the league with 65 appearances and 54 games finished while adding 15 Wins in 119 IP. Two years later, his career was over. The 1956 Topps set has his rookie card (#64) and it is valued at $25.

 

> 1962 – Roy Face, Pirates, 28 Saves – Another diminutive relief pitcher, this was the 3rd time Elroy led the NL in Saves. And that’s in addition to his 18-1 record in 1959. His rookie card from the 1953 Topps set (#246) will set you back $155.

Face RD

> 1963 – Stu Miller, Orioles, 27 Saves – A consistently good closer for both the Giants & O’s in the 1960’s, his stats for this year included league-leading totals of 71 appearances and 59 games finished. His 1953 Topps card (#183) is worth $40.

 

> 1964 – Dick Radatz, Red Sox, 29 Saves – Considered by some as the first of the modern closers, he was intimidating at 6″ 6″ and his nickname was “The Monster”. Groomed as a closer, he finished 3rd in the ROY balloting in ’62 when he accumulated 24 Saves & 9 Wins. If you ever want a relief pitcher season for your historical Rotisserie roster, this is it…in addition to the Saves, 16 Wins and 181 K’s in 157 IP. Not surprisingly, after pitching 538 innings in his first four campaigns, he was “toast”. The 1962 Topps rookie card (#591) can be yours for about $60.

 

> 1965 – Ted Abernathy, Cubs, 31 Saves – A “sidearm” hurler since hurting his arm in High School, he had 84 appearances and 62 games finished for the Cubbies. His 1957 Topps card (#293) books for $35.

 

> 1966 – Jack Aker, Athletics, 32 Saves – Nicknamed “Chief”, he pitched for 11 seasons but never matched this particular performance. 57 games finished and a 1.99 ERA in 113 IP tells the tale. His 1966 Topps card (#287) is worth $10.

 

> 1967 – Ted Abernathy, Reds, 28 Saves – Another great season, this time in Cincinnati. Led the league again with 70 appearances and 61 games finished.

 

> 1968 – Phil Regan, Cubs, 25 Saves – Actually started the season with the Dodgers but had all the Saves for the Cubbies. Acquired “The Vulture” as his nickname in Los Angeles when he went 14-1 out of the bullpen in ’66 behind Koufax, Drysdale, Osteen & Sutton. His 1961 Topps card (#439) is valued at $10.

Regan RD

There you have it…the 20 leaders of the unofficial category before Ron Perranoski of the Twins topped the leader board in 1969. Hope you enjoyed the history lesson.

 

 

He Hit The Ball Real Hard

Back in the days when ESPN was actually entertaining, Dan Patrick & Keith Olbermann seemed to have an endless amount of clichés that always fit even boring sports highlights. From “En Fuego” to “They’re Not Going To Get Him” to “The Whiff” to “You Can Try To Contain Him But You Can’t Stop Him” and so many more, the viewers were always in on the joke. When it came to baseball home runs, the go-to comments were “Gone” and “He Hit The Ball Real Hard”. With today’s analytical environment, you have to wonder how the boys would feel if they knew exactly how hard a player hit that ball?

 

My closest friend is a long-time baseball fan who goes all the way back to rooting for the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League in the 50’s. He was also a successful Fantasy Baseball player from 1984-2013, so his knowledge of the game and players had to be very detailed. In 2018, we were talking baseball and I mentioned that “exit velocity” can help Fantasy players get a better read on the potential of a player. He looked at me and laughed because he thought I was messing with him and just making up a whimsical statistic. As a (now) casual baseball fan, he can’t be blamed for the skepticism because so much has changed since he stopped scouting players just a few years ago.

 

In 2015, Major League Baseball installed a state-of-art tracking technology in all 30 big league parks. It is called Statcast and allows for the analysis of a massive amount of baseball data. We’re talking Trackman Doppler radar and high definition Chyron Hego cameras. This allows all of us to quantify the raw skills of players in a way that was never even conceived when we first became fans of the game. This is where terms such as “spin rate”, “launch angle” and “pitch velocity” were born and they’re influencing our game every day.

 

“Exit Velocity” has a very simple definition…”How fast, in miles per hour, a ball was hit by a batter”. In the current era of baseball where records are being set for both Home Runs and Strikeouts, it tells teams the kind of damage a player can create when he hits the ball. The easiest example from 2018 was Joey Gallo of the Rangers, who had a batting average of .206 and struck out 207 times in 500 At-Bats. In another time and place, he might have been sent to the minors but that’s no longer the case. Why? Because he had the highest average exit velocity in baseball that year (95.4 mph) and that equated to him producing 40 HR’s, 92 RBI’s and a .810 OPS. He hit three balls that left the bat at 117 mph! During that season, he became the first player in history to hit 100 HR’s before he hit 100 Singles. In 2019, the poster boy could have been Kyle Schwarber of the Cubs who struck out 156 times but had 38 HR’s, 92 RBI’s and an OPS of .870. In case you might believe these are isolated examples, think about this…in 2019, Strikeouts (42,873) exceeded Hits (42,039). If Bob Dylan was a baseball fan, he’d say that “the times they are a changing”.

 

For this visit, we’ll look at a stat called “Hard Hit Rate”. Statcast defines a hard hit ball as one hit with an exit velocity of 95 mph or higher. Why 95 mph? Because research tells them that’s when exit velocity begins to “matter”

 

Last season, only four players had a “Hard %” of over 50%…Nelson Cruz, Christian Yelich, Justin Turner & Matt Olson. NL MVP Cody Bellinger was 5th at 49.2%.

 

As the first few weeks of the 2020 campaign goes into the books, who are the players with the highest percentage of “hard” hit baseballs? Are they stars, phenoms or over-looked part-timers? Here are the top twelve (through games of August 18th)…

Contreras RD

1) Willson Contreras, Cubs C (65%) – In today’s game, a Catcher with these kind of offensive skills is a rare commodity.

 

2) Fernando Tatis Jr., Padres SS (63.3%) – He might not get the vote from the Rangers bench, but he’s one of the best young players in the game at age 21.

Hernandez RD

3) Teoscar Hernandez, Blue Jays OF (63%) – Never a top prospect and even overlooked by many Fantasy players, he’s quietly had 48 HR’s the last two seasons and is in his age-27 season.

Myers RD

4) Wil Myers, Padres OF (62.8%) – Thought to on the scrap heap after last year, he’s still in his 20’s.

 

5) Jesse Winker, Reds OF (60.5%) – Players like Winker & Dominic Smith are getting the chance to impress thanks to the NL having the DH.

Turner RD

6) Justin Turner, Dodgers 3B (60.3%) – Following up last year’s performance with more of the same.

 

7) Corey Seager, Dodgers SS (57.4%) – Staying healthy is the key.

 

8) Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox SS (56.7%) – The best hitting Shortstop in the game for 2019, he’s in his prime.

Gallo RD

9) Joey Gallo, Rangers OF (56.1%) – No surprise here, he’s in his age 26 season.

Trout RD

10) Mike Trout, Angels OF (55.9%) – If you don’t relish watching him play, find another hobby.

 

11) Willy Adames, Rays SS (55.8%) – Every statistical list has on outlier but he is only 24, so maybe there’s a breakout in the cards.

 

12) Mookie Betts, Dodgers OF (55.6%) – When his contract is up, he and I will go bowling. Of course, I’ll be 86, but optimism is a wonderful trait.

 

The next time I talk baseball with my friend, maybe the subject will be “Barrels”.

 

Top Ten Baseball Cards 2000-2009

Exactly eight years ago this month, I shared with readers the top ten baseball cards of the decade starting with 2000. Collectors clearly understand that the popularity (and value) of cards is performance-driven. Revisiting the list after all these years makes that very clear, as half of the choices have disappeared. You’ll no longer see cardboard featuring Jose Bautista, Tim Lincecum, Ryan Braun, Ryan Howard or Robinson Cano.

 

As we moved into the new century, card companies changed their approach and started adding random Autograph & Memorabilia cards into packs. This created a new market, as collectors paid big bucks to get that prized card of a superstar player. For the purpose of our list, we’ll stay with the standard issue cards rather than focusing on the “lottery” aspects of the hobby. Dozens of great young stars have emerged from this era and here are nine who made their debut during the decade and one who has an appointment in Cooperstown. As always, a current value for each card is included in the description.

Pujols RD

1) 2001 Bowman Albert Pujols, ($20) – When you compare this slugger’s stats to Hall-of-Famers of the past, you’ll clearly understand that we have the privilege of watching one of the great players of all-time right before our eyes. Now in the twilight of his career at age 40, he’s eclipsed 650 HR’s & 3,000 Hits.

Verlander RD

2) 2005 Topps Justin Verlander,  ($20) – Captured both the AL Cy Young and MVP awards in 2011 and won another Cy Young last season at age 36. Lifetime record of 226-129.

Suzuki RD

3) 2001 Donruss Ichiro Suzuki, ($15) – Even though his debut was the same year, he’s the antithesis of Pujols…speed, stolen bases, Gold Glove defense and over 3,00 hits in a storied career.

Cabrera RD

4) 2000 Topps Traded Miguel Cabrera, ($20) – This card was issued the year before he made his debut and he’s still in the line-up at age 37. Over 2,800 Hits, close to 500 HR’s and a .314 lifetime Batting Average.

Kershaw RD

5) 2008 Bowman Chrome Clayton Kershaw, ($10) – Three Cy Young Awards and a MVP, his lifetime ERA is 2.44.

Jeter RD

6) 2001 Topps Heritage Derek Jeter,  ($10) – Heading to Cooperstown, he exemplifies a Hall of Famer.

Molina RD

7) 2004 Topps Chrome Yadier Molina, ($15) – In his 17th season at the toughest position, he’s won eight Gold Gloves.

Scherzer RD

8) 2008 Stadium Club Max Scherzer, ($10) – Three Cy Young Awards and a record of 170-90.

Mauer RD

9) 2002 Topps Chrome Joe Mauer, #622 ($10) – The homegrown 3-time batting champion also has a MVP trophy on his mantle and was the face of the Twins franchise for 15 years.

Votto RD

10) 2002 Bowman Chrome Joey Votto, #44 ($25) – The NL MVP in 2010, he’s still manning 1B for the Reds. A lifetime OBP of .421 tells you just how good his career has been.

 

Make sure you keep your cards in nice condition.

 

Bacon-Wrapped Hall Of Famers

The “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” is a game based on the theory that everyone is six or fewer steps away from any other person in the world. The game was created to link any Hollywood actor or actress (living or dead) to Kevin Bacon in six degrees or less.

 

To test the theory, you need only to link up with the website called oracleofbacon.org. Let’s say, for example, that your favorite entertainer is Al Jolson. A quick click will tell you that Jolson appeared in the 1936 movie “The Singing Kid”. In that cast was an actor named Emmett Vogan and he was in “City That Never Sleeps” (1953). In that cast was James Andelin who later appeared in “Stir of  Echoes” (1999) with none other than Kevin Bacon. That means Jolson has a “Bacon Number” of 3. So, every time you have a experience that causes you to say, “What a small world”, it gives credence to the theory. To Bacon’s credit, he’s piggybacked (yes, I really said that) onto the phenomenon and created a charitable foundation called Six Degrees, in partnership with Network for Good. You can find more information at SixDegrees.org.

 

A few years ago, the Old Duck penned a column linking Bryce Harper to Babe Ruth in only seven degrees. It was a fun exercise, but took an enormous amount of research and guesswork with the help of the massive database at baseball-reference.com. Now, someone has made the sports exercise of “six degrees” much easier. A writer named Ben Blatt has built a tool to find the shortest possible connections between 50,000 + professional baseball, football, basketball and hockey players. Two athletes are considered “connected” if they played for the same team during the same season. Just under 18,000 baseball players qualify since the 1870’s.

 

With our new toy, let’s have some fun and connect each of the four inductees in the  Hall of Fame class of 1947 to a current major league star. We’ve chosen players who play the same position as the legends. The other connection is that I’ve been curating an autograph collection that includes all four of these baseball legends.

 

Hubbell Auto 2

 

Carl Hubbell received 87% of the vote in ’47 and pitched for the Giants from 1928-43. A 253-game winner, he won two MVP awards in the 1930’s.

 

> Hubbell played on the 1942 New York Giants with…

Willard Marshall, who played on the 1955 Chicago White Sox with…

Earl Battey, who played on the 1967 Minnesota Twins with…

Graig Nettles, who played on the 1988 Montreal Expos with…

Randy Johnson, who played on the 2009 San Francisco Giants with…

 

MADISON BUMGARNER

Grove Auto

Lefty Grove was a 300-game winner who pitched from 1925-41. He led the AL in victories four times and won the 1931 MVP Award when he had a record of 31-4.

 

> Grove played on the 1939 Boston Red Sox with…

Ted Williams, who played on the 1960 Boston Red Sox with…

Carroll Hardy, who played on the 1967 Minnesota Twins with…

Graig Nettles, who played on the 1986 San Diego Padres with…

Benito Santiago, who played on the 2004 Kansas City Royals with…

 

ZACK GREINKE

Frisch Auto

Frankie Frisch was the leader of the 1930’s St. Louis Cardinals and won the NL MVP Award in 1931.

 

> Frisch played on the 1929 St. Louis Cardinals with…

Charlie Gelbert, who played on the 1939 Washington Senators with…

Early Wynn, who played on the 1963 Cleveland Indians with…

Tommy John, who played on the 1988 New York Yankees with…

Al Leiter, who played on the 2005 New York Yankees with…

 

ROBINSON CANO

Cochrane Auto

Mickey Cochrane was a Catcher who played from 1925-37. He won two AL MVP Awards…in 1928 with the Athletics and 1934 with the Tigers

 

> Cochrane played on the 1936 Detroit Tigers with

Birdie Tebbetts, who played on the 1951 Cleveland Indians with

Minnie Minoso, who played on the 1980 Chicago White Sox with

Harold Baines, who played on the 2001 Chicago White Sox with

Cal Eldred, who played on the 2004 St. Louis Cardinals with

 

YADIER MOLINA

 

Needless to say, Minnie Minoso’s two-game appearance for the White Sox in 1980 was essentially ceremonial in nature, but the link exists nonetheless. Interestingly, Nettles shows up twice but the connection is to two different teams.

 

How about connecting a major league ballplayer to Kevin Bacon himself? That’s so easy, it only requires two degrees. Chuck Connors is remembered as “The Rifleman” from TV, but he played two seasons in the National League and two additional seasons with the Boston Celtics prior to his acting career. He appeared in “The Silver Whip” (1953) with Robert Wagner who co-starred with Bacon in “Wild Things” (1998).

 

It’s a small world, after all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is 60 Games A Sprint?

'80 Brett RD

Baseball season has begun and we’re stumbling through uncharted territory. Why is there a runner on 2nd base at the start of the 10th inning? How much will it cost to put a cut-out of my face behind home plate. Why is Wei-Yin Chen the highest paid player in 2020 when he’s not even on an active roster?

 

In addition to these queries is the most obvious question…how good can a baseball player be over a 60-game season that represents only 37% of the normal campaign? Long-time baseball fans can certainly remember numerous anecdotal examples of “hot streaks” but what is the real answer? Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak in 1941 might be the most obvious and he had a .408 Batting Average over that two month period. With the help of baseballreference.com and theringer.com, we find that Joltin’ Joe wouldn’t even be in the modern top ten when it comes to 60-game Batting Averages.

 

Using the last 45 years as our date base, here are the ten best…

 

1) George Brett, .473 (1980) – He hit .390 for the season and won the AL MVP. He also complied the highest WAR (Wins Above Replacement) for a 60-game stretch at 6.46. Imagine a player being that valuable over a 60-game season.

 

2) Ichiro Suzuki, .458 (2004) – Hit .372 and had 262 Hits for the full season. He also won a Gold Glove.

 

3) Josh Hamilton, .427 (2010) – Led the league in BA, Slugging and OPS on the way to the MVP Award.

 

4) Paul O’Neill, .425 (1994) – Won the batting title at .359.

 

5) Johnny Damon, .425 (2000) – Hit .327 for the Royals and led the league in Runs & Stolen Bases.

 

6) Frank Thomas, .422 (1994) – This was his 2nd consecutive MVP season and he had an OPS of 1.217.

 

7) Larry Walker, .422 (1997) – Won the MVP and a Gold Glove while leading the NL in HR’s & OPS.

 

8) Nomar Garciaparra, .421 (2000) – Hit .372 for the full season and was intentionally walked 20 times.

 

9) Jose Altuve, .420 (2017) – Robert DeNiro starred in a baseball movie called, “Bang The Drum Slowly”.

 

10) Chipper Jones, .419 (2008) – Batted .364 for the season and also led the league in OBP.

 

Switching gears to power hitters, one of the top Fantasy Baseball websites projects that no player will hit 20 Home Runs this season. How does that play out against the best performers in our formula?

 

1) Barry Bonds, 37 HR’s (2001) – When critiquing this leader board, a number of names in the top half have been associated with certain substances. His WAR of 6.24 was the 2nd highest ever for a 60-game stretch, just behind Brett.

 

2) Sammy Sosa, 34 HR’s (1998) – He hit 20 long-balls in June alone.

 

3) Mark McGwire, 33 HR’s (1996) – This was in Oakland and he had 52 for the season.

 

4) Giancarlo Stanton, 33 HR’s (2017) – Had 59 for the season in Miami and won the MVP.

 

5) Albert Belle, 32 HR’s (1995) – This was his only 50+ HR season and he corked a .690 Slugging Percentage.

 

6) Ken Griffey Jr., 29 HR’s (1994) – Only played 111 games but still hit 40 HR’s.

 

7) J.D. Martinez, 29 HR’s (2017) – What is even more remarkable is that he hit 45 HR’s playing for two different teams in two different leagues.

 

8) Ryan Howard, 29 HR’s (2006) – Had 58 HR’s and 149 RBI’s on the way to the MVP.

 

9) Jim Thome, 28 HR’s (2001) – Not surprising, as he hit over 600 in his career.

 

10) George Foster, 28 HR’s (1977) – His MVP season with 52 HR’s and 149 RBI’s

 

In addition to the magical .400 Batting Average figure, sportswriters have also been speculating on Pitchers who might challenge Bob Gibson’s mark of a 1.12 ERA in 1968. Is it possible? Here’s the answer based on 12-game stretches…

 

1) Jake Arrieta, 0.41 ERA (2015) – Had 22 Wins and captured the Cy Young Award.

 

2) Josh Johnson, 0.74 ERA (2010) – Was 11-6 for the Marlins and finished 5th in the Cy Young voting.

 

3) Jack Flaherty, 0.77 ERA (2019) – One of the best young arms in the game.

 

4) Buzz Capra, 0.92 ERA (1974) – Was 16-8 for the Braves in his career year…lifetime record was 31-37.

 

5) Clayton Kershaw, 0.96 ERA (2015) – This wasn’t even his best season, but he led the NL in IP & K’s.

 

6) Hyun-Jin Ryu, 0.96 ERA (2019) – A good way to cash in on the free agent market.

 

7) Kris Medlen, 0.97 (2012) – Was 10-1 for the Braves but didn’t pitch enough innings to qualify for the ERA title.

 

8) J.R. Richard, 1.03 (1979) – If you’re old enough to have seen him pitch, the word “dominant” will always come to mind. Had 313 K’s for the season but his career tragically ended just a year later.

 

9) Zack Greinke, 1.10 ERA (2009) – Won the Cy Young Award with the Royals.

 

10) Chris Sale, 1.13 ERA (2018) – Closed out the World Series for the BoSox.

 

As you enjoy the 60-game sprint, watch the box scores but keep an eye on the leader boards.

Legal Supplements

xfllogo

How would you like to be invited to participate in the most unique Fantasy Baseball league in the industry? Looking back to 2002, the Old Duck was thrilled to be part of the Xperts Fantasy League (XFL), the vision of Ron Shandler and the first industry keeper league. Some of the most respected pundits and players of the game were kind enough to invite three “challengers” to be included as part of the 12-team group. As one of these home-league players, I was nervous and excited to sit down at the draft table that November and test my skills against the best.

 

As we enter our 18th season, it has been a great ride for this lifetime baseball fan. We’ve expanded to 15 teams and the camaraderie established over the years has led to genuine friendships with a great group of guys. And, to my surprise, the Quacker has turned out to be a decent player with championships in 2005, 2009, 2011 & 2012 and the best overall record.

 

Of course, this year will be unique with the shortened schedule and a plethora of strategic challenges. How many starting pitchers will go five innings? How will the DH in the National League impact the values of certain players? Are the “long men” in the bullpen more valuable as they have more opportunities to be the winning pitcher? Will we see more top prospects because the service time guideline is shorter?

 

The XFL is a 5×5 keeper league (with OBP instead of BA) that has an auction budget of $260 for 23 players. We conduct the draft only a month after the baseball season ends and no research (or computers) are allowed at the table. Utilizing just MLB depth charts handed out prior to the first player being nominated, it is a test of your player-pool knowledge and prognostication. There is a significantly high inflation factor because many of the players on the keeper lists have salaries much lower than their projected values. Here’s the roster of Donald’s Dux (“K” for keepers, “D” for drafted) following the November 2019 draft…

 

C – Willson Contreras $13 (K)

C – Tom Murphy $6 (K)

1B – Jose Abreu $19 (K)

3B – Yoan Moncada $10 (K)

1/3 – Pete Alonso $4 (K)

2B – Eduardo Escobar $15 (K)

SS – Gleyber Torres $7 (K)

2/S – Jean Segura $13 (D)

OF – Yasiel Puig $22 (K)

OF – Nico Goodrum $6 (K)

OF – Manuel Margot $11 (D)

OF – Kyle Schwarber $25 (D)

OF – Brandon Nimmo $12 (D)

U – Garrett Cooper $6 (D)

P – Brandon Woodruff $11 (K)

P – Patrick Corbin $13 (K)

P – Alex Colome $6 (K)

P – Madison Bumgarner $14 (D)

P – Rasiel Iglesias $16 (D)

P – Miles Mikolos $7 (D)

P – Joe Musgrove $12 (D)

P – Sandy Alcantara $6 (K)

P – Steven Matz $6 (D)

FARM – Royce Lewis (K)

FARM – Christian Pache (K)

'19 Alonso RD

 

To lend some insight into the keeper salaries, players drafted in the auction have their salary increase $5 each season. So, for example, Woodruff was drafted for $6 the previous year. Any player who qualifies as a rookie has his salary increase only $3 each season. So, because the Dux drafted Moncada in 2017 before he appeared in an actual major league game, he is entering his 4th year on the roster. The league plays the season with 40-man rosters (23 active each week) and prior to opening day there is a supplemental, on-line, snake draft to fill the remaining slots. These legal supplements can have a huge influence on the success of your team because so much can happen between November & March (or this season, July). For the teams who drafted (or kept) Buster Posey, David Price, Chris Sale, Noah Syndergaard, Luis Severino & others, the first few rounds of this supplemental phase are critical to their team’s ability to contend.

 

Despite a strong 3rd place finish in 2019, the Dux 2020 roster looks weak. Puig has no home, Margot & Cooper aren’t guaranteed regular AB’s and there are a number of players with injury questions. The current projections from a well-respected site have the squad finishing in 11th place with the major weaknesses showing up in offensive counting stats along with ERA. What strategy would you employ? While a short-season theoretically gives every team more of a chance, would you cave in to treating this season as a re-build? Teams are allowed to have up to 15 keepers for the following season and looking at the roster and factoring in automatic salary increases, there are probably less than 10 keepers for 2021. That makes it very tempting to utilize the supplemental draft for prospects and younger free agents (who would be $6 next year). My competitive nature won’t allow me to completely “throw in the towel” and glaring holes will be filled because every team’s stats impact the standings. Realistically, however, youth might be the priority.

 

 

Now, a word about prospects. Due to deep rosters, teams are not shy when it comes to drafting young players low in the minors and holding them until they’re ready. This is one of the key elements to a “dynasty” format and the owners in this league know everything about projectable minor leaguers, international players, college players and even an occasional high-school star. In any given year, you could take a top-20 prospect list from your favorite publication or website and most of them are already on one of the XFL teams. The real gems in the 1st round of the supplemental draft are players who have rookie status and a major league job like Jose Abreu, who the Dux selected with the first pick in 2014. The closest “comp” this year could be Evan White of the Mariners, who is projected to play regularly from day one.

 

Of the top 25 dynasty prospects, 22 of them are already rostered on XFL teams. The three targets are Dylan Carlson, Marco Luciano & Jasson Dominguez. To that group, it probably makes sense to add Spencer Torkelson, the #1 pick in the recent MLB Draft. The Dux have the #2 pick in Round 1, so we’re guaranteed to get one of these building blocks. I’m too old to pick a 17 year-old (Dominguez) and with Torres at SS for years to come, Luciano wouldn’t be a priority. So, as I strategized the day before the Draft, it will be Carlson or Torkelson depending on who goes at #1.

 

Teams have very difficult choices in the initial rounds, as they need to balance filling holes on their roster with also acquiring some long-term talent. This year, as we gathered at our computers on July 20th, the wheels were turning for 15 separate owners and here are the  Round 1 results…

 

> 1.01 Marco Luciano – He’s the Giants SS of the future.

 

1.02 (Dux Pick) Dylan Carlson – Switch-Hitter with power, speed and defensive skills…checks all the boxes

Carlson RD

> 1.03 Spencer Torkelson – His bat is major league ready and no one is in his way in Detroit.

 

> 1.04 Jasson Domingez – He was born in 2003, check your closet for clothes that age.

 

> 1.05 Austin Martin – Taken right behind Torkelson in the Amateur Draft.

 

> 1.06 Spencer Howard – The best pitching prospect available.

 

> 1.07 Brandon Marsh – Not as highly touted as Jo Adell, but could be a big contributor in Anaheim.

 

> 1.08 Jordan Groshans – The best 3B prospect on the board.

 

> 1.09 Corbin Carroll – D’Backs OF won’t turn 20 until next month.

 

> 1.10 Jordan Montgomery – The first major leaguer taken, starting pitching was scarce.

 

> 1.11 J.J. Bleday – Another young OFand there should be plenty of room in the Marlins line-up.

 

> 1.12 Jeter Downs – The Red Sox are high on this middle-infielder.

 

> 1.13  Evan White – Begins 2020 as an everyday player in Seattle.

 

> 1.14- Riley Greene – Another 19 year-old who will eventually be patrolling the outfield for the Tigers.

 

> 1.15 Ryan Braun – With the ability to DH (and avoid injuries), he can be a significant asset on a Fantasy roster.

 

Not surprisingly, 13 of the 15 choices in Round 1 were prospects.

 

Additional picks for the Dux roster…

 

> 2.14, Teoscar Hernandez – Still in his prime years, a power-hitting OF with some upside.

 

> 3.02, Ian Happ – One of those post-hype players who could be ready to shine at age 25.

 

4.14, Triston Casas – At age 20, he’s the Red Sox 1B of the future.

'20 Casas 5

 

> 5.02, Maurico Dubon – On a number of “sleeper” lists, there’s a good chance he’ll be the Giants regular 2B.

 

At this point, the Dux were satisfied with acquiring two OF’s to fill spots, two minor-leaguers who could be long-term keepers and a middle-infielder to add depth. The real challenge however, was that the Dux were now painted into a corner. Having traded both the 6th & 7th round picks last year during the pennant race, we had no picks between 5.02 and 8.14. That’s over 50 players going off the board before we got another choice. Not an ideal situation when you’re playing with this group of  sharks.

 

> 8.14, James Karinchak – It was time for some pitching and this electric arm could be the Indians Closer in the near future.

 

> 9.02, Kevin Gausman – Not an exiting pick but we needed some SP depth and the “pickens” were slim.

 

> 9.05 (from a trade), Alek Thomas – A 20 year-old OF prospect for Arizona.

 

> 10.14, Mychal Givens – The Orioles Closer but you only get a Save if your team wins.

 

> 11.02, Nick Ahmed – Segura got injured earlier in the day…this is organizational depth.

 

> 12.14, Yan Gomes – Every team needs a 3rd Catcher in case of injury and there was a run of backstop mediocrity in this round.

 

> 13.02, Josh Jung – A 1st Round pick in the ’19 Amateur Draft, he’s the Rangers 3B of the future.

 

> 14.01 (from a trade), Jared Oliva – Had a great Fall League last year and could lead-off for the Pirates someday.

 

> 14.14, Abraham Toro – Organizational depth.

 

> 15.02, Wilmer Flores – More organizational depth.

 

All in all, a fairly productive draft. Added six prospects to go with Lewis & Pache, two everyday OF’s to fill in for Puig and Margot/Cooper, a 3rd Closer, an 8th SP, a 3rd Catcher and some 2/S depth. The GM won’t be sitting in the back of a cab saying “we coulda’ been a contendah” but there’s some brightness on the horizon.

 

More information and the league history can be found at fantasyxperts.com

 

 

Junior’s Rookie Card

For baseball fans, the name of a Hall of Fame player brings up instant images from the history of the game. For those of us falling into the category of “vintage” fans, those mental snapshots include moments we actually witnessed such as…

 

> Ted Williams hitting a milestone home run (#400) at Fenway Park.

 

> Being at Angel Stadium the night that George Brett went 4-for-4 to reach 3,000 hits.

 

> Seeing Carl Yastremzski playing left field at the old Wrigley Field in Los Angeles in his rookie season.

 

> Hearing Sandy Koufax’s fastball hit the Catcher’s mitt at Dodger Stadium.

 

> Watching Cal Ripken Jr. hit a home run at Camden Yards.

 

> Sitting at Jack Murphy Stadium and having the privilege to see Tony Gwynn hit an opposite field single.

 

For Hall-of-Famer Ken Griffey Jr., the memory is different because it went unnoticed by history. In the early 90’s, a group of baseball fanatics from Southern California did a Spring Training road-trip to Arizona and took in four games in three days. On a beautiful day at Tempe Diablo Stadium, the Angels were hosting the Mariners and some unlucky member of the home team hit a deep drive to left-center field. Junior got a great jump on the ball and ended up making the catch with a head-long dive on the warning track. He proudly showed off the ball to the crowd and then got up and sprinted to the dugout (it was the 3rd out) with a smile that everyone could see. Yes, a meaningless game and a dangerous play by a star player, but it told you everything you needed to know about his enthusiasm and love of the game. I still remember that catch like it was yesterday and it jumps into my consciousness every time I see a baseball card collection that includes his Rookie Card.

 

Interestingly, Ken Griffey Jr. also had a profound impact on the baseball card industry. In a 2015 issue of Beckett Baseball Card Magazine, Dave Sliepka chronicled the background of the turbulent story of baseball cards in the 80’s. As we’ve talked about in previous visits, Topps lost their monopoly of cards in 1980, allowing Donruss & Fleer to enter the market in 1981. By the late 80’s, other companies were entering the fray and collectors were becoming more and more frustrated due to over-production and too many similar products. That all changed in 1989, when a fledgling company called Upper Deck received licensing and started producing sports cards.

 

Putting together their first baseball card in 1989, the company decided to alter the landscape by offering a higher quality collectible with thicker paper stock, beautiful photography and a hologram for authenticity. They even had the audacity to charge $1 a pack, which was more than twice what Topps cards cost at the time. Sliepka describes it as “going from a rotary phone to an iPhone”. Another significant factor in their success, however, was the willingness to take chances. They decided to go out on the limb to feature “prospects”. Other companies had always had “rookie cards” in their sets, but Upper Deck opted to have the first 26 cards in their 700-card offering to be “Star Rookies”.

 

The best decision was to have Ken Griffey Jr. be the #1 card in the set. Today, that seems like a no-brainer but when the calendar turned to 1989, Griffey was only 19 years old and had never played a game above AA. In fact, due to injuries, he only played 75 games in the minors in 1988. To verify how “out of the box” this thinking was, Topps didn’t even include Griffey in their 1989 set. Two other Hall of Fame members were also in that 26-card subset…John Smoltz & Randy Johnson. However, what would have happened if one of the other prospects had been chosen to be #1, like Doug Dascenzo, Mike Harkey or Felix Jose?

'89 Smoltz RD

'89 Johnson RD

'89 Jose RD

Griffey exploded onto the scene in 1989 by hitting 16 HR’s with 61 RBI’s and 16 SB’s to finish 3rd in the Rookie of the Year balloting. And the perfect storm of the Upper Deck set dominated the hobby with the Griffey RC becoming the most popular card. The good news for today’s collectors is that Upper Deck joined the competition in producing mass quantities of the product and you can still buy a factory-sealed set for around $50 on eBay. To show the popularity of the individual Griffey card over the years, grading company PSA has had over 75,000 of them submitted. Only 5% have been determined to be “Gem Mint 10” and if you have one, it’s worth over $1,000. A “Mint 9” (about 33% of those submitted) books for $175 and a “NM – MT 8” (41%) is worth about $75. The downside to the glossy sheen of this product is that even a card coming out of a sealed pack or set could have enough slight damage to impact the grade. For collectors, this background allows you to own one of the most famous cards in the history of the hobby for a reasonable price.

 

As for me, every time I see the card, it also takes me back to the warning track in Tempe, Arizona.

 

'89 Griffey UD 9

Changing The Color Of Baseball

No matter your political persuasion, there’s no doubting that social justice is a topic that currently resonates throughout the country. As a baseball fan who was born before the color line was broken, looking back always helps me to keep my perspective. There is no better example of institutional racism than major league baseball.

 

From the end of World War II until 1961, there were 16 major league teams playing baseball. Beginning in 1947, it took 12 years for all teams to roster a black player. As a kid growing up in Boston, the Red Sox and Ted Williams were my passion. I knew every player, their stats and their uniform numbers. One of the things I didn’t really notice was that all the members of the team were white. Once my parents gifted me with a transistor radio and I was able to pick up the Dodger broadcasts from Brooklyn, it was easy for the “Bums” to become my favorite National League team. It also opened my thoughts to the society around me because the Dodgers had numerous players of color who excelled in Brooklyn. The Red Sox were the last team to roster a Black player and it happened in 1959, a full 12 year gap. Tom Yawkey owned the team from 1933 until his passing in 1976 and even today, his legacy is tainted by this lack of inclusion by the franchise. Ironically, Williams’ Hall of Fame induction speech in 1966 was highlighted by his appeal for African-American players to be considered for Hall of Fame consideration. That moment opened the door for Negro League stars to be acknowledged.

 

Today, we’ll look at the 16 players who were part of this history. From Hall of Fame members to guys you’ve never heard of, it is a unique baseball club…

 

1947 – Jackie Robinson, Brooklyn Dodgers. Team owner Branch Rickey was the driving force and his desire to find exactly the right individual paved the way. If the experiment with Robinson failed, there’s no telling how long it would have been before another player got the chance. A ten-year career with six NL pennants led to Jackie’s induction to the Hall of Fame in 1962. In case you think that 15 years changed everything, he was only listed on 124 of 160 ballots from the writers.

'47 Robinson RD

 

1947 – Larry Doby, Cleveland Indians. Arriving from Newark of the Negro League at age 23, he became a stalwart in the Tribe’s line-up during the 50’s and had over 100 RBI’s in five seasons. The Veteran’s Committee voted him into Cooperstown in 1998.

'49 Doby RD

 

1947 – Hank Thompson, St. Louis Browns. A unique part of this story, Thompson was a Negro League player who joined the Browns at age 21. He only had 78 AB’s that season and was released prior to the 1948 campaign. Wonder what ever happened to him?

'50 Thompson RD

 

> 1949 – Hank Thompson, New York Giants. Back in the Negro League in ’48, he signed with the Giants in 1949, making him the first player of color for two different franchises. Had seven productive seasons at 3B, including 24 HR’s and a .302 BA in 1953.

 

1949 – Monte Irvin, New York Giants. He and Thompson broke into the big leagues on the same day…July 8th. After playing nine seasons in the Negro Leagues, he became a major leaguer at age 30. Seven solid years with New York including a league-leading 121 RBI’s in 1951. Voted into the Hall of Fame by the Negro League Committee in 1973.

'52 Irvin RD

 

1950 – Sam Jethroe, Boston Braves. Playing across town from the Red Sox, this speedy outfielder first played in the Negro League in 1938. As a 33 year-old, he won the NL Rookie of the Year award in ’50, leading the NL in steals with 35. He had another productive season in ’51, leading the league in SB’s again. His 1952 season was hampered by injury and illness and when the Braves relocated to Milwaukee in 1953, he wasn’t offered a contract.

'50 Jethroe RD

 

1951 – Orestes “Minnie” Minoso, Chicago White Sox. One of the most exciting players of the era, this Cuban Outfielder thrilled the fans on the South Side of Chicago. He made six All-Star teams in the 50’s and won three Gold Gloves for his defense.

'52 Minoso RD

 

> 1953 – Bob Trice, Philadelphia Athletics. One of the more obscure members of this group, he pitched three seasons for the A’s with a lifetime record of 9-9.

 

1953 – Ernie Banks, Chicago Cubs. “Mr. Cub” was a star from day one and is still the most popular player in franchise history. Won two NL MVP’s in the 50’s and had 512 lifetime HR’s. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1977.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

> 1954 – Curt Roberts, Pittsburgh Pirates. Was the regular 2B in ’54 but never had another productive season. Back in the Minors by 1957.

 

> 1954 – Tom Alston, St. Louis Cardinals. With the Redbirds for four seasons but never got regular playing time.

 

> 1954 – Chuck Harmon, Cincinnati Reds. Another part-time, four season major leaguer. His lifetime BA was .238.

 

> 1954 – Carlos Paula, Washington Senators. Another Cuban OF, he was a part-time player for three seasons.

 

1955 – Elston Howard, New York Yankees. Unlike the Dodgers & Giants, the Yankees were late coming to the party. Howard was an outstanding player for the Bronx Bombers, making nine consecutive All-Star teams from 1957-65. He played in ten World Series and was the AL MVP in ’63.

'55 Howard RD

 

> 1957 – John Kennedy, Philadelphia Phillies. The shortest career on our list, he had two AB’s without a hit and went back to the Minors, never to be in “the show” again.

 

> 1958 – Ozzie Virgil Sr., Detroit Tigers. From the Dominican Republic, he played two seasons with the Giants before joining the Bengals. Had a nine-year career as a back-up at multiple positions.

 

1959 – Pumpsie Green, Boston Red Sox. This middle-infielder was the last of the pioneers. A part-time player in Boston for four seasons, he finished his career with the Mets in 1963. In a sports-related side note, the Boston Celtics were the first NBA team to draft a black player…Chuck Cooper in 1950.

'60 Green RD

 

16 names to be remembered…

Hurling More Trivia

After the response to a recent column filled with useless information, it appears that most of you readers are easily amused and entertained. So, this time the Old Duck will hurl more baseball tidbits your way by focusing on pitching facts from our national pastime. As always, thanks to SABR and baseball-reference.com for much of the source material.

 

Warren Spahn had 20 or more Wins in 13 separate seasons…and 10 of them came after the age of 30!

Spahn SI

 

> Greg Maddux had 15 or more Wins in 18 separate seasons.

 

> Don Sutton had 10 or more Wins in 21 separate seasons.

 

> Nolan Ryan registered at least 5 Wins in 26 consecutive seasons.

 

> Hoyt Wilhelm won 124 games in relief.

 

> Gene Garber lost 108 games in relief.

 

> Andy Pettitte pitched 18 seasons and never had a losing record.

 

> Phil Nierko won 121 games after the age of 40.

 

> Steve Barber issued 10 or more walks in a game four times!

 

> In 1958-59, the Pirates Roy Face had 22 consecutive Wins.

'59 Face RD

> Bert Blyleven won 15 games by the score of 1-0.

 

> Nolan Ryan had 7 No-Hitters and 5 One-Hitters.

 

> Tom Seaver started on opening day 16 times.

 

> Hall-of-Famer Robin Roberts allowed 505 Home Runs!

 

> Chris Sale has the best Strikeout / Walk ratio in history…5.37.

 

> Sandy Koufax pitched for 12 years and held opposing hitters to a Batting Average of .205.

 

> Pedro Martinez pitched for 18 years and held opposing hitters to an On-Base Percentage of .276 (Koufax was at .285).

 

> In his 1974 Cy Young Award season with the Dodgers, Mike Marshall pitched in 106 games and finished 83 of them.

 

> Bob Feller had 36 complete games in 1946.

 

> In the Mets inaugural season of 1962, Roger Craig lost 24 games (he had 10 Wins).

'62 Craig RD

> Ron Guidry’s 1978 season produced the highest winning percentage (.893) of any 20-game winner in history…he was 25-3.

 

> Bob Gibson’s 1968 ERA of 1.12 is just ahead of Christy Mathewson (1.14 in 1909) and Walter Johnson (1.14 in 1913).

'68 Gibson RD

> In 1985, the Cardinals John Tudor pitched 10 Shutouts…he only had 6 others in his 12-year career.

 

> Francisco Rodriguez had 62 Saves in 2008…the next highest is 57 by Bobby Thigpen (1990) and Edwin Diaz (2018).

 

> Pitching for the Mets in 1994, Bret Saberhagen had a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 11-to-1.

 

> In 1966, Tony Cloninger of the Braves threw 27 Wild Pitches and led the NL in Walks, but finished with a winning record (14-11).

 

> Johan Santana won the pitching “triple crown” (Wins, ERA & Strikeouts) in 2006 with the Twins.

 

> Jose Lima started 33 games in 2000 and 32 games in 2005…his ERA in those seasons was 6.65 & 6.99.

 

> Bobo Newsom’s 5.08 ERA in 1938 was the highest ever for a 20-game winner.

'53 Newsom RD

> In 1916, Babe Ruth pitched 323 2/3 innings and didn’t allow a home run.

 

> Steve Carlton’s 27 Wins for the last-place Phillies in 1972 equaled 46% of their 59 team wins.

 

> Rick Sutcliffe (1984) & Bartolo Colon (2002) each won 20 games in a season during which they were traded.

 

> Wally Bunker of the Orioles won 19 games in 1964 when he was 19 years old.

 

> Pitching for the Mariners in 1980, Mike Parrot had a record of 1-16…the year before, he was 14-12.

 

> The 1971 Orioles had four 20-game winners…Dave McNally, Pat Dobson, Jim Palmer & Mike Cueller.

 

> Juan Marichal had six seasons in which he had 20 Wins, 200 Strikeouts and an ERA below 3.00.

 

> Tom Seaver struck out the last ten batters of the game against the Padres in 1970…he had 19 for the game.

 

If you’ve hung in there this long, a bonus is in order in the form of a few fielding facts to test your knowledge.

 

> In 1984, Steve Garvey of the Padres played 159 games at 1B and didn’t make an error.

 

> Dick Stuart finished last in fielding average for 1B in 1961, 1963 & 1964…you don’t get nicknamed “Dr. Strangeglove” for no reason.

 

> In his rookie season of 1984, the Phillies Juan Samuel made 33 errors at 2B.

 

> Graig Nettles & Brooks Robinson each had over 400 assists at 3B in two separate seasons.

 

> Lou Brock made 19 errors in the outfield for the 1966 Cardinals.

 

> As the CF of the Phillies from 1949-1958, Richie Ashburn had 495 or more Putouts six times.

 

> In 2003, Mike Matheny caught 138 games for the Cardinals and didn’t make an error.

 

> In 1974-75, Yankees Catcher Thurman Munson made a total of 45 errors.

 

> In 1968, the Cubs Randy Hundley caught 160 games…he caught 150+ in two other seasons.

 

> In 1974, Reds Pitcher Clay Kirby made 10 errors.

 

Hope a few of these names brought back some memories…talking baseball never gets old.

 

 

 

Roberto, Not Bob

Clemente Auto 2

Thought about Roberto Clemente the other day, as I sold an authentic autograph of his from 1955 on eBay. It was part of a huge collection that I’ve been allowed to curate and market for the last seven months. Included have been autographs of Ty Cobb, Cy Young, Nap Lajoie, Jimmie Foxx and many more Hall of Fame baseball players. Not surprisingly, however, the Clemente signature created the most demand. In reflection, I’ve updated a blog from four years ago about the career of this baseball legend…

 

While baseball historians have done a splendid job of chronicling Jackie Robinson and his contributions to the game, it seems like fans born after the mid-60’s don’t always have an appreciation of Clemente’s greatness and  legacy. The barriers in major league baseball for African-Americans in the early-to-mid 50’s were significant, but those same barriers applied to Latin American players and the culture of baseball took a long time to change.

 

Clemente started playing professional baseball in his native Puerto Rico at age 18 and a beautiful replica jersey hangs in my closet with the logo of the Cangrejeros de Santurce team that he played for in the Winter League of 1953-54. In 1954, the Brooklyn Dodgers signed him to a contract, but instead of adding him to the major league roster (which was filled with star players), they attempted to slightly circumvent the rules of the day and sent him to their AAA team in Montreal. Can you even imagine a 19 year-old kid trying to acclimate to an environment where they spoke two languages he didn’t understand? And, Tommy Lasorda was one of his teammates, so a third language was probably also in play. The Dodgers tried to keep him under wraps and he only hit .257 in 148 AB’s, but the lowly Pirates had him on their radar. The Pirates were bad enough to have the first pick in the off-season Rule 5 Draft and Clemente was their choice on 11/22/54.

 

In Pittsburgh, Roberto was the starting RF from day one and played 18 seasons with Bucs making the NL All-Star team 12 times and winning 12 Gold Gloves for his defensive prowess. On the last day of the 1972 season, Clemente got his 3,000th major league hit and then tragically lost his life on December 31, 1972 when the plane he was on crashed into the sea on its way to bring relief aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.

 

As a youngster collecting baseball cards, I remember that Clemente’s early cards in the 50’s always listed him as “Roberto”. Later, after he became a star, the Topps Company issued many cards that “Americanized” his name to “Bob”. Even writers and broadcasters seemed to think that this reference (and even “Bobby”) was appropriate despite the fact that it always was a point of contention with Clemente. Imagine what would happen today if someone referred to Pedro Martinez as “Pete” or Miguel Cabrera as “Mike”?

 

If you don’t consider yourself an expert on Clemente’s legacy, here are a few quotes from this talented and compassionate Hall of Famer…

 

> “I was born to play baseball.”

 

> “I am from the poor people; I represent the poor people. I like workers. I like people that suffer because these people have a different approach to life from the people that have everything and don’t know what suffering is.”

 

> “I want to be remembered as a ballplayer who gave all he had to give.”

 

> If you have a chance to accomplish something that will make things better for people coming behind you, and you don’t do that, you are wasting your time on Earth.”

 

> “When I put on my uniform, I feel I am the proudest man on Earth.”

 

> “A nation without heroes is nothing.”

 

In the field of collectibles, it appears that Roberto is finally getting the level of respect that he deserves. His Rookie Card from the 1955 Topps set has been steadily climbing in value. The current book price for one in “Near Mint” (NM 7) condition is $7,500. Even one in mid-range condition (EX 5) will sell for $2,500-$3,000.

 

Better check that old shoe box in the attic. “Donaldo” will be waiting for your call.