Where Is The Love?

Where Is The Love?

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Orioles Closer Zach Britton is in the midst of an great season.
Orioles Closer Zach Britton is in the midst of an great season.

Earlier this week, ESPN’s Jayson Stark posted an interesting piece about Baltimore Orioles’ closer Zach Britton‘s chances of winning this year’s Cy Young award. The article was in the form of a debate between fellow ESPN’er Keith Law on the merits of relief pitchers being considered for the Cy Young award at season’s end.

Stark’s case this year has been for Zach Britton, who has arguably been the best closer in baseball this year. Stark’s stance, was that the BBWAA needs to stop overlooking relievers for the award, especially in a year when no starter is running away with the award, and since they don’t have an award of their own. Law was on the opposite end of the debate, citing that relief pitchers are mostly failed starting pitchers who don’t pitch enough innings to be more valuable than, say, a starter with a 4.00 ERA.

At first glance, Law’s views seem to be archaic. On the surface, it’s the type of view that comes from the old school baseball fan who still sees the save as a worthless statistic, and the modern-day closer a specialist a kin to a pinch hitter. One would think that the advanced metrics used to evaluate players nowadays would help the case of the closer, but in fact, it seems the opposite has become true, even as relievers have become more heavily relied upon in today’s game.

Since the Dodgers’ Mike Marshall became the first reliever to win the Cy Young in 1974, eight other relief pitchers have claimed the award. Sparky Lyle became the first American League reliever to win the award in 1977, followed by Bruce Sutter for the Cubs in 1979, Rollie Fingers for the Brewers in 1981, Willie Hernandez for the Tigers in 1984, Steve Bedrosian for the Phillies in 1987, Mark Davis for the Padres in 1989, Dennis Eckersley for the A’s in 1992, and Eric Gagne for the Dodgers in 2003.

Since Marshal in 1974, it wasn’t that uncommon to see a relief pitcher win the Cy Young award. Roughly every 3-5 years from 1974 -1992 saw a closer walk away with the award, with two of those guys, Hernandez in 1984 and Eckersley in 1992, also claiming the league MVP.

Since Eckersley’s remarkable 1992 campaign, however, only one closer, Eric Gange, who saved a record 84-consecutive games, has won the award. That was 13 years ago, and more than decade after Eckersley.

So what happened?

Anyone who watches baseball on a regular basis knows that relief pitching has become more important than ever in today’s game. For all of the talk of the save being a watered down stat, how many teams in recent memory have won without a quality closer? There have been plenty of teams to find success in spite of their hitting, like last years Mets, or their starting pitching, like the 2013 Red Sox, but not without a bullpen that can close out

Widely regarded as the greatest closer ever, Mariano River never won the Cy Young award.
Widely regarded as the greatest closer ever, Mariano River never won the Cy Young award.

games. Not in today’s game.

It’s not like there haven’t been plenty of deserving guys, either. Think about it, since Eckersley”s 1992 season, baseball witnessed the entire career of the greatest closer of all time, Mariano Rivera. He never finished better than second for the award, and all he did was make 13 All-Star games, win five championships, and save a record 652 career games. Not to mention, he may have also had the greatest season of any set-up man ever, as an eighth inning guy in 1997. He finished third in the voting that year.

Today’s closers are proving to be just as dominant and deserving, and anyone who doesn’t think so, didn’t see what contending teams were willing to give up for relief pitchers at this year’s trade deadline, or how the Royals over came a suspect rotation by shortening the game with three elite arms on their way to a Championship last year.

So…again, what gives?

Well, believe it or not, sabermetrics may be partially to blame.

One of Law’s arguments against Zach Britton winning the Cy Young this year, was Dellin Betances‘ 2015 season. Last year, the newly anointed Yankees closer had a phenomenal campaign as a set-up man. In 84 innings, Betances pitched to a 1.50 ERA while recording a whopping 131 strikeouts. Those numbers are strikingly similar to Eric Gagne’s Cy Young winning season in 2003, in which the former Dodger’s closer pitched to a 1.20 ERA, striking out 137 batters in 82.1 innings. Law used the WAR stat to defend his argument, as Betances’s wins above replacement, or WAR, in 2015 was 24th amongst all pitchers. The 23 guys ahead of him were all starters, meaning that the most dominant reliever in baseball last year was no more valuable than a number three starter.

Will Zach Britton end the drag for relievers win the Cy Young Award? Maybe not, but he should.
Will Zach Britton end the drag for relievers win the Cy Young Award? Maybe not, but he should.

Using WAR, a guy like Jaime Garcia was more valuable than Betances, despite having a higher ERA, WHIP, and 34 fewer strikeouts in 45 more innings pitched. Betances was only slightly more valuable than Shelby Miller, who lost a league best 17 games, and Marco Estrada, who struck out the same number of batters as Betances in almost 100 more innings pitched. No disrespect to Estrada and Miller, but if I’m a GM, I’m taking Betances over both of those guys.

So where does that leave Zach Britton? Well, as of August 18, the Orioles closer was leading the American League in saves with 37, while striking out more than a batter per inning (59 whiffs in 50.1 innings pitched). His ERA of 0.54 would be the best of any reliever in history. He’s given up only three earned runs all season, and none since the calendar turned to May. He’s been the most valuable pitcher on the contending Orioles all season, yet his 3.1 WAR is worse than guys like Colby Lewis and Dan Straily.

To be fair, Britton has a better WAR than Jose Fernandez, so the misleading stat can work both ways. I’m not an old curmudgeon trying to bash today’s new aged metrics. I try to balance the right combination of old school stats, new metrics, and common sense. WAR is a great tool to use, but like any other stat it can be misleading. It’s the epitome of paralysis by analysis.

With no AL starter running away with the award, this may be the year a reliever ends the drought and wins it again. If that’s the case, no matter what new age metrics say, or how old school guys view the importance of the closer’s role, Zach Britton should become the first reliever in 13 years to win the Cy Young award.

Honestly, I always felt closers were more deserving of the MVP than the Cy Young, but that’s a debate for a different day.

 

 

 

A-Rod’s Ending A Feeling All Too Familiar

A-Rod’s Ending A Feeling All Too Familiar

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A-Rod waves goodbye to Yankee fans.
A-Rod waves goodbye to Yankee fans.

As I sit here watching Alex Rodriguez play his final game for the New York Yankees, I’m finding it difficult to describe exactly how I am feeling.

The pre-game ceremony and career celebration by Fox, seemed surreal. There seemed to be a bit of awkwardness in trying to celebrate an awesome on-field talent, who, to put it politely, showed a highly questionable character.

Thankfully, a thunderstorm ended the cringe-worthy “celebration” prematurely, and after an RBI double by Rodriguez in his first at-bat, the dust settled and there was a baseball game to play.

I am not a Yankee fan by any means, but, I am a baseball fan. I can watch any game at any time, so, I decided to watch this game as I tried to figure out exactly where I stood when it came to Alex Rodriguez.

My emotions ran the gamut, as a part of me felt sympathy for the way the Yankees, Joe Girardi in particular, have dealt with A-Rod this year. Then there was the part of me that would remind myself that Rodriguez used PED’s, tried to stall an investigation, and attempted to sue his employer and his union. That part of me felt A-Rod was getting what he deserved.

As I attempted to write about this, I went back and forth. I couldn’t come up with a perspective to view the career of the a villainous man who also happens to have 696 career home runs, 3,115 career hits, 2,021 career runs scored, and 2,086 career RBI. That’s good for fourth, 19th, eighth, and third, all time, respectively.

As I scrapped draft after draft trying to write about how I felt about A-Rod tonight, it finally hit me. I knew exactly how I felt, mostly because I had felt this way before.

It’s the same way I felt about Doc Gooden.

I’m a life long Mets fan, and a big reason I am, is because I began a love affair with our National Pastime as a youngster in the early 1980’s. My love for

UNITED STATES - MAY 14:  Yankees' pitcher Dwight Gooden is carried from the field by his teammates after pitching his first no-hitter in game against the Seattle Mariners at Yankee Stadium.  (Photo by Linda Cataffo/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES – MAY 14: Yankees’ pitcher Dwight Gooden is carried from the field by his teammates after pitching his first no-hitter in game against the Seattle Mariners at Yankee Stadium. (Photo by Linda Cataffo/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)

the game just happened to coincide with the meteoric rise of a Mets team that was overflowing with, what my kids would call, “swag”.

By the time I was eight years-old, the Mets were kings of New York, and World Series champions. As that ball dribbled past Bill Buckner in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, it took with it any chance that I would ever end up rooting for my father’s beloved Yankees.

I would bleed blue and orange, and for a short time black as well, from that day forward. How could I not? The Mets were bad-ass. They were young, hip, and amazingly good, and nobody personified that more than the man known as Doctor K. Not even Darryl Strawberry.

At the time, Doc Gooden was my favorite player. He was amazing. He was the Rookie of the Year, a Cy Young award winner, and a World Champion in his first three years in the league, at just 22 years-old. He was destined to go down as the greatest Mets pitcher ever, on his way to a career that would land him in Cooperstown.

That’s not what happened, however, as Gooden would serve his first drug suspension in 1987 for cocaine abuse, and it was all down hill from there.

That first suspension killed me as a kid. Sure, in the grand scheme of things, Gooden was hurting himself. At the time, however, all I could think about is how he could do this to the people who looked up to him. How could he do this to me.

As I got older, and understood that the world is not described in terms of black and white, but rather shades of gray, each Gooden transgression should have hurt less and less, but it never did. No matter how much I aged, or how much I understood about life, or how desensitized I became, watching Doc Gooden ruin his career never stopped hurting.

Gooden would have multiple suspensions and transgressions, and as his skills began to fade, he became more trouble than he was worth. The man who once graced the cover of Time magazine and should have been on the fast track to Cooperstown, was gone from my beloved Mets, less than a decade after winning the World Series.

Both A-Rod & Gooden made multiple magazine covers, but may be remembered most for these, less than flattering ones.
Both A-Rod & Gooden made multiple magazine covers, but may be remembered most for these, less than flattering ones.

Gooden would come back to throw a no-hitter, for the Yankees no less, but outside of that, he never came close to the player he once was. It was hard to watch at times, and what made it even more difficult was that fact that Gooden brought it all on himself. In the end, Gooden’s career numbers would never be able to quantify just how awesome he was. His career, by his own doing, would never be able to be put into the proper perspective.

Sound familiar?

Even to this day, Gooden seems to be at peace with the way things have gone down in his career. As selfish, and probably inappropriate as it may be, I am not, and most likely never will be. It may sound ridiculous, but Gooden’s career left me feeling cheated.

For the first time tonight, I realized that’s exactly how I feel about A-Rod. I feel cheated because I won’t be able to witness him bring honor to the home run record, like we once thought he would. I feel cheated because I will never know for sure how great A-Rod was. I feel cheated because, despite all of the numbers A-Rod put up in a career that began when I was in high school, and is ending (maybe) when my son is in high school, I will never get to see him take his rightful place in Cooperstown.

Ultimately, it’s Alex Rodriguez’s career, just like it was Gooden’s, so it will be his cross to bear. As long as he’s at peace, and he seems to be, who am I to feel otherwise? Still, I can’t help but think that there’s some young man out there who spent a large chunk of his youth collecting A-Rod’s baseball cards, wearing his number 13, and perfectly copying his stance to the point that he looked like a miniature A-Rod doppelgänger in a Little League batters box, only to be let down by the admitted drug use and suspensions.

Somewhere, Alex Rodriguez is some kid’s Doc Gooden.

 

 

 

A-Rod’s Last Shot At Some Dignity

A-Rod’s Last Shot At Some Dignity

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Does ARod step away from the game today?

Last night the Yankees announced that they will be holding a press conference with Alex Rodriguez at 11 am on Sunday morning. While in the midst of a terrible season and recent benching, announcing a press conference like this is usually a sign that a player is ready to hang up his spikes and retire.

The again, this is A-Rod, so it’s hard to know what to expect.

Earlier this week, the Yankees had a similar announcement for Mark Teixeira. It was leaked that he would be announcing his plans to retire at season’s end. This time, however, we are left in the dark. Nothing more is known at this time, and I’m sure that will not change until the 11am press conference.

So what’s going to happen? It’s hard to believe that Rodriguez is going to retire so close to 700 career home runs. After all, this is the same man who once decided to announce he was opting out of his record breaking contract in the middle of the World Series. To say he’s the “I” in team is an understatement.

Then again, since returning from his season long suspension, A-Rod has, on the surface at least, been a completely different guy. He’s said and done all of the right things, even as the Yankees have benched him so close to his milestone, an embarrassment for a player of his caliber.

Not that anyone is going to feel bad for a guy who has admitted to using PED’s in his Texas days, and then been suspended for his connections to them as a Yankee, while making more money for playing a game than most of us will see in a multiple lifetimes, but the way the Yankees have handled A-Rod’s playing time this season has been nothing short of a catastrophe. The Yankees have somehow found a way to make Alex Rodriguez a sympathetic figure, in a very Tony Soprano sort of way.

All of that will change, however, if this press conference is to announce that the Yankees have bought out Rodriguez and plan to release him. That

ARod admitted using PEDs after signing his then-record contract with Texas in 2001
ARod admitted using PEDs after signing his then-record contract with Texas in 2001

would mean, that even after all of the turmoil, suspensions, injuries, and now, poor performances, Alex Rodriguez would have found a way to collect every cent, or pretty close to every cent, he possibly could from the Yankees.

For the record, that is A-Rod’s right to do, and something most people probably would. I’m not sure I’d be able to walk away from an extra 20-some-odd million bucks, no matter how much I’ve made. That sentiment, however, gets lost in the astronomical financial numbers of A-Rod’s contract. If Rodriguez wants to salvage any amount of dignity to his career, a career that already contains a mental asterisk or two in the minds of most baseball fans, then his only option will be to retire.

By walking away, even if it’s at season’s end, for the first time in recent memory, Alex Rodriguez would put the game of baseball before money and milestones. It may still be too little, too late to get him in Cooperstown someday, but it will definitely go a long way towards changing the narrative of how we remember his career.

Then again, this is A-Rod we are talking about, so seeing the Yankees paying him to stick around and hit his 700th homer as Marlin, wouldn’t be that surprising at all.

We will find out in less than a half hour.

 

 

The Empire Strikes Back

The Empire Strikes Back

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This type of post strikeout bat flip has been all too common for A-Rod in 2016.
This type of post strikeout bat flip has been all too common for A-Rod in 2016.

If nothing else, Alex Rodriguez is resilient.

The man who has been labeled everything from “the best in the game” to “cheater”, can certainly add resilient to the list. While his resilience is probably more likened to that of a bed bug than that of Cal Ripken, nothing has seemed to be able to keep A-Rod down for long.

Think about it. The man has found a way to stay in the game after not one, but TWO, PED incidents. He’s survived the ravenous New York media, even after his relationship with Bronx golden boy Derek Jeter, turned cold. He’s comeback from injuries, and a season-long suspension after the age of 35, to have a 30 homer season.

Which brings us to last year’s MLB trade deadline.

The Yankees were leading the AL East by six games on July 31, 2015. They had the second best record in the American League, and a 39 year-old Alex Rodriguez, coming off of a 162-game suspension in 2014, was defying the odds by hitting .282, with 24 home runs and 61 RBI. Not even a season-long suspension at 38 years-old could keep A-Rod down.

The Yankees felt comfortable not being a player at the 2015 trade deadline, watching guys like David Price and Troy Tulowitzki go to a division rival, and Yoenis Cespedes go to their cross-town rival. It was all down hill from there though, as the Blue Jays would go on to overtake the Yankees and capture the AL East crown, and Cespedes would help propel the Mets to the World Series. The Yankees would finish the final two months of 2015 with a record of 29-31, while Rodriguez would slump to the tune of a .191 average, nine homers, and 25 RBI down the stretch. George Stienbrenner must have been turning over in his grave.

Ultimately, A-Rod would finish the 2015 season batting .250, with 33 home runs, and 86 RBI. Any hopes of the Yankees taking a “moral high road” and benching, or releasing Rodriguez was out the window. The Yankees were still contenders, and like it or not, A-Rod was still a productive player.

This year, as A-Rod has turned 40, his slump continued. Then he missed most of May with a hamstring injury. Then, much like the rest of his Yankees squad, A-Rod spent June mired in mediocrity. This July would see Rodriguez’s playing time dwindle to the tune of only 37 at-bats. To put that into a better perspective, Rob Refsnyder had 46 at-bats in July.

The Yankees made big moves with an eye on the future in 2016, a future that doesn't seem to include A-Rod.
The Yankees made big moves with an eye on the future in 2016, a future that doesn’t seem to include A-Rod.

This July would also be the first in recent memory that the New York Yankees would be sellers at the trade deadline, dealing Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, and Carlos Beltran were for a bunch of top prospects.

What a difference a year makes.

While the Yankees deadline deals have received widespread praise from the media and fans alike, few could have known that this Bronx rebuild would also offer Yankees brass the opportunity to serve A-Rod some good old Evil Empire vengeance , the type that hasn’t been seen in the Bronx since the Billy Martin hired/fired/hired carousel.

In case you haven’t heard, the Yankees have told Alex Rodriguez to grab some pine indefinitely, and it’s beginning to look like we may be seeing A-Rod’s final days in pinstripes.

Sure, A-Rod’s move to the bench happened weeks before the trade deadline, but had A-Rod gotten hot, and the Yankees weren’t one spot from last in their division, Alex Rodriguez would be playing, period. If you don’t think so, you obviously didn’t watch the Yankees last year.

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Babe Ruth and Hank Arron are the only players to hit 700 home runs while collecting 3,000 hits, 2,000 RBI, and 2,000 runs scored in their careers. A-Rod is looking to become the third.

A-Rod’s slump and injury combined with an aging roster, inconsistent starting pitching, and trade partners hungry for top-tier relievers combined to form the perfect storm to give the Yankees a viable reason to bench A-Rod, four home runs shy of 700.

It’s not supposed to be this way for great players, and statistically speaking, Rodriguez is an all-time great player. He’s collected over  3,000 hits, 2,000 RBI, and 2,000 runs scored to go with his 696 home runs. Even if he was on the decline, this should have been a time to celebrate and watch as A-Rod would get to 700 homers and cross into territory that only Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron have been before. What we are getting instead, is a slow, agonizing, and embarrassing death to A-Rod’s Yankee career, and it’s hard not to imagine Yankees brass loving every minute of A-Rod getting his just dessert for all of the embarrassment, awful press, and attempted lawsuits the club has had to deal with over the years.

Maybe I’m a conspiracy theorist, but it certainly makes sense. You can’t bench a guy you are paying $30-million for the season if he’s your best power hitter and you’re a first place team, as was the case in 2015. This is especially true in New York, and even MORE especially true if you’re the Yankees. If you have an aging roster struggling to stay at .500, and your able to get a ridiculous haul of prospects for relief pitchers and a 39-year-old DH, however, it’s easy to bench a guy like A-Rod in an effort to see what some of these younger guys can offer your team going forward. It’s a viable excuse that wouldn’t make anyone bat an eye, not even the Major League Baseball Players union.

If you want to think that the above statement is true, that’s fine. If you dig a bit deeper, however, it makes little sense.

A struggling Mark Teixeira announced he will retire at seasons end. It may be time for A-Rod to do the same.
A struggling Mark Teixeira announced he will retire at seasons end. It may be time for A-Rod to do the same.

Mark Teixeira is an oft-injured, aging player who is hitting .198 this year, seven points lower than A-Rod, and on the day he announced that he will retire at the end of the season, he’s not only in the Yankees line-up, he’s batting third. CC Sabathia is 35 and is 6-8 with a 4.15 ERA. He’s been a disaster for the better part of the last four seasons, and the Yankees are still rolling him out there every five days. Jacoby Ellsbury is still only 32, but he is in the midst of being the worst free agent signing in Yankee history, and he’s still playing.

Maybe I’m over thinking it. Maybe these really are nothing more than solid baseball decisions. Still, for anyone that’s even a casual follower of New York sports, knows the Yankees have long been sick of the baggage that A-Rod brings to the table. Eating over $60 million and releasing him, only to watch him possibly reach 700 plus home runs in another uniform was never a smart business option. The taking the moral high road and benching him ship has long since sailed. This rebuilding thing, however, now this is genius. It looks like a solid baseball decision, while simultaneously sticking it to a guy who wound up being a disgrace to the Yankee uniform.

For too long, nothing seemed to be able to stop Alex Rodriguez’s baseball career or his assault on the baseball record books. That’s finally changed, and for whatever reason it is, it’s about damn time.

For the record, if Big George was still alive, this A-rod mess would have ended a long time ago, and Troy Tulowitzki would be a Yankee today.

 

 

Piazza, Junior’s Hall Inductions Make Forgiving ‘Roiders That Much Harder

Piazza, Junior’s Hall Inductions Make Forgiving ‘Roiders That Much Harder

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Griffey and Piazza posing with their HOF plaques.
Mike Piazza & Ken Griffey, Jr posing with their HOF plaques.

Over the years, I’ve flip-flopped back and forth when it comes to putting suspected and proven PED users in the proper historical perspective. At first, my anger at watching hallowed records fall with remarkable ease, had me pointing fingers and calling for complete bans of anyone suspected of cheating. I wanted records nullified, players suspended, and cheaters banned from Hall of Fame consideration. I even remembered thinking that the baseball writers should vote Fred McGriff, a player who fell seven home runs shy of the magical 500 but had no known PED connections, into Cooperstown before anyone connected to Steroids.

Time heals all wounds, however, and as time passed, I softened my stance when it came to electing players to the Hall from the steroid era. I’m sure part of it is that I became desensitized to this stuff with the passing of time, or that I watched some of these PED users save baseball after the 1994 strike, or that I got sick of watching guys like Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza get passed up for induction and accused of cheating in a very McCarthy-esque manner. Mostly though, I got tired of knowing that the entire era of baseball I watched throughout my youth, would never be properly represented in Cooperstown.

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Barry Bonds has 7 MVPs, Roger Clemens has 7 Cy Youngs. Neither guy has even reached 50% of the HOF vote.

I’m 38 years old. I began watching baseball in the mid 1980’s. One could argue that I was alive to witness the greatest pitcher and the greatest position player ever, in Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, respectively. Before you scoff at that remark, think about it for a minute. Strictly from a statistical perspective, it’s not that far-fetched. Neither of those guys is in the Hall of Fame. Even worse, they probably never will be either. When I was a kid, I looked at the players my father grew up watching, guys like Aaron, Koufax, and Mantle not as old-time players, but almost as mythical heroes. I’m not sure my son has ever been able to feel that way about the players from my youth.

So, as the years passed, and more and more guys were exposed as PED users, or worse, more and more guys were blindly labeled as cheaters, I just wanted all of these guys who deserved induction, to get in. The public shaming had gone on long enough. The point had been proven.

I may be mistaken, but the public sentiment seems to be shifting that way as well, even if the BBWAA has been a bit late to the party.

Then this year, Mike Piazza, a player who had been passed up induction multiple times due in part to former New York Times reporter Murray Chass questioning the disappearance of his back acne as a possible sign of steroid use, finally got voted in, and it signaled a possible light at the end of the tunnel. Even if the proven cheaters like Rafael Palmiero never made it to Cooperstown, the “suspected” guys may finally start to be getting the benefit of the doubt.

Mike Piazza would go in with Ken Griffey, Jr., and for me at least, it was perfect. The greatest offensive catcher ever, who would also be going in wearing my beloved Mets colors, and the greatest player I have ever watched play the game of baseball, in Ken Griffey, Jr., would go in simultaneously.

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Much like Piazza, Jeff Bagwell has had his HOF worthy career overshadowed by PED questions.

After I got over the coolness factor of this year’s induction, I started thinking, and realized that besides sharing the stage last Sunday, and a 1994 Sports Illustrated cover, Griffey and Piazza shared something else. They were both victims of the steroid era.

Piazza’s days of living under a cloud of accusations and ultimately being denied his proper place in baseball history seemed to end last Sunday, but the same can not be said for Griffey.

Yes, Griffey was elected on the first ballot with the highest percentage of votes ever, but anyone who watched Griffey play knows what I’m talking about. Junior put up numbers that should have defines a generation. By the time he was 30, Griffey had amassed 438 home runs, 1270 RBI, 1163 runs, and 1883 hits. He was a 10 time Gold Glove center fielder. There was no way he wasn’t going to get to 2,000 RBI, 2,000 runs, and 3,000 hits. He was destined to become baseball’s new home run king. He was going to go down as the greatest player ever.

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Junior was barely able to stay on the field for the Reds, playing only 991 games over the last 10 years of his career.

As we all know, thats not exactly what happened. While players all over the league were pumping their bodies full of steroids and growth hormones, and having career years into their late 30’s and early 40’s, Griffey was the opposite. He barely worked out. His body aged like the rest of us mere mortals, and ultimately began to break down. From the ages of 31-40, Griffey hit 192 home runs, 566 RBI, 499 runs, and 898 hits. Even worse, he averaged only 99 games played per season during that span. as ridiculous as it sounds for a player with 630 career home runs, Griffey might be the greatest case of “what if” since Shoeless Joe Jackson was banished from the sport.

So where do the PED users come in? Well, what if the guy who hit 762 career home runs, 317 of the from the ages of 35-42 had been clean. What if more guys aged naturally, causing fewer guys hit 500 and 600 home runs? If the playing field had truly been even, would guys like Palmiero, Bonds, and Alex Rodriguez have reached milestones that Junior’s body would not allow him to reach? What if?

In the end, for Griffey and Piazza at least, it ended the way it was supposed to last Sunday afternoon. As for me, I’m still torn when it comes to the PED users and the Hall of Fame. I’m not sure whats worse, not seeing many of the greats from my youth in the Hall of Fame, or the fact that PED’s in baseball robbed many players of their proper place in history? I don’t think there is a right answer.

A part of me can’t help but wonder if Griffey receiving 99.3% of the vote is as much an homage to him playing clean as it is to his greatness. You know, they could have just made the same point by voting for Fred McGriff.

While writing this, I noticed that Murray Chass, again wrote about Piazza’s back on July 17, 2016. While I disagree with his view on this, and believe he has some sort of axe to grind with Piazza, it’s still worth reading. You can read it here.

 

 

 

 

 

The 3,000 mile reach of Mr. Padre

The 3,000 mile reach of Mr. Padre

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image As my son, Anthony, prepares for his for his senior year in high school, it’s difficult not to feel a bit of nostalgic.

This next year will be full of big moments, and as he heads for adulthood, and hopefully college, it’s a bittersweet time for a parent, to say the least.

Anthony will offer me a second go round at this, as my oldest daughter Kaitlyn graduated high school two years ago. She is excelling in college, even with the added burden of playing college basketball for our local community college now. Knowing how much she has blossomed over the past two years should make this second time easier. Anyone who has multiple children knows that this is not the case.

This time in a child’s life makes a parent realize how fast time really passes by, and, for me at least, makes me realize how many special moments I may have taken for granted.

Now, as we sit here on vacation waiting for his final year of high school to approach, this past week’s Major League Baseball All-Star game reminded me that this may be the final year I get to do something that’s brought me so much joy over the years. Watch my son play baseball.

For as long as I can remember I have loved the game of baseball. That love was instilled in me by my father, and despite breaking rank of my family’s Yankee fandom and becoming a Mets fan, it’s one thing my father and I have been able to share, even when I was a jerky, know-it-all teenager. In case you’re wondering, history has repeated itself, and I couldn’t be happier about that, especially since my son is also a Mets fan.

Despite my love for our nation’s pastime, I was never able to play the sport on an organized level, until I joined a men’s league at the age of 36. After my parents divorced, and my mother remarried, money and time constraints coupled with a large family (there were six of us kids) meant playing Little League was out of the question. Needless to say, when the time came for my son to start T-ball, I couldn’t sign him up fast enough.

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Since this T-ball days, my son has grown as a ball player. He’s made numerous travel teams, been a leader on and off the field, and is now a Varsity high school player, even after getting cut as a freshman. His hustle, grit, and understanding of the game never cease to amaze me, and while it’s great to watch him play as a father, it’s just as great to watch him play as a fan of the game. While’ I’d like to take all the credit, I owe much of my son’s baseball success to Mr. Padre himself, the late, great, Tony Gwynn.

Playing baseball is something my son and I have always done together. I wasn’t one of those coach dads who made my son work at his sport, mostly because I never had to. Throw a baseball was never a chore for me. Practicing was never work. It was fun, for both of us. We didn’t fish, or hunt, or go camping. We went to the ball field, and to baseball games, and to Cooperstown. It was never work, it was never a burden. It was just fun.

Organized baseball, however, almost ruined that.

This 17 year-old version of my son is 6 foot tall, lean and muscular. He’s also an athlete who wrestled and played football for his high school this year, and even spent a year boxing when he was 13. He’s played through injuries, and even once caught an entire game with a broken thumb before letting anyone know he was hurting. He’s a man’s man, and maybe in this politically correct world that’s a term I shouldn’t use, but screw it, I love that about it.

In his younger years, however, my son was a peanut. He didn’t hit a growth spurt until last year, and before that he was constantly the tiniest kid on his team. Having instilled in him since birth that Mike Piazza was the greatest thing since sliced bread, his early days in the game were spent dreaming of being a catcher and hitting monster home runs. Hell, he even asked for a catcher’s mitt for Christmas…at six years old. It did not take long for home to realize that, at his size, this was going to be a tall order, pun intended.

Numerous coaches told him he was too small to catch. Some even were so blinded by his size, that they would tell him to not swing at the plate, knowing that it was hard for 9-10 year old pitchers to hit is tiny strike zone. Others, would only let him bunt, even if the situation didn’t call for it.

The results left my son devastated. He started swinging harder and harder, to the point he would lose his mechanics. I tried to preach to him the value of putting the ball in play, especially with his speed, hustling all the time, and playing great defense, no matter where you played, but everything I was saying was being undermined by coaches who thought their next Little League title was going to get them a shot at the big leagues.

I needed proof to back up the things I preached, so I turned to the greatest contact hitter I could think of. I turned to Tony Gwynn.

As a kid, I never really got to appreciate just how good Gwynn was. I grew up in New Jersey, with no cable in the pre-internet era. My exposure to the Padre great was one game I saw him play in person at Shea Stadium, the Sunday Bergen Record, and my baseball cards. I knew he was a great contact hitter and batting champ, who had speed and didn’t hit home runs. That was pretty much it, but that was all I needed.

I sat down with my son and went over Gwynn’s stats. We watched videos. We read article after article online about Gwynn. His accomplishments are too numerous to list here, but a part of me felt bad that I had spent so much of my younger years rooting for guys like Darryl Strawberry, when I could have been cheering for Gwynn. A part of me, as a baseball fan, felt deprived.

As we spoke about Gwynn, I could see the love and fun return in my son. Tony Gwynn was proof that there was plenty of room in the game for guys who didn’t hit the long ball.

From that moment, my son didn’t care about home runs. He prided himself on not striking out, making contact, going the other way. He prided himself on being a great hitter with two strikes, just like Gwynn. It was an amazing transformation, and one that made me as proud as a father could be. Sure he was becoming a great baseball player, but more importantly, he was becoming comfortable with who he was, he loved it, and it was, in part at least, because of a baseball player who played before his time, almost 3,000 miles away.

imageTwo weeks ago, I ordered Anthony a copy of Tony Gwynn’s book, The Art of Hitting. It was a used copy I bought through Amazon from SanDiego Goodwill for 11 bucks. After thumbing through it with my son, we noticed a page with a large photo of Gwynn posing with a bunch of silver bats, and under it was a beautiful signature in blue sharpie. It had been signed and dated by MR. Padre himself, and as corny as it sounds, a part of me will always wonder if the ghost of Tony Gwynn had something to do with us getting that book by surprise.

To this day, my son has only hit a single home run the entire time he’s played organized baseball. It was a game winning grand slam when he was 11, and it was also the same year he struck out only five times in over 18 games. I don’t think I need to tell which accomplishment he still talks about to this day.