The Month That Was in Baseball: January, 2015
New Members, Old Controversies at Cooperstown • Farewell, Mr. Cub
Rob Manfred, Commissioner • Milwaukee's "Timeless Ticket"
The Month That Was in Baseball: January, 2015
New Members, Old Controversies at Cooperstown • Farewell, Mr. Cub
Rob Manfred, Commissioner • Milwaukee's "Timeless Ticket"
2014: Replay it Again, Bud
Baseball finally embraces extensive video replay to review close calls, but the process leaves a lot to be desired.
The Ballparks: Qualcomm Stadium
Buffeted by giant corkscrew-style ramps and surrounded by a sea of parking, Qualcomm Stadium could be confused for a modern-day fortress. Yet it once shined as a beacon that lifted San Diego into the major leagues.
They Were There: Jim Landis
Jim Landis recalls playing for the 1959 White Sox, Al Lopez, the Comiskey Park wall, and the one day he regrettably took greenies.
Impostors! Great Namesakes in Baseball History
Call them clones, imitators or charlatans, these common ballplayers are often confused for others with the same name and a more accomplished career.
The Ten Unlikeliest Three-Home Run Performances in Baseball History
Nobody expected these guys to go deep three times, whether it was due to their unimpressive slugging abilities, their age, the setting or the times.
Welcome back to the Comebacker, rethought and reworked as a monthly review. For those who’ve enjoyed and become accustomed to the weekly format we’ve put out since 2007, not much has really changed—except that it’s no longer a weekly. Since this is a site that’s focused on the history of baseball rather than the news as it happens, we’ve redesigned the content to act as more of a day-by-day diary approach of the month that was—with some opinion sprinkled in (that’s the italic stuff below). So at the end of the day—or month—it’s good reference material for those looking for the facts, our responses or just some plain good reading fun. Enjoy, and thanks for checking in.—Eric
Thursday, January 1
Nationals Park, home of the Washington Nationals, plays host to an outdoor hockey game as the NHL’s Capitols defeat the visiting Chicago Blackhawks, 3-2 before 42,832. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo appears alongside the ice and doesn’t score many PR points with Capitols fans by wearing a Blackhawks jersey.
After taking a 59-20 trouncing from the University of Oregon at the Rose Bowl, star Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston—also a solid relief pitcher for the FSU baseball team—surprises by saying that he is fully concentrating on his upcoming baseball season, downplaying expectations that he’ll make himself eligible for the NFL draft later in the spring.
Don’t be fooled. Unless Winston really hates football—and after that beating, he might love it less—he’ll end up choosing football over baseball.
Friday, January 2
So when does a baseball player peak? The Boston Globe looks it up using baseball-reference.com’s take on Wins Above Replacement (WAR)—your definition may vary—and finds that the highest ratings occur for position players between the ages of 26-28 and for pitchers at age 26.
Saturday, January 3
When he became the subject of trade rumors late last year, Dan Haren warned that if he was dealt away from the West Coast, he would consider retiring. Today, less than four weeks after he was sent three time zones to the east from the Los Angeles Dodgers to Miami, Haren makes if official: He won’t play for the Marlins and is asking for a trade back to California, or thereabouts.
So why did the Marlins even trade for Haren knowing that he might not agree to pitch for them? Because the Dodgers will pay the Marlins $10 million this year as a result of the deal—even if Haren refuses to play.
Sunday, January 4
Hank Peters, general manager for the Baltimore Orioles from 1975-87 and the Cleveland Indians from 1988-92, dies from complications of a stroke at the age of 90. He began his baseball career in 1946 with the St. Louis Browns’ farm department and later took over development of the farm system with the Kansas City A’s.
Reliever Ryan Madson has been given another shot, signing a minor league contract with the Kansas City Royals. Tommy John surgery—and setbacks from it—have kept him from pitching in a major league game since 2011.
Monday, January 5
Stu Miller, a reliever famously remembered for being “blown off” the mound at windy Candlestick Park during the 1961 All-Star Game, dies at the age of 87. As a part-time starter in 1958 during the Giants’ first season in San Francisco, he led the National League with a 2.47 earned run average; two years later, he led the NL with 17 saves, and a few seasons after that led the AL with 27 while pitching for the Orioles. In 16 major league seasons, Miller was 105-103 with a 3.24 ERA.
Tuesday, January 6
The Hall of Fame announces its new inductees for 2015, and they are Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio. All but Biggio get in on the first ballot; the other three represent the first trio of first-timers to be voted in since 1955. Johnson’s 97.3% plurality is the eighth highest in HOF history, while Biggio—who barely missed induction last year—gets in safely with 82.7% of the vote.
Johnson and Martinez were considered shoo-in’s and Biggio was expected to tip the 75% threshold this year, but it’s surprising that Smoltz got in on the first try, and easily (82.9%)—considering that he only won 16 or more games three times in his career and finished with a lifetime 211-150 record that’s well earned but hardly remarkable. Perhaps what put him over the top among voters is his brief but very successful tenure toward the end of his career as a closer.
Another poser for down the line: What team should Johnson be represented by? He’s best remembered for his explosive reign with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and that’s where he seemed to be the happiest—but he played the majority of his career, and earned the majority of his wins, with Seattle during the 1990s. (On January 16, it is decided that he will be represented as a Diamondback.)
Mike Piazza (69.9%) and Jeff Bagwell (55.7%) are the players with the highest non-induction numbers.
By some accounts, they remain victims of steroid chatter and the misfortunate timing of producing big numbers in a time when they were easy to come by.
Curt Schilling, who got 39.2% of the vote—yet had more wins, fewer losses and more strikeouts than Smoltz—claimed that he didn’t get in because he is a Republican. He later said he was just joking.
Roger Clemens (37.5%) and Barry Bonds (36.8%) remain stuck in neutral in their hopes of gaining momentum in the vote.
Both players continue to be vilified for their steroid connections; their surly attitudes toward the press probably haven’t helped their cause with Cooperstown voters, who just happen to be the Baseball Writers Association of America. That their percentages haven’t improved in three years is a troubling sign for their long-term prospects.
Former Angels outfielder Darin Erstad is one-and-done in the HOF vote, but not without getting a thumbs-up from at least one voter. He tweets in response: “I wonder what that one person was thinking?”
It’s reported that half of the respondents checked off the maximum ten players allowed by the HOF. This will surely lead to more calls to relax or eliminate the quota.
Before Cooperstown’s tally is released, the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America—for which TGG’s Eric Gouldsberry and Ed Attanasio are both members—release their own results for their Hall of Fame. The respondents are more kind; Johnson, Martinez, Smoltz, Bagwell and Tim Raines earn more than 75% to be “inducted.”
A day earlier, Yahoo Sports’ Mike Oz interviews IBWAA founder Howard Cole and suggests that his 300-plus members—which are comprised of leading baseball writers and online goofballs such as ourselves—are more educated on the players than the BBWAA, which consists of established baseball journalists thought some of them haven’t reported on the game in decades.
In other news: Stephen Drew, arguably the American League’s worst hitter (.162 average) in 2014, has signed a one-year, $5 million deal with the New York Yankees.
Drew’s agent, the one and only Scott Boras, will sleep well tonight.
Wednesday, January 7
An old lady goes on PBS’ Antiques Roadshow with a collection of baseball cards from the 1870s and is stunned to hear that they’re collectively worth $1 million. She claims she recently was offered $5,000 for the cards. The truth of the value probably lies somewhere in the middle.
Thursday, January 8
The Nationals have named retired pitcher/outfielder Rick Ankiel to become the organization’s “life skills coordinator.”
You may be asking yourself: What in the heck is a life skills coordinator? The Nationals want Ankiel to use his unique experience as both pitcher and position player to help mentor up-and-coming players in their farm system.
Friday, January 9
The Dallas Morning News has a profile of David Saams, who recycles old, neglected bats and uses them as legs for barstools. They sell for roughly $200 per stool. A nice addition for the game room or man cave, if you have some spare change.
Saturday, January 10
The disintegration of the Tampa Bay Rays continues. Veteran infielders Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar are traded to the Oakland A’s. Headed the other way is catcher John Jaso (who played for the Rays through 2011) and minor leaguers Daniel Robertson and Boog Powell—who is not related to the Baltimore star slugger of the 1960s and 1970s.
Sunday, January 11
Who says baseball isn’t a wintertime sport? Cbssports.com uncovered some interesting true tales of the National Pastime once upon a time being played…on ice.
Monday, January 12
If it worked for Magic Johnson with the Los Angeles Dodgers, perhaps it might for Hank Aaron, too. The baseball legend is reported to be part of a group interesting in buying the basketball’s Atlanta Hawks. It is said that Aaron’s presence would score goodwill points with Hawks fans stung by recent racial comments by current ownership.
Tuesday, January 13
The Milwaukee Brewers begin a unique marketing tactic by selling a “Timeless Ticket” for $1,000. The idea is that someone buys the engraved brass ticket and can use it for any game of his choice—even the seventh game of the World Series, should the Brewers ever get there. The ticket also allows entry into nine additional, more common games (postseason and Opening Day games excluded).
Even for ten games of your choice, that’s a pretty steep price. We’re curious how good the available seats would be.
A total of 175 major leaguers file for salary arbitration. Among them are Josh Donaldson, Matt Wieters, Zach Britton, Greg Holland, Eric Hosmer, David Price, Stephen Strasburg, Andrew Cashner and Aroldis Chapman.
Wednesday, January 14
Yunel Escobar, we hardly knew ye’. Just four days after acquiring the infielder from Tampa Bay, the Oakland A’s ship him off to Washington for reliever Tyler Clippard.
The Atlanta Braves, meanwhile, continue with a heavy makeover of its roster. Evan Gattis, heavily rumored to be on the trading block, is dealt to Houston for three prospects.
Thursday, January 15
In the last MLB owners meetings presided over by outgoing commissioner Bud Selig, it is decided that the experimental “pitch clock” used last year in the Arizona Fall League to shorten games will be used in Double-A and Triple-A minor league games for the coming season. The clock will also be utilized for time between innings and pitching changes, but the actual amount of time in each of these occasions has yet to be determined.
Use of the clock and other time-saving measures in major league games remains on hold, for now, due to likely resistance from a players’ union whose members have grown used to time-consuming habits between pitches.
Baltimore had been considered the favorite, but the Orioles have been at recent war with MLB in the dispute over revenue the Washington Nationals can receive from regional sports network MASN, which is owned by the Orioles. That, along with many owners’ lack of love for Baltimore owner Peter Angelos, likely helped seal the All-Star deal for San Diego—which continues to have a fine offseason between this announcement and the Padres’ star-enhanced shake-up of their uninspiring roster.
The liberal 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is no help to San Jose’s cause in attempting to overturn baseball’s antitrust exemption, ruling unanimously against the city in its case to unchain the A’s and move them to Silicon Valley. As if to rub salt into the wound, one of the judges (Alex Kozinski) writes: “Like Casey, San Jose has struck out here.”
Actually, San Jose still has a glimmer of hope: It plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. But based on the high court’s past history—it created the antitrust exemption in 1922 and ruled, in 1972, that any attempt to overturn it must be the job of Congress—the city’s chances aren’t all that great.
Friday, January 16
David Price avoids arbitration and signs for $19.75 million with the Detroit Tigers. It’s the highest figure for any player under arbitration control.
Saturday, January 17
The Chicago Cubs announce that Wrigley Field’s famed Bleacher Bums will have to find another place to sit at the start of the 2015 season as the rebuild of the bleachers—the first step in the complete makeover of the 100-year-old ballpark—will not be finished until May.
Sunday, January 18
Max Scherzer, the most sought-after pitcher in the free agent market, signs with Washington. The total package: Seven years, $210 million, with deferred payments lasting through 2028.
The deal is likely to accelerate a possible trade for current Nationals pitching stars Jordan Zimmermann or Stephen Strasburg.
Monday, January 19
Yovani Gallardo is traded from the Milwaukee Brewers to the Texas Rangers for utility infielder Luis Sardinas and two minor leaguers. Gallardo is fifth on the Brewers’ all-time list in wins (89) and ERA (3.69).
Tuesday, January 20
A company that makes password management applications says that “baseball” was the eighth worst password to use in 2014, and the third worst in the form of a word behind “password” and “qwerty.”
Wednesday, January 21
MLB and the umpires continue their long reign of labor peace, as the two sides agree on a new collective bargaining agreement that will last through 2019.
In Edgewater, New Jersey, a spectacular fire destroys much of a luxury apartment complex containing 400 units—one of which is owned by Yankees broadcaster John Sterling. “I don’t know what to expect,” he told the New York Daily News. “Now, I have nowhere to go. And I need a toothbrush.”
Friday, January 23
On of baseball’s national treasures is gone. Ernie Banks, the highly likeable Hall of Famer known as “Mr. Cub” and known for his famous saying, “Let’s play two,” passes away at the age of 83. Banks played more years in the majors—19, all of them with the Chicago Cubs—than anyone else without participating in a postseason.
Former pitcher Ted Lilly, who according to baseball-reference.com made more than $80 million during his 15-year major league career, is charged in San Luis Obispo, California for insurance fraud after making “false claims” on his damaged RV. If convicted, Lilly could face up to five years in prison.
You wonder how a guy with assumedly so much money in his personal vault would have the motivation to do something like this…unless all that money has been wasted away. It happens.
Saturday, January 24
Bud Selig spends his final day as baseball commissioner, a title he had owned since 1992. (He was officially the “interim” commissioner until July 1998 after he and fellow owners ousted Fay Vincent.) In a chat with the Associated Press, Selig reflects: “It’s been quite a journey, and the journey I think has changed me in a lot of ways. I wish I knew in 1992 what I knew today.”
Selig lasted 8,173 days on the job. Only Kenesaw Mountain Landis served longer, at 8,779 days.
Sunday, January 25
It’s Day One for Rob Manfred as Selig’s replacement, and a New York Times interview lays out where he and/or the game stand on current issues. He will lobby for an increased technological experience for the fan, believes that an international draft is coming soon and that World Series games could return to the daytime. But Manfred also thinks baseball will stay the course on the designated hitter (the National League will not adopt it), expansion (“at a minimum, it’s a ways down the road”) and advertising on uniforms (nope).
The New York Daily News reports that the Yankees are looking into eliminating the clause in Alex Rodriguez’s contract that calls for $6 million bonuses when the disgraced slugger matches the career home run totals of Willie Mays (660), Babe Ruth (714), Hank Aaron (755) and Barry Bonds (762). The team is arguing that Rodriguez’s steroid confessions null and void the “marketing” aspect of those milestones.
Rodriguez is also reported to have wanted recently a mea culpa meeting with the Yankees, but the team declined.
Bill Monbouquette, a solid pitcher in the lean days of the Red Sox between Ted Williams’ departure and the “Impossible Dream” team of 1967, dies of leukemia at age 78. The right-hander sported a career 114-111 record that included a 20-win campaign in 1963 and a no-hitter in 1962.
The Boston Herald’s Steve Buckley recites how, at a 40-year high school reunion, Monbouquette was able to reconnect with the girl he long ago had a crush on…and eventually married her.
Monday, January 26
With the average major league salary now over $3 million, even the common player has it good. Take Brennan Boesch: The five-year veteran, who spent most of last year at Triple-A Salt Lake, has bought a $2.8 million home in Malibu.
Note to Boesch: Hope you have enough money left to pay for earthquake and fire insurance, which can get pretty costly—and for good reason—in Malibu.
Tuesday, January 27
The Tampa Bay Times reports that Hillsborough County—which includes the city of Tampa—has “quietly” hired a law firm with the optimal intent of luring the Rays from the Tropicana Dome. The deal and its intentions are being kept on the down low because St. Petersburg has threatened to sue if the Rays even discuss a move out of the city to a nearby locale.
Thursday, January 29
Washington outfielder Jayson Werth pleads guilty to reckless driving and will spend five days in county jail. He will be allowed to serve his time on weekends—before the season starts.
A convicted felon working in Washington. Join the crowd.
Another esteemed baseball journalist comes up with another out-of-the-box thought to “fix” the game: Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal suggests that maybe, maybe, baseball ought to consider a new rule in which pitchers must face a minimum of two batters. Rosenthal believes that such a rule will help speed the game up and foster more offense.
More kneejerk meddling with a game that hasn’t changed in over 100 years and doesn’t need to. You want to speed up the game? Do the obvious: Shorten the breaks, overhaul video replay so managers don’t dawdle on whether to call for a challenge, and tell the hitters to get back in the damn batter’s box.
Friday, January 30
ESPN names the Cubs’ Kris Bryant as the top prospect in all of baseball. Why not: Last year, the 23-year-old third baseman hit .325 with 43 homers and 110 RBIs split between Double-A and Triple-A.
The Cubs themselves are named as the organization with the best list of overall prospects; the Detroit Tigers are rated as the worst.
Saturday, January 31
MLB.com begs to differ with ESPN. It names Minnesota’s injury-prone Byron Buxton as the its top prospect—for the second straight year. Bryant is second on the list.
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