The Week That Was in Baseball: February 10-16, 2014
Measuring the Greatness of Derek Jeter • Roy Oswalt Calls it a Career
MLB De-Pensions Its Lower Class • R.I.P., Jim Fregosi
The Captain, Quantified
Derek Jeter announced this past week that the 2014 season would be his last. From that moment, the chatterblog went into overdrive as pundit after pundit debated this aspect and that aspect of Jeter’s career. What his loss will mean to the Yankees. The overexcesses of the Farewell Tour. And, yes, who made Jeter’s all-girlfriend team.
The one that naturally caught our interest was his standing among the voluminous list of Yankee greats. (The all-girlfriend team also caught our attention, but TMZ-ish data is not our forte.) As you may know, we have a page devoted to the ten greatest Yankee hitters of all time. Derek Jeter is not on that list. So, people will get it that Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Lou Gehrig probably rates higher. But how is it that Charlie Keller, Bobby Murcer and Rickey Henderson (who played less than five years in New York) make the cut and the brilliant Jeter doesn’t?
The exclusion of Jeter from the list has made for one of our more active arguments we’ve had to explain to the many who’ve checked in and asked, “Huh?” One look at his career batting record and it’s hard to believe he doesn’t belong. After all, here’s a guy who’s the only Yankee with over 3,000 hits; the one with a .312 batting average, eight 200-hit seasons, 13 100-run seasons, healthy doses of steals, walks, doubles, and so on. But know this: Jeter was never an offensive juggernaut in a time when such players pumped up (sometimes illicitly) on big-time numbers not seen in baseball since the 1930s. Put Jeter’s numbers, say, in the 1950s and you have a man for the ages, stat-wise.
But let’s not get caught up in the numbers. Jeter transcends the metrics that statistical seamheads relish. While we have lists for the ten greatest Yankee hitters, and the ten greatest Yankee pitchers, and the ten greatest Yankee games, we don’t have a list for the ten greatest Yankee players. On our Yankee team history page, however, we do have our thoughts on the who would be on the Mount Rushmore of the Yankees—in fact, we have a back-up Mount Rushmore because, as we say, the Yankees are too good to have just one. Jeter is on that second monument, which probably tells you that he ranks somewhere between fourth and seventh on our would-be greatest player list. (George Steinbrenner, who’s on our first Rushmore, doesn’t count here because he never played.)
Jeter was the glue for this team from the very start. He was cool and confident, and always seemed to be in the right place at the right time to make the right play. Just ask Jeremy Giambi, who thought he had such an easy, crucial game-tying run in the 2001 ALDS playoffs that he bothered not to slide—then found himself out when Jeter came out of nowhere as an emergency relay man on an outfield throw and shoveled it to catcher Jorge Posada, who tagged Giambi with an inch to spare.
There are so many other such moments in Jeter’s career—the sprawling dive into the stands to catch a foul ball, the clutch hits and grabs, the thank-you-Jeffrey Meier homer—that can’t be evaluated into a metric language. In determining the greatest players for one team, you chuck away the box scores and the Excel sheets and anything to do with numbers; you just know. And we do know that Jeter is one of the greatest Yankees. To say otherwise would be an exercise in silliness.
Hanging it Up
In the shadow of Jeter’s announcement came retirement calls from numerous other players this week.
Tops among them is Roy Oswalt, who does appear on our list for the top pitchers in Houston Astros history—and checks in at number one. While many great hurlers took the mound for the Astros before his time—Nolan Ryan, J.R. Richard, Mike Scott, to name just a few—what set Oswalt apart was his consistency of his A-game, especially in a time when hitters dominated. Also consider that Oswalt was the first pitcher to tame the lively beast that was Enron Field/Minute Maid Park in its early years. He was a superlative 143-82 in an Astros uniform, twice won 20 games and took home an ERA title in 2006; though he never won a Cy Young Award, he finished five times in the top five. On the all-time franchise lists, Oswalt ranks second in wins (and barely, just one behind Joe Niekro), winning percentage and strikeouts. He likely won’t make the Hall of Fame because he flamed out earlier than expected (particularly after being traded from Houston in 2010), but he’s sure to get his fair share of votes.
Also stepping down is Jake Westbrook, a solid .500 pitcher who never had the great year—but never much of a lousy one, either. The 36-year-old right-hander had a pretty good knack for racking up victories in spite of unimpressive ERAs; generous run support had something to do with it, but so did his nose for smelling the wins when they were within sniffing distance. In the postseason, Westbrook has sour memories of his trip to the 2007 ALCS with Cleveland—where he lost Game Seven to the Boston Red Sox—but very fond memories of the 2011 World Series where, converted into a playoff reliever, got credit for the win in the St. Louis Cardinals’ classic 10-9 Game Six victory in 11 innings.
It was learned this past week that Major League Baseball, without a press release or any other fanfare, quietly agreed to allow teams to curtail or completely eliminate pension programs for non-player personnel. This follows the general momentum of corporate America to do away with potential cost-prohibitive pensions, though much of corporate America isn’t swimming in riches the way baseball is; that MLB essentially has no direct in-season competition (no, Major League Soccer isn’t quite there, yet) gives baseball one more reason not to look over its financial shoulder.
Again, the decision doesn’t end pensions for all teams; it just gives them to right to do so if they want. Still, the move amid all the profits comes off as heartless, which leads one to understand why, publicly, MLB kept this decision way down on the down low.
Remembering Jim Fregosi
This past week saw the unfortunate passing of Jim Fregosi, who suffered a series of strokes aboard a cruise with fellow ex-ballplayers and died at the age of 71.
Most baseball fans will remember Fregosi as being on the wrong end of one of the worst trades in baseball history: The one that sent Nolan Ryan and three other players the other way from the New York Mets to the California Angels. The irony of that deal was that, at first, most believed it was a one-way deal that favored the Mets. But Fregosi, an All-Star shortstop in Anaheim for much of the 1960s, was fading quick while Ryan exploded from wild reliever to All-World strikeout ace. (The trade also netted the Angels Leroy Stanton, who became the de facto bopper on a team almost entirely without power during the mid-1970s.)
An enormously gifted athlete from the Bay Area, Fregosi led two baseball lives: The ballplayer who collected 1,726 hits and 151 homers over 18 years, and the manager who piloted three teams in 15 seasons, including a divisional winner with the Angels in 1979 and, more memorably, the raucous 1993 Philadelphia Phillies—who upset Atlanta in the NLCS before bowing to Toronto in the Joe Carter walk-off World Series. He also spent time on various major league teams as a scout and front office executive.
You Ain’t Gonna Hear From Pauly No More
Any chance that catcher Ronny Paulino was going to make it back to the major leagues took a hit this past week when he was handed a second PED suspension that will cost him 100 games. After seven years as a part-timer for four different teams, the 32-year-old Paulino was anchored down as second on the depth chart for the Detroit Tigers’ Triple-A club in Toledo; this second penalty could spell the end of his career.
Nice Idea, But…
For those who think the Baseball Writers’ Association of America shouldn’t have control of the Hall of Fame vote, we give you Dan Pietrafesa of the Poughkeepsie Journal. His idea is to bend the rules so that Derek Jeter can be eligible one year early—to four years instead of the required five—so he can be on the same ballot with Mariano Rivera and go in together. This of course assumes that they’ll be voted in on the first ballot, which is quite likely. Pietrafesa (who is not a BBWAA member) evoked the early induction of Lou Gehrig and Roberto Clemente into the Hall as precedents; but Clemente was dead and Gehrig was dying. Does he know something about Jeter that we don’t?
I Didn’t Mean What I Really Meant to Say
It was a little feisty at first, but the feud between Jack Clark and Albert Pujols came to a quiet conclusion this past week when Clark apologized for accusing Pujols of taking steroids as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals. “During a heated discussion on air,” Clark’s apology read, “I misspoke and for that I sincerely apologize.” So that Clark apparently “knew for a fact” that Pujols once juiced was just a case of the wrong words coming out of one’s mouth. Whatever the case, Pujols accepted Clark’s apology and dropped pending legal action against him.
The much-anticipated regular season kickoff in Australia between Los Angeles and Arizona will not be the only MLB game played outside of North America in March. The Yankees and Miami Marlins will pair up for two exhibition games in Panama City (that’s the one in Panama, not Florida) as a bow to retired Yankee and Panamanian native Mariano Rivera, who will be actively involved as one of the event’s promoters.
While this will mark the first time two MLB teams have squared off in Panama, it‘s not the first instance of a MLB team coming into town. In 1947, Panama provided part of the backdrop for Jackie Robinson’s tumultuous spring prior to his debut season in Brooklyn when the Dodgers swooped through for a series of exhibitions with local teams.
The Los Angeles Angels of Tustin?
Late last year we reported a spark of détente between the Angels and the City of Anaheim in regards to an imminent ballpark extension that would allow the team to remain in Angels Stadium through 2057, lose the “Anaheim” in the team’s confounding moniker and give owner Arte Moreno control of 153 acres of land around the ballpark. But now Anaheim—or more pointedly, mayor Tom Tait—is saying the city should be allowed to share in the profits of the extra land Moreno seeks to develop. So Moreno has aired out some leverage, saying that there’s some choice land roughly five miles down I-5 in Tustin that he may want to check out as a possible site for a future ballpark. Your move, Mr. Mayor.
Check it Out
Besides all the wonderful feedback we get, one of the great things about running This Great Game are those who give us shouts about their own baseball endeavors. Here’s some of the cool things we’ve been drawn to over the last few weeks:
The Mendoza Line. Writer-director Nathan Kaufmann shows us the trials and tribulations of surviving minor league ball, a more low-key and real-life variation of Bull Durham judging from the trailer. It’s due for a springtime release.
Baseball History Shorts. A web site that shows the evolution of the game through video clips from various eras. It’s a unique approach and covers many topics including hitting, ballparks and broadcasting.
The Fight of Their Lives. John Rosengren’s new book is subtitled How Juan Marichal and John Roseboro Turned Baseball's Ugliest Brawl into a Story of Forgiveness and Redemption, which sounds like a mouthful—and even Rosengren’s not thrilled with it, but as he says: “My publisher insisted it have all those words to trigger the proper search engines and, since they control the purse strings, they won.” Check out his web site.
Wounded of the Week
Spring training opened for business this past week, and with it so did the doors to MLB’s Medical Ward; the early activity suggests the clinic is going to have a busy year.
The Seattle Mariners led the parade of patients; Cy Young award candidate Hisashi Iwakuma hurt the middle finger on his pitching hand and could miss Opening Day, young pitching prospect Taijuan Walker is complaining of a sore shoulder and oft-injured outfielder Franklin Guiterrez has announced he’ll skip the entire 2014 season because of an ongoing illness (that’s gastrointestinal/autoimmune problems to us).
Elsewhere, we received news that Philadelphia starter Cole Hamels will be out until May with biceps tendinitis; Cincinnati ace Mat Latos will miss a few weeks after slipping while throwing on the mound; Pitcher Mark Mulder ruptured his Achilles heel, likely ending his comeback dreams with the Angels; and Boston pitcher Ryan Dempster, citing “physical reasons” and a desire to stay home with the wife and kids, will sit out 2014—perhaps because he won’t have Alex Rodriguez around to plunk if he did play. (He’s also passing up on a $13.25 million paycheck.)
And we’d like to wish a speedy recovery to Hank Aaron, who at age 80 slipped and fell on Atlanta’s icy terra not-so-ferma this past week and required partial hip replacement surgery as a result. (And where was Chipper Jones when he was needed to come to the rescue?)
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