A Collision of Viewpoints
The talk of the baseball world this past week centered around a sudden debate over the validity of home plate collisions in the wake of San Francisco catcher Buster Posey’s apparent season-ending injury, after he was bowled over by Florida’s Scott Cousins in extra innings of the Marlins’ 7-6 win over the Giants on Wednesday night.
Catchers are taught to block home on throws to the plate to eliminate easy access for runners trying to score past them, but in doing so they must accept the risk of taking a punishing blow. Posey was situated solidly between Cousins and the plate, but many believed that Cousins had a “lane” to home plate that would have allowed him to avoid making the hit on Posey. Hence, the discussion of whether a rule should be created in which a runner would be called out if it’s deemed that he has an acceptable path to home plate without having to knock out the catcher.
Baseball has always been slow to change, unless of course it involves more revenue for the game. The Lords don’t see ka-ching in making the home plate collision, one of the game’s more exciting plays, an endangered species by protecting the catcher. But they do see the loss of potential cash by losing a star like Posey, who broke his leg, tore knee ligaments and is likely out for the entire seasona major blow to the defending champion Giants, who already had one of the majors’ worst offenses and will only be challenged more to put runs up on the board (to wit: a day after Posey’s loss, the Giants were shut out at home by Florida, 1-0).
It’s almost a cliché to state that home plate collisions have been part of the game for over 100 years, but when a catcher is willing to play the part of a brick wall to keep runners from scoring, they must understand that they’re willing to pay the consequences with the pain they may have to absorb. Major League Baseball can fine or suspend any runner who gets overly excessive on the basepaths (as they did with Albert Belle in 1996 when he broke Fernando Vina’s nose with a brutal forearm trying to break up a double play between first and second base), but if Cousins’ prerogative in trying to score was to slam into Posey, the Giants may feel that it’s their proper prerogative to get rough with Cousins, somehow, someway, the next time the team meets up with the Marlinswhich, by the way, will be August 12 in Miami.
The Top Five Home Plate Collisions (Catcher Loses)
Posey’s body slam from Cousins has enough legs (broken or otherwise) to make it to the list of baseball’s five most infamous home plate collisionsfrom the catcher’s perspective. Here are our other four entries for the list:
4. June 28, 1974: With Cleveland and Boston tied at 1-1 with two outs in the ninth inning, the Indians’ George Hendrick doubled, and Leron Leewho had walked one batter beforescored the game-winning run, but not before flattening the Red Sox’ Carlton Fisk at home. Fisk, on his way to having a terrific season, tore ligaments in his left knee; not only was he told he’d never play again, but he’d likely have back problems for the rest of his life. Neither prognosis turned out to be true; Fisk was back a year later and played for nearly two more decades, on his way to the Hall of Fame.
3. July 9, 1985: Toronto’s veteran part-time catcher (and future ESPN analyst) Buck Martinez is nailed at the plate by Seattle’s Phil Bradley on a Gorman Thomas base hityet has the presence of mind, while practically lying flat on his back in intense pain, to fire the ball to third base, where Thomas is attempting to stretch his single into a triple. But the throw is wild and Thomas races homeand Martinez, still barely sitting up, is able to field the return throw from outfielder George Bell and tag Thomas out. It all ends up as a double play with Martinez making both putoutsall at the expense of a broken leg that ends his season.
2. October 8, 1939: In the fourth game of the World Series, the New York Yankees’ Joe DiMaggio singles in the go-ahead run in the tenth inning at Cincinnati against the Reds; Charlie “King Kong” Keller attempts to add an insurance run on the same play and slams into Cincinnati star catcher Ernie Lombardi, knocking him senselessand allowing DiMaggio to follow through with a third run when the other Red players, believing the play is dead, do nothing to come to the aid of the dazed and confused Lombardi. The Yankees will win the game and finish off a four-game sweep of the Reds.
1. July 14, 1970: The Reds’ Pete Rose flattens Oakland catcher Ray Fosse before his hometown fans at the All-Star Game in what is undoubtedly the game’s most notorious home plate collision. Yes, the run won the game for the National League in 12 innings, but it was an exhibition with no bearing on the regular season, further infuriating those who took issue with Rose taking his “Charlie Hustle,” win-at-all-costs brand of baseball to its zenith. Fosse, who some believe was on his way to becoming the American League’s Johnny Bench, separated his shoulder in the collision and never was the same; worse, he’s never received any apologies or remorse from Rosebut, if it makes Fosse feel any better, when Rose was sent to prison for tax evasion in 1990, he was locked up in Marion, IllinoisFosse’s hometown.
A New York Thousand
Fourteen pitchers in the history of the game have appeared in at least 1,000 games, but when New York Yankee closer Mariano Rivera became the latest addition to that list this past week, he became the first of those to perform at least 1,000 for one team. The 41-year old Riverawhose 13 saves and 1.71 ERA shows no sign of any slowing in his gamereached the milestone this past Wednesday with an inning of work during the Yankees’ 7-3 win over Toronto.
This Week's Challenger to Matt Keough
Jo-Jo Reyes tied a major league record when he failed to pick up a win for the 28th straight time as a starting pitcher, getting shelled early and losing to the Yankees at New York this past Wednesday, 7-3. Reyes matched the mark previously held exclusively by Matt Keough of the Oakland A’s from 1978-79, and hasn’t won a major league game since June 13, 2008 when he beat the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, 5-2, while pitching for the Atlanta Braves. With this loss, Reyes is 0-4 on the year in ten starts with a 4.70 ERA.
A Powerful Silver Lining
For those who think pitching is starting to get too much of an upper hand in baseball, here’s a stat that might make you feel a little better. Milwaukee’s Corey Hart and the Chicago White Sox’ Carlos Quentin each hit three homers this past week, giving the majors five such hat trick performances within a 13-day periodthe shortest span since the milestone was accomplished five times over a span of nine days back in 2002. The other three-homer efforts during this latest run came from Colorado’s Jason Giambi, the New York Mets’ Carlos Beltran and Toronto’s Jose Bautista.
Pimp My Camera Angle
AT&T’s U-verse may not include the MLB Network as part of its basic cable package (and shame on them for that), but they are giving fans a unique perspective for WGN telecasts of the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Besides the primary telecast, the Cubs and AT&T have paired up to set up six additional channels, each dedicated to a single viewing angle located at the ballpark. So you can watch the game from the POV of the third base dugout, or from the press box, or from the second deck overlooking first base. It may seem raw at first, but you do get to see the more candid side of what’s happening at the ballpark, from the pitcher’s reaction to a play to the goings-on between innings (the dedicated view channels have no commercials) to fans in the stands. AT&T tried this out last year only for its Chicago subscribers, but it was popular enough that the channels have gone nationwide this year.
This Week's Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
Showing that he has some gas left in his 36-year old tank (or is he 37, or 38?), Vladimir Guerrero of the Baltimore Orioles finishes this past week with the majors’ longest active hitting streak at 14 games. Here’s the curious part: Guerrero had at least two hits in each of his first seven games during the runand just one hit in each of the latter seven games. Never mind DiMaggio; Guerrero isn’t even halfway to his own personal best streak of 31 straight games with a hit, established in 1999.
Wounded of the Week
Buster Posey wasn’t the only casualty stemming from a home plate collision this past week. On Thursday, Houston backstop Humberto Quintero was knocked over by Arizona’s Ryan Roberts on a play eerily similar to the sequence that fell Posey, as the contact forced Quintero to fold back awkwardly on his planted leg. Fortunately for Quintero, his injury isn’t as serious; he’s on the disabled list with a sprained right ankle, but only for 15 days.
Elsewhere, the Giants’ main NL West competitors, the Colorado Rockies, also took a major hit this past week when starting pitcher Jorge de la Rosa tore a muscle in his throwing elbow; he, like Posey, is out for the season.
Also making the ouch couch this past week was Los Angeles of Anaheim infielder Howie Kendrick (hamstring), Washington first baseman Adam LaRoche (shoulder tear; possibly out for the year), Minnesota starting pitcher Kevin Slowey (abdomen), San Diego second baseman Orlando Husdon (groin) and elbow injuries to Houston ace Wandy Rodriguez, Chicago Cub starting pitcher Matt Garza, Yankee reliever Rafael Soriano (out for a month) and Minnesota closer Joe Nathan.
The Comebacker’s Greatest Hits
Click here to look at the TGG Comebacker archive going back to the start of the 2007 season.
Slam Dancing With the Stars
The New Yorker apparently must have spiked beleaguered New York Met owner Fred Wilpon’s drink with some serious truth serum while interviewing him for an article that was released this past weeka piece that created waves of controversy with Wilpon’s unusually candid, brutal critique of his players. In the article, Wilpon said of the oft-injured Carlos Beltran: “We had some schmuck in New York who paid him based on that one series,” referring to Beltran’s dominant performance at the 2004 NLCS for Houston. “He’s 65 to 70 per cent of what he was.” On impending free agent Jose Reyes, Wilpon said: “He thinks he’s going to get Carl Crawford money…he won’t get it.” Wilpon even slammed David Wright, the Mets’ one consistent, genuine contributor, saying he was “not a superstar.” (Somewhere, Jason Bayhitting .234 with two homers while getting paid $16 millionmust be heaving a huge sigh of relief for not being in Wilpon’s verbal crosshairs.)
The truth is that Wilpon was spot on in his comments. But he also needs to understand that the players have a cardinal rule in the clubhouse: Never bash one of your own to the media. The owners should follow that, tooregardless of what you might be drinking at the time.
Pain in the A's
On the subject of using the media to lash out against one of your own. Oakland reliever Brian Fuentes broke the rule this past week when he ripped into his own manager, Bob Geren. Fuentes had just been tagged with his fourth loss in as many appearancesa franchise firstin Monday’s 4-1 loss at Anaheim against the Angels when he couldn’t help but sound off against Geren, who up to that moment was the majors’ most anonymous manager. He said he was being handled “pretty poorly” by Geren and had “zero” communication with him. Fuentes got support from afar in former Oakland closer Huston Street, who texted from Colorado: “(Geren) was my least favorite person I have ever encountered in sports from age 6 to 27.”
Fuentes and Geren cleared the air a day laterand more importantly, Geren got solid backing from both owner Lou Wolff and general manager Billy Beane. As for Fuentes, he should be more careful to pick his battles, whether in public or not; he’s suffered seven lossestops among relieversand his 4.84 ERA is on track to be the worst of his career since 2004.
Just Another Typical Week for Frank McCourt
This past week proved that not one day seems to go by without some kind of headache involving the Los Angeles Dodgers. First there was news that the family of Bryan Stow, the man critically beaten up in the Dodger Stadium parking lot on April 1, has filed a civil lawsuit against the team for failing to provide adequate lighting and security that possibly led to the beating. A dollar amount was not specified by the Stow family, but it did say that it needs $45-50 million to give Stow “a good quality of life.” The question is: Does Dodger owner Frank McCourt have that kind of dough lying around right now? (Of course, the other question is: Do the Stows really need a minimum of $45 million to maintain a “good quality of life”?)
Then, in the middle of Saturday’s game against Florida, a fire broke out in a small warehouse located under the reserved level of Dodger Stadium, forcing fans seated above to move to another part of the ballpark. A helicopter buzzed around to help guide four fire trucks that arrived on the scene to battle the small blaze, leaving the announced crowd of just under 30,000 (it likely was closer to 20,000) to wonder, “Now what!?” It took 20 minutes to put out the flames; it was not reported if any damage was done to the ballpark itself. We’ll see if McCourt will have to divert funds from his payroll account to help cover the costs of the emergency crews.
Back to Stow: The only upbeat news of the week came from someone on the Giants’ end of things. Barry Bonds, in a rare act of kindness on his part, publicly stated this past week that he would help take the weight off of the Stow family’s financial burden by offering to bankroll all college expenses for both of Stow’s children when they grow up. Well done, Barry.
The Infielder is a Winner
Philadelphia infielder Wilson Valdez became the first position player since catcher Brent Mayne in 2000 to do emergency pitching work and get credit for a win when he hurled a rather effortless, scoreless frame in the 19th inning on Wednesday against the Reds and became the benefactor of the victory when the Phillies rallied in the bottom half of the inning to win, 5-4. Valdez volunteered to take the mound after the Phillies had exhausted their bullpenValdez was the ninth pitcher used by manager Charlie Manuel on the nightand threw just ten pitches in his one inning of work, allowing just one baserunner when he hit Scott Rolen. The game lasted a titanic six hours and 11 minutes and the Phillies were buoyed by a sellout crowd at Citizens Bank Park that lightened considerably but only grew more boisterous as the game grew on, with loyal fans chanting and singing with all the ferocity of an English Premier League gathering.
Paul Splittorff, 1946-2011
Look at the list of firsts in the Royal recordbook and you’ll find Splittorff mentioned often. He threw the first pitch in the entire organization when he opened for the team’s minor league affiliate in Corning, New York in 1968. He was the first Royal pitcher to win 20 games, in 1973. And he took credit for the first postseason win in franchise history, beating the New York Yankees in the 1976 ALCS. A tall, left-handed workhorse, Splittorff seven times pitched over 200 innings for the Royals and spent 15 years with the team, from its infancy in 1970 through 1984, a year prior to their first and only World Series triumph. Despite his standing in Kansas City, Splittorff somehow never was named to an All-Star team.
Two weeks ago, TGG Facebook friend Brian Bohn was the first to let us know about the dire condition of Paul Splittorff, who was suffering from melanoma. This week it was reported that Splittorff, the winningest pitcher in Royal history, passed away at the age of 64.
Ubaldo, Then and Now
A year ago, Ubaldo Jimenez of the Colorado Rockies was on top of the major league pitching world, having already won ten games (against one loss) with a dominating 0.78 ERA at the end of May. Where is he exactly a year later? Nowhere close. Jimenez has yet to win a single game in nine starts in 2011, losing five games and saddled with a rough 5.86 ERA. In fact, since starting the All-Star Game with a 15-1 record, Jimenez is 4-12 in 24 starts with a 4.52 ERA. Springtime injuries and lack of control (30 walks in 50-plus innings) have contributed.
Down in the Danks
Besides Jimenez and Jo-Jo Reyes, the only other starting pitcher without a win this year is the Chicago White Sox' John Danks, who dropped to 0-8 after getting blistered for nine runs in four innings at Toronto on Sunday. Not since 1942 has a White Sox pitcher loss his first eight decisions in a season. Danks' 5.25 ERA is roughly the same as Jake Westbrook, who just happens to be 5-3 for St. Louis.
Right is Right, Left is All Wrong
Adam Dunn, struggling in his first year with the Chicago White Sox, is 0-for-38 against left-handed hitters this season. Overall, Dunn’s batting just .181, is leading the majors in strikeouts (with 69) and is on pace to hit just 15 home runs; he’s averaged 40 over each of his last seven seasons.
Very Small Ball
Each of Seattle's four runs in their 4-3 win over the Yankees on Friday were scored on ground outs.
A Grand Debut
San Francisco shortstop Brandon Crawford, called all the way up from Class-A San Jose, became only the sixth player in major league history to hit a grand slam in his first game to help lift the Giants to a 5-4 win at Milwaukee on Friday. The last player to clear the bases in his first game was Boston's Daniel Nova, accomplished just last year.
Turn on the Lights!
The St. Louis Cardinals are hitting .319 when playing at nightand .242 when the sun is out.
Up For Grabs
After Sunday, only a game and a half separated first place and last in the AL West, with Texas (28-25) on top and Seattle (26-26) and Oakland (27-27) on bottom.
WTF Moment of the Week
A.J. Pierzynski of the Chicago White Sox was chasing down a foul ball behind the plate from Texas’ Adrian Beltre this past Monday when this happened…
Now Playing at TGG
Ed Attanasio’s interview with Freddy Schmidt, the oldest living ex-St. Louis Cardinal, can now be seen in the They Were There section. Freddy talks about his experiences with Branch Rickey, Jackie Robinson and his infamous racist foil Ben Chapman, and his two World Series ringsand why he's lost one of them.
All Things Being Equal: Our Picks For 2011
TGG's Eric Gouldsberry and Ed Attanasio give their picks for the best and worst of the upcoming regular season in our annual preview of MLB. Check it out now in our Opinions section.
TGG Goes to CafePress
We’ve always gotten raves for how we look at This Great Game, and now you can own a piece of the brand. We’ve opened a page at the popular CafePress site, with apparel, mugs, clocks and other items dressed in the TGG brand now available. We don’t just throw the logo and be done with it, adding in some fun baseball trivia. We even have a boy brief for the ladies that says on the backside: “If baseball is on your mind at this point, we’re just what you need.” Now you can show the world that you’re a baseball expert...and you’ll look good, too. Check it out now!