Category Archives: Major League Baseball

THE OTHER CURSE

On December 26, 1919, in perhaps the most talked about transaction in the history of baseball, the Boston Red Sox sold George Herman ‘Babe’ Ruth to the New York Yankees for the princely sum of $100,000. That transaction would be blamed for the many failures of the Red Sox for the next 85 seasons.

The year before, 1918, with the Babe winning 13 and losing 7 as a pitcher and hitting .300 with 11 home runs, which tied him with Tillie Walker, of the Philadelphia Athletics, for the lead in all of baseball, the Sox had won the American League crown with a 75-51 record. They had gone on to win the World Series beating the Chicago Cubs in six games. In 1919, despite the Babe hitting .322, leading all of baseball with 29 homers and winning 9 while losing 5 with a 2.97 ERA while on the mound, the Sox had slipped to sixth place with a 66-71 record.

Red Sox fans couldn’t believe that the Babe was gone, to of all places, the Yankees. And so, the Curse of the Bambino was born. Red Sox fans would blame The Curse for every bad thing that happened to their Sox, until 2004, when the Sox finally broke The Curse winning the World Series for the first time in 86 years. That year, as all Red Sox fans know, the Sox were down to the Yankees three games to none and facing elimination in the American League Championship Series but came back to win four in a row to defeat the Yankees and then went on to sweep the Cardinals in the World Series.

Few, if any, Red Sox fans would be able to name the trade which was perhaps the second worst the Red Sox ever made. Four years after trading the Babe to the hated Yankees, on January 30, 1923, the Sox traded right handed pitcher Herb Pennock to the Yankees for Norm McMillan, George Murray and Camp Skinner and $50,000. cash. McMillan, an infielder, played one year with the Sox and hit .253 with no homers and 42 RBI’s. Murray, a pitcher, won 9 and lost 20 in two years in Boston with a 5.48 ERA. Camp Skinner, an outfielder, lasted just one year, getting 3 hits in 13 at bats.

On the other end of that trade, Pennock, who had won 62 and lost 59 with a 3.67 ERA at Boston in the eight years from 1915 to 1922 went on to win 162 while losing 90 for the Yankees in the next 11 years.

In that time, he played in four World Series with the Yankees. In 1923, when the Yankees beat the New York Giants in the Series, he started two games, won them both and had one complete game. In 1926, when the Yankees lost to the St. Louis Cardinals, he started two games, pitched complete games and won both. In 1927, when the Yankees beat the Pittsburgh Pirates, he started and completed one game and got the win. In 1932, when the Yankees defeated the Chicago Cubs, at age 38, he didn’t start a game but relieved in two and got the save in both. In four World Series with the Yankees, he was 5-0 with 4 complete games, 2 saves and a 2.07 ERA.

It probably didn’t hurt Pennock at all that, during the 11 years he played for the Yankees, he had an outfielder named Babe Ruth who hit .346 with 448 homers, 1,365 RBI’s and a .694 slugging percentage, playing behind him.

To make matters worse from a Red Sox point of view, Pennock had remarkable success against the Red Sox while with the Yankees. In his first year at New York, he won 19 and lost just six games but, remarkably, only faced the Sox once, in relief, pitching one inning and giving up one hit and no runs, with no decisions.

The next year, 1924, the Red Sox began to pay dearly for the trade. Pennock faced them in five starts, won four of them and the other was a tie called after five innings. He pitched two complete games, one of them a shutout, beating the Sox on September 3, 5-0, on five hits. He won 21 and lost 9 that year and finished fourth in the Most Valuable Player voting and had a 40-15 record overall since coming to New York from Boston.

In 1925, he started six games against them and won four while losing two, four of them, including one of the losses, were complete games. They beat him on May 26th, 3-2, despite him throwing a complete game and giving up only eight hits. In his first three years as a Yankee he had beaten the Sox 8 times while losing just 2 and had six complete games. His overall record slipped to 16-17 that year.

In 1926, while posting a 23-11 regular season record for the American League Champion Yankees, he started against the Red Sox five times, won four of them, all complete games and had one no decision. He finished third in the Most Valuable Player voting that year.

He only started against the Red Sox three times in 1927, beating them 7-3 on June 3rd in a complete game, 7-4 on July 1st and 14-2 in another complete game on September 6th. He had now won 15 and lost 2 against the Sox in the last four years, while compiling a 98-61 record.

In 1928, at the age of 34, he won 17 and lost 6 overall with a 2.56 ERA. He started four games against the Sox, beating them with a complete game, 7-2, on April 19th, losing to them 7-1 on June 23rd and shutting them out, on three hits, for a complete game win 8-0 on August 12th. He also started and went seven innings with no decision against them on July 24th, leaving behind 3-1 in a game the Yankees scored four runs to win 5-3 in the ninth.

From 1929 until 1933, his last year with the Yankees, Pennock won 47 and lost 33 and was 13-5 against the Red Sox with 11 complete games in 18 starts.

After the 1933 season in which he won 7 and lost 4 but was used mostly in relief, starting only five games, at age 39, he was released by the Yankees on January 5, 1934. The Red Sox signed him as a Free Agent on January 20th. That year, he started only two games and had a 2-0 record as a reliever. Ironically, after winning 30 and losing just 8 games for the Yankees against the Sox, he faced the Yankees three times in relief for the Red Sox and got no decisions but the Sox lost all three games. In games in which he pitched that year, the Sox won 6 and lost 24. He retired as a player after the 1934 season.

Herbert Jefferis Pennock was born on February 10, 1894 in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. He was signed as a Free Agent by the Philadelphia Athletics in May of 1912 at age 18 and went right to the Major Leagues. In four years with the Athletics, used primarily in relief, he pitched in 70 games and won 17 and lost 13 with a 3.77 ERA.

He spent 1912 until June of 1915 with the Athletics. In 1914, he won 11 and lost 4 as the Athletics won the American League League pennant with a 99-53 record. They were swept in the World Series by the Boston Braves and Pennock only got into one game in relief, pitching three scoreless innings and giving up two hits.

On June 6, 1915, the Red Sox claimed him off waivers from the Athletics and he won 55 and lost 52 with a 3.68 ERA from 1916 until 1922.

He had won 10 and lost 17, with a 4.32 ERA in 1922 and the Red Sox traded him to the Yankees and the Knight of Kennett Square, as he was known, made them pay for it in the next 11 years. In the 11 years Pennock and Ruth teamed up on the Yankees, they finished first five times, second four times, third once and seventh once. In the same period the Sox, without Ruth and Pennock, finished in last eight times, seventh once and sixth once.

Pennock was named to the Hall of Fame in 1948. In his career, he won 241 and lost 162 with a 3.60 earned run average. After he retired from play, he became General Manager of the Philadelphia Phillies and stayed in that position until he passed away in 1948.

The Curse of the Bambino got the publicity but the trade of Herb Pennock may have hurt the Sox just as much.

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THE RIGHT TIME FOR J. D.

On the surface, it looks like the Red Sox got J. D. Martinez at just the right time in his career. He started the 2017 season with the Detroit Tigers and was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks on July 18. He had missed the first 33 games of the season after suffering a sprain in his right foot in Spring Training.

After coming back, he played 119 of the two teams’ 129 remaining games, a larger percentage of his teams’ games than he had played in any of his seven seasons with the exception of 2015, when he played 158 games for the Tigers. In his 119 games, he hit 45 home runs and drove in 104 runs while posting a .303 batting average and a .690 slugging percentage which was the highest average in the Majors but he did not have enough at bats to qualify for number one.

Forty-five home runs in 119 games is the equivalent of 61 home runs in a 162 game season and 104 RBI’s is the equivalent of 142 over the whole season. In addition to playing more than he usually does, he was more productive than he had ever been.

Martinez, as I am sure every Red Sox fan knows, was signed by the Sox on Monday of last week as a Free Agent for five years at $110. million. He is a 30 year old right handed hitting, outfielder/designated hitter that everyone expects will take over the role of DH in the Sox lineup to fill the hole that has exited since David Ortiz retired at the end of the 2016 season.

His doing so will allow the Sox to platoon the right handed hitting Hanley Ramirez and left handed hitting Mitch Moreland at first base. Neither of those two were very productive last year. Moreland hit .246 with 22 homers and 79 runs batted in, just about his average over the past five years, after a good start. Ramirez, who had hit. 286 with 30 homers and 111 RBI’s in 2016, fell of to a .242 batting average and 62 RBI’s. If one of the two should have a good year, the other may get lost in the shuffle. Ramirez can opt out of his contract and become a Free Agent in 2019 if he gets less than 497 at bats and the Sox may want that to happen to free up his salary to use to retain other players.

This may have to be the year the Red Sox make their move to go all the way as anyone who thinks that the young nucleus of this club, Betts, Bogaerts, Bradley, Vazquez and company are all going to be here for many more years does not understand the lure of Free Agency that will be facing them all soon.

This week, the man that I think of as ‘The Idiot in the Commissioner’s Office’ announced his latest attempts to tinker with the game of baseball, which he appears to know less about than a young Tee Ball player.

In an attempt to speed up play, he and his Pace of the Game Committee have convinced the Major League Baseball Player’s Association to agree to changes in the rules which will take effect at the start of the 2018 season.

Manager’s, Coaches and players will be limited to a maximum of six visits to the mound during each nine inning game. If a game goes into extra innings, one additional visit will be allowed for each inning. These six visits will not include trips for purposes of cleaning cleats on rainy days, injuries or visits caused by an offensive substitution. It will not include communication from players to pitchers if either does not leave his normal position. Umpires will also be allowed to grant an exception where a catcher and pitcher have gotten crossed up on a sign.

Breaks between innings will be limited to 2 minutes five seconds for locally televised games, 2 minutes 25 seconds for nationally televised games and 2 minutes 55 seconds for tie breaker or post season games. The pitcher will not be limited to eight warmup pitches between innings but the amount he gets will be limited to the amount he can throw up to 20 seconds before the start of play. The pitcher must deliver the first pitch and the batter must be ready for it before the end of the break. The timing above applies to relief pitchers as well and the time starts when the pitcher crosses the warning track on his way in.

Given the fact that baseball’s previous attempts to make a pitcher deliver a pitch in a timely fashion have failed because of the umpires inability or unwillingness to impose penalties, this will probably fail, too. The next step will probably involve some other stupid idea like setting up time clocks in the dug outs, bull pens and batter’s box so that players can sign in.

Trying to fix some of the problems caused by lengthy instant replay delays, each team will be provided with slow motion cameras in the club house and telephones between the clubhouse and the dugout to relay information about questionable calls. Of course, because the communications systems could be used for sign stealing, all calls will be recorded.

If the instant replay system, which slows down the pace of play, were never started, we wouldn’t have to worry about this. What would have been wrong with leaving baseball as the one place where the technological explosion did not rear its ugly head?

On Wednesday of this week, John Healy, reported in the New York Daily News that, according to Rich Eisen, on his radio show, said “an MLB executive told him of an idea about allowing the manager of the trailing team to bat whomever he chooses in the ninth inning in an effort to ramp up more excitement.”

Baseball is the only sport by mere randomness and happenstance, the best players are not out on the field with the game on the line,” Eisen said. “Potentially down by two, ninth inning, you got 7-8-9 up.”

There have been some ludicrous ideas disguised as methods to make the game more exciting but this one literally takes the cake. Get ready because the next idea may be participation trophies for everybody who doesn’t make the playoffs to keep the weaker teams’ fans excited and involved.

On a brighter note, here we are on February 25th, just 32 days from the Red Sox opening game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field and things look a lot better for the Sox than they did a week ago.

THE 2018 RED SOX

Last year, at this time, with Spring Training ready to start, Red Sox fans were wondering what their boys were going to do without David Ortiz and the huge offensive boost he gave them in 2016, his last year. Big Papi, at age 40, in his final year in baseball, had put together a last season unmatched in the history of baseball. He had hit .315, with 38 homers, led the league in runs batted in with 127, doubles with 48 and slugging percentage with an average of .620.

With him leading the way, the Sox had won the American League Eastern Division with a record of 93 wins and 69 losses but had been swept by the Cleveland Indians in the American League Division Series. They had led all of baseball with a .282 team batting average, a .348 on base percentage, a .461 slugging percentage, 1,598 hits and 878 runs scored. They had the Cy Young winner in Rick Porcello, who won 22 and lost 4, the runner up in the Most Valuable Player voting, Mookie Betts who had hit

.318, with 24 homer and 102 runs batted in and led the league in total bases with 359.

Until the meltdown in the last week of the season, when they led by 5½ games with six to play and lost five out of their last seven and still won by four games, and the collapse in the playoffs, 2016 had been a magical year. Xander Bogaerts had hit .294 with 21 homers and 89 runs batted in, Hanley Ramirez, out of left field and playing first base, hit .286 with 30 homers and 111 runs batted in, Jackie Bradley, who had a huge hot streak mid season, batted only .267 but had 26 homers and 87 runs batted in, Dustin Pedroia hit .318 with 15 homers and 74 runs batted in and Sandy Leon had a career year, batting .310.

In addition to Porcello’s great year, David Price, although not living up to expectations, won 17 and lost 9, Steven Wright, although he missed the whole month of September, won 13 and lost 6. Craig Kimbrel had 31 saves with only two blown saves.

Over the winter, before starting Spring Training in 2017, the Sox got left handed starter Chris Sale from the White Sox. Sale, in five years as a starter with Chicago, had won 74 and lost 50 and had finished in the top six in the Cy Young voting each year. They also picked up Mitch Moreland, a left handed hitting, first baseman, who had batted .262 with 110 homers and 354 runs batted in in seven years with the Texas Rangers.

In the 2017 season, the offensive production of several key players in the Sox lineup fell off dramatically. Mookie Betts hit .318 in 2016 and just .264, in 2017, Xander Bogaerts fell from .294 to .273, Hanley Ramirez from .286 to .242, Jackie Bradley, from .267 to .245, Sandy Leon from .310 to

.225.

In addition, Betts fell from 31 homers in 2016 to 24 in 2017, Bogaerts from 21 to 10, Ramirez 30 to 23, Bradley 26 to 17. On top of this, Dustin Pedroia who played in 154 games in 2017 and batted .318, missed a large part of the 2017 season with injuries and hit just .293 with 82 less hits and 8 less homers. These five players had 42 less homers than they did in 2016.

Mitch Moreland, the first baseman who was acquired from Texas and was expected to provide a boost offensively, batted just .246 with 22 homers and 79 RBI’s. Between Moreland and Hanley Ramirez, there is bound to be more production this year than last in the first base/designated hitter slot.

Sale, despite faltering toward the end of the season, won 17 and lost 8 with a 2.90 ERA and Drew Pomeranz, after a 3-5 season with a 4.59 ERA in 2016, won 17 and lost 6, with a 3.32 ERA. The rest of the staff left a lot to be desired. David Price after a 17-9 season, won just 6 and lost 3, Rick Porcello went from his 22-4 Cy Young season to 11-17 and David Wright, who had won 13 and lost 6 in 2016, won only one game and lost three before being lost for the season to surgery.

With all the disappointments of 2017, the Red Sox managed to win 93 and lose 69, the same record as the previous year and won the American League East for the second consecutive year, edging out the surprising, young Yankees by two games, despite losing five of their last seven games again in a collapse as bad as that in 2016. They then faced the Houston Astros in the ALDS, the eventual World Series winners, and lost in four games to end the season.

All through the winter, there has been speculation that the Sox would pick up a power hitter and some pitching help but, as of this writing, there have been no significant acquisitions in those areas. There is the possibility that they might resign Eduardo Nunez, who became a Free Agent at the end of 2016, but is still available as of this writing.

Nunez, who hit .321 with 8 homers and 27 RBI’s in just 38 games, while playing second base, third base and all three outfield positions, after being acquired late in the season, should be brought back. When he played his first game for the Sox on July 28th last year, the Sox had won 56 and lost 47, a .544 win/loss percentage. From then until September 25th, when, if you remember, John Farrell tried to play him when he could barely walk, the Sox were 35-18, a .660 win/loss percentage. Even on one foot, he doubled off the wall in his first at bat and lined out in his second before having to be helped off the field, ending his season. His bat and versatility could be key to the success of this team. If Moreland and/or Ramirez should fail to produce he could fill in at either first or DH.

The position players, Moreland at first, Pedroia at second, Bogaerts at short, Devers at third, Benintendi in left, Bradley in center and Betts in right, with Vazquez and Swihart or Leon behind the plate, all have the ability to produce offensively at a higher level than they did last year.

Sale has never had a bad season, Price appears to be healthy and Porcello should rebound from last year’s off season. With those three Cy Young winners and Pomeranz who seems to have come into his own, Rodriguez, if he can stay healthy, and Steven Wright regains close to his 2016 form, the Sox have, potentially, as good a starting staff as anybody in baseball.

The bullpen, with Closer Craig Kimbrel, Matt Barnes, Blaine Boyer, Heath Hembree, Joe Kelly, Kyle Kendricks, Carson Smith and my favorite youngster Austin Maddox, can compete with any team in baseball.

This Red Sox team, if they stay healthy and produce to levels at or close to levels at which they all have shown they can, could win the Eastern Division again. If they produce as they have shown they can, even that young powerhouse in New York will have trouble staying with them.

WILBER’S 3 HISTORIC SWINGS

In 1951, a field level box seat for a baseball game in Shibe Park, home of the Philadelphia Phillies, was $2.50, a reserved seat cost $2. and the average price of a ticket in the ballpark, according to the Sabre Project was $1.45. A hot dog and coke cost the princely sum of 35 cents.

In those days, before doubleheaders required two admissions, a single ticket got you into both games of a doubleheader. So, for $2.50 you could see two major league games and I won’t even begin to compare those prices with today’s because everybody in the world, including me, has already done that.

On Monday, August 27, 1951, the Phillies were hosting the Cincinnati Reds in one of those doubleheaders, the second in two days. For $5.00 you could have seen a doubleheader two days in a row. The Reds won Game 1 of the Sunday doubleheader by a score of 4-2. Two of the top pitchers in baseball pitched the game. Ewell ‘The Whip’ Blackwell pitched a complete game for the win, besting the Phillies’ Robin Roberts, who had led the Phils to the pennant the previous year. Roberts went eight innings, giving up three runs on ten hits for the loss.

The Phils, behind a three hit, complete game, shutout by Rookie Niles Jordan, won Game 2, 2-0. Jordan, a 26 year old left hander, was pitching in his first Major League game. After such a great start he would lose three and win just one more that year before being traded the Reds after the season. He would pitch in just three games the next year losing one, and never pitch in the Majors again. The losing pitcher in that game was Willie Ramsdell, who also threw a complete game three hitter but gave up two runs, one of which scored on a line drive out to center field by the rookie pitcher Jordan.

If you had a second $2.50 to spend, in Game 1, on Monday, Jocko Thompson of the Phillies pitched a complete game shut out, giving up three hits, to best the Reds’ Herman Wehmeier, who pitched a complete game four hitter as the Reds lost again, 2-0. The second consecutive game in which both starters had pitched a complete game.

In the second game of the Monday doubleheader, Ken Johnson started for the Phils and Ken Raffensberger started for the Reds. Johnson pitched a complete game shutting out the Reds on seven hits and Raffensberger giving up three runs and nine hits in seven innings for the loss. Pitching was not the whole story of the game, though.

Johnson held the Reds scoreless in the first three innings and Raffensberger shut out the Phils in the first two. In the bottom of the third, however, the Phils’ catcher Del Wilber, leading off the inning, hit the first pitch he swung at high over the left center field wall for a solo homer to put the Phils up 1-0. The score stayed that way until the sixth. In the last of the sixth, Wilber led off again and, this time, again hit the first pitch he swung at over the left field wall for his second homer, and it was 2-0.

In the bottom of the seventh, with the score still 2-0, Raffensberger got the first batter, Putsy Caballero, to ground out. With one out, Wilber came to the plate again and hit the first pitch he swung at over the left field wall for his third home run of the game, on three pitches.

Unfortunately, we’ll never know what would have happened if Wilber had come to bat again in that game. He would have been the second batter in the last of the ninth but the game ended after 8½ innings with the Phils winning 3-0.

As best I can determine, no other player in the history of baseball has hit three home runs on three swings, driving in and scoring all of the runs scored in a game. In his eight year playing career, Del Wilber hit a total of only19 home runs but, on that one day, he was a power hitter and came as close to having a perfect game as any hitter ever did.

He would be traded to the Red Sox the following year and play three seasons in Boston, getting into 129 games and batting .231. His career average for his eight years playing was .242. He managed and coached in the minors and coached in the major leagues for many years after his retirement and, as an interim manager with the Texas Rangers in 1973, won the only game he managed giving him a perfect 1.000 winning percentage as a manager.

With six complete games pitched in the space of two days, three shutouts and Wilber’s remarkable feat, the fans who paid $5.00 for their tickets to those four games certainly got their money’s worth.

Del Wilber and his family had a long love affair with baseball. Two of his sons, Del Wilber, Jr. and Bob Wilber, manage the family’s The Perfect Game Foundation which provides funding to ‘open doors and create opportunities for those who aspire to a business career in sports’.

Bob contacted me after reading my column about 80 Years of Loving Baseball and we have had some interesting correspondence about players in that era. He was the bat boy for the AAA Denver Bears when his Father managed there and my friend Jimmy Driscoll from New Hampshire played for him. You can bet that Del Wilber, another of those special people that devoted his life to this great game, will end up in Volume IV of THE BASEBALL BUFF’S BATHROOM BOOKS, which will be out this spring.

CATFISH HUNTER’S LEGACY

Thirty years ago yesterday, James Augustus Hunter, was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, getting 315 of the 413 ballots cast, just 76.3% of the vote, barely surpassing the required 75% for induction.

In the eight year period from 1971 until 1978, James ‘Catfish’ Hunter won 149 games and lost just 79, a .654 win/loss percentage; played in the Post Season seven times; played in six World Series’, five of which he was on the winning team, three times in succession from 1972-1974, with the Oakland Athletics and twice with the New York Yankees. He started 268 games in that period and finished an amazing 130 of them, with 29 shutouts, was named to the All Star Team five times and won the Cy Young Award in 1974. He averaged 19 wins and 10 losses per year, 34 starts, 16 complete games and 254 innings pitched per year.

From 1971 until 1974, with the Oakland Athletics, he won 20 or more games four years in a row for a total of 88 wins and just 35 losses and went 4-0 while leading Oakland to three consecutive World Series’ titles.

There have been pitchers who had better careers in the history of baseball than Catfish Hunter but few, if any, have had a run of consistent success like Catfish had in those periods. His plaque in the Baseball Hall of Fame reads

‘ The bigger the game, the better he pitched. One of baseball’s most dominant pitchers from 1971-76, winning over 20 five straight years, Compiled 224-166 mark with 3.26 ERA before arm trouble ended his career at age 33.’

Jim Hunter was born in Hertford, North Carolina on April 8, 1946. He led his Perquiman’s High School teams to state championships in baseball, football and track and was signed by the Kansas City Athletics on June 8, 1964, shortly after he led his high school team to the state championship.

He played for the Athletics team in the Florida Instructional League in 1964, compiling a 3-5 record with a 3.76 ERA, starting eight games and pitching five complete games, one of them a shut out.

The following season, he made the huge jump to the Majors and made his debut on May 13, 1965, in relief. He finished that year with an 8-8 record and a 4.26 ERA but had three complete games and two shut outs in 20 starts. Not a particularly good start for a future Hall of Famer but not bad for a 19 year old with no Minor League experience. Over the next two years, 1966 and 1967, with a Kansas City team that won just 136 and lost 185 to finish seventh and tenth in the American League, he won 22 and lost 28 with a 3.30 ERA and 17 complete games and five shutouts in 60 starts.

On May 8, 1967 he pitched a perfect game against the Minnesota Twins in Oakland at age 22, only the seventh perfect game in the Modern Era.

The Athletics moved to Oakland in 1968 and, during his first three years in Oakland, Catfish won 43 and lost 42 with a 3.51 ERA, 30 complete games and 10 shutouts.

In 1971, led by 25 year old Hunter with a 21-11 record, a 2.96 ERA, 16 complete games and four shut outs, the A’s won the American League West with a 101-60 record. In the ALCS, they were swept in three games by the Eastern Division Champion Baltimore Orioles and Catfish started and lost Game, 5-1, despite pitching a complete game.

Over the next three years, the A’s won the pennant and World Series each year. In 1972, he won 21 and lost 7 with a 2.04 ERA, finishing fourth in the Cy Young Award balloting. In the ALCS, against Detroit, he started Game 1, going eight innings and giving up just one run on four hits in a game the A’s eventually won in 11 innings 3-2. In Game 4, Catfish started again and lasted 7 1/3 innings, giving up just one run on six hits in a game the A’s lost in 10 innings, 4-3.

In the World Series that year, which the A’s won in seven games against the Cincinnati Reds, he won Game 2, going 8 2/3 innings and giving up one run on six hits and started Game 5, leaving ahead 4-3 in the fifth in a game the A’s lost 5-4 but he came back to get the win in Game 7, relieving in the fifth and pitching 2 2/3 innings giving up just one run as the A’s won the game and the series.

In 1973, he had a sensational 21-5 record with a 3.34 ERA and finished third in the Cy Young voting as the A’s won the West again. In the ALCS, he started and won Game 2, 6-3 and four days later, came back to throw a complete game five hitter in Game 5 to send the A’s to the World Series again. In the Series, he started Game 3, which the A’s won in 11 innings, 3-2, going six innings and giving up just two runs on seven hits. In Game 6, with the A’s down 3 games to 2 and facing elimination, he started and held the Mets to one run on four hits through 7 1/3 innings and got the win as the A’s won, 3-1 to extend the Series to seven games. The A’s won Game 7, 5-2, to take their second consecutive Series.

The A’s went all the way again in 1974, with Catfish winning 25 and losing 12 and posting a league leading 2.49 ERA with 23 complete games of 41 starts and 6 shutouts. He was named the Cy Young Award winner. In the Playoffs, which the Athletics won, four games to two, against the Orioles, he started and lost Game 1, leaving in the fifth, behind 6-1, after giving up a homer to Brooks Robinson and a grand slam to Paul Blair. He came back in Game 4 and pitched a three hit shutout for seven innings and the win to take the A’s to the Series.

In the Series, in which the A’s beat the Dodgers in five games, Hunter came in in relief with two outs in the ninth and the tying run at the plate in Game 1 and struck out Joe Ferguson for the game and the save. He started and won Game 3, holding the Dodgers to one run on five hits as the A’s won 3-2 to go up four games to one.

 

After the 1974 season was over in the disposition of a dispute over Finley refusing to pay some benefits in his contract, he was declared a Free Agent and signed with the Yankees for $3.75 million for five years and became the first Free Agent.

 

In his first year with the Yankees, he won 23 and lost 14 and led the league in complete games with 30 and innings with 328. He had a 2.58 ERA and 7 shutouts and finished second to Jim Palmer in the Cy Young balloting. He went on to help the Yankees to three World Series appearances in the next four years, two of which they won. He won 63 and lost 53 in his five years in New York but the toll on his arm and his diabetes that reduced his effectiveness those last years caused him to retire at 33. He was one of only four pitchers to win 200 games by the age of 31.

 

After the 1979 season, in which, at age 33, he won just two and lost nine with a 5.31 ERA, Catfish was forced to retire due to his diabetes. He passed away from Lou Gehrig’s disease on September 9, 1999. Despite his career being cut short, Catfish Hunter had one of the most productive careers of any pitcher in Major League history.

80 YEARS OF LOVING BASEBALL

As my eightieth birthday quickly approaches, I can’t help but reflect on the many ways in which the sport of baseball has made my life better. One of my earliest baseball memories was sitting in the Sea Village Restaurant on Hancock Street in my hometown of Stonington, Connecticut, and watching the Great Yankee Clipper, Joe DiMaggio, walk into the dining area. What greater thrill for an eight year old Yankee fan than to shake the hand of Joe D. No one will ever convince me that he wasn’t the greatest all around ball player of all time and I don’t think meeting him at the Sea Village colors my thinking.

We didn’t have Little League baseball at that time, instead, we went to the ball field on Saturday mornings and the Community Center Director, Frank Turek, ran the closest thing to organized baseball that we had by ‘picking up’ teams. During the week, we would have pick up games almost every day, on our own, with anywhere from four or five to 18 of us playing. You never went anywhere without a ball and/or glove because you might find a game.

At ten years old, I was the scorekeeper for the men’s twilight league in Stonington and I have many memories of wanting to grow up and graduate from Twilight League to the Majors. What ten year old boy had not had that dream in those days?

At 12 years old, I was small for my age. In my eighth grade graduation picture, I look like someone’s little brother that snuck into the picture. My size hampered my ability to compete but never my love of playing. After growing to my present height, (but not my present weight), I played baseball and softball into my fifties and dreaded the day I would have to stop playing.

Along with tens of thousands of other 12 year old boys, I watched in 1950 in awe as 21 year old, 5 foot ten inch tall, rookie, Ed ‘Whitey’ Ford won 9 of 10 starts to lead the Yankees to their second of what would be five consecutive World Series Championships, proving to us that our dreams of playing in the Major Leagues were possible.

The following year, 1951, I was in the original Yankee Stadium, with 39,037 other fans on September 28 when Allie Reynolds no hit the Red Sox in Game 1 of a double header to clinch the pennant for the Yankees. It was Reynolds’ second no hitter of the year, the second pitcher ever to throw two in a year, the other was Johnny Vander Meer. Allie’s no hitter was made more special when he got the great Splendid Splinter, Ted Williams, for the third out in the ninth. He got Ted to pop a foul ball near the first base dugout and, unbelievably, Yogi Berra dropped it. With the crowd in shock, Reynolds went back to the mound and got Ted to hit another foul pop which Yogi caught to end the no hitter.

Five days later, watching the first nationally televised sporting event ever, from a hotel in Jacksonville, Florida, I saw the New York Giants’ Bobby Thompson hit ‘The Shot Heard Round The World’ off the Brooklyn Dodgers Ralph Branca to give the Giants the win in Game 3 of a Playoff for the National League Pennant.

In the early fifties, when I was 14 and 15, we had a Junior League for 13-15 year olds. Each surrounding town had a team and ours was sponsored by the American Velvet Company. We were the Velvet Giants due to a connection the owners of the plant had with the New York Giants. After winning the League, we were taken to New York to see a doubleheader between the Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals and I got to see probably the second greatest hitter of all time, Stan Musial, up close and personal

I watched Don Larsen pitch the only perfect game in World Series history in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series from Glidden Hall at Nasson College, as a Sophomore, in Sanford on October 8, on a black and white television.

Forgotten after the perfect game was the fact that Larsen had started Game 2 and taken a 6-0 lead into the second inning, courtesy mostly because of a grand slam homer by Yogi and loaded the bases on a single, error and walk before Roy Campanella hit a sac fly to make it 6-1. After getting an out on a foul fly, he walked Jim Gilliam to reload the bases and was replaced by Johnny Kucks who gave up a two run single to make it 6-3 and Tommy Byrne came in and gave up a three run homer to Duke Snyder to tie the score at six in a game that Brooklyn eventually won 13-8. If there was any doubt in my mind that baseball was an unpredictable game, Larsen’s performance in those two games, three days apart, would have ended it.

I could go on and on with my memories including 13 years of coaching my own kids’ teams in Little League, playing in the Westerly, RI Twilight League, the Morgan Park League in New London, CT and the Norwich, CT City League as well as tournaments all over. I was fortunate to be in Fenway when the Sox completed the Impossible Dream on the last day of the season in 1967 and when Brunanski made the sliding catch in 1990 to preserve the pennant.

I saw J. R. Richard, one of the greatest talents ever to set foot on a mound strike out ten in the Astrodome, before a stroke ended his career, and Nolan Ryan pitch in the Ballpark at Arlington. I watched games in the Kingdome, Shea Stadium, the Polo Grounds, Braves Field, (In Boston), Schibe Park, Crosley Field, and so many others that are now gone.

As many of you know, I have spent a lot of my time in recent years writing and publishing books about baseball. What better way to end a lifelong love affair with the game. Through my books and book signing events, I have met and talked with many interesting people, fans and players alike.

I have always recognized the fact that Major League Baseball players are a special breed. In order to make it to the top of the greatest game of them all they need, first and foremost, the God Given physical ability to develop the skills necessary to play the game at that level. But that God Given ability is not enough to make it. They need the desire and the ambition to put in the kind of time it takes to hone those skills to the point that they are the best of the best.

Those that have those qualities almost invariably are intelligent, articulate, outgoing people who put baseball’s best foot forward through their personal appearances, work within their communities and their class and presence. Obviously, there are exceptions, but these are generally the more gifted who don’t have to work as hard as others.

Over the past few years I have met many major league ball players, from Super Stars to short term players. I have met players like Jimmy Driscoll, who had a brief, two year career with the Athletics and Rangers, and spent 30 years scouting, and comes to my book signings regularly, to Dave Stenhouse, who was gracious enough to help me with a program at the Westerly, RI, Library, and who was the first rookie pitcher to start the All Star Game but had a career cut short due to arm problems, to Luis Tiant, one of the best pitchers not in the Hall of Fame, who signed autographs with me while I had a book signing at Goodall Park in Sanford, they stand out in a crowd, not just for their baseball ability and career but as special people.

All three mentioned above are nearly as old or older than I and you would still recognize that they and other typical Major Leaguers are special no matter what kind of a setting you encountered them in. They are what makes baseball the greatest game of them all and they are the role models we have always wanted our professional athletes to be.

BASEBALL AND TECHNOLOGY

In one of his recent thrillers, ‘Origin’, published this year, Dan Brown, author of ‘The Da Vinci Code’, has a character that says ‘ ..the meek were supposed to inherit the earth, but instead it has gone to the young – the technically inclined, those who stare into video screens rather than into their own souls.’

I’ll bet a lot of my readers are wondering what that quote is doing in a column entitled Baseball World. It was the phrase ‘the technically inclined’ that caught my baseball eye.

In baseball, probably more so than in any other sport, ‘those who stare into video screens’ have changed the game more in the first few years of this century than it had changed in the previous hundred plus years.

Granted there were a few changes in the game before computers began to take over our world.

Until the Williams Shift was invented by Cleveland Indians’ Player Manager Lou Boudreau on July 14, 1946, infielders and outfielders generally stayed within their assigned traditional areas. There had been some minor shifts in players’ positions based upon the tendency of hitters to pull the ball, notably Babe Ruth and Cy Williams, a notorious pull hitter, but none so radical as the one Boudreau employed after Ted drove in eight runs in the first game of a doubleheader against the Indians that day.

In Boudreau’s version, the first baseman played directly behind the first base bag on the line, the shortstop, in this case Boudreau himself, moved to the normal second base position, the second baseman played on the outfield grass 30-50 feet beyond the infield, the third baseman stayed in almost his normal position and the center fielder moved into right center and the right fielder played almost at the wall in right field.

In the World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Red Sox that year, Cardinal Manager Eddie Dyer used modifications of the shift against Ted. Ted went only 5 for 25 in the World Series against the shift after batting .342 during the season, but obviously that’s a very small sample. ( It is interesting to note that, against the shift, in Game 3, Ted bunted to third for a base hit with the infield shifted. )

Over the years, the shift has been utilized more and more as Managers began to rely on statistical analysis in making their moves. This trend is not just in fielding positions but also in the selection of relief pitchers based upon their record against specific batters. Where the Manager traditionally took into account the fact that a left handed hitter generally didn’t do as well against a left handed pitcher as a right hander and vice versa when deciding what reliever or pinch hitter to use, now there are statistics available showing what each batter has done against each individual pitcher and how that performance differs from situation to situation.

Cubs Manager, Joe Maddon, when he was at Tampa Bay, probably did more to popularize the shift as a regular tool than any other manager until today when some type of shift is used against almost every batter.

Baseball has changed dramatically in response to the advances in technology. Statisticians, particularly those with the Society of American Baseball Research, have done studies that indicate that the bunt is a waste of an out and, as a consequence it has almost disappeared from the game, even as a sacrifice to get a runner in scoring position. For example, in 2000, the average American League team sacrifice bunted 40 times and, by 2017, the average was down to 18 times.

Between the elimination of the bunt and the emphasis on hitting the ball over the shifted fielders for home runs, the average team in baseball hit a home run in 2017, the year of the homer, every 26 at bats compared to just every 31 at bats in 2000. In 2000, the average American League team hit 192 home runs and that number increased to 211 by 2017, a 10% increase.

Last year, despite the largest number of homers ever recorded in a single year, American League teams averaged just 763 runs scored and in all of baseball the average was 753. In 2000, the average American League team scored 857 runs and in all of baseball the teams average 832 runs. From 2000 until 2017, the average number of runs scored per team in the American League increased by 11%.

As far as batting averages are concerned, the average American League team’s average fell from .276 in 2000 to .256 in 2017, a decrease of 7%.

With home runs increasing and batting averages decreasing over the eighteen year period, teams were still scoring 11% more runs in 2000 than they are today.

It would appear that the shift and the emphasis on statistics is working because batting averages are going down, however, there is no way to calculate the effect the emphasis on home runs has had on decreasing the average. Sluggers like Baltimore’s Chris Davis, for example, hit 85 home runs from 2015-2016 but struck out 427 times and batted a poor .241.

Of course, on the other side, all the statistical experts have their formulas to determine which pitcher should pitch to which batter, what he should throw in what situation and that effects the ups and downs of hitting and scoring as well.

Unfortunately, while baseball is trying to figure out how to shorten the length of the game to increase fan interest, no one is concerned that the thing that brings the most fans into the ball game, not the home run, but the action that occurs when the runner makes his way around the bases and crosses the plate is happening less and less frequently.

No one has or will ever prove that, in the totality of a baseball game, shifting the fielders all over the field and relying on statistics, which merely reflect past performance, makes a better team or a better game. As the people who try to sell us on buying their recommended stocks say in their disclaimers ‘ past performance is no guarantee of future success ‘ and that is nowhere truer than on the baseball field, as every Red Sox fan is painfully aware.