Now that the Hall of Fame Class of 2018 has been announced, baseball fans can really begin to get ready for the end to the long winter. Exactly 17 days, that’s three weeks and three days, from today, the Red Sox pitchers and catchers will hold their first work out in sunny, and, hopefully, warm Florida.

Just one month from today, the Red Sox will be entertaining the Pittsburgh Pirates at Jet Blue Park in their SEVENTH spring training game against a major league rival. When I was driving back from Connecticut with the rain freezing on my windshield on last Monday, baseball seemed a long way away, but today, thinking about the new members of the Hall of Fame and looking at my calendar, I realized it is almost here.

I was really pleased to see one of my favorite ball players get elected to the Hall. Vladimir Guerrero looked like an old farmer when he went to the plate but he could hit a baseball. He got base hits on pitches that would have hit another batter, on balls that a catcher couldn’t reach on the outside, balls that no other player would have paid attention to and it seemed that, as people often said, ‘ he never saw a pitch he didn’t like.’

‘Vlad The Impaler’ as he was called, an outfielder and designated hitter, hit .318 for his 16 year career with 449 homers and 1,496 RBI’s and a career .553 slugging percentage. He made the All Star team nine times and was the American League Most Valuable Player in 2004 when he hit .337 and had 39 homers and 126 RBI’s with the Anaheim Angels.

If you look closely, behind the Toronto Blue Jays’ slugging third baseman, Josh Donaldson, in the Toronto future is a young man named Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., Vlad’s 18 year old son. Just named the top third base prospect in baseball by MLB Pipeline, he hit .323 with 13 homers and 76 RBI’s in 119 games last year at Class A Lansing and Dunedin in his first year in the Toronto system at age 18. Jim Callis at MLB.com said of the young Guerrero, ‘with his advanced feel for hitting, mature approach and exceptional hand-eye coordination, Guerrero should contend for batting titles on an annual basis’. He apparently is more disciplined than his father at the plate so there may never be a hitter again who could hit the ball, wherever it was pitched, like Vladimir Guerrero.

Both Chipper Jones and JimThome were elected in their first year on the ballot. Chipper, who played his entire career with the Atlanta Braves and was a member of the teams that went to the Playoffs every year from 1996 until 2005 was a career .303 hitter who hit 468 homers and drove in 1,623 runs as a switch hitter. He was the National League’s Most Valuable Player in 1999, when he batted .319, with 45 homers and 110 RBI’s.

Jim Thome played for six different teams, including the Cleveland Indians, where he spent his first 13 years, and played in the post season with five of them. He hit 612 home runs, the eighth most of all time and drove in 1,699 with a career batting average of .276 and a slugging percentage of .554.

Trevor Hoffman, who spent 16 of his 18 year career with the San Diego Padres, saved a total of 601 games, a number exceeded only by the great Mariano Rivera in baseball history. He pitched in 1,035 games and had a career ERA of 2.87 with 1,133 strikeouts in just 1,089 innings pitched. As a Closer, he finished second in the Cy Young Award balloting in 2006 when he saved 46 games, appeared in 65 and had a 2.14 ERA.

All four of these players are legitimate Hall of Famers with no blemish on their record to discourage voting for them. They will be joined at the induction ceremony on July 29th by Alan Trammel and Jack Morris who were named by the Modern Baseball Era Committee in December.

Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds were bypassed again by the voters. Clemens received 57.3 percent of the votes cast and Bonds 56.4 percent. Election requires a player appear on 75 percent of the ballots cast and there were 422 ballots cast this year.

Bonds, in a 22 year career, hit more career home runs, 762, had more walks, 2,558, more intentional walks, 688, and more home runs in a single season, 73, in 2001, than any player in baseball history. He won seven MVP Awards in a career that started with the Pittsburgh Pirates and ended with the San Francisco Giants.

Given his admissions and problems with lying to the investigating committee, about steroid use there could be a question about his qualification. However, baseball puts him on the ballot and makes him eligible for selection therefore, his career should be evaluated based on his performance. After all, when baseball doesn’t feel a person should be eligible, like Pete Rose, he is not even placed on the ballot.

Clemens, however, probably the last player to win more than 300 games, won 354 and lost 184 in a 24 year career with four different teams, was never proven to use steroids, continuously denied their use, never tested positive and was never disciplined for abuse.

He won seven Cy Young Awards and was the American League Most Valuable Player with the Red Sox in 1986, when he won 24 and lost just 4 with a 2.48 ERA. Aside from Pete Rose, who was banned from baseball and thus not eligible for the Hall, Clemens may have the best credentials of any player not elected to the Hall.

Ken Rosenthal, one of the most respected and knowledgeable of the Baseball Writers’ Association members who vote in the Hall of Fame election, recently wrote that he had voted for Bonds and Clemens this year, for the third year in a row, because he is tired of what he called the ‘mental gymnastics’ and ‘hair splitting’ that goes on annually with regard to the question of steroid use.

He said that some players who obviously used steroids are already in the hall, and he named Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza ‘and others we do not know about’ as examples, and the fact that in many cases, ‘we don’t know who did what and to what extent’. He would apparently draw the line at those players such as Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez where there had been proof of steroid use accompanied by punishment.

The Class of 2018 is an outstanding example of elite players who earned their place. Like every class in recent years, the Baseball Writers’ Associations’ actions in denying Clemens a spot puts a dark cloud over the entire process. As usual, the worst Baseball Commissioner in history is doing nothing to resolve this issue. He’s too busy tinkering with the rules of the game.

Roger Clemens belongs in the Hall of Fame and it’s time this problem was fixed.



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.


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.


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.


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.


Happy New Year from Baseball World to your world wherever it may be.

As we prepare to celebrate the holiday, I thought it would make you feel better to know that the Red Sox pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training on February 13th, which is just 47 days away. On February 22nd, just 56 days from today, the annual split squad games between the Sox and Northeastern University and Boston College will kick off the spring games and the Sox will play their first Major League opponent of the spring, the Minnesota Twins, on the next day.

The Sox will open their defense of their regular season American League Eastern Division Title at Tampa Bay against the Rays on March 29th. If you are planning to attend, I would suggest you get your tickets early because that is the one day of the year the Rays draw a big crowd. The last time the Red Sox opened a season with four games, in four consecutive days, against the same team was 2003, when they opened in Tampa Bay against the then Devil Rays. The Opening Day crowd of 34,391 at Tropicana Field that year was bigger than the total of the other three games, which drew a grand total of 33,692.

Since I have been at Opening Day at the Trop three times in recent history, I would also suggest some type of ear protection because it seems that every cow bell owner in Florida brings their bells to that game and it gets loud. This year, with the Sox coming in, is a great opportunity for Sox fans to see their heroes up close and personal.

If you plan to go to Florida for the Opener, I would suggest that you consider going a couple of days early. The Rays, traditionally, play their last Spring Training game against the Detroit Tigers. That game, which will be held on March 27th this year, is played in Tropicana Field and the Rays organization uses the game as a kind of dress rehearsal for the stadium for the coming season. They only sell general admission seats, with no assigned seats, usually only using the lower level and seats are usually only $15.00 each. I have attended this game several times and it is a unique experience. The players are getting ready to begin the real season, after a long spring, but the atmosphere is relaxed and the crowd has a great time.

The Trop is a much maligned ball park but with the roof guaranteeing good weather and the Red Sox in town, I can’t imagine a better way to kick off the season. In fact, there’s a good chance that, if you go,

I’ll be there with you.

After the four games with the Rays, the Sox travel south to play the Miami Marlins twice on April 2nd and 3rd in Marlins Park. The Park, which was completed in March of 2012, seats 37,442 fans and has a retractable roof. The Marlins open at home with a four game series with the Cubs prior to the Red Sox coming in.

In a quirk of the schedule, the Sox come home to Fenway after the Miami series and host the Rays for three games, April 5th, 7th and 8th, thus playing seven of their first nine games against the Rays, leaving only 11 to be played between the division rivals the rest of the season.

It always seems that the off season is so long but, at this time of the year, with only 47 days to go before the Sox go south, it seems like the time has flown by.

Fifty years ago this past weekend, on December 23rd, 1967, after winning 22 and losing 9, leading the Red Sox to the Impossible Dream Season, and walking away with the Cy Young Award, Gentleman Jim Lonborg injured his left knee skiing and would need surgery as a result. He would miss the beginning of the 1968 season and would end up with a 6-10 record and damage to his rotator cuff from trying to return too soon.

In the World Series that year, he had pitched complete game wins in games two and five and had started game seven on two days rest. After Bob Gibson had won the first of his three games of the series for the Cardinals in Game 1, Lonborg had pitched one of the greatest games in World Series history, in Game 2. He didn’t allow a base runner until he walked Curt Flood in the seventh inning and gave up just one hit, a double to Julian Javier in the eighth and pitched a complete game, one hit, shutout win to even the series at one game apiece. This against a Cardinal lineup that included Lou Brock, Flood, Roger Maris, Orlando Cepeda and Tim McCarver.

In Game 5, after Gibson had shut out the Sox in Game 4 to put the Cards up three games to one, Lonborg pitched another complete game win. This time, he gave up three hits but held the Cards scoreless until the ninth, when Roger Maris hit a solo homer to make the final 3-1, Boston, and send the Series to a Game 6. In 18 innings, he had allowed one run and just six base runners, one of whom reached on an error.

Lonborg started Game 7 on two days rest and, after holding the Cards scoreless for two innings, lasted just six innings, giving up seven runs, six of them earned, on 10 hits while Gibson was pitching his third complete game and winning 7-2 to take the series.

After the injury, 50 years ago, Lonborg won just 27 and lost 29 in the next four years and was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers and from there spent seven years with the Philadelphia Phillies, winning 75 and losing 60. He ended his career with an overall 157-137 record.

If not for that skiing accident fifty years ago, who knows what the future might have held in the next few years for Gentleman Jim Lonborg and for the Red Sox organization.


Am I the only person that looked back at the end of the 2017 season and said to himself, ‘How in the world did they win 93 games, the exact same number that they won in 2016’?

Did anyone else notice that the 2016 Red Sox, with David Ortiz, led all of baseball in almost every major offensive category including, batting average, .282; hits 1,598; runs scored 878; total bases 2,615; on base percentage, .348 and slugging percentage .461? On the other hand, the 2017 Red Sox, without David Ortiz, finished 13th in baseball in batting average, at .258; 8th in hits 1,461, 21st in runs scored 785, 22nd in total bases 2,305, 11th in on base percentage, .329 and 26th in slugging percentage at .407.

Obviously, not all of the reduction in offense was from the loss of Big Papi.

From 2016 to 2017, 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.

It should be noted that players like Betts, Bogaerts, Bradley and Ramirez, while experiencing great reductions in their production, did not, for the most part, have bad seasons, but when compared to 2016, those years looked terrible. There is nothing to indicate that their 2017 performance will be the norm in the future and there is nothing to indicate that they are not capable of achieving those heights again.

How can you explain the fact that the hugely less offensively productive 2017 team finished with exactly the same record as the 2016 team with 93 wins and 69 losses, won the Division again and was eliminated in the first round of the Playoffs both years, by the Indians in 2016 and in 2017 by the Houston Astros?

A large part of the reason has to be the improved performance of the bullpen pitching staff. The 2016 Red Sox pitching staff had a combined earned run average of 4.00, 8th best in all of baseball, while the 2017 staff had a .3.70 ERA, 4th in baseball.

As for the starters, the addition of Chris Sale, 17-8 with a 2.90 ERA, the improvement of Drew Pomeranz, 17-6 with a 3.32 ERA helped in this area. However, David Price went from 17-9 to 6-3, Cy Young winner Rick Porcello won just 11 and lost 17 after being 22-4 the previous year and knuckleballer Steven Wright, who won 13 and lost 6 in 2016, was just 1-3 before being lost for the season to Tommy John surgery.

The bull pen, led by Closer Craig Kimbrel, with 35 saves in 39 opportunities and a miniscule 1.43 ERA, Joe Kelly, 4-1 and a 2.79 ERA in 54 games, Matt Barnes, 7-3 with a 3.88 ERA in 70 games, Heath Hembree, 3.67 in 62 games and Robbie Scott, 3.79 in 57 games, gave the team a much needed boost.

In 2016, the Red Sox starters won 68 and lost 42, had an ERA of 4.22, 7th best in baseball, while the 2017 starters won 64 and lost 54, had an ERA of 4.06, 8th best in baseball. Opponents’ hitters averaged .252 average against Red Sox starters in 2016 .255 in 2017.

In 2016, the Red Sox relievers won 25 and lost 27, had a 3.56 ERA, 9th in baseball, while the 2017 relievers won 29 and lost just 15 and had a significantly lower ERA of 3.15, 2nd in baseball. Opponents had a .233 batting average, 7th in baseball, against Boston relievers, in 2016 and a slightly lower .226 average in 2017.

The improvement of the performance of the relievers was, obviously, a factor in offsetting the loss of offensive production.

Another factor, perhaps more important, which helped make it possible for the Red Sox to win the same number of games in 2017 as in 2016, without the offense, was the weakened competition in the American League East. Each team in baseball plays 19 games each year against opponents from its own Division or 76 games, or 47%, out of a total of 162.

The American League East has been one of the most powerful Divisions in baseball for many years. Boston, New York, Baltimore, Toronto and Tampa Bay, which make up the Eastern Division, had had at least three and as many as four teams with records of .500 or better every year for the past 11 years prior to 2017.

In 2016, four of the Eastern Division teams, the Red Sox, Orioles, Blue Jays and Yankees all won more than they lost overall, with the fourth place Yankees winning 84 and losing just 78. In 2017, only two of those teams, the Red Sox and Yankees won more games than they lost while the other three had losing seasons.

The other American League East teams, won 183 and lost just 161 in games outside the Division in 2016 but slipped to 173 wins and 172 losses in 2017, while the Red Sox improved to 52-34 outside the Division from 50-36 in 2016.

While the rest of the Division was losing the equivalent of 10½ games against the rest of baseball, the Red Sox were improving by two games against them. The obviously weaker Eastern Division also contributed to offset the offensive loss for the Sox.

David Ortiz had, perhaps, the greatest final season in 2016 that any baseball player has ever put together after announcing that it would be his last. There is no question that he was a major factor in the Red Sox improvement from a 78-84 record and a last place finish in 2015 to a regular season Division win in 2016.

There is also no question that his performance and his leadership inspired the young position players to perform at the high level that they did offensively. Unfortunately, there is no way to measure that effect or to measure the effect of his loss on the same players the next year.

Fortunately for the Red Sox, the improvement in their bullpen, and the weakened performance by other teams in their Division allowed the Sox to repeat as regular season champs, only to lose again in the first round.

This is still a very good Red Sox team, but, unfortunately for Red Sox fans, even though Baltimore, Tampa Bay and Toronto don’t seem to be taking steps to make them more competitive, that very good, very young, New York Yankee team just got a lot better with the signing of Giancarlo Stanton and does not appear to be done spending money to make them the team to beat next year and perhaps for many years to come.

Whatever happens to the Red Sox under Alex Cora in 2018 and beyond, the ghost of David Ortiz will always be there and the answer to the question, ‘What if he had played just one more year?’, will never be known.