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.

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YANKEES VS. RED SOX, 2018

BigPapi ScanWhen the Yankees got Giancarlo Stanton from the Miami Marlins on December 7, 2017, for second baseman Starlin Castro and two minor leaguers, it was the Chicken Little story all over again in Boston. The sky was falling!! How could this happen?

The Red Sox had barely edged the Yankees for the American League East championship in 2017. The Yankees had gotten into the Playoffs as a Wild Card and knocked off the powerful Cleveland Indians in the American League Division Series before taking the eventual World Series winning Houston Astros to seven games in the American League Championship Series before bowing out.

They had led all of baseball with 241 home runs, in the year of the homer, and were second in scoring with 858 runs. Rookie right fielder Aaron Judge had driven in 114 runs, led the league in home runs with 52, runs scored, 128, walks, with 127 and strikeouts, with 208, won the Rookie of the Year Award and finished second in the voting for Most Valuable Player.

Catcher Gary Sanchez, 25, had hit 33 homers and driven in 90 runs. Derek Jeter’s replacement, as he will always be known, Didi Gregorious, came into his own and hit 25 homers and drove in 87 runs. First Baseman Marlon Bird, who only played in 48 games after his injury, hit nine homers and drove in 28 runs. Veteran left fielder Brett Gardner had 21 homers and 63 RBI’s despite batting lead off most of the year and center fielder Aaron Hicks had 15 homers and 52 RBI’s in just 88 games.

Now you add Stanton, who, by the way, had hit 59 homers and driven in 132 runs, both league leading numbers while playing in all 162 of his team’s games and winning the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award. He has hit 267 homers in his first eight seasons and is just 28 years old.

Boston fans immediately assumed the worst, it was almost the Curse of the Babe all over again. Of course, the fact that Derek Jeter, the scourge of the Red Sox when he played with the Yankees, and now part owner and CEO of the Marlins, had been involved with the deal that sent Stanton to the Yankees, did not go unnoticed.

The Yankees, of course, are supremely confident. Just this past week, as Spring Training began, Gardner said, in an interview with Tom Hanslin of Bronx Pinstripes “Come out early and watch these guys take BP. I think it’s gonna be fun,” he said. “I think I’m gonna start taking batting practice inside so those big guys don’t make me look bad.”

So what does this all mean for the Red Sox? Will they have to play second fiddle to the Yankees again. The Yankees are a strong club, there is no argument there. But, and it’s a Big But, no pun intended, they have some weaknesses.

To get Stanton, they gave up the All Star second baseman, Starlin Castro, who hit .300 with 16 homers and 63 RBI’s last year. Todd Frazier, one of their third basemen, who hit 11 homers and drove in 32 runs in 66 games after coming over from the White Sox last year, signed a Free Agent contract with the Mets the week before last, and the other, Chase Headley, was traded to the San Diego Padres.

It looks like Greyber Torres, the number five prospect in all of baseball, who lost most of last year to Tommy John surgery, may have the inside track at second but Ronald Torreyes, who hit .292 in 108 games, 43 at second, with the Yankees will challenge him. Whichever of the two ends up at second, my money is on the other to at least start the season at third. Either way, they have really untested rookies at two key infield positions. Greg Bird, if he stays healthy, gives them a potent bat and good glove at first and Didi Gregorious appears to have come into his own at short.

The outfield, with Gardner in left, Hicks in center and Judge in right is among the better in baseball with plenty of power. Jacoby Ellsbury looks to be odd man out and Stanton gives them a potent designated hitter and extra outfielder.

Their starting pitching with Luis Severino, 14-6, with a 2.98 ERA, Masahiro Tanaka, sore elbow and all, 13-12, 4.74 ERA, C. C. Sabathia, at age 36 and injury prone, 14-5 with a 3.69 ERA, Jordan Montgomery, 9-7 and a 3.88 ERA, Sonny Gray, 4-7 and a 3.72 ERA, after coming over from the Athletics at the trading deadline, is far from strong and has the potential to be a disaster. Those five had a combined ERA of 3.80 last year. Of course, often injured , Michael Pineda, who won 8 and lost 4 with a 4.39 ERA in just 17 starts last year, was lost to the Twins over the winter.

Rumor had it last week that the Yankees might still have a shot at getting right handed starter Jake Odorizzi from the Tampa Bay Rays, where he was 10-8 with a 4.14 ERA last year. Should that happen, they would be a lot stronger but there would still be too many IF’S in the rotation.

Closer Aroldis Chapman, whose ERA ballooned to 3.22 last year from 1.55 the year before and who had only 22 saves and Dellin Betances, with perhaps the best stuff in baseball, if he could only control it consistently, had 10 saves while filling in for Chapman, will both have to improve on last year’s performance.

Their set up man, David Robertson, who has closing stuff, was 5-0 in 30 games with a 1.03 ERA, after coming back from the White Sox with Tommy Kahnle who had a 2.70 ERA in 32 games. With Chasen Shreve, 4-1 with a 3.77 ERA in 44 games and Adam Warren, with a 2.35 ERA in 46 games, they have a fairly strong bull pen.

Head to head, the Sox starting pitching, with left handers Sale, Price, Pomeranz and Rodriguez, in the starting rotation, they match up pretty well against the Yankee sluggers. Judge, for example, although a right handed hitter, hit only .230 against lefties as opposed to .298 against righties, Sanchez, another right hander, hit .266 against lefties and .282 against right handers, Gregorious, .264 against left handers and .295 right handers, Gardner, .209 against left handers and .283 against right handers. On the other hand, the new Yankee, Stanton, hit only .270 against right handers but bombed left handers for a .323 average.

Unfortunately, most of the other teams the Yankees will face have a majority of right handed starters and the Sox will only have 18 times, out of 162 games, to throw their left handers at the Yankees during the season. The Yankee lineup is as powerful as any in baseball but good pitching will almost always beat good hitting in the long run so don’t look for the Yankees to run away and hide from the Red Sox unless there are major personnel changes or injuries between now and Opening Day, which, by the way, is just 39 days from today.

Absent any major changes, it looks to me like the Sox and Yankees will be locked in a great pennant race while the rest of the American League East watches. At this point, Yankee and Red Sox fans just can’t wait for it to get started.

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.

THE FACE OF THE RED SOX

THE FACE OF THE RED SOX

Since 1967, fifty years ago, the year of The Impossible Dream, the Boston Red Sox have made it to the Post Season 16 times. They have been eliminated in the Division Series six times, made it to but been eliminated in the League Championship Series five times and five times they have made it to the World Series. They have won the World Series three of those five times, in 2004, 2007 and 2013.

During that time they have had some of the greatest ballplayers in baseball. Players like Hall of Famers Carl Yasztremski, Jim Rice, Pedro Martinez, Carlton Fisk and Wade Boggs, and others like Luis Tiant, Roger Clemens, Jim Lonborg, David Ortiz, Mookie Betts and many, many other standouts.

They have been managed by people like Dick Williams, Don Zimmer, Ralph Houk, Grady Little, Terry Francona and John Farrell.

But with all that success and all those talented ballplayers and managers who have thrilled the Red Sox fans and shown their talent in Fenway and around the Majors, the one person that most New England baseball fans readily identify as the Face of the Red Sox is a former left handed, banjo hitting, second baseman who spent just seven years as a member of the team, hit .286, pounded out just two home runs and never played for a team that made it to the Playoffs.

Jerry Remy, the 5’9”, 165 pound, second baseman is the Honorary President of Red Sox Nation, perhaps the largest organization of baseball fans supporting a team in the history of the game. He has been the color commentator for Red Sox baseball on the Red Sox Flagship Station, NESN, since teaming with Ned Martin in 1988. With Don Orsillo, as Play by Play announcer from 2001 until 2015, they formed one of the most popular baseball broadcast teams in the country.

When the popular Orsillo was ousted by management in 2015, Red Sox fans were in an uproar. No one could believe that this team could be broken up but the very professional, personable and competent Dave O’Brien stepped into replace him and he and Jerry quickly became as or almost as popular as Orsillo and Remy. Jerry’s blend of expertise, his seemingly endless supply of stories of the greats and not so greats of the game, his sense of humor and, perhaps most of all, his straightforward, honest and knowledgeable analysis, good and bad, have made the team work, no matter who sits in the other seat.

Jerry was drafted out of High School in Somerset, Massachusetts, by the Washington Senators in the 19th round of the 1970 draft and again, after spending a year at Roger Williams College, in the 8th round of the 1971 draft by the California Angels. He signed with the Angels and spent 1971-1974 in their farm system, working his way up to AA, El Paso and AAA Salt Lake City, between which he hit .323 in 1974.

He was promoted to the Angels in 1975 and hit .258 that first year in 147 games. He made up for his lack of power by excelling at small ball. He stole 34 bases and had 12 sacrifice bunts, more than most teams have in a year today. In addition to his 34 stolen bases, he was thrown out stealing 21 times, the most in the league. From my research, it appears that that was the only time he ever led the league in any offensive category.

In his three years with California they finished under .500 every year and Jerry had a batting average of .258 with 110 stolen bases and 44 sacrifice bunts. On December 8, 1977, he was traded to the Red Sox for Don Aase and cash and had his best year in baseball that next year.

In that first year in Boston, he batted .278 in 148 games and was named to the American League All Star Team but did not get into the game, which the National League won 7-3. The Sox won 99 games that year and had trailed the first place Yankees by one game with one game left to play. On the last day of the season, the Yankees lost to the Cleveland Indians 9-2, opening the door for the Red Sox to move into a tie.

Luis Tiant pitched a complete game, two hit shutout to beat the Toronto Blue Jays to force a one game playoff with the Yankees to see who would go to the World Series.

Remy went 2-4 in that game. After an unsuccessful bunt attempt in the first, he doubled in the Sox second run in the fifth and singled with the score 4-0 in the seventh but was thrown out trying to stretch it to a double.

In the playoff game that followed in Fenway, the Sox, behind Mike Torrez, were ahead of the Yankees’ Ron Guidry, 2-0 after six innings. Yaz had homered to lead off the second and Rick Burleson doubled to lead off the sixth. Remy then bunted to third to sacrifice Burleson over and Rice singled to drive him in and make it 2-0.

In the seventh, the Yankees’ Bucky Dent hit his infamous three run homer to put the Yankees ahead and Thurmon Munson drove in another. Reggie Jackson led off the eighth with a homer to make it 5-2.

In the Sox eighth, Remy led off with a double to right and scored when Yaz singled and Carlton Fisk and Fred Lynn singled to bring in Yaz and it was 5-4 after eight. It went to the last of the ninth, 5-4, and with one out and Burleson on first with a walk, Remy singled to right to put the tying run on second but Goose Gossage got Rice to fly out and Yaz to pop to third and the Red Sox season was over.

With an All Star season behind him and a huge contribution to the Sox effort in the last two days to try make it into the Playoffs, going 4 for 8, Remy seemed on his way to stardom in Boston. He was the Sox lead off hitter and second baseman for most of the next six years, however he was plagued by injuries. In 1979, he missed most of July and August and was out from September 14th until the end of the season, in 1980 he was out from July 10th until the end of the season and in 1981, he was out from June 11th until August 10th but still managed to hit .305 in 231 games for those three years. Although he missed the start of the 1982 and 1983 seasons, he managed to hit .280 and .275 in 155 and 146 games respectively.

He started 1984 with the Sox and was hitting .250 after playing in 30 of the team’s first 38 games when a knee injury caused him to call it a career.

He was elected to the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2006 and the Red Sox held Jerry Remy Day on June 24, 2008 to recognize his 20 years of service as their color commentator.

Two months later, he underwent surgery to remove a ‘ very small, low grade, cancerous area ‘ from his lung. This began a long battle with lung cancer which caused him to lose time from the broadcast booth on several occasions.

In his latest bout with cancer, starting in June of 2017, he had chemo therapy followed by five weeks of radiation.

On August 17th, prior to a game with the New York Yankees at Fenway Park, the Sox honored Remy for his thirty years of broadcasting. He was undergoing his fifth series of treatments for the lung cancer at the time and the crowd and the team showed their appreciation for all he had done as a player and announcer.

On January 16, of 2018, he went to Twitter and Instagram to deliver the following message to his loyal fans ‘ It started in June with surgery, chemo and five weeks of radiation. It ended today. Finished. Thanks to the team at MGH and the support I got from many people. To my co-patients stay strong. Now a little time to gain strength and down to the Fort. Go Pats.’

The Red Sox will open their Spring Training games in Florida against Northwestern University on February 22nd, eighteen days from today, and NESN will telecast that game. Most Red Sox fans turning the game on that day will probably be more concerned to find out whether Jerry is there than they are interested in the exhibition game.

Jerry Remy, who demonstrated such strength on the field in the face of injury and in his battle with cancer, is truly the beloved Face of the Red Sox for most of New England.

HALL OF FAME, CLASS OF 2018

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.

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.