Tag Archives: BASEBALL

CATCHERS MAKE THE BEST MANAGERS

Did anyone notice that three of the four Managers in the American and National League Championship Series’ were former catchers in their baseball careers? Joe Maddon of the Cubs, John Gibbons of the Blue Jays and Ned Yost of the Royals were all catchers during their playing careers. Only Terry Collins of the Mets was not. Collins was a shortstop during his playing career.

In the beginning of this year’s Playoffs, of the ten teams involved, including the Wild Card Teams, six of the ten were managed by former catchers, including all five American League teams.

In all of Major League Baseball, 13 of the 30 Managers were catchers during their playing career. Why are 60 per cent of the Post Season teams, 75 per cent of the teams in the LCS and 43 per cent of the Major League teams managed by former catchers?

After all, catcher is only one of nine positions on the field at any given time, yet 43 percent of the Managers come from the ranks of catchers. What special ability required to manage a baseball team does a player develop from playing at this least glamorous position that gives him the skills to be a Manager? After all, the catcher’s equipment has always been referred to as the ‘Tools of Ignorance’. One wouldn’t think that ignorance would be an asset in such a complex position.

According to Baseballreference.com, the term ‘tools of ignorance’ was ‘…meant to be ironic, contrasting the intelligence needed by a catcher to handle the duties of the position with the foolishness needed to play a position hazardous enough to require so much protective equipment.’

The catcher takes a position, generally more that 100 times a game, behind the batter, that puts him at severe risk. Both ball and bat are moving at a speed around 100 miles an hour and arrive at a spot directly in front of the catcher at precisely the same instant. If you have never experienced the sensation when this happens, you don’t have a true understanding of the phrase ‘in the blink of an eye’.

Until the recent rule change, the catcher was the only player on the field that it was acceptable to crash into while running at full speed into home plate. He is an advocate for the pitcher in ball and strike counts, making him a favorite target of umpires. If an opposing batter gets hit with a pitch, the catcher, who obviously must have called the bean ball, is the most logical target for the opposition pitcher’s retaliation.

Given the dangers involved and the options available, why would any sane person choose to catch? While catching may be the most dangerous position on any sports field, it’s where the action is. The catcher is involved in every play. Every play starts with a pitch the catcher calls by signaling to the pitcher what to throw and where to throw it.

While following general directions given by sign from the dugout, the catcher must consider a myriad of things while deciding, in a few seconds, which pitch he will call for next. Among the things he must consider are the ability, condition, mental attitude and performance so far that day of his pitcher, who, by the way, is only one of 11 or 12 different pitchers he will catch this week. He must also monitor the situation on the field, including the ball and strike count, the number of outs, the score, any base runners and their locations, speed and ability and, of course, the batter, including, but not limited to, his physical ability, what he has seen in his previous at bats and what he can be expected to try to accomplish in this at bat.

I have merely scraped the surface of the things a catcher must know and anticipate in every situation. Most of us would need a computer to catalog the things we would need to consider before putting down those fingers to call for a pitch, never mind analyze those factors and come up with a decision.

Once the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand, the real action begins. The person squatting behind home plate who was just imitating a rocket scientist now becomes an amazing specimen of human agility and reaction. The pitch will come in at anywhere between 70 and 100 miles an hour, may go where it was supposed to go or somewhere else and may not even be the pitch the catcher thought he called for. If you have ever expected an 80 mile an hour slider and, instead, gotten a 100 mile per hour fastball, you’ll know where the term handcuffed came from.

Assuming the ball is not put into play, which it isn’t most of the time, and the catcher catches it, and there is no one stealing a base, the scenario starts all over again. If the ball is hit, depending upon where it is hit and whether is is caught by a fielder, or one of the dozens of other things that can happen, the catcher now has other responsibilities. These include backing up first base on grounders, directing throws within the infield, preparing to catch a ball for a play at the plate and on and on and on. After this play is over, his responsibilities begin all over again.

Considering their responsibilities and all they have to learn to play their position, is it surprising that catchers make good Managers? The catcher is like the football quarterback who must know the role of every player on every play.

That is why catchers make the best managers and why there is a good chance two former catchers will be managing against each other in the World Series this year just as Bruce Bochy and Ned Yost, two former catchers, did last year.

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CUBS VERSUS ASTROS IN WORLD SERIES??

AZ 2014 004What could be more exciting than a Playoff Season that started out with all four of the Underdogs ahead of the Favorites two games to one after three games? So far, both American League Favorites, the Blue Jays and Royals, have come back and won Game 4 to avoid being eliminated. But both the Dodgers and Cardinals, winners of their National League Divisions, are down two games to one, to the Mets and Cubs, and facing possible elimination tonight.

What could be more exciting would be an American League Championship Series that pitted the Houston Astros, who finished in fourth place in the Western Division last year, against the Texas Rangers, who finished in last place in the Western Division last year, in an all Texas series. If you have forgotten, Houston won only 70 games while losing 92 in 2014 and finished 28 games out of first. The only thing that kept the Astros out of last place was those Texas Rangers, with a record of 67-95, 31 games back. Texas was the only team in the American League that lost more games than the Astros, who were tied for the second worst record in the League. Tomorrow night both of them have a chance to advance to the American League Championship Series.

What would be just as exciting would be a National League Championship Series with the Chicago Cubs, who finished in last place in the Central Division last year, facing the New York Mets, who finished in third place in the Eastern Division last year. The Cubs won 73 and lost 89 last year and finished 17 games out of first. The Mets finished with the same 73-89 record and were also 17 games out of first. The Mets are up two games to one over the Dodgers while the Cubs have the same advantage over the Cardinals. If the Mets and Cubs can each win one of the last two games against the Dodgers and Cardinals, the Mets and Cubs will meet in the National League Championship Series.

The four Underdogs finished with a combined record of 295 wins and 353 losses last year while the other four teams finished with 356 wins and 292 losses. This year, the Underdogs finished with a combined 361 wins and just 287 losses compared to the Favorites record of 380-268.

Imagine a World Series with the Chicago Cubs, who finished last in their division the past two years and the Houston Astros who finished in fourth last year and last the previous year after being moved from the National League Central to the American League, facing each other. Remember also that the Astros finished in last in the National League Central their last two years there and were the only thing that kept the fourth place Cubs out of last.

The Astros have not been in the World Series since 2005, when they lost their only appearance in the Fall Classic to the Chicago White Sox in four straight. The Cubs have not been in the World Series since 1945, 70 years ago, when they lost to the Detroit Tigers four games to three. They have not won a World Series since 1908, 107 years ago, when they beat those same Tigers four games to one.

The chances of it happening are slim but don’t tell Manager Joe Maddon of the Cubs or Manager A. J. Hinch of the Astros, who, by the way, are both in their first year of managing these clubs. The fact that these four Underdogs have gotten to the point that they all have a shot at getting to the Championship Series should be excitement enough for one playoff season.

As I say every year at this time, how can anyone get excited about football, basketball or hockey when baseball is giving us its usual Fall dose of excitement and suspense?

‘THE FUTURE AIN’T WHAT IT USED TO BE’ – YOGI BERRA

On September 28, 1951, I was in Yankee Stadium in New York, with my father, to watch the Yankees play a double header against the Boston Red Sox. The Yankees could clinch the pennant over the second place Cleveland Indians by winning both ends of the double header. At age 13 and a rabid Yankee fan, I could not believe I was there.

Allie Reynolds took the mound for the Yankees in Game 1 of the twin bill. Reynolds was at the top of his game that day. He had already pitched one no hitter that year and had a second no hitter going in the last of the ninth with two outs and the Yankees ahead 8-0. The only person between Reynolds and his second no hitter was the Splendid Splinter Ted Williams, the greatest hitter in baseball at that time and probably of all time.

Reynolds got Williams to hit a pop foul and Yogi Berra got under it and, unbelievably, dropped it. Reynolds went back to the mound and got Williams to hit another pop foul and Yogi caught this one, ending the no hitter and clinching a tie for the pennant for the Yankees.

Five years and ten days later, in Glidden Hall, at Nasson College, in Springvale, Maine, I watched on a black and white television as Don Larsen threw the only perfect game in World Series history against the Brooklyn Dodgers in that same Yankee Stadium. When pinch hitter Dale Mitchell was called out on strikes for the third out of the game, the catcher, that same Yogi Berra, charged the mound and leaped into Larsen’s arms and the picture of that happening is one of the most famous pictures in baseball history.

Yogi Berra passed away this past week at age 90. The two events above that I was fortunate to have witnessed were just the tip of the iceberg in the amazing career and life of Yogi Berra. Yes, he was perhaps the greatest catcher ever to play the game but he was much more than a catcher.

He was born and raised in The Hill section of St. Louis where he grew up with his friend and fellow catcher Joe Garagiola. After they tried out, Garagiola signed with the Cardinals and Yogi supposedly turned down a contract offer from them because they offered Garagiola more money than him. Yogi eventually signed with the Yankees.

After just beginning his baseball career with the Class B Norfolk Yankee farm team in 1943, he enlisted in the Navy and trained as a machine gunner on a Rocket Boat and was at Omaha Beach during the
D-Day Invasion of Normandy. He returned from the Navy in 1946 and hit .314 in 77 games with the Newark Bears before being brought up to the Yankees in September.

He played for the Yankees from 1946 until 1963. After his playing career was over, he managed the Yankees to a pennant in 1964, managed the Mets from 1972 until 1975, winning the National League pennant in 1973, and managed the Yankees again from 1984 until he was fired by George Steinbrenner after the Yankees started the 1985 season 6-10.

After leaving baseball, he opened the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center on the campus of Montclair State University near his home in Montclair, New Jersey. The facility, which, is described in it’s literature as capturing ‘the rich history of baseball and the career of Yogi Berra is a wonderful learning experience for both adults and students alike’, serves thousands annually.

Yogi was almost as well known for his ‘Yogi-isms’ as for his feats as a baseball player. He is one of the most quoted athletes in the world. My favorite quote supposedly was uttered while he was playing in a baseball game when he was in the Navy and stationed at Groton, Connecticut. After not doing well at his first at bats in a game, swinging at bad pitches, the coach told him to think while he was up there. Yogi supposedly went up and took three strikes without swinging and when he came back to the dug out said ‘I can’t think and hit at the same time’.

Yogi, the baseball player, was signed by the Yankees in 1943. He played on 10 World Series winners from 1947 to 1962, the most of any player in history. He was named to every All Star team from 1948 until 1962 and was Most Valuable Player in the American League in 1951, 1954 and 1955.

He had his greatest year at the plate in 1950, hitting .322 with 28 homers and 124 RBI’s. 1950 was the second year of the Yankees all time record five consecutive World Series wins. He also threw out a remarkable 57.6% of the runners who attempted to steal against the Yankees that year. Even more impressive is the fact that he was behind the plate in 148 of his team’s 154 regular season games that year. He caught more games in 1954, totaling 149. For his career, he batted .285 and hit 358 home runs and drove in 1,430 runs.

He was named to the Hall of Fame in 1972. According to the web site Baseball Reference, the highest salary he earned with the Yankees was $65,000. in 1957. Somehow, I think Yogi would have played for nothing, he loved the game that much.

Yogi passed away on September 22, 2015, exactly 69 years, to the day, after he made his debut as a Yankee in 1946. In that first game of his career, which the Yankees won 4-3 over Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Phillies, Yogi batting eighth, went 2-4 with a home run, two RBI’s and a run scored.

Baseball has lost a great player, manager, ambassador and character and the world has lost a great American. Before his death, he was proposed as a candidate for the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Hopefully, the movement to accomplish this will continue and he will be recognized for all that he did for baseball and America.

IS RICK PORCELLO REALLY BACK?

Red Sox pitcher, Rick Porcello, was placed on the Disabled List with a right triceps strain on August 2. At the time, Porcello, who had been signed as a Free Agent and was being paid $12.5 million this year and $82.5 million over the next four years, had a record of 5-11 with an Earned Run Average of 5.81.

On August 15, he was sent to the Lowell Spinners, the Red Sox A affiliate in the New York/Penn League on a rehab assignment. While there, he started one game, pitching 3 2/3 innings, giving up three hits and no runs. On August 21, he was then sent to the Sox AAA affiliate Pawtucket where he started one game, pitched 5 2/3 innings and gave up three runs on three hits.

He was activated on August 26, by the Red Sox and pitched seven innings against the White Sox in Chicago, holding them scoreless on five hits, while striking out five, as the Sox won, 3-0. On September 1, against the Yankees at Fenway Park, he went eight innings, giving up just one earned run, a homer by Brett Gardner in the eighth inning.

The Yankees had scored two unearned runs in the fifth when Travis Shaw misplayed a ground ball, that would have been the third out, and the Yankees got a two run scoring double by ex-Red Sox short stop, now Yankee second baseman, Stephen Drew. If Shaw had fielded that ball, Porcello would have left with the score tied 1-1 after eight. As it was it was 3-1 which was the final score and he got the loss.

What happened in Porcello’s 9 1/3 innings of pitching in the minors that brought him back to the Red Sox a different pitcher? Before the rehab, he had averaged 5 2/3 innings and 4.6 strikeouts per start. Since coming back he has averaged 7 ½ innings per start and nine strikeouts and has given up just one run in 15 innings pitched.

More importantly, does this small sampling indicate that the Rick Porcello the Red Sox signed and expected to be an effective starter has solved his problems and will perform as they expected him to for the remainder of his contract?

In the four weeks he was off the Red Sox roster, Porcello worked on what they call his ‘command and control’. Command and control is just the way people on the ‘IN’ refer to being able to throw the ball where you want to, when you want to. Kind of like calling the kid behind the fast food counter who takes your money and does what the register tells him to do a ‘Customer Service Representative’.

Whatever he did during that period, I hope the long term effect is as good as the short term has been. Rick Porcello has been a part of the problem so far this year. If he can maintain the form we saw in his last two outings, he’ll be a part of Dave Dombrowski’s solution for the 2016 Red Sox.

THE ULTIMATE UTILITY PLAYER!!

If you saw the Red Sox play the Kansas City Royals last weekend, you may have noticed that Ben Zobrist batted second in each of the four games. What you may not have noticed was that he started two of those games in left field and one each at third base and second base. The reason you may not have noticed is because of the smoothness and efficiency that he brings to every position he plays.

Zobrist is the ultimate utility player. In his ten year career, he has played every position on the field except pitch and catch and has batted in every position from first to ninth. He has played over 100 Major League games each at second base, shortstop, left field, center field and right field.

He is not a high average or power hitter, his career batting average is just
.264 and he has hit only 124 homers and batted in 557 runs.

After being drafted by Houston in the sixth round of the 2004 Amateur Draft, he spent two seasons and part of a third working his way through the minors, hitting over .300 at every stop. He was traded to Tampa Bay in 2006 and made his debut with the Rays on August 1 of that year.

He was with the Rays until January of this year when he was traded with Yunel Escobar to the Oakland Athletics. He played 67 games with the A’s, batting .268 with six homers and 33 RBI’s. In his 67 games he played every outfield position and second base.

On July 28, he was traded to the Royals for cash and two players. When he played his first game for the Royals on July 30, the Royals were in first place, nine games up. He has hit .342 in his 21 games with the Royals with four homers and thirteen RBI’s and the Royals have moved to 13 games ahead in that period. He has played third base, second base and left field so far as a Royal.

In his career, he has handled 4,037 chances at seven different positions and made just 68 errors for a .983 fielding percentage. There is no loss of defense no matter where he plays.

Joe Maddon, his Manager in Tampa Bay for nine years, made good use of his talents. Of course, he was the perfect fit for Madden’s style of play. Maddon loves ballplayers who can play multiple positions and moves his players like chess pieces.

Zobrist is a Free Agent at the end of this season. Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon are building the Chicago Cubs into a powerhouse in the National League Central Division. Don’t be surprised if 34 year old Ben Zobrist is the last piece of the puzzle that is that powerhouse.

CHANGES IN BOSTON!!

The Boston Red Sox continue to look like a different team since Torey Lovullo replaced the ailing John Farrell at the helm last Friday. In their latest installment, the Sox made it two in a row over the Kansas City Royals with an impressive 7-2 victory. After winning the series opener on Thursday night, 4-1, the Sox got a great start from 23 year old Henry Owens in his fourth Major League appearance.

Owens went eight innings, giving up just one earned run on four hits for his second victory. After walking the lead off batter in the first innings, he didn’t give up another walk as he stifled the potent Kansas City offense.

As has generally been the case, the offense was led by the younger players. The bottom third of the order, right fielder Rusney Castillo, catcher Blake Swihart and second baseman Josh Rutledge got eight hits in 12 at bats, including two doubles, a triple and a homer, driving in five runs and scoring six. The veteran trio of third baseman Pablo Sandoval, left fielder Hanley Ramirez and DH David Ortiz, meanwhile, went a collective 1-13 at the plate. In the two wins against the Royals, they are 2-24 with Sandoval having the two hits.

The starting and relief pitching has been vastly improved during this brief period. Wade Miley gave up just one run in 7 1/3 innings to the Royals on Thursday night. Junichi Tazawa, installed as Closer after the loss of Koji Uehara, got his second save in two nights in that game, after blowing his first six save tries this year before Lovullo took over.

The Sox are now 6-2 in their first eight days under Interim Manager Lovullo. The release of Justin Masterson coupled with Ben Cherrington’s exit this week and the hiring of Dave Dombrowski may have sent a message that the Red Sox ownership has had enough of this horrendous season and intends to right the ship.

It remains to be seen if this is just a Honeymoon Period or if the Sox players are ready to begin to perform like the highly paid professionals they are supposed to be.

THE YOUTH IN RED SOX FUTURE

THE YOUTH IN RED SOX FUTURE

The Red Sox are in last place in the American League East, 12 ½ games behind the Yankees. This weekend, they scored 45 runs and had 60 base hits in three games against the disappointing Seattle Mariners who were expected to contend for the Western Division Title this year but instead are mired in fourth place, with a 55-63 record, 9 games behind the surprising Houston Astros.

After winning the first two games 15-1 and 22-10, the Sox lost the third game of the series, 10-8, despite scoring 8 runs on 13 hits and coming from behind 7-0 to force the Mariners to twelve innings before they got beaten.

It is pretty obvious by now, with a record of 52-65, that they are not going to be in the playoffs. The best that they can hope for is to rebuild their pitching staff over the winter and develop the young talent that they have available to them into a contender.

With Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval out of the lineup with minor injuries yesterday, the Sox started Mookie Betts in center, Brock Holt at third, Xander Bogaerts at short, Rusney Castillo in right, Travis Shaw at first base, Blake Swihart behind the plate, Josh Rutledge at second , Jackie Bradley in left and Henry Owens on the mound. The only starter over 28 years old was designated hitter David Ortiz.

The average age of these starters, not counting Ortiz, was 24.5 years. At this point, the Sox could do worse than start these youngsters the rest of the way to give them experience, to be able to evaluate their potential for the future and perhaps even to enhance their value as trade bait for the future.

With 25 year old Christian Vasquez coming back from elbow surgery next year and Dustin Pedroia returning to play second, they will have some excess talent available that might help them trade for pitching. You have to assume that Owens, 22 year old Eduardo Rodriguez and 24 year old Brian Johnson are a part of their starting pitching plans for the future so they may not need a lot of starting pitching help.

This may be a lost year for the Red Sox but the future can look bright if they work on developing the talent they have and filling the holes they have through smart trades.

There should be no reason for Ben Cherrington, if he is still there after this season, to throw away more money on the Free Agent Market when the talent is there to rebuild with. At this point another Blockbuster trade that would allow them to dump Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval in exchange for a quality starting pitcher might be the answer to their prayers.