Saturday, December 31, 2011

Forever 21

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

''Any time you have an opportunity to make a difference in this world and you don't, then you are wasting your time on Earth.''
~ Roberto Clemente

DAHOF Top 100 - Pedro Martinez #75

On July 1st, 2002 I took my son and nephew to Fenway Park to see a Red Sox / Blue Jays game. It was our good fortune that Pedro Martinez was pitching for the Sox that night. If you never got to see a game when Pedro was pitching in his prime, it was electric.

Pedro went 8 innings and struck out what would prove to be his season high of 14 batters in gathering his 10th win. He was in complete control and the Red Sox crowd erupted with each vanquished Blue Jay. When Sox manager Grady Little decided to bring in Alan Embree to start the top of the ninth, the party seemed to quietly end. I don't even remember hearing "dirty water" because we left. There was no point in staying after Pedro left.

Looking back, to have the opportunity to watch a future hall of fame pitcher dominate a major league game at the peak of his career is one of the best gifts this game has ever granted me.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

DAHOF Top 100 -- #76 Carl Crawford

I first noticed Carl Crawford at the 2001 AA All Star Game. He was playing for the Orlando Rays and looked like an overwhelmed 19 year old kid. Because that game was played in Texas, most of the locals focused on his exploits as a Houston area high school quarterback. More than one person couldn't believe he turned down a college football scholarship offer from Nebraska and a college basketball offer from UCLA.

Personally, I loved it. It is great to see such an athletic kid choose baseball over those "other" sports.

Since that time, I've enjoyed following his career as much as any non-phillie currently playing in the majors. He was the first Tampa Bay player to make the American League All Star team more than one time. Carl isn't your typical power-hitting superstar. He plays the game differently than most of his peers. Carl has already won the AL triples crown and the AL stolen base crown four times in his career. He and Ty Cobb are the only major league players to hit 100 triples and steal 400 bases before the age of 30.

Now he is wearing the uniform of the Boston Red Sox, it isn't as easy to cheer for him. But no matter what he is wearing, this kid is a special player.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

DAHOF Top 100 -- #77 Thurman Muson

On August 2nd, 1979 a Cessna Citation jet crashed while practicing 'touch & go' landings at Ohio's Akron-Canton Regional Airport. The two passengers of the plane survived the crash and escaped, while the pilot did not. That pilot was Yankee Captain Thurman Munson. He was 32.

Thurman Munson played for the New York Yankees for 11 years after being drafted in the 1st round (4th overall pick) out of Kent State. He made his big league debut in 1969, but did not gather up enough plate appearances to lose his rookie status. The next season (1970) he won the American League Rookie of the Year award when he batted a .302.

I am not a Yankee fan by any stretch of the imagination, but even as a child I recognized and respected Thurman Munson. His intense attitude and natural leadership skills earned him the position of team captain. This was a real honor because he was the first Yankee to be named captain since the great Lou Gehrig.

During his short career he earned three Gold Gloves, made seven All-Star teams, and was named the American League's most valuable player in 1976. In the three seasons prior to his death, he led the Yankees to three American League pennants and two World Championships. After Thurman died, it would be another 18 years before they would win another World Series title.

Yankee owner George Steinbrenner retired Munson's number 15 immediately upon his catcher's death. The entire Yankees team attended his funeral in Ohio before returning to Yankee Stadium to play the Orioles in a nationally televised game. One of Munson's best friends, Bobby Murcer drove in all 5 runs of the Yankees 5-4 win. His locker remained empty until Yankee Stadium was demolished following the 2008 season.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

DAHOF Top 100 -- #78 Von Hayes

On December 9th, 1982 the Philadelphia Phillies sent five players (Jay Baller, Julio Franco, Manny Trillo, George Vukovich and Jerry Willard) to the Cleveland Indians in exchange for Von Hayes. Hayes was a young left handed power hitter with enormous potential. He was projected to develop into the foundation of the franchise. He immediately brought youth to the aging Phillies of 1983, he was the only everyday position player under 30.

On the surface, it is easy to say the "5 for 1" Von Hayes deal was a bad one of the Phillies. The club gave up the slick and popular Manny Trillo, a solid bench player in Vuckovich, a future all-star in Julio Franco. Baller & Willard made no real impact in the majors. But if you really look at the deal, it wasn't a bad trade for the Phillies. The popular Phillies Nation blog did an analysis of the Von Hayes for 5 players trade last year and concluded the Phillies actually "took the Indians to the cleaners on that fateful day in December 1982".

Using catch all statistic WAR (wins above replacement):
Not only did Hayes generate more value for the Phillies than all of the players the Indians got put together, he did it from one roster spot.

In the end, Von Hayes spent 9 seasons in Philadelphia. While never living up to the MVP caliber projections, he produced some solid but not eye-popping numbers. He also played on some with some pretty dismal teams, never sniffing the playoffs after his first season. He was the Phillies only representative on the 1989 NL All Star team (Mike Schmidt retired in May, but was still elected as the starter at third base). He entered the game in the 8th inning, and had an RBI single.

My most vivid memory of Von Hayes came on June 11, 1985, when he became the first player in MLB history to hit two home runs in the first inning of a game. After leading off the game with a home run off Tom Gorman, Von Hayes hit a grand slam later that inning off Calvin Schiraldi. The Phillies won the game 26-7 over the Mets.

Monday, December 26, 2011

DAHOF Top 100 -- #79 Gary Matthews

Not many people know this... it was Phils teammate Pete Rose that came up with the nickname "Sarge" for Gary Matthews. Pete told Gary "...You take command. You step up like a Sargent..." as a compliment to his natural leadership skills.

Drafted in the first round of the 1968 draft (17th overall pick) by the Giants, "Sarge" played 16 seasons in the majors, including three with the Phillies (1981-83). He was the Most Valuable Player of the 1983 National League Championship Series when the Phillies defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers to advance to the World Series. Sarge hit .429, jacked three home runs, and drove in 8 runs to end the Dodgers post-season dominance of the Phillies. The '83 playoff performance was even more surprising, because he had such poor regular season numbers (.258 with 10HRs).

In addition to his NLCS MVP trophy, Gary won the National League Rookie of the Year award in 1973 and was a member of the NL All-Star team in 1979. He appeared in the NL Division Series with the Phillies in 1981, the NLCS and World Series with the Phillies in 1983 and the NLCS with the Cubs in 1984.

Best remembered by Phillies & Cubs fans for saluting the fans in left field. It has been as a Phillies announcer he has made the biggest impression on me. He has one of those "local" announcers style and attitude that has really grown on me. His insights and quirky observations as a former player are great and his voice will always remind me of the current "golden age" of Phillies baseball.

Happy Carlton Fisk Day

I knew it was gonna go out. It was just a question of it being fair or foul. The wind must have carried it 15 feet toward the foul pole. I just stood there and watched. I didn't want to miss seeing it go out.

~ Carlton Fisk

Saturday, December 24, 2011

DAHOF Top 100 -- #80 Roberto Alomar

Believe it or not, I was in Toronto and at Skydome (notice the lack of "the"... Eh?) on September 27th, 1996 when Roberto Alomar spit in umpire John Hirschbeck's face. It all happened so quickly, Alomar was the second batter of the game and got called out on strikes - from my seat at the Hard Rock Cafe it just looked like any other ball player ejected for arguing. It wasn't until later that I discovered what had actually happened. That was also the same game Brady Anderson hit the 49th of his magic bean induced 50 HRs that season.

There are only two people in the world that know the real truth of the spitting incident. After watching what happened on video, there was no doubt in my mind Hirschbeck said something derogatory to Alomar to evoke such a strong response. To me the most important thing to come from the incident was the public display of "peace" the two men displayed the next season.

I never thought about it before I started doing this Top 100 list, but I had the strange luck to have follow Roberto throughout most of his entire hall of fame career. I was a Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton when he played with the Padres. I was working in Buffalo when he won two World Series rings in Toronto. I was in Washington DC during his time with the Baltimore Orioles. It wasn't until he signed with the Cleveland Indians that our moving vans stopped heading the same direction.

My most vivid memory of Roberto Alomar is the clutch 2 run blast he delivered in Oakland off of Dennis Eckersley in the ninth inning of Game #4 the 1992 ALCS. The home run was the turning point of the series and sent the game into extra innings and enabled the Blue Jays to win it in the 11th inning. More than any one moment, it signaled the end of the Oakland A's Bash-Brothers Dynasty of the late '80s & early '90s.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Happy Steve Carlton Day

Obviously, I'd like to extend my sincere best wishes to the Baseball Writers' of America for voting me into the Hall of Fame, my first year of eligibility especially. Actually being voted into the Hall of Fame of baseball by the writers is like Rush Limbaugh being voted in by the Clintons, so... I'll take it as a compliment.

DAHOF Top 100 -- #81 Kirby Puckett

From Kirby Puckett's obituary in the Minneapolis StarTribune in March of 2006:

On the day Kirby Puckett retired from baseball, he tried reassuring everyone that the sadness of losing sight in his right eye wouldn't diminish the spirit fans had seen him show for 12 seasons in a Twins uniform.

"Kirby Puckett's going to be all right," he said in 1996. "Don't worry about me. I'll show up, and I'll have a smile on my face. The only thing I won't have is this uniform on. But you guys can have the memories of what I did when I did have it on."

For anyone that watched Kirby Puckett for more than a couple of seconds, it was clear that he absolutely loved to play baseball. He was the foundation of the Minnesota Twins and won two World Series rings in his 12 Hall of Fame seasons. Considered by many as the greatest player in franchise history, Puckett retired as the Twins' all-time leader in hits (2,304), doubles (414), total bases (3,453), at-bats (7,244) and runs (1,071).

Like most, my most vivid memory of Kirby came in the 1991 World Series. Facing elimination in Game 6 against the Braves, Puckett collected three hits, three RBIs and scored two runs and made a memorable leaping catch against the left center field wall. Then, in the 11th inning, Kirby became the ninth player in major league history to end a World Series game with a walk off home run, hitting a changeup from Charlie Leibrandt over the wall and pumping his arms in celebration as he rounded the bases.

He was a first ballot Hall of Famer in 2001.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

DAHOF Top 100 -- #82 Jim "Catfish" Hunter

Catfish Hunter was a great pitcher in his time. The bigger the game, the better he pitched. First with the Oakland Athletics and then with the New York Yankees, he won 224 games, produced five straight 20-victory seasons, a perfect game and a Cy Young Award. He also a winner, with five World Series rings, appearing in 6 out of the 7 World Series played from 1972-1978.

He was selected to the Hall of Fame in 1987. When asked to choose which team to go into the Hall of Fame as, Hunter notably refused to choose between the Athletics and Yankees, loving both franchises equally. His plaque is one of the few with no insignia on the cap. The Athletics retired his number 27 jersey.

You only need to read a small part of his Hall of Fame speech to get a good sense of the man:

Mr. Finley said, do you have a nickname? I said, no Sir. He said, well to play baseball you have to have one. He says, what do you like to do? I said. “hunt and fish,” He said, well when you were 6 years old, you ran away from home and went fishing. By four o'clock that afternoon your mom and dad had been looking for you all day, they found you. You'd caught two catfish and was bringing in your third one. He says, now repeat it to me. So I had to repeat it to me, so I had to repeat it to everyone I met that was a friend of Mr. Finley's. But you know when you say, Jim Hunter now, nobody really recognizes that name, but when you say 'Catfish' everybody remembers it. Thank you Mr. Finley for the nickname.

Monday, December 19, 2011

DAHOF Top 100 -- #83 Frank Robinson

If I had enough money, and I was a major league team owner, Frank Robinson is one of the few men I would have happily built my franchise around as both a (in his prime) player and a manager.

As a player he was a beast. He won the Rookie of the Year, was the MVP in both leagues, and made 14 different All Star teams. He won two World Championships with the Orioles, and should have won two more if his team had played better in 1969 against the Mets & in 1971 against the Pirates. He was a powerful home run hitter (586 of them), an on-base machine (finished his 21 year career with a .389 OBP), and according to shortstops and second basemen... one of the most feared double-play busters of all time. He also holds the distinction of being able to wear two of the worst (or best, depending on your perspective) looking uniforms in MLB history. His #20 has been retired by both the Reds and the Orioles.

As a manager, he is an old school disciplinarian with an unmatched knowledge and unrelenting respect for the game. His first coaching job was as a player/manager, breaking the managerial color barrier with the 1975 Indians. He managed in Cleveland during the last two years of his playing career, compiling a 186–189 record. He also became the first African-American manager in the National League history when he took over the Giants in 1981. While his career managerial record stands at a pedestrian 1065–1176, he has managed some truly awful teams into respectability -- including the Baltimore Orioles of the late '80s, and the Expos/Nationals through the transition from Montreal to Washington DC.

It boils down to this for me... In the modern era, for everything that is wrong with major league baseball, there is the career and passion of Frank Robinson to serve as a counter balance.

DAHOF Top 100 -- #84 Jimmy Wynn

I saw Jimmy Wynn last summer during a pregame event in Houston. It is sad to see the powerful "Toy Cannon" walking with canes, but he was a great ballplayer.

His 15 year major league career started in 1962 when the Cincinnati Reds signed him as an amateur free agent. Shortly thereafter, he was selected by the then Houston Colt .45s in the 1962 expansion draft. Originally an infielder and made his big league debut in 1963, starting 13 games at short. However, he struggled defensively in the infield and was moved to center field, where he played most of the rest of his career.

For eleven years, he was a fixture in the Astros' outfield. A power hitter, he certainly lost a substantial number of home runs to the unfriendly confines of the Astrodome. In 1967, his 37 home runs fell just short of leading the league and stood as the club record for 27 years. He was traded to the Dodgers for Claude Osteen before the 1974 season. In Los Angeles, Wynn became an instant hit. His season started under the bright lights of Hank Aaron's chase for home run #715, and Wynn was playing center field when that historic blast was launched off of Al Downing. After a hot start, Wynn was named to the All-Star team he helped lead the Dodgers win the pennant by batting .271 with 32 home runs and 108 RBI.

For his career, Wynn batted .250 with 291 homers and 225 steals - and is considered by some the best center-fielder not in the hall of fame.

In 2005, his number 24 was retired by the Astros. Outfielder Jason Lane, who wore Wynn's 24 before the ceremony, changed his number to 16 in honor of Wynn.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

DAHOF Top 100 -- #85 Bob Feller

From The Official Site of Bob Feller:
This farm boy from Van Meter, Iowa was only 17 when he struck out eight members of the St. Louis Cardinals in three innings of an exhibition game. After this awesome display of pitching, Feller was advised to seek voluntary retirement from high school in order to sign a professional baseball contract. For 20 years, the teenage phenomena was known as "Bullet Bob" and "Rapid Robert." As a rookie, he struckout 15 batters in a single game, which at that time was an American League record. In 1940, Bullet Bob became the first American League pitcher to throw a complete game no-hitter on opening day.

At age 23, his career was interrupted by his four-year enlistment in the Navy. Upon entering the Navy, Feller became an anti-aircraft gunner aboard the U.S.S. Alabama and came out a highly decorated war veteran. He then re-entered Major League Baseball to regain his dominance on the mound. Even though his military career consumed four prime baseball years, Feller ranks 28th in history with 266 wins. He remains the Indians all-time leader in shutouts (46), strikeouts (2,581), innings (3,828) and All-Star appearances (8).

I never saw Bob Feller play, but I have always appreciated his greatness and the sacrifice he and other major league players made during World War II. At the height of his career, he enlisted and actually fought in the war. Incredible.

I did get to meet the man once. It was at an Indians spring training game in Florida. I've read where Bob was the first ballplayer to realize the earnings potential of his autograph. In Winter Haven he used to set up shop down in the left-field concourse selling and signing pictures for anyone who wanted to pay. As you would expect for a hall-of-famer, the line was typically pretty long and moved achingly slow. Unlike most professional autographers -- Bob would actually stop, make eye contact, and talk to the people paying for his signature. When our time finally came... Bob looked up smiled, looked straight at my young nephew said "hey kid, can you throw this garbage away for me" pointing at a pile of finished lunch refuse. It was one of those classic old school moments we have told over and over... Bob Feller had my nephew throw away his garbage. Perfect.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

DAHOF Top 100 -- #86 Rollie Fingers

On the first day of spring training for the 1972 season, Reggie Jackson showed up with a beard. In protest, Fingers and a few other players started going without shaving to force Jackson to shave off his beard in the belief that management would also want Jackson to shave. Instead, Finley, ever the showman who would do anything to sell tickets, offered prize-money to the player who could best grow and maintain their facial hair until Opening Day on April 15 against Minnesota. Fingers went all-out for the monetary incentive offered by Finley and patterned his moustache after the images of the players of the late 19th century. Taking it even further, Finley came up with “Moustache Day” at the ballpark, where any fan with a moustache could get in free.

Catfish Hunter and Ken Holtzman also went for the bonus, but Rollie, with his Snidely Whiplash, took the prize. The players would become known as the “Moustache Gang”.

Although most former A’s players shaved their handlebar moustaches after the team traded most of their players in 1975–76, Rollie maintained his after signing with the San Diego Padres and still has the moustache today.

Monday, December 12, 2011

DAHOF Top 100 -- #87 Curt Flood

There are going to be a couple of players included in my Top 100 that I never actually saw play. Instead, I include them because of their contributions and legacy left to the game. Curt Flood is the first of these.

Last week the Angels signed free agent Albert Pujols to a 10 year, $254M contract. Pujols, the best player in this generation, played out his contract with the Cardinals and was able to choose to sign with the team of his choice in an open market. To put it simply... he could not have done that without Curt Flood.

Curt Flood was a three-time All-Star and seven-time winner of the Gold Glove in center field. When you consider Flood played during the same era as Willie Mays, the gold gloves become even more impressive. He hit more than .300 six times and won two world series rings during his 15-year major league career that began in 1956.

After the 1969 season, the Cardinals attempted to trade Flood, then 31 years of age, to the Philadelphia Phillies in the deal that sent Dick Allen to St. Louis. Flood had no interest in moving to Philadelphia, a city he had always viewed as racist. More importantly, he objected to being treated as a piece of property and to the restriction of freedom embedded in baseball's reserve clause. The reserve clause was that part of the standard player’s contract which bound the player, one year at a time, in perpetuity to the club owning his contract. Rather than play in Philly, Curt Flood decided to challenge the "reserve clause."

With the backing of the Union, Flood pursued the case known as Flood v. Kuhn all the way to the United States Supreme Court. Although the Supreme Court ultimately ruled against Flood, upholding baseball’s exemption from antitrust statutes, the case rose awareness of the unfairness of the system and set the stage for the 1975 Messersmith-McNally rulings and the advent of baseball free agency.

The professional, financial and emotional costs to Flood as a result of his unprecedented challenge were enormous. Flood’s major league career (his 1970 salary would have been $100,000) effectively ended with his legal action. He was broke and bitter man. When he died in in 1997, his funeral was attended dozens of former ballplayers paying tribute to the man who martyred his career for the benefit of others.

Former player Tito Fuentes was quoted as he passed by Flood's casket... "He was a great man, I’m sorry that so many of the young players who made millions, who benefited from his fight, are not here. They should be here."

Albert Pujols should get on his knees every night and thank Curt Flood for what he did for him.

Want to learn more? Read the book A Well-Paid Slave

Sunday, December 11, 2011

DAHOF Top 100 -- #88 Joe Morgan

For someone that I have never actually met, my baseball relationship with Joe Morgan is very complicated. For almost 40 seasons it has morphed and developed, both good and bad for better and for worse.

It started in the early 1970s after I discovered this small, but dangerous second baseman in Cincinnati. Like anyone that saw him play, I respected his abilities as a ballplayer and feared what he could do to my team. There was no question about it: Joe Morgan made the Big Red Machine purr. He won the NL MVP in both 1975 & 1976 - the 1st time a second baseman had won back to back trophies. It seemed like overnight these clean shaven conservative Reds replaced the mustached green and gold drama in Oakland, delivering two straight world series wins and a dynasty of their own.

I think the first time I ever noticed Joe Morgan in the batters box "chicken" flapping his left elbow as he waited for a pitch was in the 1975 World Series. It looked to me like he was ratcheting his grip and increasing the tension for a more powerful swing. Of course, I tried to mimic it the next spring during little league practice before my coach convinced me it didn't help.

When the Reds dismantled the machine in after the 1979 season, little Joe reappeared as a free agent down in Houston wearing those ridiculous tequila rainbow stripes. He still scared me because despite the drastic change in his outfit, one thing looked the same, he kept winning. The 1980 NLCS between the Phillies and Astros remains the best playoff series I have ever watched.

In 1982, as a member of the San Francisco Giants he hit a home run in the last game of the season to eliminate the hated Dodgers from the playoffs.

My relationship with Joe moved from fearful respect to adoration when he joined his former mates Pete Rose and Tony Perez on my Phillies in 1983. I couldn't believe it... these three great former tormentors were now wearing the uniform of my team. It was surreal and Joe's late season heroics leading to the NL pennant cemented him as a baseball hero in my book. Sadly, he played only a single season in Philadelphia before the club decided to start a youth movement. It took a lot of restraint for me not to show him in a Phils uniform for this post.

His final season was as a member of the Oakland A's, where he became the only player to homer twice on his 40th birthday.

To me, his Hall of Fame numbers and position as one of the best second basemen in the history of the game is secondary the uncanny way he had of playing winning baseball. No matter where Joe Morgan went, his teams won. In 22 seasons in the big leagues, his teams made the post season 7 different times, with three different teams.

But that isn't the end of this story. Our relationship has now moved from fearful respect through joyful adoration and into contempt borne out of familiarity. After he retired, Joe followed the path of many former ballplayers into the broadcasting booth. He soon became a regular on national and post season broadcasts working for ABC, NBC, and finally ESPN. I am not a huge fan of national broadcast teams because they lack the intimacy of the local crew and many try to explain the game in a over-simplified manner. As it turned out, Joe Morgan went from the hall of fame directly into the realm of a kindergarten teacher. Much to my horror, behind the microphone Joe had the same effect as finger-nails on a chalk board.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

DAHOF Top 100 -- #89 Ralph Garr

Continuing the series of posts featuring my favorite top 100 ballplayers of all-time.

Ralph Garr was the speedy leadoff hitter for the 1977 Chicago White Sox, affectionately known as the "South Side Hitmen". He came to the Sox before the '76 season after spending his first eight years in the majors with the Braves. Garr was one of the many "cast-offs" that new owner Bill Veeck pieced together in an effort to revitalize the Sox franchise and keep them in Chicago.

A native of Louisiana, Garr played college football at Grambling for legendary coach Eddie Robinson. However, it was as a Grambling baseball player that he gained the attention of professional scouts when he hit an astounding .582 in 1967. He was drafted by the Braves in the 3rd round and by 1971 was the everyday leftfielder in Atlanta. He hit .343 and stole 30 bases as a rookie. He collected more than 800 hits in his first four full seasons in the major leagues.

Known as Gator by his friends, the Braves saw a marketing opportunity with Garr’s speed. The club signed an agreement with Warner Brothers for exclusive rights to nickname their new star Road Runner. It was the first licensed nickname for a major league ballplayer.

The 1974 season started off with a bang for Ralph Garr, he was on second base when Hank Aaron hit the record tying 714th HR of his career in Cincinnati. He continued to hit and had 149 of them heading into the All-Star game, a record that stands to this day. He earned a spot on that All-Star team and eventually won the National League batting title with a .353 average. After winning his salary arbitration case to become the highest paid Brave, his average dropped 70 points in 1975 he was unceremoniously shipped north to Chicago.

As a regular with the Sox Ralph Garr was a solid performer batting exactly .300 in both 1976 and 1977, but he never returned to his peak performance period in Atlanta. However, he was at the top of the order in that magical "Hit Man" summer of 1977... where he led Sox with 163 hits. On an interesting historical note: he was the first ever batter to face the new expansion Toronto Blue Jays on April 7th, 1977, he walked, stole second and went to third on the catchers throwing error and scored on Jorge Orta's sacrifice fly.

Friday, December 9, 2011

DAHOF Top 100 -- #90 Vida Blue

Continuing the series of posts featuring my favorite top 100 ballplayers of all-time.

The Oakland Athletics dynasty of the early '70s was my first experience with baseball dominance. Those memorable funky green and gold teams were stacked with pitching, defense, speed, and power. The A's three straight World Series titles in 1972-73-74 have only been matched once since (1998-2000 Yankees). They must have made an impression on me, because as I worked my way through this Favorite 100 list, I was surprised by how many of this mustached crew show up.

When I think about those dynasty A's teams, it starts with great pitching -- and their great pitching started with Vida Blue. After spending most of the 1970 season in the minors, he got called up in September and promptly tossed a no-hitter in his second start. 1971 was his first full season in the majors, and he broke out with a 28-4 record with a 1.82 ERA winning both the Cy Young & MVP awards. Forty years later, he remains the answer to a great trivia question: Who was the last switch hitter to win the American League MVP award?

After dominating in 1971, Blue, who once turned down a bunch of cash to legally change his name to "True" became one of the many Oakland players to battle with owner Charles Finley over money. In protest to his low salary (me made less than $15K in 1971) Vida held out most of the 1972 season, when he returned he won only 6 games, but the A's won their first World Series. He returned to form with 20 wins in 1973, 17 wins in '74, and 22 in '75. But his problems with Finley never really ended. On two separate occasions he was traded (1976 to the Yankees and 1977 to the Reds) only to have the deals rejected by MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn as "not in the best interests of baseball".

In 1978, after all of his famous former teammates had left via free agency, he was finally able to be traded out of Oakland. In the only 7 players for 1 deal in MLB history Vida was send across the San Francisco Bay to the Giants. It was in Candlestick he did what I most vividly remember him for... he was the first player I ever saw to wear his first name on the back of his jersey. He spent the most of his remaining career with the Giants. He still lives in San Francisco. On a down note, he did pitch for the Royals in 1982 and part of the '83 season before getting caught up in a MLB cocaine sting, sending him to jail for 90 days and costing him the 1984 season to suspension.

In the end, Vida Blue pitched 17 years in the major leagues, winning 209 games. He was a six-time all-star, and was the first pitcher in major league history to start the all-star game for both the American League (1971) and the National League (1978).

Thursday, December 8, 2011

DAHOF Top 100 -- #91 Davey Lopes

Continuing the series of posts featuring my favorite top 100 ballplayers of all-time.

Under my highly complex personal grudge rules and in normal circumstances, I should loathe Davey Lopes.  As a player he was critical part of the Los Angeles Dodgers teams that destroyed my childhood dreams of a Phillies world series celebration in consecutive seasons.

Phillies Phans over the age of 40 remember it as "Black Friday".  It was the 1977 NLCS Game #3 at the Vet. The Phillies held a 5-3 lead with two outs in the ninth, ready to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series. But a single and a double and error made it 5-4, with the tying run on third and Lopes coming to the plate. He hit a grounder that took a bad hop off third baseman Mike Schmidt, but Larry Bowa alertly fielded the ball and threw to a strike to first.  Replays indicated the throw beat the runner, but umpire Bruce Froemming called Lopes safe. He eventually came around to score the winning run, and the Dodgers wrapped up the series the next day.

The next season Lopes continued to torture me after he hit a back-breaking home run in the first game of the 1978 NLCS and then had the audacity to drive in 3 runs in the second game. Thanks to their pesky leadoff hitter, Dodgers took an insurmountable 2-0 lead in the series, closing it out in the fourth game on Garry Maddox's infamous walk off error.

He didn't make it to the majors until he was 27 years old. But once Davey Lopes arrived, he stayed. Teaming up with Steve Garvey, Bill Russell, and Ron Cey for over eight years, the longest running infield grouping in history.

As a base stealer Davey had few peers. In 1975, Lopes swiped 38 consecutive bases without being caught, setting a major league record. As a member of the 1982 A's,  he stole 28 bases to go along with Ricky Henderson's record smashing 130 to set a new mark for teammates. For the 1985 Cubs, he stole 47... the age of 40. His 557 career stolen bases place him 25th all-time, but his success rate of 83.01% (557 steals in only 671 attempts) ranks 3rd-best all time among players with 400 or more career stolen bases (behind Tim Raines and Willie Wilson). The man was a master thief.

It would be a lie for me to not admit the real admiration I have for Davey Lopes stems from what he did as a Phillies coach from 2007 to 2010. Well known for his clinical study of opposing pitchers and his scientific use of a stop-watch, the current generation of Phillies players have benefitted greatly from his judgement and expertise. In each of his Lopes' three seasons with the club, the Phillies led the majors in stolen base percentage, including the best in MLB history in 2007 – 87.9% (138-for-157).

These days it is sad to see him in the first base coaches box back in a Dodgers uniform, but my appreciation for him as a player and coach won't ever go away.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

DAHOF Top 100 -- #92 Bill Melton

Continuing the series of posts featuring my favorite top 100 ballplayers of all-time.

In their first 70+ years in existence, the Chicago White Sox had produced exactly zero American League home run champions. For a team best known as the "Go Go Sox" -- I guess this lack of power shouldn't be a surprise. The fact is, Comiskey was a big ball park and the organization tended to focus on speed, defense, and pitching. I did a little research on Sox lack of power, and prior to Bill Melton, the franchise never really featured a premier power threat.

In 1970, a young power hitting third baseman came into his own and changed the power output equation of the franchise. That season he delivered the first 30+ home run season in club history. He was a distant 6th in the AL race behind the 44 blasts by HR champ Frank Howard. The next season (1971) "Beltin Bill" once again delivered 33 home runs, only this time he was on top of the American League leaders edging out out Norm Cash (32) and Reggie Jackson (32) on the last day of the season.

In 1971 Bill Melton also made his one and only All Star appearance. If you remember, that game ended up being one of the most famous All Star games in history. The game featured six home runs from six different future hall of famers, including the memorable blast into the light transformer by Reggie Jackson. Unfortunately for Melton, AL Manager Earl Weaver decided to play Brooks Robinson entire nine innings of the game and he got watch the game from the bench at Tiger Stadium.

A poorly timed back injury in 1972 limited his output during Dick Allen's MVP season and prevented the Sox from really challenging the Oakland Athletics. Who knows what a healthy Bill Melton could have done to shrink the 5.5 game difference in the final standings.

My most vivid memory of Bill Melton was his inclusion on the cover of Baseball Digest in August of 1973. Along with Carlos May and Dick Allen, the trio was dubbed "A New Murder's Row". I find this cover very ironic, because Dick Allen fractured his fibula in June of 1973. Although he tried to return 5 weeks later, he played in one "full" game after that. He had two pinch hitting chances on August 1st and 2nd. The first one Allen watched Pat Kelly get picked off and the second one he grounded out to end the game. That was the end of his season.

Melton stayed on with the Sox through the 1975 season, spending '76 in California as an Angel and '77 in Cleveland before calling it quits. When he retired, he did so as the White Sox franchise leader in home runs with 154. That record stood until Harold Baines passed him in 1987. Baines was past by Carlton Fisk in 1990, and Fisk was overtaken by Frank Thomas. Melton currently sits in 8th place in White Sox history.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

DAHOF Top 100 -- #93 Jose Canseco

Continuing the series of posts featuring my favorite top 100 ballplayers of all-time.

It all seems so logical now... Major League Baseball has a sudden muscle expansion and home-run explosion. The natural theories regarding the effect of age on prime performance no longer apply. Logic appears to be obliterated as it appears reaching and passing 35 isn't a burden to a ballplayer, and in some cases, it becomes a advantage. Time honored records start falling like raindrops in Seattle. And we all just stood and cheered because everything was perfect... except it was not.

It is hard to pin-point baseball's root juicer. I've seen an interesting theory pointing to Jeff Bagwell, although he was rumored, he never appeared in the Mitchell Report. Former Braves pitcher Tom House admits and describes he (and others) "used" as far back as the 1960s and 70s. Given the dramatic differences in body types from the typical ballplayer in the 60's and the newly engineered ballplayer of the 2000s, you can draw you own conclusions. I have found one of the best sources on this subject is the website BASEBALL'S STEROID ERA.

Looking at his career with the benefit of hindsight, there is no doubt Jose Canseco benefited greatly from his steroid use. I've heard him called a mediocre ballplayer transformed into an MVP by unregulated science and institutional ignorance. I can't argue against that. I know he juiced, along with a whole bunch of other players in his era. I also remember him creating the 40/40 club in 1988 and the laser shot home runs he delivered. Most vividly, I can still picture the towering fifth deck home run he hit off Mike Flanagan in the 1989 ALCS in Toronto. Real or fake... it was impressive.

In my eyes Jose Canseco has transformed his juicer legacy into something else, something positive. To me, he is the canary in coal mine for baseball's steroid era. Life for an actual canary in a coal mine can be described in three words "short but meaningful". Early coal mines did not have ventilation systems, so miners would routinely bring a caged canary down into new areas. Canaries are especially sensitive to methane and carbon monoxide, which made them ideal for detecting any dangerous gas build-ups. As long as the bird kept singing, the miners knew their air supply was safe. A dead canary signaled danger and the need for immediate evacuation.

When Jose Canseco wrote his 2005 book JUICED - the baseball world was appalled. The claims he made (example: 85% of ML players were users) and the names he named were considered preposterous. He was ridiculed, shunned, and cast out famously in front of a congressional hearing as a liar. The trouble was... Jose Canseco was right. He told the truth. He exposed the sham. One by one the players he identified were exposed: Rafael Palmiero, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and on and on and on.

Jose Canseco is not on my list because I wish to celebrate or honor him as a steroid user in baseball. Jose is on this list because eventually he had the courage to face the facts, tell the truth, endure the scorn and come out on the other side. The game is better today because of him.

Monday, December 5, 2011

DAHOF Top 100 -- #94 Luis Tiant

Continuing the series of posts featuring my favorite top 100 ballplayers of all-time.

I blogged about Luis Tiant just last week.

To me, the story of the Luis Tiant's great career is about perseverance and passion. Any number of times Tiant could have quit after suffering career threatening injuries - but he did not. He just kept working to reinvent himself as a pitcher. Very impressive and inspiring for anyone looking for motivation.

The 1975 World Series is the best and most celebrated in my lifetime. My most vivid memories of Luis Tiant all stem from that memorable fall classic. On the grandest stage baseball has ever produced, his star shined as bright as any of the five hall of famers that played (Seven if you want to count Sparky and the disabled Jim Rice... eight if you consider Pete Rose).

All seven games of the 1975 World Series are available on DVD. I added them to my netflix queue a couple of years ago, and other than listening to my wife ask me repeatedly why I was watching a bunch of baseball games that occurred 30+ years ago... it was quite a kick to watch it again. Carlton Fisk and the incredible drama of Game #6 deservedly get most of the attention when people talk about the series, but Tiant's performance in Game #1 is nothing short of magical. If you have never seen it, watch it.

On good days, I can still mimic his bizarre pitching motion that included, in the middle of his wind-up, him looking straight at second base. Truth be told, I actually have struck out thousands of pretend hitters over years with nothing more than that wonderful hocus-pocus motion. There really is nothing like El Tiante.

Ron Santo, Hall of Famer

Congrats to the late Ron Santo on his election to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Regardless of my personal views or opinions about his worthiness compared to others on the outside looking in - tonight, I can honestly say I am glad to see the man finally made it into the exclusive and confusing club.

The Baseball Hall of Fame should be about your career accomplishments on the field -- Ron Santo has long been deserving of recognition for what he did as a ballplayer. I hope his entry opens to door for others that may have not been given full or fair consideration in the past. It is a shame the HoF committee did not see fit to recognize him while he was still alive.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

DAHOF Top 100 -- #95 Brian Downing

Continuing the series of posts featuring my favorite top 100 ballplayers of all-time.

As I work through this list, a couple of themes will develop. One of them will be my affinity for former White Sox players. Not many people remember Brian Downing as a member of the Sox, he put his best seasons together for the Angels and Rangers. But I do.

He had trouble making his high school and junior college teams, but Brian made the most of his major league opportunity after impressing the Sox scouts at an "all comers" tryout in 1969. In his first play of his major league debut in 1973 he injured himself diving for a foul ball and missed the next six weeks. When he returned, he got his first home run... an inside the parker.

After the 1977 season, Downing was traded to the California Angels in a ill-fated deal that brought Bobby Bonds to Comiskey for 26 games. It was in Anaheim, he transformed himself into a quality major league ballplayer. He made his only All Star game in 1979, and infamously found himself on the wrong side of Dave Parker's cannon arm in right field. When he departed from the Angels after the 1990 season he was their career leader in games, at bats, runs, hits, total bases, doubles, home runs, RBI, and bases on balls.

I most vividly remember Brian Downing for his strange, yet very productive open batting stance. He was also the first non-speedster lead-off hitter I can remember. Brian Downing's game was all about on-base-percentage and every time I saw him do something positive, it pained me when I considered he could be doing that for the White Sox. Check out this nice Prime 9 video from MLB network where they named him as one of the best designated hitters ever.

As I was researching for this post, I ran into a couple of unsubstantiated references to Downing and steroid use. Nothing of any substance comes up with any of those links. It is a shame, we live in a world any ballplayer who changes his body, gets stronger, and has some turnaround success is automatically branded as a suspected PED user.

I am not burying my head in the sand, but before throwing Brian Downing into the mob of juicers, keep in mind that nobody lifted weights in baseball back in the '70s. It is completely reasonable Downing just started lifting and it made a big difference in his body and his hitting.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

DAHOF Top 100 -- #96 Al Oliver

Continuing the series of posts featuring my favorite top 100 ballplayers of all-time.

OK, I'll admit it... I have a soft spot in my heart for nomadic first basemen with the ability punish the baseball. Throw in a little bit of funky style, the quirky uniform number "0", a short stint with the Phillies, and a compelling hall of fame argument - you don't need much more of an explanation why I have included Al Oliver on my 'favorites' list.

Al began his career in Pittsburgh, playing alongside the great Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell. He hit the last home run ever at Forbes Field AND had the first ever RBI at Three Rivers Stadium. He was part of the first "all black" starting lineup. He made seven all star games with three different teams, starting in the 1984 game as a member of the Montreal Expos. In Montreal he also won the 1982 NL batting crown. During his career, he won the Silver Slugger award at three different positions he left the game with a .303 career average.

My most vivid Al Oliver memories are from the four straight All Star Games (1980-84) he played in during his time with the Rangers and Expos. In each of these mid-summer classics he stylishly treated the national television audience, most of which had not seen him play all season, to a uncommon pair of new white cleats.

Friday, December 2, 2011

DAHOF Top 100 -- #97 Bill Madlock

This is a series of posts featuring my favorite top 100 ballplayers of all-time. This is not my ranking of the best ever, it is my list of guys I've admired contributing to my love of the game.

I grew up across Lake Michigan from the city of Chicago. My summer days were filled voices of Jack Brickhouse and Lou Boudreau calling the Cubs and nights spent listening to Harry Caray and Jimmy Piersall cheer and complain about the White Sox. I don't remember the exact date, but cable television was not available in my hometown until around 1981. Before that date we listened to baseball on the radio or watched TV the old fashioned way, manipulating old rabbit ear antennas and praying for the best.

Most of the time, the Cubs were not a very good team. It was easy for me not turn into a fan. The old stars like Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, and Fergie Jenkins were gone poorly replaced by guys like Mick Kelleher, Jose Cardenal, and Rick Reuschel. One of the first bright spots I can remember about the mid-70s Cubs was the solid bat of Bill Madlock.

Madlock came to the Cubs from the Rangers in the Fergie Jenkins trade. He immediately replaced the departed Ron Santo at third base. While he wasn't a great fielder, he could certainly hit. He won the National League batting title playing day games at Wrigley Field in 1975 & 1976. Madlock is one of only three right-handed hitters to have won multiple National League batting titles since 1960 (Roberto Clemente won four and Tommy Davis has two).

On July 26, 1975 he went 6-for-6 during the Cubs’ 8-9 10 inning loss to the Mets. Earlier that month, he represented the Cubs in the first of three career All-Star games.  He was named Co-MVP (with Jon Matlack) after he drove in 2 ninth inning runs off of his future teammate, Goose Gossage.

After the 1976 season, Madlock was sent packing to San Francisco in a deal that brought Bobby Murcer to the Cubs. He continued to hit. In June of 1979 the Pirates made a trade that brought him to Pittsburgh, were he helped "The Family" win the World Series. He continued to hit. He won another two batting titles in 1981 & 1983, having just missed out on the '82 crown.

Bill Madlock was the first player to win multiple batting titles with two different teams. He was was the last team captain the Pittsburgh Pirates have had, being named to the position after Willie Stargell retired in 1982.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

DAHOF Top 100 -- #98 Bo Jackson

Continuing the series of my top 100 favorite ballplayers of all-time. This is not a ranking of what I consider "the best" players in the history of baseball... this is simply my list of players I have admired at some point and contributed to my love of the game.

There is no doubt in my mind, Bo Jackson was absolutely the best athlete of my generation. No one else is even close.

Like most, my awareness of this guy started with his exploits as Auburn football star. He was a beast, every bit as dominate as Herschel Walker. I was crushed when my Michigan Wolverines held him to "only" 130 yards and the Auburn offense out of the end-zone during the 1984 Sugar Bowl, only to lose the game 9-7 in the final seconds with their third field goal.

In addition to being the best football player in the country, he was also one of the best baseball players around. He was drafted in the second round by the Yankees in 1981 out of high school, but didn't sign. After winning the Heisman Trophy in 1985 he hit .401 with 17 home runs and 43 RBI as a member of the Tiger baseball team. One game at Georgia, Bo went 4-for-5 with three home runs and a double.

He was the #1 overall draft pick in the 1986 NFL draft, but had no interest in playing for the Tampa Bay Bucs. Instead he chose the Kansas City Royals. I think he may be the only minor leaguer to make the cover of Sports Illustrated. After a September '86 call up, Bo started playing regularly in the Royals outfield in 1987.

My most vivid memory of Bo Jackson is from the 1989 All Star Game. For some reason, despite hitting 5th or 6th all season for the Royals, he was put in the lead off spot by American League Manager Tony LaRussa. After making a nice catch in the top of the first to save a couple of runs he led off the bottom of the inning (his first All-star AB) with a monstrous 448-foot home run off Rick Reuschel. At the time, I routinely recorded All Star games on VHS tape and I must have watched this blast 1000 times. Combined with the "Bo Knows" advertising campaign launched by Nike the same night, the legend was off and running.

After not signing with the Bucs, the LA Raiders selected Jackson in the 7th round of the 1987 NFL draft. Raiders owner Al Davis supported his baseball career and convinced him to sign a contract by offering him a salary of a full-time starting running back, only after the baseball season ended. Everyone remembers when Brian Bosworth discovered Bo was a pretty good NFL back.

It all came crashing down during the 1990 NFL playoffs. While he was running down the sidelines Bo was tackled by the Bengals Kevin Walker, causing a serious hip injury. His NFL career was over.

The Royals cut him assuming his baseball career was over too. Ultimately he needed to get his hip replaced, but he vowed to return to baseball, and did so with the Chicago White Sox in 1993. In his first at-bat he crushed a pinch hit homerun against the Yankees on his first swing.

Bo knew.