The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “Major League Baseball”

All-Time Home Run Leaders For Every Team (MLB)

Once in a while, I like to take a look at how each of the franchises in Major League Baseball stack up against each other in various ways.  Home runs are to baseball what fireworks are to the 4th of July, so I thought this would be a good time to explore each team’s all time home run leaders (for a career.)  I broke it down by league, and then by division.  While many of the all-time leaders were predictable, there were (for me) a couple of surprises on this list.  Let me know what you think:

Note:  In some cases, the number of home runs a player hit with a single franchise will not necessarily match their career totals.  Home run totals do not include the post-season.  An asterisk after a player’s home run total indicates they are still active.

National League East:

1)  Braves:  H. Aaron – 733

2)  Marlins:  G. Stanton – 181*

3)  Mets:  D. Strawberry – 252

4)  Nationals / Expos:  R. Zimmerman – 189 * / V. Guerrerro – 234

5)  Phillies:  M. Schmidt – 548

National League Central:

1)  Brewers:  R. Yount – 251

2)  Cardinals:  S. Musial – 475

3)  Cubs:  S. Sosa – 545

4)  Pirates:  W. Stargell – 475

5)  Reds:  J. Bench – 389

National League West

1)  Diamondbacks:  L. Gonzalez – 224

2)  Dodgers:  D. Snider – 389

3)  Giants:  W. Mays – 646

4)  Padres:  N. Colbert – 163

5)  Rockies:  T. Helton – 369

American League East

1)  Blue Jays:  C. Delgado – 336

2)  Orioles:  C. Ripkin, Jr. – 431

3)  Rays:  E. Longoria – 192*

4)  Red Sox:  T. Williams – 521

5)  Yankees:  B. Ruth – 659

American League Central

1)  Indians:  J. Thome – 337

2)  Royals:  G. Brett –  317

3)  Tigers:  A. Kaline – 399

4)  Twins:  H. Killebrew – 559

5)  White Sox:  F. Thomas – 448

American League West

1)  A’s:  M. McGwire – 363

2)  Angels:  T. Salmon – 299

3)  Astros:  J. Bagwell – 449

4)  Mariners:  K. Griffey, Jr. – 417

5)  Rangers:  J. Gonzalez – 372

Some thoughts about this list:

– Two of the three currently active players on this list — Giancarlo Stanton and Ryan Zimmerman — are each currently on their respective team’s Disabled List.

– Aaron’s total is still ridiculous and awesome.

– Have the Mets ever produced another home run hitter aside from Strawberry?

– Stanton is a monster.  Just 25-years old, and he’s already pushing 200 homers.

– It would be kind of cool if Zimmerman could someday tie Guerrerro for the franchise record for what are essentially two different teams.

– Yount was better than many of us probably remember.

– Musial and Stargell tied within their division.  That’s pretty cool.

– How weird is it that Sosa has been almost totally disregarded altogether in our collective baseball memory?  My first guess for all-time Cubs leader was Ernie Banks, though I am quite aware of Sosa’s accomplishments.

– Bench is the only catcher on this list (though Delgado started out as one with the Blue Jays.)

– Perhaps unfairly, Luis Gonzalez (probably a very likable guy) seemed to me the most random name on this list.

– Given all the great players in their history, it’s strange in a way that no Dodgers player ever reached the 400 homer plateau for that franchise.

– Good to see Mays, not Bonds, still holding the Giants career record.

– What’s up with the Padres?  As a franchise, they’re like that guy who shows up on Draft Day for your fantasy league draft, then you never see or hear from him again all season.  Except they’ve been doing this for about a half-century.

– If Todd Helton isn’t someday elected to the Hall of Fame, Rockies fans should riot.

– Interesting that Ruth and Delgado are the only two players on the A.L. East list that didn’t spend their careers with just one team.

– As for Ripkin, I wonder how many homers Manny Machado will hit before he’s done?

– If Williams was still alive today, he could probably recall what pitch he hit off of each pitcher for every one of his 521 homers.

– Jim Thome slugged 612 homers in his career.  When was the last time you heard anyone mention Jim Thome?

– We don’t normally think of Brett as a power hitter, but no Royal ever hit more home runs.

– You have to wonder if Al Kaline or Tim Salmon ever wake up in the dead of night thinking of that one more career homer that would have made for a nice, round number.

– Tim Salmon never appeared in a single All-Star game.

– In a pretty good era for pitchers, Killebrew topped 40 homers eight times.

– I’m not sure you (or I) could name five better right-handed hitters in baseball history than Frank Thomas.

– For Oakland, McGwire first led the A.L. in home runs as a rookie at age 23 (with 49) in 1987.  Nine years later, he led the A.L. in homers for the second time at age 32 (with 52) in 1996.  In between, he apparently discovered the Fountain of Youth.

– If you include defense and base-running as well as the ability to hit for both average and power, I’m not sure there’s a first baseman in baseball history I’d pick ahead of Jeff Bagwell.

– Not only were Ken Griffey, Jr. and Stan Musial both born in the company town of Donora, Pennsylvania, they were both born on November 21st (49 years apart.)

– While we’re on the subject, Bagwell and Thomas were born on the same day, May 27, 1968.

– Juan Gonzalez’s career is like that rock band you were once so impressed with, but now look back on with a tinge of embarrassment (you’re careful to never mention to your friends that you used to own one of their LP / Cassette / CD.)  Full Disclosure:  I once owned a Bay City Rollers record. Have at me, boys and girls.

Ten Facts About Mets Ace Matt Harvey

Matt Harvey, who has begun his 2015 comeback campaign with a perfect record of 5-0, is certainly a candidate to win the N.L. Cy Young award this season.  Through his first 34 innings pitched, he has struck out 34 batters while walking just four.  He is currently averaging 8.5 strikeouts per walk, and (having been slated to make just 30 starts this season) is on pace to walk fewer than 30 batters this year.

So, yeah, he’s pretty good.

Here are ten other things you might not be aware regarding Matt Harvey:

1)  He has never been charged with an error in his career.

2)  He has never surrendered a grand slam homer in his career (and only one three-run homer.)

3)  He has never been charged with a balk.

4)  Only once has he ever intentionally walked a batter.

5)  He grew up as a Yankees fan (well, no one’s perfect.)

6)  He was the seventh pick in the first round of the 2010 amateur draft.  The first six players selected before him were, in order, Bryce Harper, Jameson Tailon, Manny Machado, Christian Colon, Drew Pomeranz, and Barret Loux.

7)  According to Baseball-Reference.com, the pitcher whose career, through age 24, most closely resembles that of Matt Harvey is Hall of Famer “Big Ed” Walsh of the early twentieth-century White Sox.

8)  His father was a collegiate athlete, playing both baseball and football at the University of Connecticut.

9)  Harvey shares a birthday (March 27th) with Hall of Fame manager Miller Huggins, and with teammate Mike Cuddyer (though Cuddyer was born a decade earlier.)

10)  The 1,067 batters who have faced Matt Harvey have hit a combined .191 against him.

Harvey’s next scheduled start is Friday, May 8th, in Philadelphia.

 

Invisible People, and the Noise They Make

Imagine if Wal-Mart opened for business today, but barred customers from entering their stores. Imagine a new radio station going on the air, but not advertising as to where to find their signal. Imagine a public election being held, where, due to distrust of (some of) the citizenry, the people were not allowed to vote.

Imagine a baseball game where the fans were not allowed to attend.

This bizarre, yet thoroughly American turn of events will occur this afternoon in Baltimore in a home game scheduled against the White Sox.  Does a team still have home-field advantage when no one’s home?

In Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, “Slaughterhouse Five,” the protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, becomes “unstuck” in time. Pilgrim’s life plays out randomly, the normal linear progression of events mixed up and occurring haphazardly.  One event does not lead to the next, but could, in fact, circle back to a prior event. Normal cause and effect cease to have any meaning.

What we appear to be witnessing today in Baltimore is the progeny of a business-law enforcement alliance where privatized public spectacles are now shielded from the public itself.  Corporatism in America has become “unstuck” from the citizenry.  Normal cause and effect no longer have any meaning. Business decisions are unmoored from the real world concerns of local municipalities.

Banks are bailed out, but not people.  Corporations magically become citizens, while much of the citizenry lacks the basic necessities of life.  The Dignity of Work is summoned to shame those who’ve lost their jobs to overseas competition.  And people who lack the ability to buy shoes for their children are lectured to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

In many ways, this is not a new development, but is, in fact, the inevitable outcome of what happens when a political system is entirely consumed by corporatism, leveraging the power of law enforcement to corral, contain and coerce those elements of the citizenry written off as undesirable, irredeemable and politically powerless.

Many, perhaps most of the chattering class and the interests they serve will describe the current unrest in Baltimore this week as primarily a law enforcement issue.  After thirty years of a War on Drugs, Zero Tolerance Policies, and Three Strikes and Your Out legislation (the irony of which will certainly fail to find fertile ground in the imaginations of those who decided to play a baseball game today to empty stands), and over a million African-American men and women having been incarcerated at one time or another in their lives, it appears that American society remains more comfortable providing them with a ticket to prison than a ticket to a baseball game.

Last year, an elderly rancher named Cliven Bundy and his Gang-That-Couldn’t-Think-Straight were heralded by many in the media as heroes for individual liberty, property rights, and the idea that no white man, however delusional, should be denied his moment of public heroism, even as some of his supporters aimed their weapons directly at law enforcement officers.

That law enforcement officers were deemed “jack-booted thugs” when attempting to enforce the laws of the land in that situation out west, while the “thugs” are now the young men and women of Baltimore armed with bricks, and the police have been magically transformed once again into the thin blue line separating respectable society from those that would do us harm is familiar territory here in America.  Yet familiarity, as they say, breeds contempt, and contempt is the jet fuel of social unrest.

All of which brings us back to a baseball game later today in Baltimore.  Camden Yards and the area in which it is situated was the product of the sort of palatable corporate urban renewal that has become fashionable over the past quarter century or so, where gentrification (the removal of the undesirables) in favor of public and private investment that overwhelmingly favors the upper middle class has become the only politically expedient investment in existence.

Will it make money for a fortunate few, perhaps even at the expense of others?  If so, that’s a price that has been deemed acceptable, once you are able to hide the losers from view.

But now the “losers” are in full view on our round-the-clock cable news networks where the well-fed and well-groomed simultaneously engage in hand-wringing analysis that mimics concern while also condemning the inevitable rage that burns wherever people are marginalized.  But the system must be allowed to continue operating under any and all circumstances, because the system, after all, is its own reward.

So a professional baseball game will be played today for the first time in baseball history without a single fan to witness it.  The human element has finally been rendered obsolete.  The beast has eaten its fill.

In America, people are the raw material that feeds the system.  When the system no longer requires your contribution, or even your existence, the expectation is your silent acquiescence to a permanent state of invisibility.

Thus, in a stadium in downtown Baltimore, in a park that seats 45,971, ushers will serve no one, ticket takers will stare out at empty parking lots, and players will hit doubles that no one will cheer.  No one will stand up and stretch in the seventh inning, and the Great American Game will reflect the emptiness at the heart of a broken system where to be invisible is the price you pay for being born poor and powerless.

National League Predictions For 2015

There is but one potentially great team in the National League, the Washington Nationals.  They are the only team in the Majors that I could imagine winning as many as 100 games in 2015. There are about another half-dozen N.L. teams I can see making the playoffs, depending on the breaks they receive.  The weakest division in the N.L., even with the inclusion of those Nats, is the N.L. East.  Like wages in right-to-work states, it is essentially a race to the bottom in that division.

N.L. East

1888 Washington Nationals team photo

1888 Washington Nationals team photo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1)  Nationals – It’s a pretty ridiculous pitching staff when Doug Fister is your 4th starter.  Prediction:  98 wins.

2)  Mets – Young and ready to rise above .500, and Matt Harvey adds swagger.  If everything breaks right, a potential Wild Card contender.  Prediction:  83 wins.

3)  Marlins – In some ways, not really all that different from the Mets.  The return to form of Jose Fernandez is key.  Prediction: 81 wins.

4)  Braves – May not finish in last place only because the Phillies are still allegedly a Major League baseball team.  Prediction:  74 wins.

5)  Phillies – May not finish in last place only because the Braves might be even worse than expected.  Prediction:  69 wins.

N.L. Central

1) Cardinals – Does this team ever have a really bad season?  Not this year.  Should rather easily win the Central Division.  Prediction:  90 wins

2) Pirates – An outfield of McCutchen, Polanco, and Marte is one to salivate over.  Should take a Wild Card slot, even with some pitching issues.  Prediction:  85 wins.

3)  Cubs – Lots of people pick the Cubs to grab a Wild Card slot this year.  Could happen, but I’m betting their chances are better in 2016.  Prediction:  83 wins.

4)  Brewers –  Really didn’t do much to improve their team in the off-season.  Lost their de facto ace, Gallardo.  Should be consistently mediocre.  Prediction:  79 wins.

5)  Reds –  A franchise that appears to be moving in the wrong direction.  Will Joey Votto and Jay Bruce return to form?  Prediction:  73 wins.

N.L. West

1)  Dodgers – Look very strong on paper.  Would be hard-pressed not to at least make the playoffs, even if they somehow don’t win this division outright.  Prediction:  93 wins.

2)  Padres – Lots of upgrades in the off-season, but still not a shoo-in for a Wild Card slot, though I think they’ll grab one.  Prediction:  85 wins.

3)  Giants – The Giants are consistently the most difficult team for me to pick correctly.  Bumgarner is a monster, but tossed a huge number of innings last season.  Prediction:  83 wins.

4)  Rockies – Car-Go and Tu-Lo, Corey Dickerson, Blackmon and Arenado provide a solid core of offense.  If the pitching improves at all, this could be the surprise team of the N.L.  Prediction:  80 wins.

5)  Diamondbacks – Hard to envision this team not finishing in last place.  May even be the worst team in the entire Majors this year.  Prediction:  65 wins.

World Series prediction:  Nationals over the Red Sox in seven games.

 

 

Whatever Happened to Home-Field Advantage?

The idea that home-field advantage is of special value in providing a given baseball team a competitive edge is an old one, and may once upon a time have been largely true (though I haven’t done enough historical research to actually verify this.)  While it may have been generally true in the past, it doesn’t seem to be the case so far this season.  Nearly half of all Major League teams actually have fewer wins than losses at home, with only a few teams enjoying a truly decisive edge on their home turf.

Home Field Advantage (album)

Home Field Advantage (album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s a list of teams from worst to best at home based on win-loss percentage.  Granted, some of the teams with sub-.500 home records are just bad teams to begin with, but there are clearly some surprises on this list.  (Games are through Friday night, June 6, 2014):

1)  Arizona – 9-23  (yet somehow 17-14 on the road)

2)  Philadelphia – 12-19

3)  Dodgers – 13-19  (but 19-11 on the road)

4)  Mets – 13-17  (Since Citi Field opened, the Mets are 204-229 at home)

5)  Houston – 14-18

6)  Yankees – 13-16

6)  Tampa Bay – 13-16

8)  San Diego – 15-18

9)  Baltimore – 11-13

10) Cincinnati – 13-15

11)  Kansas City – 14-16

11) Minnesota – 14-16

13) Boston – 15-17

14) Seattle – 14-15

15) Texas – 15-15

16) Detroit – 15-14  (But 17-11 on the road)

17) Cubs – 14-13

18) Cardinals – 16-14

19) Angels – 16-13

20) White Sox – 17-14

21) Atlanta – 18-14

22) Pittsburgh – 17-13

23) Washington – 19-15

24) Oakland – 17-12   (Nice, but they’re an even better 21-11 on the road)

25)  Colorado – 16-11 (But just 12-21 on the road)

26)  Milwaukee – 19-13

26)  Toronto – 19-13  (slightly better on the road at 19-11)

28)  Cleveland – 21-11 (Only 9-20 on the road, so clearly, home-field advantage is important to them)

29)  Miami – 22-11 (10-18 on the road)

30)  San Francisco – 20-9  (as well as a respectable 20-12 on the road)

As you can see, there appear to be few teams who benefit decisively from home-field advantage.  As good as even Oakland and Toronto are at home, they are even better on the road, and the Giants are only slightly better at home than they are on the road.

Perhaps, then, making home-field advantage for the World Series contingent on which league wins the All-Star Game   is an overrated concern.  After all, even last year’s World Champion Boston Red Sox won just two of their four victories at home.  And in 2012, the Giants swept the Tigers, winning two first in San Francisco, then winning Games Three and Four in Detroit.  The way the Giants played, they might have won four straight even if all four had been played in Detroit.

I suppose it’s often psychologically comforting to be able to enjoy the comforts and familiarity of home, but it appears that when it comes to actually winning baseball games, being at home may be largely irrelevant.

 

 

 

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Baseball Predictions for 2014

Watching the first spring training games on the MLB Network always lifts my spirits.  Some people believe that the new year begins on January 1st.  The rest of us know that it begins on Major League Baseball’s Opening Day.

Although each spring makes fans of all 30 teams optimistic for the new season, there are some things that can be safely predicted in advance.  I’ve jotted down a few of them here for your approval.

1)  Somewhere in New England, a Red Sox fan will complain that the Yankees have an unfair financial advantage, though the Red Sox payroll in 2014 is estimated at 148 million dollars, about 42 million more than the average franchise.

2)  Somewhere in the Tri-State area, a Yankees fan will complain about the new austerity that the current regime has imposed on this storied franchise.  Yet, like a drunk for whom every drink is going to be his last, the Yankees payroll in 2014 will be around 194 million dollars, about 45% more than the average MLB payroll.

3)  Somewhere on the North American continent, a player will consider the odds of getting caught using steroids, will rationally think through the consequences of getting caught, and will still decide that it is in his best financial interests to supplement his natural body chemistry to enable him to perform at a higher level of play.

4)  Somewhere on that same continent, a late middle-aged man will consider the odds of enjoying a successful sexual encounter with his wife or girlfriend, will realize that his chances are remote without a supplement such as Cialis, and will, therefore, ingest this drug to supplement his natural body chemistry to enable him to perform at all.  Odds are, this man will rip the baseball “cheaters” who he believes to be steroid users, the very next day.

5)  The Mets will, once again, win between 70 and 80 games.  Manager Terry Collins will do his best to make you believe no finer 74-win team has ever existed on the face of the Earth, and millionaire team owner Jeff Wilpon will somehow continue to enjoy the support of some Mets fans who, for some strange reason, see it as their duty to try to find ways to help him save money.

6)  Perhaps even as I type this, a highly touted pitching prospect will go down needing Tommy John surgery.  No one will be surprised.  Yet somehow, someone will blame the “unusually high pitch count” that the pitcher endured during a spring training game.

7)  A-Rod, noticing he has been off the front pages for a while, will make a statement that is at once offensive, guileless, self-serving and naive.  Baseball’s  Twitterati  will explode in predictably humorless, self-righteous, and self-serving indignation (you know who you are.)

8)  Just for fun, Miguel Cabrera will pull down another Triple-Crown, simply because he can.

9)  The Braves will finally come to their senses and realize that second baseman Dan Uggla is no longer an actual baseball player, nor even a reasonable facsimile of one.

10)  Brewers center-fielder extraordinaire Carlos Gomez will rob no fewer than ten hitters of home runs this year, and will save every Brewers’ pitcher an average of 0.45 on their ERA.  Yankees G.M. Brian Cashman is already plotting several moves ahead, figuring out the circumstances under which he might bring Gomez to the Big Apple.  Meanwhile, Mets G.M. Sandy Alderson is having toast and tea, with his favorite strawberry preserves, watching reruns of the old Bob Newhart Show.

11)  At some point, apropos to nothing, a rabid Pete Rose fan will remind us all, once again, why PETE ROSE BELONGS IN THE HALL OF FAME!!!  (They always type all in caps.)

12)  At the All Star break, Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper will have hit 30 homers, with 85 RBI and a .309 batting average.  But due to a second-half injury, he will finish the season with 37 homers, 102 RBI and a .289 batting average, and will finish third in voting for the N.L. MVP award.

13)  Commissioner Bud Selig, in his final season at the helm of MLB, will dream of a deep, profound speech he will give at a black-tie dinner in his honor.  But when he wakes up, he will fart loudly, scratch his ass, and realize the only part of the speech he remembers from his dream is, “You’re all probably wondering why I came here to speak to you tonight.”

14)  In a factory in Turrealba, Costa Rica, a women, not yet old, but getting old before her time, will dream of a better life someday for her family as she sits stitching baseball’s together for the Rawlings Corporation for $1.60 per hour, ten hours a day.  If she can stitch above her weekly quota, she will earn an extra 56 cents per baseball she produces.  Meanwhile, each baseball retails for $14.99 in the U.S.A.  Rawlings annual revenue is around $213 million dollars per year.

15)  The noise level at ballparks will finally reach the decibel level first achieved by The Who back in 1978.  No one will have any idea of what’s going on down on the field, but there will be plenty of giveaways, the youngsters will be able to run around on the grass in the picnic area, and the twenty-somethings will occupy themselves taking selfies with their I-Phones and posting Facebook status updates throughout the entire game.  Clearly, this isn’t your great-grandfather’s baseball experience.  But then again, baseball will continue to evolve and survive, just as it has always done.

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Those Who Caught the Great Pitchers: Part 1 – Eddie Ainsmith

My wife tells me that behind every great man is an even greater woman.  Actually, she just tells me to take out the trash, but it works out to the same thing, at least in my imagination.  Then again, since I’m not even remotely a great man, does that still make her a merely somewhat great woman?  Perhaps behind (or alongside, or even in front of) a mediocre guy like myself there is a truly special woman who puts up with a lot his dumb, pointless nonsense.  Yup, that must be it.

At any rate, that got me to wondering (while taking out said trash) if behind every great pitcher there is a great catcher.  I don’t necessarily mean great as measured by batting average, OPS+ or WAR, but simply by being that pitcher’s primary catcher over an extended period of time.  Just as it’s impossible to quantify how much my wife has done for me over the past 15 years or so, maybe a catcher has a similarly positive, yet hard to quantify, effect on a pitcher.

So I thought I’d take a look at some of the forgotten or semi-forgotten catchers in baseball history who have caught baseball’s greatest pitchers.  I know that as I research this topic, I will learn a lot more about these players than I’ve known before.  And, if I’m lucky, I’ll be able to get this post done before my wife tells me to take out the trash again.

Edward Ainsmith

Edward Ainsmith (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Walter Johnson made 666 starts in his career.  Nineteen different catchers caught at least one of Walter Johnson’s starts.  Only one of them, however, caught more than 200 of Johnson’s efforts.  His name was Eddie Ainsmith.

Actually, he was born Edward Anshmedt, his family changing his name after they passed through Ellis Island in the waning years of the 19th century.  You see, little Eddie was born in Russia, and his family’s surname was Anglicized upon naturalization.  It happened a lot back then.  At any rate, young Ainsmith’s family eventually ended up in New Hampshire, which is where Eddie grew up.

He graduated from Colby Academy (now Colby-Sawyer College) in New London, NH in approximately 1907 or ’08.  He must have been one heck of a young baseball prospect in his time because by age 20 in 1910, he made his Major League debut with the Washington Senators.

Through his first five seasons, Ainsmith was often brought in as a late-inning defensive replacement, or as a pinch-runner or pinch-hitter.  For a catcher, Ainsmith was a pretty good base-runner, notching 17 steals in 1913, and 16 steals in 1917.  In fact, on June 26, 1913, Ainsmith stole second-base, third-base and home in the first game of a double-header vs. the A’s.  The A’s still won the game, however, 11-2.

It wasn’t until 1917 when Ainsmith was already 27-years old that he became the Senators’ primary catcher.  By then, Walter Johnson was already at the mid-point of his career, and had already enjoyed several fantastic seasons.

Ainsmith’s final season in a Washington Senator’s uniform was in 1918.  Nevertheless, in his relatively short stint as the Senator’s primary catcher, he caught Johnson 210 times, more than any other catcher in team history.

Never much of a hitter, Ainsmith batted just .207 during his nine years in Washington.  He ended up in Detroit for the 1919-1921 seasons, then was traded again, this time to St. Louis in the second-half of the ’21 season.  He hit well in 1921 and ’22 (as did almost everyone else with the new, “live” ball), batting .281 and .293, respectively.

Yet by 1923 and ’24, his career was all but over.  He played just a handful of games in each of those two seasons, playing small roles for first Brooklyn, then for the Giants.  Ainsmith played his final MLB game July 21, 1924 at age 34.

He retired with a .232 career batting average, 22 home runs, and 86 stolen bases in 1,078 games played.  His career dWAR was 3.6, and his overall career WAR was just 5.7, so he was obviously primarily a defensive specialist.  In fact, he led the A.L. in Range Factor / Game three times, in 1912, 1917-1918.

One other thing I found interesting about Ainsmith was that on July 19, 1918, as WWI was slowly grinding to a halt, Ainsmith applied for a draft deferment.  Secretary of War Newton Baker, however, had other ideas.  He ruled that baseball was not an “essential occupation” (take that, baseball) and that all players of draft age were subject to the “work-in-essential-industries-or-fight” rule.

A week later, though, Baker sort of changed his mind (under pressure from the baseball oligarchs, apparently) and allowed an exemption for ballplayers until September 1st of that year.  Both leagues voted to cut the season short, and the season ended on Labor Day, September 2nd, 1918 (exactly 95 years ago today.)

The Great War Armistice occurred on 11 November 1918, so Eddie Ainsmith never went off to war anyway.  But we are left to wonder why Ainsmith would attempt to seek a deferment from the draft at all, a rather unusual step in those days.

Was he just too scared to fight?  Was he a pacifist?  Was he concerned that going off to war might ruin his baseball career?  Or could it have been that because he was born in Russia, and that perhaps Anshmedt is actually a German name (there was a large German population in Russia at one time), could it have been that his family connections to  Europe made it too difficult for him to contemplate taking up arms on a European battefield, perhaps against even his own former countryman?  We can only guess at his motivations.

Eddie Ainsmith did go on to live to the age of 91, passing away in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in 1981.

Did Ainsmith make Walter Johnson a better pitcher?  That seems highly unlikely.  But it is worth noting that of the 562 games he caught in Washington, he was behind the plate 210 times to catch The Big Train.  That means that in 37% of Ainsmith’s games as a catcher, Johnson was on the mound.  In effect, it appears that Ainsmith was virtually Johnson’s personal catcher for several years.

Ainsmith did not enjoy a Hall of Fame career as Walter Johnson did, but having had the opportunity to emigrate to the United States, enjoy a 15-year career as a catcher, and being able to boast that he caught the great Walter Johnson a couple hundred times is a career, and a life, worth having lived.

Selig Imposes Ban On All of Major League Baseball

At an unexpected news conference this morning, Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig announced he was imposing a ban on all of Major League Baseball for the foreseeable future.  Selig, clearly tired of all the steroid issues that have plagued baseball for most of this century, stated, “It’s in the best interests of baseball for baseball to simply cease to exist as a spectator sport for a while.  The National Pastime needs a timeout!”

Selig, sweating profusely in a sweater lent to him by former Presidential candidate Rick Santorum, urged people to “watch some other shows on T.V. for a while, perhaps some old Cheers reruns, or that dancing stars show that young people seem to like.”

When asked if his decision would be challenged by the Player’s Union, he thundered, “By God, everyone knows the players would be just as happy to sit home and collect unemployment compensation, like all the other low-lifes out there.”  His comments were met with thunderous applause from the thunderous applause machine his entourage had installed in time for the press conference.

Clearly encouraged by the positive response he’d artificially generated, he put his note cards aside and began to speak off the cuff, proclaiming that starting today, he’d begun a “To Hell With Baseball” campaign, insisting that to save baseball, he would first need to burn it down, seed the ground of every Major League Stadium with salt, and sell those who toiled in the low minor leagues into slavery.

“If you can’t enslave those who would someday embarrass the sport with PED use, then, from where I stand, the Commissioner’s Office isn’t worth a bucket of that warm beer they sell at Fenway for $18.00 bucks a pop.”

When reminded that without the revenue generated by ticket and merchandise sales, and cable T.V. contracts, some teams might not last long if this ban should continue indefinitely, Selig scoffed, “Do you really believe that a bunch of teams owned by millionaires and billionaires gives a rats ass about that stuff?  That’s all just funny Monopoly money to them.  Besides, if the Economic Crash of ’08 is precedent, then all Steinbrenner, Jr. and the rest of those guys will have to do is go up to Capitol Hill with their gloved hands out, cry poverty, and someone up there will bail them out.  I’m surprised you guys hadn’t thought of that.  That’s how we think all the time.”

As Selig was completing his remarks, Alex Rodriguez, who had been walking down the hall from his penthouse suite above the conference center where Selig was delivering his speech, happened to drift into the large, velvet-encased room.  Selig beamed as he called A-Rod up to the stage, then lifted A-Rod’s hand up into the air proclaiming, “And I couldn’t have done any of this without my good friend and future business partner, Alex Rodriguez.”

Rodriguez, looking both sheepish and cheap in his Gatsby-inspired attire, responded, “All I have to say is I learned from the best, Mr. Selig.  No one can take a great game like baseball and piss it down the drain like you can.”  Selig, obviously moved by A-Rod’s calculated attempt to ingratiate himself with an older white guy nearly as rich as himself, punched A-Rod lightly in the arm and declared, “My friend, we are just beginning.  By the time we’re finished, absolutely no one in his right mind will ever switch on a baseball game again.”

Rodriguez, distracted by his own reflection in a floor-to-ceiling mirror across the room, winked at himself and responded mechanically,  “I’m just happy to be a part of all this.”

Selig then turned serious to the T.V. cameras that were now overheating his smoldering toupee and concluded, “At least no one not watching any longer will be able to say that baseball is a dirty game, because a game not played at all is as clean as a game can get.”

Ten Reasons Why Yasiel Puig Deserves To Be An All-Star

There’s been a lot of talk over the past week regarding whether or not the Dodgers phenom outfielder should be allowed to make the N.L. All-Star Team, given that he’s only been in the Majors for little more than one month.  Yesterday, Phillies relief pitcher Jonathon Papelbon, who has never pitched more than 75 innings over the course of an entire season, and who’s been named to five All Star squads, made the following statement:

“The guy’s got a month, I don’t even think he’s got a month in the big leagues,” Papelbon said during the interview. “Just comparing him to this and that, and saying he’s going to make the All-Star team, that’s a joke to me.

Papelbon added that it would, in his opinion, be disrespectful to veteran ballplayers who’ve been around for years to have Puig named to the All Star team.

Dear Jon, Allow me to retort:

1)  According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, no player since Joe DiMaggio back in the 1930’s has started his career with as much early success as has Puig.  We are not talking about a normal player on a short hot streak, we are witnessing baseball history every time Puig comes to the plate.

2)  Through last night’s game, Puig is now batting .440 through his first 109 MLB at bats.  Not enough at bats to impress you?  Well, even if Puig went hitless in his next 50 at bats (about half the number he already has), he’d still be batting over .300.  Does anyone believe he’ll go zero for his next 50?  If he bats just .250 over his next 200 at bats, he’ll still be batting around .317.  Would you say a .317 batting average, with power, is enough to justify an All Star nod?  I would.

3)  Puig already has the highest WAR of any Dodgers position player, at 2.6.  Shouldn’t the best position player on a team garner serious All Star consideration?

4)  Papelbon’s argument that a Puig All Star nomination would be disrespectful to MLB veterans is patently absurd.  There have been other rookies who have made All Star teams in the past.  Just because most of them began the season in April, garnering three full months (!) instead of Puig’s one month, is hardly enough of a difference to single Puig out as somehow being not worthy of this honor.

5)  The rule that has been in place for many years that requires each team, regardless of the caliber of its players, to have at least one representative for the All Star game has resulted in many questionable “All Stars” over the years.  The idea that seems to be floating out there that the All Star Game is and always has been for only the best of the best hasn’t been true for decades, if it ever was the case at all.  Meanwhile, Puig might very well be one of the top ten, if not the top five, players in the game right now.

6)  Attendance is down throughout the Majors.  Translation:  The product is not selling as well has it has in the past.  The players, meanwhile, are the product.  They are not the marketers, nor are they the gate-keepers of what the fans “should” be allowed to spend their hard-earned money on.  Next time Papelbon cashes a paycheck, he should keep that in mind.

7)  The All-Star Game is an exhibition.  It’s primary purpose is to promote The Game.  (The charade of home-field advantage being decided for the World Series is and always has been an afterthought.)  Question:  Are the fans less likely or more likely to watch this exhibition on T.V. if Puig gets to play?  How about fans in the greater L.A. area, the second biggest market in America?

8)  Baseball is also about winning, correct?  When the Puig joined the Dodgers in early June, they were at or near the bottom of the standings in the N.L. West.  Now, they are just 2 1/2 games out of first place, and have won ten of their last eleven games.   Certainly, this dramatic turnaround has not all been attributable to Puig.  Yet, if Puig was still languishing down in the minors, do you really think the Dodgers would now be this close to the top of the standings?  I don’t.

9)  No one remembers entire All-Star games, but they do remember individual, specific moments.  People remember Bo Jackson in ’89, or Dave Parker’s throw to the plate in ’79, or Ted Williams walk-off homer in ’41.  Isn’t it as likely as not that Puig will do something in this year’s All Star Game that fans will remember for years to come?  There’s no way to know, unless he gets to play.

10) Finally, if Papelbon’s point of view that Puig has not yet proven himself worthy of playing in an All-Star Game is widely shared by other veteran ballplayers (and one has to wonder what Puig’s Dodger teammates think of all this), then why not let the veterans show us in the All-Star Game itself how inferior Puig truly is?  Let Justin Verlander or Yu Darvish or Matt Moore or someone else face him down and attempt to strike him out.  After all, isn’t that the whole point of sports in general, and baseball in particular?  Let it be settled it between the chalk lines, not the airwaves, Jonathon.

Baseball’s Top 40 Players, Age 25 Or Under

You can’t help but notice all the young talent on baseball rosters these days.  There has certainly been a changing of the guard, especially among pitchers, over the past few seasons.  Just try to name a dozen active pitchers age 32 or over that are still experiencing success in the Majors.  I think you’ll find it challenging.

I decided, for my own benefit, to draw up a list of the best players currently on MLB rosters who are no older than 25.  I want to make it clear that this is not a list of baseball’s top prospects.  Mets fans won’t, for example, find either Zach Wheeler or Travis D’Arnoud on this list, nor will Cardinals fans spot Oscar Taveras’s name.  This is a list of players who are actually active and contributing (to varying degrees) on MLB rosters.  I think you’ll be familiar with many of these names, though most are far from being household names at this early point in their respective careers.

I listed the players by position, and also included their current age, and the team they play for.  None of these players will turn 26-years old until at least this August at the earliest.  Several of them are much younger than 25, as you will see.  As you scan the list of 40 names, see how many of these players you recognize.

1B  Freddie Freeman – Braves, age 23

1B  Eric Hosmer – Royals, age 23

1B  Anthony Rizzo – Cubs, age 23

1B  Matt Adams – Cardinals, age 24

1B  Paul Goldschmidt – Diamondbacks, age 25

2B  Jose Altuve – Astros, age 23

3B  Manny Machado – Orioles, age 20

3B  Brett Lawrie – Blue Jays, age 23

3B  Will Middlebrooks – Red Sox, age 24

3B  Kyle Seager – Mariners, age 24

SS  Starlin Castro – Cubs, age 23

SS  Andrelton Simmons – Braves, age 23

SS  Elvis Andrus – Rangers, age 24

C   Salvador Perez – Royals, age 23

C   Wil Rosario – Rockies, age 24

OF  Bryce Harper – Nationals, age 20

OF  Mike Trout – Angels, age 21

OF  Jason Heyward – Braves, age 23

OF  Giancarlo Stanton – Marlins, age 23

OF  Starling Marte – Pirates, age 24

OF  Travis Snider – Pirates, age 25

OF  Justin Upton – Braves, age 25

SP  Jose Fernandez – Marlins, age 20

SP  Shelby Miller – Cardinals, age 22

SP  Madison Bumgarner  – Giants, age 23

SP  Chris Sale – White Sox, age 24

SP  Matt Moore – Rays, age 24

SP  Matt Harvey – Mets, age 24

SP  Jose Quintana – White Sox, age 24

SP  Neftali Feliz – Rangers, age 24

SP  Steven Strasburg – Nationals, age 24

SP  Jhoulys Chacin – Rockies, age 25

SP  Clayton Kershaw – Dodgers, age 25

SP  Matt Latos – Reds, age 25

SP  Mike Minor – Braves, age 25

RP  Addison Reed – White Sox, age 24

RP  Kenley Jansen – Dodgers, age 25

RP  Craig Kimbrel – Braves, age 25

RP  Bryan Shaw – Indians, age 25

RP  Drew Storen – Nationals, age 25

What an amazing list of names.  The quality of pitchers and outfielders is especially impressive.  How many of these players will go on to enjoy Hall of Fame careers?  Certainly, several of these players will appear in more than a couple of All-Star games.  Some will see their careers shortened, or derailed altogether, by injuries.  Others will simply flame out after a few good seasons.  But they, along with the other prospects that baseball keeps churning out, are baseball’s future.  And seldom in baseball’s long history has that future looked brighter.

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