Lower Mounds = Higher Injury Rate for Pitchers?

Dodger pitching coach Ricky Honeycutt both feel the growing number of surgeries needed by pitchers stems at least in part from the lower mound.

A column I wrote last summer:


Hall Vote: It’s Not a Perfect 10

The Hall of Fame vote has become a challenge.

It’s no longer figuring out who to vote for.

It’s now a matter of splitting hairs to the point of deciding who to leave off.

What the supporters of different candidates don’t understand is that given the quality of candidates on the ballot in recent years leaving a player off a ballot does not mean the voter does not believe that player is worthy of the Hall of Fame.

A year ago, I didn’t vote for Frank Thomas, and that prompted a lot of negative responses from his fans.

A year ago, Thomas joined Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux in being elected in his first year of eligibility, and that was something I felt was deserved.

Confused? Don’t be.

Last year, like this year, I saw more than 10 candidates I could endorse. I, however, could only vote for 10. I had to settle on the 10 who I felt was most deserving.

Ditto 2015.

I had to settle on 10 names, even though in my initial review of the 34 candidates I came up with more than 10 I felt were worthy of enshrinement.

What is really difficult is leaving on a candidate I have voted for in the past – Larry Walker.

This is Walker’s fifth year of eligibility. He’s been on my ballot each of the last four years, and most likely he will be on my ballot in the future. He was a complete player, who I had the pleasure of covering on a regular basis during his days with the Rockies.

But the ballot is overloaded with complete players who deserve enshrinement so choices had to be made. Nobody said it was going to be easy, and it wasn’t.


My 10:

Jeff Bagwell

Craig Biggio

Barry Bonds

Roger Clemens

Randy Johnson

Pedro Martinez

Mike Piazza

Tim Raines

John Smoltz

Alan Trammell

Even Nolan Ryan Was Anxious Waiting for Hall Call

As dominate as he had been in his career, Nolan Ryan admits, there were anxious moments when he waited for that call from Cooperstown.

Read Ryan’s story at Sports On Earth:


So Stanton Could Afford How Many Barn Cats?

Now that Giancarlo Stanton has agreed to a 13-year, $325 million contract, the second-guessing begins.

Did he sell himself short? Did the Marlins overpay? Who knows? The bottom line is that it is a lot of money and it’s guaranteed.

As Mike Norris said more than three decades ago when he lost his case with the A’s in arbitration, “No problem. I was either going to wake up rich or richer.”

Here are 10 ways to put Stanton’s contract in perspective:

1. In 1980, Nolan Ryan became the first player in history to make $1 million a year when he signed as a free agent with the Houston Astros. In his 12 big league seasons prior to that, Ryan had earned a total of $1,127,000. The all-time strikeout leader and Hall of Fame pitcher made a salary of $3,600 in his rookie season, 1966, with the Mets. In his 27-year big-league career, Ryan earned a total of $25,725,100, according to Baseball-Reference.com.

2. Stanton’s salary over the next 13 years is more than twice as much as the purchase price of $158.5 million that Jeffrey Loria paid to buy the franchise in 2002. The expansion price of the Marlins, who debuted in 1993, was $95 million. In 1973, George Steinbrenner paid $10 million for the New York Yankees.

3. Stanton is under contract for the next 13 years. In the past 13 years there have been 305 players appear in a game for the Marlins. Stanton is 10th all-time in games played for the Marlins with 634, and his 154 home runs are tied with Dan Uggla for the franchise record. Luis Castillo spent a club-record 10 years with the Marlins. Jeff Conine, Alex Gonzalez and Ricky Nolasco spent eight seasons each.

4. With the price of marlin steak at about $20 a pound, including a six percent tax, Stanton could afford to buy 16,250,000 pounds.

5. Over the past five seasons, the Marlins’ combined Opening Day payroll was $316 million — $9 million less than Stanton is guaranteed to make.

6. Stanton will set a record for total guarantee; the first contract to exceed $300 million, and ninth to exceed $200 million. Alex Rodriguez had the two previous biggest guarantees at $275 million for 2008-2017, which broke the record of $252 million that he set with the deal from 2001-10 which he opted out of, forcing negotiation of his current contract with the Yankees.

7. In the first winter of free agency, Wayne Garland was the shocker. Cleveland gave him a 10-year deal worth $2.3 million — total. Only 26 years old when he made his Indians debut, Garland hurt his shoulder in his first start in Spring Training and never fully recovered. His career ended after five years with the Indians. He was 28-48 with a 4.50 ERA in 99 games, 88 starts for Cleveland.

8. Jose Reyes signed the previous largest guarantee in Marlins history, a six-year, $100 million deal in 2012. He was traded after that season to the Blue Jays.

9. The Dodgers had a Major League-record Opening Day payroll in 2014 of $238.9 million, according to Baseball-Reference.com.

10. And, in light of the fact Stanton once told MLB.com youth correspondent Meggie Zahneis about his fondness of animals, with $350 million he could adopt 35 million barn cats from the Cheyenne (Wyo.) Animal Shelter. CAS offers barn cats for $10.

Expanding Post-Season Adds Challenge for MVP Voters

When the Baseball Writers Association of America created the MVP awards in 1931 there was no problem with the voting being completed prior to the first pitch of the post-season. It made sense to not let a short series carry too much weight in evaluating a season-long effort.

Times, however, change.

The post-season no longer is a blip on the screen.

Oh, teams can be eliminated in just one game, but for a team to take each step in October and win a world championship it is possible for it to play 20 games.

A key is the word Valuable. It is not the Most Outstanding Player. It the Best Offensive Player.

Major League Baseball, with the Hank Aaron Award, and the Major League Baseball Players Association, with the Player Choice Awards, have created honors based off the pure statistical accomplishments of a hitter.

The BBWAA presents the Most Valuable Player.

The ultimate value in baseball is winning, and if the award is based on a player’s value the decision should rest on how valuable he was to his team’s success. Winning the World Series is the ultimate sign of a team’s success.

That aspect, however, has been diminished in terms of the annual presentation of the Most Valuable Player awards in the NL and AL each time the post-season has expanded.

This year, for example, the BBWAA announced the three finalists for the AL and NL MVPs, and none of the six players participated in the World Series.

This year will be the 15th time in the 20 years since the post-season was expanded to include the best-of-five Division Series that neither MVP will come from one of the World Series competitors. And four MVPS who did play in the World Series came from teams that lost – Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers in 2012, Josh Hamilton of the Rangers in 2010, Barry Bonds of the Giants in 2002 and Chipper Jones of the Braves in 1999. The exception was Buster Posey in 2012 when the Giants won the World Series.

In the 25 years of two rounds of the post-season – the LCS and World Series – only seven times was the World Series void of both the NL and AL MVP. Eighteen times the World Series featured an MVP, including both MVPs four times – Mike Schmidt of the Phillies and George Brett of the Royals in 1980; Joe Morgan of the Reds and Fred Lynn of the Red Sox in 1975; Morgan and Thurman Munson of the Yankees in 1976, and Johnny Bench of the Reds and Boog Powell of the Orioles in 1970.

And in the first 38 years the BBWAA issued the award, when the post-season consisted solely of the World Series, at least one MVP was in the World Series 33 times, including 20 World Series that featured the MVP of both the NL and the AL.

What happens each time the post-season is expanded is the voters get into more of a guessing game as to the impact of the player. Four of the six finalists for the two MVPs did play on teams that advance to the post-season this year, but not advanced as far as the ALCS or NLCS.

Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers, Victor Martinez of the Tigers and Mike Trout of the Angels were on teams eliminated in the best-of-five Division Series. Andrew McCutcheon and the Pirates lost the wild-card showdown with the Giants.



Arenado Rewarded for Hard Work

Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado arrived in the big leagues on the final weekend of April in 2013. He’s four weeks shy of two years of big-league service.

Tuesday, however, he won his second Gold Glove in two years for his defensive excellence.

Not too bad for a guy who when he was at High-A Modesto was being considered as a future first baseman because of defensive deficiencies.

Here’s a column I wrote on Arenado and his defense during the regular season.


Will Howsam Join Mentors in Cooperstown?

Bob Howsam was the Architect of the Big Red Machine.

The success wasn’t a happenstance. It was the residual of Howsam’s good fortune as a young man to become associated with two of the great executives in baseball history – Branch Rickey and George Weiss – and his willingness to learn from both.

Rickey and Weiss have both been enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame for their contributions to the game. Howsam might join them.

There are no guarantees in Hall of Fame elections, but at least Howsam is going to get his day in court. Howsam is the lone executive among the 10 people on the Golden Era Ballot that will be considered by a 16-member Veterans Committee during the Winter Meetings next month.

He will share the stage with former players Dick Allen, Ken Boyer, Gl Hodges, Jim Kaat, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva, Billy Pierce, Luis Tiant and Maury Willis.

It will take 12 votes for induction.

Howsam’s situation will be interesting.

He died in 2008, and hads been removed from the game for some time prior to that. He never was a major public figure, but he was a man who impacted the American sporting scene, including during tenures as a general manager for the Cardinals, as well as the Reds.

Howsam was a key player in not only forcing Major League Baseball to hold its initial expansion, but also the creation of the American Football League, which eventually merged with the NFL, and was a major part of not only professional baseball coming to Denver in the 1940s, but also with Denver being awarded the Rockies as part of the 1993 expansion.

He will be most remembered for his efforts with the Reds, having taken over as the general manager prior to the 1967 season. After the 1969 season, he fired popular manager Dave Bristol and hired an unknown 35-year-old, Sparky Anderson, who managed for Howsam in both the Cardinals and Reds minor league system.

With Anderson in charge, and a home-grown nucleus that included Pete Rose and Johnny Bench, Howsam had a building block in place. His staff signed and developed theof Davey Concepcion, Ken Griffey, Sr., Ray Knight and Bernie Carbo.

He dealt aging Reds players for likes of George Foster, Woody Woodward, Clay Carroll, Tony Cloninger, Bobby Tolan, Wayne Granger, and the package that would become his calling card – Joe Morgan, Jack Billingham, Ed Armbrister, Cesar Geronimo and Dennis Menke from the Astros at the 1971 Winter Meetings.

That was the core of a Reds team that as well as winning five NL West titles and four NL pennnats from 1970-76 won back-to-back world championships in 1975-76, the last NL team to accomplish that.

That was a vindication of sorts for Howsam, who had never been accepted in St. Louis, where at the urging of Rickey, a senior adviser to Cardinals owner Gussie Busch, Howsam was hired in mid-1964 to replace the popular Bing Devine. The Cardinals rallied and won the NL pennant that year, in big part because of Devine’s acquisition of Lou Brock from the Cubs for Ernie Broligio, and Cardinals players and fans did not hide resentment over Rickey orchestrating Devine’s firing and Howsam’s hiring.

Over the next two years the Cardinals struggled in the standings, but Howsam made the moves that led to back-to-back NL pennants in 1967-68, at which time he had already gone to Cincinnati. During his time in St. Louis he had hired Red Schoendienst to manage, and made deals for Roger Maris and Orlando Cepeda, at the time overlooked by a fan base upset at the loss of aging veterans Ken Boyer, Dick Groat and Bill White. </p>

He also showed a business sense he learned from Weiss, creating plans for season tickets and marketing, which the Cardinals were lacking.

It was a long ways from his growing up in Colorado San Luis Valley, the son of a beekeeper.

He also became the son-in-law of former U.S. Senator and two-term Colorado Governor Edwin C. Johnson. When Johnson was made the unpaid President of the resurrected Western League he appointed Howsam the league’s executive secretary, and gave him authority to run the league.

That opened the way for Howsam, his brother and father to purchase the Denver franchise in that Class A League, which was affiliate with the Pirates, which is where he was got to know Rickey.

With Denver annually among the top draws in minor league baseball, in 1954, Howsam purchased the Triple-A Kansas City Blues, who were being displaced by the transfer of the big-league A’s from Philadelphia to Kansas City. He moves the Blues, a Yankees affiliate to Denver, and developed his relationship with Weiss, as alert on the business side as Rickey was on the playing side.

Five years later, Howsam was part of the group with Rickey that put together a proposed Continental League, hoping to work with MLB to create a third major-league. He expanded Bears Stadium, which eventually was transformed into Mile High Stadium, to 34,000 seats to accommodate a big-league franchise.

MLB, however, blunted that plan by the expansion that included three of the eight cities proposed for membership in the Continental League – New York, which had been vacated by the move of the Giants and Dodgers to the West Coast; Washington, where the Senators were moving, and Houston.

With the major league dream for Denver dying, and having extended himself so far in expanding Bears Stadium that he couldn’t make with a minor-league team, plus loss on the AFL team, the Howsams sold controlling interest in both the Bears and the Broncos to Gerald and Alan Phipps prior to the 1961 season, and entered the investment business.

Three years later the Cardinals came calling.

Now the question is whether the Hall of Fame will coming calling, too.

Nimmo Impresses Mets

Adam Rubin of ESPN.com talked to Mets general manager Sandy Alderson about several top Mets’ prospects, including outfielder Brandon Nimmo of Cheyenne.

Alderson on Nimmo:

Brandon Nimmo, outfielder
“There are several qualities that I think distinguish Brandon. One is his commitment to excellence, if you will. He’s a tremendously competitive individual. He takes his preparation very seriously. He has grown physically very impressively over the last couple of years through offseason workouts. He has an approach that’s very consistent with what we try to promote, which is selectivity at the plate. Being aggressive with good judgment, I guess, is how we look at it — getting a good pitch to hit. If anything, at Binghamton, I think he began to demonstrate a little more power, which we think he has. There may be a little trade-off between his discipline at the plate and his ability to turn on the ball, but I think that’s something that’s coming. He’s a very committed guy.”

Rubin’s blog can be read at http://espn.go.com/blog/new-york/mets/post/_/id/95987/alderson-weighs-in-on-mets-top-prospects

Sabean Doesn’t Want Attention, Just Wins

Shortly after Brian Sabean became general manager of the Giants he orchestrated a trade that was arguably one of the most unpopular in franchise history. He sent third base fan favorite Matt Williams to the Cleveland Indians in a deal that brought back at the time little known second baseman Jeff Kent, infielder Jose Vizcaino and reliever Julian Tavarez.

The outrage among the folks in the Bay Area, including the media, was so strong that Sabean finally called a news conference to explain, “I’m not an idiot.’’

And 18 years later he has proven it.

The Giants were honored in a parade in San Francisco on Friday, celebrating the franchise’s seven-game World Series triumph over the Royals, making the Giants only the second NL team in history to claim three world championships in five years, and adding to the resume of Sabean, who has a longer tenure in his current job than any other general manager in baseball.

He has been running things with the Giants a year longer than his cross-Bay contemporary, Billy Beane, has with the A’s, two more years than Brian Cashman with the Yankees, five more than Dave Dombrowski with the Tigers, and six more than Doug Melvin with the Brewers.

And under his guidance the Giants, in the last 19 years have:

–Third best winning percentage in the NL (1,556-1,358, .534) behind the Braves (1,651-1,263, .567) and Cardinals (1,545-1,319, .547).

–Played more post-season games (76) than any NL team other than the Cardinals (121) and have a better post-season winning percentage (.605) than any team that has played at least 34 post-season games.

–Have made four World Series appearances, the only NL team other than the Cardinals, who also have made four, to have been in the World Series more than twice, and have won an NL-best three World Series in the last 18 years.

And don’t forget he took advantage of the San Diego Padres decision to fire manager Bruce Bochy by quickly signing Bochy to oversee things at AT&T Park.

Not bad for a franchise being run by an “idiot.’’

But then that moment 18 years ago when Sabean, less than two months into the job, publicly defended himself was a rare public outburst for him.

In a look-at-me-world where chasing big-name free agents is an off-season past time, Sabean stays out of the public view, looks for players who fit holes the Giants may have and is adamant that there is little, if any, self-promotion, particularly of prospects in the Giants farm system.

He’s not worried about being a media darling. He’s focused on winning.

Think about it. In his 18 years on the job the Giants have signed only one big-time free agent – left-handed pitcher Barry Zito. His critics will point out Zito didn’t perform anywhere near a level necessary to justify the seven-year, $119 million guarantee he wasn’t given (63-80, 4.62). They ignore that the signing of Zito was the result of then owner Peter Magowan’s infatuation with big-name players and the fact Barry Bonds was about to retire.

Sabean’s preferred method of operation would have been to find three or four players for that payout so he could patch multiple holes.

That’s why with teams able to start signing free agents on Monday there aren’t a flurry of rumors about what star-quality free agent the Giants will pursue, but rather whether they are going to be able to keep third baseman Pablo Sandoval.

Now it’s not like the Giants cut corners. They opened the 2014 season with the seventh highest payroll, have been among the top eight each of the last five years, and have failed to be in the upper half in payrolls only once since 2001.

That’s not to say everything the Giants do works. This year, alone, they decided to take a gamble on veteran Dan Uggla and see if a change of scenery could help him return to his productive ways. It didn’t, and after 12 plate appearances in late July he was released.

It’s all a part of the Giants method of mixing-and-matching to find the right roster.

Consider how the 25-man Giants post-season roster was assembled.

A farm system too often accused of having gone fallow produced 13 of the players, including World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner, and five of the eight every day players – catcher Buster Posey, first baseman Brandon Belt, second baseman Joe Panik, shortstop Brandon Crawford and third baseman Sandoval. That doesn’t include Travis Ishikawa, who emerged as a key factor in left field and was originally signed by the Giants, but left the organization for two years and then re-sign a minor-league deal early in 2014.

The big-league free agent additions were left-handed reliever Jeremy Affeldt, outfielder Michael Morse, who was signed to a one-year deal, and two pitchers initially signed to fill out the rotation, Tim Hudson, who became the oldest pitcher to ever start a Game 7 in the World Series, and Ryan Vogelsong, who signed after a tour in Japan to resurrect his career.

There were trades for lefty Javier Lopez, added to help in the 2010 stretch drive and still in Frisco, right fielder Hunter Pence, who became so entrenched with the Giants that he made the Giants an offer to re-sign in order to avoid free agent, and in-season addition Jake Peavy, acquired to fill the void created by Matt Cain requiring surgery. And there were a flurry of minor-league deals over time that, among others, brought closer Santiago Casilla.

No bright lights and banner headlines.

Sabean may have been labeled old school because he doesn’t talk a lot about his analytical department that provides statistical data that is one of the tools the Giants use in making decisions.

That doesn’t bother him though.

Just don’t call him an idiot.

Bumgarner At Top of Starters Providing World Series Relief

Madison Bumgarner got the call out of the bullpen in the fifth inning of the Giants 3-2, World Series Game 7 victory over the Royals at Kauffman Stadium on Wednesday night.

And he answered big time. Bumgarner turned into five scoreless innings, earning a save to go with two victories he picked up in earlier starts in the World Series, and for the first time in their history the Giants won a World Series Game 7. They came up short the four previous times.

Bumgarner gave up two hits, and stranded Alex Gordon on third base when he got Salvador Perez to pop up and end the game. e threw 68 pitches, 50 for strikes.

Bumgarner’s five innings of work gave him a record 52 2/3 innings of work in the post-season. Curt Schilling had the previous record of 48 1/3 innings with the Diamondbacks in 2001.

Wednesday was the 36th deciding Game 7 in World Series history, and Bumgarner became the 56th pitcher to in one of those World Series and then work in relief in Game 7 of the same series. At least one starter has been used in relief in 30 of the 36 winner-take-all Game 7s, including eight times when the winning and losing team both called on a starter.

Seven Starters, other than Bumgarner, who impacted a World Series with a Game 7 relief appearance:

 Randy Johnson, Diamondbacks, 2001. After giving up a go-ahead home run to open the eighth inning, and then a one-out single, Curt Schilling told manager Bob Brenly he was done. Miguel Bautista came in to get a fielder’s choice, and then Johnson, who had pitched seven innings for the victory in Game 6 the night before, got the call.

Johnson got the final out in the eighth, and pitched a 1-2-3 ninth. That set the stage for Tony Womack to double home one run and score the game-winner on a Luis Gonzalez single off all-time save leader Mariano Rivera, who was attempting to earn a two-inning save.

 Harvey Haddix, Pirates, 1960. Bill Mazeroski gets the attention for hitting the only Game 7 walk-off home run in World Series history, but Haddix played a role in the Pirates 10-9 victory against the Yankees. Best known for losing a perfect game against Milwaukee in 1959, Haddix went 6 1/3 innings in a 5-2 victory in Game 5 at Yankee Stadium, and wound up earning the win in relief in Game 7.

After Hal Smith, the uncle of Giants third base coach Tim Flannery, hit a three-run home run in the bottom of the eighth for a 9-7 Pirates lead, Bob Friend, who had started Games 2 and 6, got the call from the bullpen. Two batters and two hits later, Haddix was brought in. With one out, he gave up an RBI singled to score Bobby Richard and move Rocky Long to third.

When Yogi Berra grounded to first, Rocky Nelson stepping on the bag, Mantle was able to race back to first, avoiding a tag, and allowing pinch-runner Gil McDouglad to score the tying run. That set the stage for the Mazeroski home run that gave the Pirates a world championship and Haddix the Game 7 victory.

 Walter Johnson, Senators, 1924. In the last game of the last championship won by a team in the nation’s capital, both the Senators and Giants used three relievers, and each of the six pitchers had started earlier in the Series, including Firpo Mayberry who blew the save in the sixth inning. The Senators, however, rallied to pull out a 4-3, 10-inning victory thanks to four shutout innings of relief by Johnson, Johnson had started and lost complete-game efforts in Games 1 (4-3 in 12 innings) and 5 (6-2).

 Bob Turley, Yankees, 1958. Turley was knocked out in the midst of a seven-run first inning of a Game 2 start, charged with four runs while retiring one batter. He, however, returned in Game 5 to pitch a shutout, earned a save by getting the final out in Game 6, and then got the call to relieve starter Don Larsen with one out in the third and worked the final 6 2/3 innings to earn the victory.

 Allie Reynolds, Yankees, 1952. Reynolds started and lost Game 1 of the World Series, 4-2, and came back with a four-hit shutout in Game 4. After a day off, he earned the save with a 1 1/3-inning effort in Game six, and then took over for starter Eddie Lopat and pitched three innings for the victory in relief in Game 7.

 Danny Cox, Cardinals, 1987. It was the first World Series in which the home team won every game. Unfortunately for Cox, the Twins had the home-field advantage. The Twins knocked out Cox in the midst of a six-run fourth inning in Game 2. Cox rebounded by allowing two runs in 7 2/3 innings in Game 5 at Busch Stadium.
Cox got the call again early in Game 7, replacing Joe Magrane with a 2-1 lead, one out and one on in the bottom of the fifth. Kirby Puckett greeted Cox with a game-tying double, and Greg Gagne singled home ahead-run in the sixth, sending the Twins on their way to a 4-2 victory and world championship.

 Catfish Hunter, A’s, 1972. Hunter worked 8 2/3 innings for a 2-1 victory in Game 2, and wound up with a no decision in a 4 2/3 inning effort in Game 5. He turned over a 4-3 lead to Rollie Fingers, which he couldn’t hold in what was the last weekday World Series game played. It had been a scheduled night game but a rainout of Game 3 forced the middle three games to be push back a day and Game 5 was rescheduled as a day game to give the teams a break traveling back to Cincinnati for the remainder of the Series.

Hunter, with a save from Fingers, came through in Game 7, working 2 2/3 in the 3-2 victory that gave the A’s their first world championship since 1930, and was the start of a three-year run of World Series wins.


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