Friday, December 16, 2011

Ian Controls the Universe

At some point in our lives most of us undoubtedly have had the desire to control that which we cannot. As a diehard baseball fan is apt to do, I believe that things would be much better if I were in charge of MLB (and no one would be swapping leagues on my watch!). Megalomaniac that I am though, I'm not content to stop there. I often find myself wishing the on-field results could bend to my every whim.

Obviously, dictating the results would be meaningless in real life, as it'd produce nothing but hollow, unearned accomplishments. What if, however, I possessed covert omnipotence that allowed me to see whatever result I wanted? Tantalizing idea, is it not? While I wouldn't get to experience the joy of watching everything unfold, I could experience joy vicariously through the fans who did.

I got to thinking: what if I were granted this power for the next ten seasons? What would the next ten World Series look like? While it'd be tempting to go back and remove moronic rules like the Astros moving to the AL and a second Wild Card being added, I think it'd be a lot less complicated for me to play it as it lies. Not only will I go by the rules already on the books, but I'll choose my immediate champions based on what could realistically be expected from the organizations as currently constructed. After all, it'd be ridiculous to make teams simply get lucky; the players and management would have to produce situations where such results were reasonably within the realm of possibility. By announcing the results in advance I'd give these teams time to set themselves on the right path.

Before I announce my picks, I'd like to make something clear to anyone who isn't familiar with my thinking: I'm a fan of the game first, and my teams second. I root for both Chicago teams, yet the two of them would combine for one pennant in the next decade. I love seeing teams win their first championships, or at least their first in a long time. I've been following MLB since 1995, and my plan means I will have seen every team in the World Series by the time my dictatorship expires. Way too unrealistically even-handed? Of course it is, but if you were given this type of power, wouldn't you want to do something extraordinary with it?

So anyway, if I were dictator of all MLB results for ten years, effective January 1, 2012, what could we expect to see?

2012 World Series: Texas Rangers over Washington Nationals

First things first. I love the current Ranger team, and I'm still heartbroken over the way the 2011 World Series turned out. I don't want this core of players to go down in history as a great never-quite-was, so next year I'd have them seal the deal. Yes, the Angels are looking tough right now, but the Rangers are a well-run organization that's by no means ready to concede the division.

As for the Nationals, they have some up-and-coming talent, plus the ability to spend some money, so it wouldn't be a miracle if they contended for the World Series next season. They're one of two current franchises that's never appeared in the Fall Classic, so it'd be their turn get off the board. Why not do it against a franchise that originated in their city?

2013 World Series: Cleveland Indians over Pittsburgh Pirates

Cleveland is a city well-acquainted with heartbreak, and their World Series drought goes back to 1948. They have some of the best fans in the game, and their loyalty deserves to be rewarded sooner rather than later. They exceeded expectations this year, and it's not a stretch to think that in two years they could be playing with the big boys.

Why the Pirates? Why not? It's been over 30 years since they've appeared in the World Series, and they're a young team with the potential to make some noise in the near future. Besides, Pittsburgh and Cleveland have a pretty intense football rivalry, and I'm sure the long-suffering fans in northern Ohio would appreciate it if they could get their long-awaited championship at the expense of their Rust Belt rivals in a sport that actually matters.

2014 World Series: Chicago Cubs over Kansas City Royals

I apologize to my fellow Cub fans, some of whom might die without witnessing a championship in the next few years, but I figure two things: 1) The Cubs aren't currently poised for a pennant run, and 2) 2014 is fitting in several ways.

First of all, it'll mark the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field, and what better way to commemorate the century mark than with the stadium's first championship? Second, does anyone else remember the days of the three super droughts? It went: Cubs-1908, White Sox-1917 and Red Sox-1918. The Red Sox broke theirs in 2004, and the White Sox, whose drought began a year earlier, broke theirs the next year, so that means the Cubs, whose drought began nine years before the White Sox', should have theirs broken nine years later. It's almost too perfect.

The Royals haven't been to the postseason since 1985, when they won the World Series, but they've accumulated a boatload of minor league talent in the last few years. 2014 would be the season all that talent finds itself in full blossom and leads Kansas City to its first pennant in almost 30 years. They might be overlooked amidst all the excitement over the Cubs' drought ending, but they'd be good for the K.C. sports scene, and go down in history as a memorable World Series participant.

2015 World Series: San Diego Padres over Minnesota Twins

San Diego hasn't won a major league championship since the Chargers' 1963 AFL title, and they had none before that. It's time for the Padres to get the limelight they've never really had in the baseball world, as both times they've been involved in the World Series they were easily taken care of by a powerhouse from the AL.

The Twins are a nice little franchise, but their having won twice in my lifetime (albeit before I was a fan) means I'm not desperate to see them win it so soon. I would like to see them participate in the World Series at least once during Joe Mauer's career, though.

2016 World Series: Washington Nationals over Toronto Blue Jays

After falling short four years earlier, the Nationals would finally get their redemption. It will have been 94 years since the last title in the nation's capital by then, and baseball will return to its rightful place as the #1 sport in the city. Much-hyped young stars Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper by this point would be proven veterans, and they'd demonstrate the things you can achieve with well-selected #1 draft choices.

Their opponent would be the Toronto Blue Jays, the team with whom the Nationals franchise once shared a country. Still wearing their stitch-perfect uniforms which recall their awesome classic design, Alex Anthopoulos' boys would reward his shrewd management by giving Canada its first glimpse at deep October baseball since before the strike.

2017 World Series: Colorado Rockies over Baltimore Orioles

Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez would be 33 and 32 years old, respectively, by the time the curtain opened on the 2017 Fall Classic, and both would be getting their due accolades as veteran leaders and franchise icons for leading this team to its first pennant in a decade. The former would be generating some Hall of Fame talk by this point as well, and when the Rockies finally got their first sip of victory champagne it would only intensify.

The Orioles would be breaking a 34-year pennant drought, and Oriole Park at Camden Yards would be hosting its first-ever World Series. Hard to believe, isn't it?

2018 World Series: Tampa Bay Rays over Los Angeles Dodgers

Since Andrew Friedman has been running the show he's schooled everyone else in running a top-tier organization on a budget. The lack of a title is the only thing keeping the Rays from a truly amazing place in baseball history. Like the previous year's champs, they'd be redeeming themselves for a decade-old World Series loss here. Of course, if I were controlling more than just the World Series results, I'd have them as a playoff regular in the years leading up to this, which would hopefully mean their fanbase had started supporting them more, and had been anticipating this moment for some time.

The Dodgers, led by 34-year-old Matt Kemp, would be celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Kirk Gibson-Orel Hershiser trophy by finally resurfacing in the Series. For all the big-budget Hollywood hype though, the Rays would make easy work of them.

2019 World Series: Milwaukee Brewers over Oakland Athletics

Milwaukee icon Ryan Braun would be almost 36 by the time he finally led the Brew Crew to the World Series, and the wait would be well worth it. The Seattle Pilots would be a half-century-old memory at this point, and the years of toiling as an also-ran would finally come to an end. The only thing marring the proceedings would be the between-innings interviews of former Commissioner Bud Selig, who now admires his one-time franchise from the Miller Park stands, and somehow manages to be an unavoidable sight throughout the postseason.

Billy Beane would have stepped down from running the A's by now (to seek out new challenges, of course), and the anti-Moneyball crowd (the few who still cared) would use this Oakland pennant as fodder for their argument. On the 30-year anniversary of the earthquake title and the 90-year anniversary of the first Cochrane-Foxx-Simmons-Grove powerhouse title, the A's would come up short of matching those teams' accomplishments.

2020 World Series: Houston Astros over Milwaukee Brewers

The "Killer B" era would be long gone, but those quinquagenarian players would be on hand to throw out a few first pitches. After a 58-year wait, the Astros would finally get to stand on top of the baseball world. They'd be doing it as a member of the American League, however, due to that stupid and unnecessary move foisted upon us by Selig and Co. (have I made it clear enough how I feel about that?).

The Brewers would become the first team to win back-to-back pennants since the 2010-12 Rangers won three in a row, but they wouldn't be able to repeat. In a fun twist, the World Series would feature MLB's only two league-switchers.

2021 World Series: Seattle Mariners over Cincinnati Reds

The Mariners would have spent the last nine years as baseball's only team without a World Series appearance. After waiting 44 years for this day, they wouldn't intend to lose.

The Reds would be seeing their first World Series action in 31 years, but they wouldn't have enough to defeat that upstart team in the Emerald City. Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr., now in his early 50's, would famously equivocate when asked who he was rooting for.

Now that every team in baseball has won the World Series and all have appeared in it since I've been watching, how do the title and pennant droughts look?

World Series title:

Pirates: 1979
Orioles: 1983
Tigers: 1984
Royals: 1985
Mets: 1986
Dodgers: 1988
Athletics: 1989
Reds: 1990
Twins: 1991
Blue Jays: 1993
Braves: 1995
Diamondbacks: 2001
Angels: 2002
Marlins: 2003
White Sox: 2005
Red Sox: 2007
Phillies: 2008
Yankees: 2009
Giants: 2010
Cardinals: 2011
Rangers: 2012
Indians: 2013
Cubs: 2014
Padres: 2015
Nationals: 2016
Rockies: 2017
Rays: 2018
Brewers: 2019
Astros: 2020
Mariners: 2021

Is this absurdly equitable or what? In a span of 43 seasons every team would have won the World Series, and the Pirates would be the only one that hadn't won it in my lifetime. Heck, perhaps I could petition for one more year as reality-dictator just so I could give them the 2022 title.

Let's look at the pennants:

Braves: 1999
Mets: 2000
Diamondbacks: 2001
Angels: 2002
Marlins: 2003
White Sox: 2005
Tigers: 2006
Red Sox: 2007
Yankees: 2009
Phillies: 2009
Giants: 2010
Cardinals: 2011
Rangers: 2012
Indians: 2013
Pirates: 2013
Cubs: 2014
Royals: 2014
Padres: 2015
Twins: 2015
Blue Jays: 2016
Nationals: 2016
Orioles: 2017
Rockies: 2017
Dodgers: 2018
Rays: 2018
Athletics: 2019
Astros: 2020
Brewers: 2020
Mariners: 2021
Reds: 2021

Oh, those long-suffering Brave fans! 22 years without a pennant!

I have no illusions about the nearly-zero chance that this scenario would play out in real life. Parity of this sort would be unprecedented in any sport. There's no harm in imagining possibilities, however. Whenever I'm depressed (as I still am over the way this season ended), I can always come back to this post and imagine how much more beautiful it might be.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Award Pages Updated for 2011

Now that the MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year awards have all been announced, I've updated a few list posts accordingly.

Check out the ones that have changed:

Rookie of the Year Facts
The Second Place Award Winners

Go ahead. Relive the joy they brought you the first time you read them. You know you want to!

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Best Baseball-Reference Sponsorships, 2011 Edition

Is it that time of year already? Well, the calendar says mid-November, so clearly it is! Yes, friends, it's time for Baseball Junk Drawer's annual list of the best Baseball-Reference sponsorship messages! Two years ago the first one earned me my 15 minutes of fame, and its followup last year fared respectably on the old hit counter. Regardless of how many readers they get me though, I love putting these things together, because they're just so doggone fun.

As always, entries that made the cut in previous years' editions are ineligible this time around. Fortunately for us, this year's crop of newcomers stepped up to the plate and delivered. Let's see what fine treats 2011 brought us, shall we?

10. 2009 New York Mets
MetsChokeAgain sponsor(s) this page.

At least this team decided to blow the season BEFORE Sept 1. We missed the drama and the obligatory September collapse and choke. M(y) E(ntire) T(eam) S(tinks)
The first time I read this it sounded to me like the ranting of a bitter Met fan. In that sense, the message works. After being eliminated from the playoffs on the last day of the season two straight years, the 2009 Mets mercifully decided not to dangle any hope in front of their fans. This frustrated Citi Field loiterer bemoans his situation where a 70-win mediocrity of a season is in some ways preferable to a winning one. You have to feel for the poor guy a little.

After reading it again, I realized it could've been the work of a smack-talking Met-basher. In that sense, this message is just immature and pathetic. Since I can't be sure though, I'll choose to regard it as the former.

9. Eric Hurley
Breast Enlargement Dallas sponsor(s) this page.

Enhance your appearance today!
Obviously this is a generic ad which doesn't demonstrate any particular wit. The sheer absurdity of it, however, caught me off-guard. What exactly could've been the reasoning behind it?

This ad doesn't approach you with a business-like handshake humbly requesting your interest, it invites, nay, exhorts, you to "enhance your appearance today!" And just how do they propose you improve your looks? Why, with breast enlargement, of course! Now obviously, if you happen to be male, the likelihood of you needing this particular service is pretty slim. No issue here, though! There are tons of women who want to check the statistics of a former Rangers pitching prospect who made five starts and had his career derailed by injuries! Right?

8. Ryan Braun
Willard Meier sponsor(s) this page.

What's to say? This guy's just a fabulous player.
What's to say indeed? We can all agree Ryan Braun is one of the best players in the game today, so why on earth should this sponsorship be recognized as anything but a straightforward, unremarkable statement of fact?

Oh...wait a sec. You thought he was talking about the guy on the Brewers? The MVP candidate? The Hebrew Hammer? Nope. Not that guy. The other one. Yeah, there's another Ryan Braun. This other one pitched for the Royals in 2006-07 and put up an ERA of 6.66. I think we can all agree that he is not, by any definition of the word, a fabulous player. Pretty sneaky there, Willard.

7. Tony Campana
Matt sponsor(s) this page.

Brett Gardner ain't got nothin'. Well, except the ability to get on base.
The comparison is striking. Both are lefty speedsters. Both play strong defense in mainly left and center fields. Both hit .259 this year. Indeed though, Gardner has the advantage in that all-too-crucial on-base percentage category, as he knows how to take a walk (and gets the occasional extra-base hit too).

Life as a Cub fan is never easy, and sometimes all you can do is cling to whatever similarities exist between one of your guys and a better player on a more-heralded team.

6. Pretzels Getzien
Dave Velazquez sponsor(s) this page.

Pretzels is an unfortunately-forgotten player. In addition to once winning 30 games, his nickname was Pretzels. That is awesome. I want to name my future dog Pretzels.
Like so many men once they reach a certain age, Dave here has gotten that twinge of desire to be a dog owner. As do all men at this stage of life, he's taken to dreaming about the name he could bestow on this canine companion, and what it would symbolize to posterity. His choice? Pretzels. It has an air of fun to it as well as a salty, rough texture. Surely this pooch will be a rugged, rambunctious little fellow who frequently comes home covered in dirt, yet maintains his endearing lovability with every flea bath. Such a heartwarming message, this.

5. Eric Bruntlett
Dan Mitsakos sponsor(s) this page.

Thanks for the '08 World Series, the game-ending unassisted Triple Play, and spending Summer 2010 in Scranton.
Scoring the winning run in two World Series games and accomplishing a rare in-game feat are pretty darn cool. They don't, however, necessarily make one a worthwhile occupant of a roster spot. Despite Bruntlett's semi-noteworthy place in Phillies history, he probably still has to pay for his own drinks in the City of Brotherly Love.

4. Bowie Kuhn
Al Fansome sponsor(s) this page.

In the neck and neck race for worst commissioner of all time, Selig has forged a little ahead of Kuhn.
I used to defend Selig to some degree. I thought he was too-often maligned because he made an easy target, and that many of his critics were simply knee-jerk blamers of the guy at the top. With the recent move of the Astros to the American League (necessitating year-round interleague) and the expansion of the playoffs, I'm fully and permanently in the anti-Selig camp. All I have to say to this message is "Preach it, brother!"

3. Fernando Rodney
Michael Shea sponsor(s) this page.

Fernando, save everyone their time. Next time just walk up and place the ball on a tee.
So I think what he's trying to say here is...Fernando Rodney is not a very effective pitcher. Tony Reagins' legacy lives on!

2. Bobby Cox
Robert B sponsor(s) this page.

I wouldnt let him manage the night shift at a day care center
Lost amid the Bobby Cox lovefest last year were the complaints he faced throughout his career about his teams frequently underachieving. Much of it was undoubtedly a case of polite people not wishing to speak ill of the soon-retiring. Now that Cox's farewell tour is over, he's become fair game, and guys like Robert here aren't afraid to take it to the online statistical resources. Old Bobby shouldn't feel too bad about this rather scathing comment, though. Lots of great managers would've made lousy security guards.

1. Ozzie Canseco
Baseball's first 40/40 man! sponsor(s) this page.

Canseco was a feared hitter and a great Celebrity Apprentice contestant. Err..wait. The Canseco brothers have fooled me again!
This one wins the award for making me laugh the hardest, which pretty much means I have to put it at #1.

I beg to differ about The Celebrity Apprentice though. Jose Canseco (or was it Ozzie?) was not a great contestant by any stretch of the imagination. The only thing that redeems his appearance was that immortal scene where he played catch with Gary Busey.

Sigh...another week of wading through BB-Ref sponsorships for my annual post, and it's already all over. Time flies when you're having fun. I realize that the prices on Baseball-Reference have gone up in the last year, but there are tons of reasonable options out there for those on a budget. If you want to keep the ultimate resource for the greatest game ever invented going, please consider sponsoring a page. Who knows? You might see yourself here next year!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Another Championship Goes to Waste

The Texas Rangers were perfectly poised to win their first World Series title: They were the better team, they were the more likable team and their fans deserved it more. Everything lined up. This being reality instead of Hollywood though, they lost, and in heartbreaking fashion, no less.

By now we all know that if Nelson Cruz had played just a few steps back, the Rangers would've won the title yesterday. The Cardinals, as luck would have it, got the perfect location on David Freese's drive, and mounted a comeback for the ages. The game made for good drama, but the end result was something baseball could've done without. The last day of the regular season was a thrilling affair, the top two teams (who'd recently won titles) were upset in the first round, the World Series saw some close, exciting games, and what was it all for? A team winning its 11th World Series title. It's hard to get more anti-climactic than that.

I must say, the last three odd-numbered years have not been good. This postseason joins the ranks of 2007 in my book: enough hope dangled to make the crushing conclusion sting with especial poignancy. 2009 was also pretty bad, but the playoff picture itself offered few appealing options, so it was more a case of "little to cheer for in the first place."

For the sixth year in a row, the team I was rooting for in the World Series has lost. I didn't have a huge problem with the Phillies or Giants winning, but I preferred their opponents in those particular years. I guess this is the price I must pay for finally seeing my White Sox win it: six straight years of frustration (and counting). I still remember sitting in my dorm room gazing at that small black-and-white TV when Juan Uribe threw out Orlando Palmeiro by half a step. Had I only known that never again in my 20's would I enjoy a final out like that one...well, perhaps it's for the best that I didn't. The odds say that I should enjoy a similar elation again before my 30's run out, but our emotions tend to be driven by the present, and right now I'm one sad baseball fan.

Cardinal fans didn't need this. Not one bit. They had their year just a half-decade earlier, and Ranger fans have now seen their wait reach the quadruple-decade mark. My only hope is that this isn't this Ranger team's last chance. Yes, they have a great organization, and yes, they look like potential playoff contenders for years to come, but as many great teams that have fallen short can attest, you never know when the opportunity you're presented with might be your last. Hopefully the Rangers can take inspiration from the last team to lose two World Series in a row: the 1991-92 Atlanta Braves. They got their ring three years later, and while those Braves' legacy is viewed as somewhat disappointing, that 1995 flag flies forever. I sincerely hope these Rangers get their year in the near future.

Just so I don't sound like a complete wet bag, I'll say that I'm happy for a few members of the Cardinals:

42-year-old Arthur Rhodes has carved out a solid 20-year career, mostly as a lefty relief specialist, and now, with little likely left in the tank, he finally has a championship. I'm glad that he got to experience something like this before it was all said and done.

Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday are two classy veteran sluggers winning their first titles. Neither is a Hall of Fame lock, but both have the potential to make it some day, depending on how much longer they can play at their current levels. Either way, they've gotten their turn at the summit, and even if they end up as mere Hall-of-Very-Gooders, they can always boast that they were once World Champions.

What the heck, I'm even happy for Corey Patterson, who was left off the playoff roster. I guess I have a soft spot for the Cubs' former top prospect, even if he's turned into nothing more than a journeyman who occasionally shows flashes of usefulness while remaining severely flawed in other facets of the game. He's a popular whipping boy, but he's now a popular whipping boy with a World Series ring.

Thus ends the 2011 season chapter of Major League Baseball. The 2011-12 offseason chapter now begins, and I can have my life back. Hopefully the 2012 season chapter gives us a conclusion worth cheering about.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Cardinal Narrative and the Ranger Imperative

Oh, those St. Louis Cardinals. MLB's crown jewel in the Midwest. The National League's most storied team from the World Series era. Baseball's classiest organization, with a fanbase that appreciates and loves the game like none other. This is the franchise of Branch Rickey's transcendent organizational acumen, Stan Musial's gentlemanly grace, Ozzie Smith's joyful flair and today, Albert Pujols' all-around dominance and class-actiness. What miscreant would dare speak ill of such a glorious institution as the Redbirds?

That was how I'd perceived the public sentiment toward the Cardinals up until a few years ago. Perhaps the sample on which I based my judgment wasn't as comprehensive as it might've been, but my perceptions shaped my belief that I was a relative minority in hating them. Now granted, I'm a Cub fan, so I was in a position where I was expected to hate the Cardinals. There was more to it than that for me though; there was something deeper involved.

I've always been a fan of the game first and my teams second, so few things warm my heart more than a franchise winning its first-ever championship. Being a true fan of any team is an emotional investment that's often more wearying than it is exhilarating, and I vicariously experience that especial thrill of victory whenever I see those rooters soaking in the triumphant moment for the first time in their lives. The flipside to this brand of empathy though, is that it pains me to see a team with a significant history of championship success win. Sure, their fans love the team and all that, but I know that deep down it doesn't mean nearly as much to them as it would to the fans of those teams with less past glory to comfort them.

My hatred for the Cardinals is rooted mainly in the fact that historically, they're the National League's answer to the Yankees. True, they don't exude quite as much arrogance as those louts in the Bronx, but all the same, their fans are hardly starving for moments they can take pride in.

My own personal feelings aside though, I think the attitude toward the Cards has changed in the last few years, or at least it has within my range of vision. While I knew several people perceived Tony LaRussa as a bit full of himself, he'd always struck me as one of the most respected men in the game. These days, I more frequently hear criticisms of his overmanaging and complaining to the officials (not to mention that whole DUI incident). Mark McGwire, who at one time exemplified St. Louis' grand tradition of exceptional performance and ideal decorum, fell from grace after his evasive testimony before Congress on the steroid issue. Chris Carpenter, whose name at one time was synonymous with Cy Young's, has become better-known as one of the game's biggest jerks. Even opposing players are openly expressing their loathing for the boys in the Gateway to the West. With the internet increasing in significance every year, the less-well-mannered elements of the fanbase have emerged from the woodwork, and Redbird Nation's once-sterling reputation has gradually evaporated. Before we realized what was happening, the Cardinals had gone from a well-regarded symbol of splendor to a reluctantly-respected outcast.

Despite the Cardinals' losing some luster, there seemed to be a sentiment in the baseball world during this past NLCS that rooting for them was every fan's moral duty. Why, you ask? Because their opponent was the Milwaukee Brewers, who acted more like an NFL team than an MLB aggregation. Nyjer Morgan's smack-talking on Twitter, "Beast Mode" hand signals, crazy home run celebrations...yeah, it just turned people off. Never mind that the good citizens of Milwaukee hadn't seen a World Series title since 1957 and that the Cardinals were hardly a likable bunch. The Brewers deserved to lose for committing the unpardonable sin of appearing to think a little too highly of themselves.

I never bought into this anti-Brewer sentiment for a minute. While I'm far from a fan of cocky behavior, I most certainly love a jubilant team spirit, which the Brew Crew has in spades. What one man calls boorish antics another man calls a passion for the game that enhances the experience. Many old-school fans complain that baseball has gotten too boring and slow-paced for the younger generation to take an interest, but these same people will denigrate teams like Milwaukee who try to infuse some excitement into the proceedings. I guess when you're a small-market club without history on your side, you don't get the benefit of the doubt.

Going into the postseason, the Brewers were my #1 choice to win the World Series. Knowing it was almost certainly Prince Fielder's last stand, they decided to go for broke instead of dealing him for prospects last offseason. How could a guy like me root against a team without a World Series title, especially when they might not get another such opportunity for a long time? It was only natural. In the end though, the Brewers' run preventive abilities proved sorely lacking, and the kids with the packed trophy case got to flaunt another one in front of the desperate kids who'd have to dream about their turn for another year. Baseball's made to break your heart, they say, and just when you're tempted to forget, it pops its head up and reminds you.

All is not yet lost, however. Fans of my ilk still have one hope remaining, and it lies in the American League's representative. For the second straight year that would be the Texas Rangers, another title-less franchise. The 2010 World Series, as you recall, matched up the Rangers with the San Francisco Giants, who had yet to win a World Series after over a half-century in the City by the Bay. Needless to say, an oppressive burden was going to be lifted off the shoulders of the winning fanbase. The Giants ultimately prevailed, and after falling short of the postseason in an injury-plagued 2011, perhaps it's for the best that they did. Had they lost, they'd be left with all kinds of uncertainty about how wide their current window of opportunity is open.

In a way, it works out well that the Brewers lost. It's sad for them and their fans, most assuredly, but rooting for the Rangers to lose their second straight World Series wouldn't have been particularly pleasurable for me. As it now stands, the Rangers have a chance to compensate for last year's loss, and the only thing standing in their way is a team no one has to feel bad for if they lose. It's almost too perfect.

If the Cardinals do end up winning this World Series, my immediate reaction will be that we were cheated out of a great story, and that another World Series title went to waste. Still, if you'd told me before the 2010 season that the Rangers would win the next two pennants, I probably would've been shocked. This was a franchise that had never previously made it past the ALDS, as well as a league-mate of baseball's two richest teams. What they've done these two years is undoubtedly impressive, and it's something I'll always cherish as a fan of the game. While the media's narrow focus will probably remain on Boston and New York, it's nice to see their hype trumped by a team that's quietly gone about its business of building a well-balanced winner. As I said about those windows of opportunity though, they can close sooner than you think. The Rangers would be well-advised to capitalize now.

The state of Texas has yet to see a championship in Major League Baseball. At this point, the optimum outcome of this season would be for the Lone Star State to expand its place in baseball lore past the Astrodome and the phrase "Texas Leaguer." For the good of the game, for the preservation of a sense of justice, this needs to be the Rangers' year.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Oldest Ringless Players: 2011

Last year you might have seen my post about the Oldest Ringless Players for each of the eight playoff participants. Of that octet, the one who became ineligible for any future ORP lists was Giants reliever Guillermo Mota. After one of the wildest yet greatest days in MLB history (which I can only hope gives Selig and his cronies pause about expanding the playoffs), we have our Elite Eight for 2011.

As I did last time, I'll consider any player who was on the 40-Man Roster at the end of the season and played at the Major League level for the team as being ring-worthy. The ORP's this time around are (with date of birth in parentheses):

Arizona Diamondbacks: Henry Blanco (August 29, 1971)
Detroit Tigers: Magglio Ordonez (January 28, 1974)
Milwaukee Brewers: Takashi Saito (February 14, 1970)
New York Yankees: Bartolo Colon (May 24, 1973)
Philadelphia Phillies: Raul Ibanez (June 2, 1972)
St. Louis Cardinals: Arthur Rhodes (October 24, 1969)
Tampa Bay Rays: Joel Peralta (March 23, 1976)
Texas Rangers: Darren Oliver (October 6, 1970)

  • Ibanez, Oliver, Rhodes and Saito are all making their second consecutive appearances on this list, though Rhodes and Saito appeared with different teams last year.
  • As I noted last year, it might not be fair to include Saito, as he won the Japan Series in 1998. If you take him out of the equation, the Brewers' ORP is LaTroy Hawkins (December 21, 1972).
  • Rhodes appeared for Texas earlier in the year, which means he could be in line for a ring if the Rangers win the World Series.
  • As they did last year, the Rays have the youngest ORP. Previously it was Joaquin Benoit, who now plays for the Tigers.
  • Rhodes is the oldest player on this list for the second year in a row.
  • Four of these players are relief pitchers, and the rest are a starting pitcher, a left fielder, a right fielder and a catcher.
Personally, I'd be happy for any of these guys to get rings as individuals, but as members of a team, I can't say I'm rooting too hard for Blanco, Colon, Ibanez or Rhodes. All play for franchises that have won the World Series since I've been a baseball fan, and I love watching new teams get in on the glory.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Matters of Races

What a situation we have with the Wild Card races, huh, folks? Over in the American League we have the Boston Red Sox, long a presumptive postseason lock, now tied with the hard-charging Tampa Bay Rays for the Wild Card lead! The Atlanta Braves, who spent most of their season in the same position as the Red Sox, now lead the St. Louis Cardinals by a mere game! With two games left in the season, two impressive comebacks are well within the realm of possibility!

Of course, none of this would be worth mentioning if the allegedly inevitable changes to the playoff system that Bud Selig is intent on inflicting upon us were in place. All four teams would currently be preparing for their spot in the play-in game, or whatever the fool thing's going to be called, and this last week would be devoid of drama.

Selig, I've often tried to give you the benefit of the doubt, but I can't be so charitable here. We have enough teams in the playoffs as it is, and all an extra Wild Card would do is cheapen postseason participation even further. For the good of the game, stop tinkering with stuff.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Baseball in Korea

Hello, faithful readers. You may have noticed that my posts here have been less frequent than they once were. There's a big reason for that: I'm currently working in Korea, and I've been so busy adjusting to life here that I haven't had as much time or inspiration to write on this blog (though I do make an effort to put up at least one new post per month).

It just so happens that baseball is pretty popular in Korea, and I live in a city represented by a professional team. Yesterday I went to my first game, and I shared the experience on my Korean blog. If you want to read about it, you can check out my post here.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

PTWSW #77: The 1980 Philadelphia Phillies

Manager: Dallas Green
Record: 91-71
Ballpark: Veterans Stadium
Owner: Ruly Carpenter
GM: Paul Owens
Coaches: Ruben Amaro, Billy DeMars, Lee Elia, Mike Ryan, Herm Starrette, Bobby Wine

Future Hall of Famers: Steve Carlton, Mike Schmidt

All-Stars: Steve Carlton, Pete Rose, Mike Schmidt

Team Leaders, Batting

BA: Bake McBride, .309
OBP: Mike Schmidt, .380
SLG: Mike Schmidt, .624 (NL leader)
OPS: Mike Schmidt, 1.004 (NL leader)
2B: Pete Rose, 42 (NL leader)
3B: Bake McBride, 10
HR: Mike Schmidt, 48 (NL leader)
RBI: Mike Schmidt, 121 (NL leader)
BB: Mike Schmidt, 89
SB: Lonnie Smith, 33

Team Leaders, Pitching

W: Steve Carlton, 24 (NL leader)
SO: Steve Carlton, 286 (NL leader)
ERA: Steve Carlton, 2.34
IP: Steve Carlton, 304.0 (NL leader)
CG: Steve Carlton, 13
SHO: Steve Carlton, 3
K/BB: Steve Carlton, 3.18 (NL leader)
SV: Tug McGraw, 20


Oldest Player: Pete Rose (b. April 14, 1941)

Youngest Player: Mark Davis (b. October 19, 1960)

First to Leave Us: Nino Espinosa (d. December 24, 1987) Espinosa was working as a scout for the Cubs when he died of a heart attack at the age of 34.

Last Survivor: Most are still living as of the date of this post.

First in Majors: Tim McCarver (debut September 10, 1959)

Last in Majors: Mark Davis (final game September 28, 1997)

First to Play For the Franchise: Larry Bowa and Tim McCarver (April 7, 1970)

Last to Play For the Franchise: Mark Davis (July 1, 1993)

Pre-union Team: No team had more than two of these guys.

Reunion Team: The 1983-84 Cubs, under general manager Dallas Green, had six each: Larry Bowa, Warren Brusstar, Bob Dernier (1984), Jay Loviglio (1983), Keith Moreland, Dickie Noles and Dick Ruthven.


Mike Schmidt, NL MVP
Steve Carlton, NL Cy Young Award
Mike Schmidt, NL Third Base Gold Glove
Garry Maddox, NL Outfield Gold Glove
Manny Trillo, NL Second Base Silver Slugger
Mike Schmidt, NL Third Base Silver Slugger

Season Summary

There were 16 major league franchises when the Modern Era began in 1901, and by the mid-1960's each of them had a World Series title to its name...except one: the Philadelphia Phillies. They'd only won two league pennants in that time, and between their two appearances in the Fall Classic they'd only managed to win one game. The late 1970's had been a successful but frustrating period for the Phillies; from 1976 to 1978 they'd won three straight division titles but fallen short of a pennant each time. In 1979 injuries and a shaky bullpen did them in, and manager Danny Ozark was replaced by Dallas Green at the end of August. Before the 1980 season, many experts picked the Phillies to rebound with a roster back at full strength.

At the heart of the Phillies' attack were two superstars: third baseman Mike Schmidt and pitcher Steve Carlton. Schmidt led the league with 48 homers and a .624 slugging percentage, earning the NL MVP award in the process. The Phils' rotation wasn't anything special after Carlton, but fortunately, the lefty turned in a Cy Young-winning season where he notched 24 victories, posted a 2.34 ERA and led the league with 286 strikeouts. The bullpen also returned to form, led by closer Tug McGraw and his 1.46 ERA.

The National League was fairly tightly-packed in 1980. While Philly didn't spend much of the summer in first place, they were never far behind the Pirates or Expos, the two teams who'd gone down to the wire the previous season. Things got a little precarious in early August, when a stretch of poor play (the nadir of which was a four-game sweep in Pittsburgh) put them six games behind their two competitors (who were tied for first) on August 10. It looked like a repeat of last year's race was on the horizon, but the Phillies won eight of their next nine to get back into shape. Around that time the Pirates lost their mojo, and they soon fell out of the race. The Expos stayed in the running though, and they were tied with the Phils with three games left in the season. As if it had been written by Hollywood, the final three-game series matched up Montreal and Philadelphia. Philadelphia won the first game, then clinched the division in the second, when Schmidt's two-run homer in the eleventh sealed the deal.

The NLCS against the Astros was a dramatic affair; four of the five games went into extra innings. Game 1 was a pretty straightforward Phillie win, but the Astros knotted the series in Game 2 with a four-run explosion in the tenth inning. Game 3 was scoreless until the eleventh, when Denny Walling's sacrifice fly gave Houston a 2-1 series edge. With their backs against the wall, the Phillies carried a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the ninth in Game 4 only to see it disappear on Terry Puhl's RBI single. Unfazed, Philadelphia scored two runs in the top of tenth on back-to-back doubles from Greg Luzinski and Manny Trillo to tie the series at two games apiece. The final game featured several late-inning rallies which kept either team from feeling safe, and once again, the matter was settled in extras. The winning blow proved to be Garry Maddox's RBI double in the tenth, giving Philly its first pennant in 30 years.

The Kansas City Royals, led by American League MVP George Brett, were a worthy World Series opponent. Behind rookie emergency starter Bob Walk, the Phillies managed to win Game 1, then rode an eighth-inning rally to victory in Game 2. The Royals won Game 3 on a tenth-inning single, then pulled even with a victory in Game 4. K.C. took a 3-2 lead into the ninth inning of Game 5, but the Phillies scored two runs off relief ace Dan Quisenberry, the go-ahead run coming on a single off the Quiz's glove. McGraw escaped a jam in the bottom of the inning to preserve the win, sending the Series back to the City of Brotherly Love with the hometown team one win away from a long-awaited championship. The Phils controlled Game 6 most of the way; they carried a 4-1 lead into the ninth inning, but they wouldn't escape without some drama. The Royals loaded the bases with one out, and the second out required a great play from first baseman Pete Rose on a foul pop-up. McGraw struck out Willie Wilson to nail down the win.

After 97 seasons without reaching the top of the baseball mountain, the Phillies at long last sat on the summit. The World Series MVP matched the one from the regular season: Mike Schmidt's two homers, seven RBI and 1.176 OPS proved to be the Philadelphia side's standout performance.


Baseball Reference
Baseball Almanac
Google News Archives

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Second Wind: Dick Allen

Enigmatic. Mercurial. Controversial. You've heard all the cliches when it comes to Dick Allen. In the public's mind they practically define him. Those cliches, fairly or unfairly, are probably the biggest obstacle standing between him and the Hall of Fame, but they ensure that he'll be remembered for a long time as one of baseball's most puzzling characters.

What if, though, Dick Allen had been remembered as a clubhouse leader? What if he'd had a chance to go out as the ultimate team player who was beloved by fans and teammates alike? Sound impossible? What if I told you that in February of 1979 Chuck Tanner was trying to get the Pirates to sign Allen? At the time Allen hadn't played since June 1977 as a member of the Oakland A's. He quit the team in July after being suspended the previous month for leaving the game without permission. He attempted a comeback with the A's in Spring Training of 1978, but was cut from the roster without being given much of a chance, and he ended up sitting out the 1978 season. Though Allen said he still hoped to return to baseball at the time, it proved to be the end of the line for him. His final career stats were as follows:

1963 21 PHI NL 10 25 24 6 7 2 1 0 2 0 0 0 5 .292 .280 .458 .738 110 11 2 0 0 1 0 /75
1964 22 PHI NL 162 708 632 125 201 38 13 29 91 3 4 67 138 .318 .382 .557 .939 162 352 8 0 6 3 13 *5
1965 23 PHI NL 161 707 619 93 187 31 14 20 85 15 2 74 150 .302 .375 .494 .870 145 306 13 2 6 6 6 *5/6
1966 24 PHI NL 141 599 524 112 166 25 10 40 110 10 6 68 136 .317 .396 .632 1.027 181 331 9 3 0 4 13 57
1967 25 PHI NL 122 540 463 89 142 31 10 23 77 20 5 75 117 .307 .404 .566 .970 174 262 9 1 1 0 18 *5/46
1968 26 PHI NL 152 605 521 87 137 17 9 33 90 7 7 74 161 .263 .352 .520 .872 160 271 7 1 2 7 15 *75/8
1969 27 PHI NL 118 506 438 79 126 23 3 32 89 9 3 64 144 .288 .375 .573 .949 165 251 10 0 0 4 10 *3
1970 28 STL NL 122 533 459 88 128 17 5 34 101 5 4 71 118 .279 .377 .560 .937 145 257 9 2 0 1 16 35/7
1971 29 LAD NL 155 649 549 82 162 24 1 23 90 8 1 93 113 .295 .395 .468 .863 151 257 23 1 1 5 13 573
1972 30 CHW AL 148 609 506 90 156 28 5 37 113 19 8 99 126 .308 .420 .603 1.023 199 305 13 1 0 3 16 *3/5
1973 31 CHW AL 72 288 250 39 79 20 3 16 41 7 2 33 51 .316 .394 .612 1.006 175 153 9 1 1 3 3 3/4D
1974 32 CHW AL 128 525 462 84 139 23 1 32 88 7 1 57 89 .301 .375 .563 .938 164 260 16 1 0 5 9 *3/4
1975 33 PHI NL 119 481 416 54 97 21 3 12 62 11 2 58 109 .233 .327 .385 .712 94 160 19 2 1 4 4 *3
1976 34 PHI NL 85 339 298 52 80 16 1 15 49 11 4 37 63 .268 .346 .480 .826 130 143 13 0 1 3 2 3
1977 35 OAK AL 54 200 171 19 41 4 0 5 31 1 3 24 36 .240 .330 .351 .681 89 60 4 1 0 4 0 3/D
15 Seasons 1749 7314 6332 1099 1848 320 79 351 1119 133 52 894 1556 .292 .378 .534 .912 156 3379 164 16 19 53 138
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 7/3/2011.

What if Allen had extended his career by accepting an offer from Pittsburgh? He would've been a member of the "We Are Family" Pirates, a team whose historical image couldn't be any more antithetical to his. What would it have meant for Allen's legacy to be included on such a team? Let's presume the man once known as "Richie" had decided to reunite with his old manager from Chicago, and see if we can't venture a guess. Like the last Second Wind post, this is all for fun and (obviously) shouldn't be seen as anything resembling definitive.

Since Allen was a right-handed hitter whose defensive skills best suited him for first base, he likely would've been platooned with Willie Stargell. "What??" you might be shouting right now. "Platoon the MVP? Preposterous!" It sounds strange, I know, but what's often forgotten is that the lefty-swinging Stargell frequently didn't start against southpaws that year. Right-handed batters like Bill Robinson and Manny Sanguillen got the nod at first several times against lefties. In fact, the co-MVP Stargell only played in 126 games that year.

Imagine a rejuvenated Dick Allen forming a deadly two-headed monster at first with Stargell. It might've cost Pops some hardware, but it might've made those Pirates an even greater team than they were. As the regular first baseman against lefties and a valuable pinch-hitter off the bench, Allen puts up the following line:

G    PA   AB   R    H   2B  3B  HR  RBI  SB  CS  BB  SO   BA   OBP  SLG  OPS  OPS+  TB  GDP  HBP SH  SF  IBB
72   279  242  59   69  14   1  16   58   1   1  33  52  .285 .369 .550 .919  143  133   8    1   0   3   2

Holy cow! That's some great late-career production, and on a World Series champion, no less! As a prominent member of "the Family," Allen's image experiences a rehabilitation. Suddenly the tales abound of how his veteran presence helped the ship stay on course, and how his steady influence was an example to everyone on the team. Historically, the 1979 Pirates become not only a fun, memorable group of guys, but a redemptive tale for a player whose greatness is now universally acknowledged.

Allen decides to come back for another year, and as he's still used mostly against left-handers, he puts up respectable numbers:

G    PA   AB   R    H   2B  3B  HR  RBI  SB  CS  BB  SO   BA   OBP  SLG  OPS  OPS+  TB  GDP  HBP SH  SF  IBB
48   160  138  14   32   7   0   7   23   0   1  19  35  .232 .327 .435 .762  109   60   6    1   1   1   1

At age 38 he's no longer quite as feared, but he still proves capable of popping the occasional homer. Unfortunately, injuries limit him to only 48 games, and the Pirates aren't able to duplicate their success in 1980. Dick Allen was never an easy read, but when he decides to walk away at the end of the season, no one is much surprised.

What do Allen's career numbers look like now?

Year Age Tm  Lg G    PA   AB   R    H    2B  3B  HR   RBI  SB CS  BB  SO   BA   OBP  SLG   OPS  OPS+  TB  GDP HBP SH  SF  IBB
1963 21  PHI NL 10   25   24   6    7    2   1   0    2    0  0   0   5   .292 .280 .458  .738  110   11   2   0   0   1   0
1964 22  PHI NL 162  708  632  125  201  38  13  29   91   3  4   67  138 .318 .382 .557  .939  162   352  8   0   6   3   13
1965 23  PHI NL 161  707  619  93   187  31  14  20   85   15 2   74  150 .302 .375 .494  .870  145   306  13  2   6   6   6
1966 24  PHI NL 141  599  524  112  166  25  10  40   110  10 6   68  136 .317 .396 .632 1.027  181   331  9   3   0   4   13
1967 25  PHI NL 122  540  463  89   142  31  10  23   77   20 5   75  117 .307 .404 .566  .970  174   262  9   1   1   0   18
1968 26  PHI NL 152  605  521  87   137  17  9   33   90   7  7   74  161 .263 .352 .520  .872  160   271  7   1   2   7   15
1969 27  PHI NL 118  506  438  79   126  23  3   32   89   9  3   64  144 .288 .375 .573  .949  165   251  10  0   0   4   10
1970 28  STL NL 122  533  459  88   128  17  5   34   101  5  4   71  118 .279 .377 .560  .937  145   257  9   2   0   1   16
1971 29  LAD NL 155  649  549  82   162  24  1   23   90   8  1   93  113 .295 .395 .468  .863  151   257  23  1   1   5   13
1972 30  CHW AL 148  609  506  90   156  28  5   37   113  19 8   99  126 .308 .420 .603 1.023  199   305  13  1   0   3   16
1973 31  CHW AL 72   288  250  39   79   20  3   16   41   7  2   33  51  .316 .394 .612 1.006  175   153  9   1   1   3   3
1974 32  CHW AL 128  525  462  84   139  23  1   32   88   7  1   57  89  .301 .375 .563  .938  164   260  16  1   0   5   9
1975 33  PHI NL 119  481  416  54   97   21  3   12   62   11 2   58  109 .233 .327 .385  .712  94    160  19  2   1   4   4
1976 34  PHI NL 85   339  298  52   80   16  1   15   49   11 4   37  63  .268 .346 .480  .826  130   143  13  0   1   3   2
1977 35  OAK AL 54   200  171  19   41   4   0   5    31   1  3   24  36  .240 .330 .351  .681  89    60   4   1   0   4   0
1979 37  PIT NL 72   279  242  59   69   14  1   16   58   1  1   33  52  .285 .369 .550  .919  143   133  8   1   0   3   2
1980 38  PIT NL 48   160  138  14   32   7   0   7    23   0  1   19  35  .232 .327 .435  .762  109   60   6   1   1   1   1
18 seasons     1869 7753 6712 1172 1949 341  80  374 1200 134 54 946 1643 .290 .377 .532  .909  154  3572 178  18 20  57  141
Year Age Tm  Lg G    PA   AB   R    H    2B  3B  HR   RBI  SB CS  BB  SO   BA   OBP  SLG   OPS  OPS+  TB  GDP HBP SH  SF  IBB

His rate stats decrease ever-so-slightly, but those 23 extra homers don't hurt.

As he was able to wind down his career on a non-embarrassing note, Allen is seen in a much more positive light when his turn on the Hall of Fame ballot comes up. In real life, Allen never got more than 18.9% of the vote, and in 1986 (which is now his first year on the ballot) he got 9.6%. Does he suddenly transform into a slam-dunk first-ballot guy in this scenario? Well now, let's not get carried away. He still has his negatives, like poor defense and a personality that frequently got him into trouble, but his positives carry more weight this time.

His debut on the ballot is much stronger than the single-digit percentage he actually got in the early going. As time goes on his postseason heroics for the beloved "Family" start to overshadow his earlier off-field issues. People take note of his 1964 Rookie of the Year campaign, his 1972 MVP season, his being top-50 all-time in slugging percentage despite playing in a pitcher's era, and his similar home run total to Tony Perez and Orlando Cepeda in over a thousand fewer at-bats. With more and more media voices speaking on his behalf, his vote percentages get higher and higher until finally, Dick Allen, the Wampum Walloper himself...winds up in Cooperstown!

Dick Allen remains a flawed hero, and no one ever mistakes him for the perfect Major League ballplayer. What he lacks in personality though, he makes up for with the compelling narrative arc of his career.