Saturday, August 1, 2020

The Bronx Fireman Not in the FDNY 8/1/20

Hey baseball fans!

Relievers are sometimes called firemen because, well, they put out fires, "relieving" the starters they replace on the mound by getting out of jams. This didn't come from nowhere, however, because it was actually the nickname of one of the first modern-day relievers baseball ever saw, Johnny "Fireman" Murphy. So, let's talk about him!

When I started blogging about baseball history eight years ago, my grandfather, who grew up in the Bronx, told me about how he used to work in a store near Yankee Stadium. Sometimes, members of the Yankees would come in to shop in the store and one of the Yanks that visited often was Johnny Murphy. I had never heard of him, so I did some research and found out some very interesting stuff on him. Murphy was not a Hall of Fame closer, but he was one of the first closers in MLB history. From 1937-1942, Murphy led the league in saves in four out of six years, making All Star Games in the first three years of that span. His highest saves total came in 1939, when he had 19 of them, which was the second-highest amount of single-season saves at the time. Murphy collected 107 saves during his 13-year career in the 30's and 40's (with some of those years eaten up by military service during World War II), which was actually a record that stood all the way until 1961, the same year he joined the front office of the newest MLB expansion team, the New York Mets. 

That's right, Mets fans. Your 1969 Miracle Mets team was built up by one of baseball's first relievers. Murphy, along with former Yankee executive George Weiss, helped construct the Mets farm system throughout the 60's that would eventually sprout great names like Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, and Jerry Koosman. Murphy was also responsible for the trade that brought legendary manager and should-be Hall of Famer Gil Hodges to the Amazins', a move that helped the Mets win an improbable World Series title in 1969. Sadly, "Fireman" died of a heart attack three months after the team from Flushing won their first Fall Classic. Had he lived, who knows how good the Mets could've been. 

Thanks for reading this post and I hope you enjoyed it. Check back soon for more of "all the buzz on what wuzz."

Saturday, July 18, 2020

The Story of "The Bird" 7/18/20

Hey baseball fans!

The Detroit Tigers are one of the most storied franchises of the American League, originating as a part of the AL's inaugural season in 1901. With this history comes many Hall of Famers, but no Detroit legend, whether it be Hank Greenberg or Al Kaline, can compete with the meteoric rise and fall of "The Bird," Mark Fidrych. 

Mark Fidrych was a non-roster invitee for the Tigers in 1976, officially joining Detroit's MLB roster in late April. He was lanky and curly-haired, which is how he got his nickname from Big Bird from Sesame Street. "The Bird" made his mark on the baseball world on May 15, when he allowed a single run in a complete game against the Indians at Tigers Stadium in Detroit. Throughout the game, Fidrych would talk to the ball and pat down the mound repeatedly, idiosyncrasies that elevated his celebrity status to levels that you could say have never been seen since. Fidrych continued to dominate the American League with his weird tendencies and masterful pitching. By the All Star break, his seasonal ERA was under 2 and was elected to start, the second rookie in MLB history to be named an ASG starting pitcher. Fidrych would finish the season with a 19-9 win-loss record with a league-leading 24 complete games and 2.34 ERA. He obviously finished in first place for AL Rookie of the Year voting, but also came in second for the Cy Young Award behind the Hall of Famer pitcher for the Orioles, Jim Palmer. Throughout this amazing year, Fidrych was asked for curtain call after curtain call, as fans fell in love with the quirky future of the American League. To this day, he is the only baseball player to appear on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. 

Sadly, Fidrych suffered an injury before the 1977 season and was never the same pitcher again. It was diagnosed in 1985 as a torn rotator cuff, a surgery that could've saved Fidrych's career from imploding the way it did, had the injury been dealt with sooner. "The Bird" only pitched professionally for another four years after that amazing 1976 season, but lived a quiet, fulfilling life at his Massachusetts farm until his untimely death in 2009. So, this begs the question: what if "The Bird" continued flying after '76? Well, he would've had a lot of fun with 1984 Cy Young Award and AL MVP recipient, Willie Hernandez, who helped the Tigers win the World Series that year, but overall, he would've been a superstar pitcher, mesmerizing fans with his precise control, until he was elected into the Hall of Fame. Thanks for reading this post and I hope you enjoyed it. Check back soon for more of "all the buzz on what wuzz."

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Five Alternative Team Names for the Indians and Braves 7/4/20

Hey baseball fans!

The NFL recently opened discussions about changing the name of the Washington Redskins to something more appropriate. This has prompted the MLB to consider the Cleveland Indians, who got rid of their red-faced Native American mascot and logo, Chief Wahoo, in 2018 (on Columbus Day, of all days). The Redskins moniker is definitely worse than Cleveland's, but it still begs the question: if the Indians change their name, to what will it be changed? I'll be proposing five of these potential names, three for Cleveland and two for the Atlanta Braves, a team that also has a questionable name, thanks more in part to the culture of the team (the Tomahawk Chop and their defunct mascot, Chief Knockahoma) rather than the team's actual name.

The Cleveland...

Cleveland is known as a blue-collar city with a vibrant industrial life that made it inviting for immigrants during the 20th century. Blow-up hammers at games for children might get a little annoying, but this also makes for some potentially excellent home run puns. 

There's a better name to epitomize the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's home in Cleveland, but I can't think of it right now. Still though, with music's soulful connection to baseball that dates back decades, this name seems like a great fit. 

A random name to some, sure, but there used to be a team called the Cleveland Spiders that played in the 19th century. The team was absolutely putrid, posting the worst win-loss record in baseball history in 1899 (20-134), but used to have a lesser-known pitcher named Cy Young in their rotation. The name is original, fearsome, and a merchandising goldmine. 

The Atlanta...

Atlanta's history with music is extremely vast, with artists of all different genres calling Atlanta home. The same logic that makes the Rockers name logical applies here. Musicians just love singing about baseball. 

I'm stealing another former baseball team name, this time from Seattle in 1969 (the Seattle Pilots moved to Milwaukee and became the Brewers just a year into their existence), to honor the world's busiest airport. Yes, sports names involving flying vehicles, whether it be birds or airplanes, are seen across the sporting landscape, but Atlanta's airport is the king of air traffic. 

What other names should the Indians and Braves consider? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below. Thanks for reading this post and I hope you enjoyed it. Check back soon for more of "all the buzz on what wuzz." And have a great July 4th!

Friday, June 26, 2020

A Look at Mr. Tiger, Al Kaline 6/26/20

Hey baseball fans!

It's Derek Jeter's birthday! However, because I'm sure some of you think I love him a little too much, we're not going to discuss the Captain today. Instead, let's talk about one of the best players who played in the state in which Jeter grew up. Yes, Mr. November is from New Jersey and rooted for the Yankees, but he attended and was drafted out of Central High School in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Let's see: who's an awesome player who played for the Tigers? Oh, of course! It's Mr. Tiger, Al Kaline!

One of the premier contact hitters of the 1950s and 1960s, Kaline bridged the gap between Tigers eras that were ruled by Hank Greenberg in the 1930s and 1940s and the double play duo of Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker in the 1970s and 1980s. But Kaline wasn't just a bridge. He could really hit, too! Al Kaline is the youngest hitter in American League history to win a batting title, for starters. In 1955, at the age of 20, Kaline led the Junior Circuit with a .340 batting average. It would end up being the only season in which he led the league in average, but he batted over .280 in all but five of his remaining seasons in the MLB. That 1955 season for Kaline also saw him win his only hits title, totaling 200 for the season, but would average 137 hits a season for his entire career. Yes, that number is lower than average for a contact specialist, but because he played for 22 seasons, 1953-1974, he made it to 3,007 hits, good for 31st on the all-time list. But Kaline wasn't just a great hitter. He was also an exemplary outfielder. He won ten career Gold Gloves (in an eleven-year span) and was revered by the rest of the league for his prowess in right field. All in all, he made 18 All Star Games and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, 1980, with 88.3% of the vote. 

But arguably his most shining achievement in a Tigers uniform came during 1968, when he put up a World Series performance for the ages. 1968 was the first year he hadn't made an All Star Game since that amazing year in 1955, so many people around the league thought he was nearing the end of his career. But boy,did Kaline rebound in the World Series. Sure, the '68 Series is known for amazing pitching from Tigers legend Mickey Lolich, but Kaline's hitting in the Fall Classic against the Cardinals was historic. In the seven-game set, Kaline collected 11 hits, which was good for a .379 batting clip, with two homers and eight RBIs. Detroit ended up winning the franchise's third World Series that year, as Al Kaline cemented himself as Mr. Tiger. 

After retiring in 1974, Kaline worked in the Tigers broadcast booth until 2002, at which time he switched to the front office until his death in April of this year. Kaline epitomized consistency and all-around play, which is why he is known as one of the best to ever lace up cleats at a professional level. Thanks for reading this post and I hope you enjoyed it. Check back soon for more of "all the buzz on what wuzz."

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

The Tragic Story of Tony Conigliaro 6/17/20

Hey baseball fans!

Carl Yastrzemski is one of the greatest hitters in Red Sox history, but he was not the only star outfielder that graced the grass of Fenway in the 1960s. The Red Sox used to have a right-handed hitter by the name of Tony Conigliaro. Conigliaro was a great hitter for the first few years of his career, and looked to continue that trend deep into that 1967 "Impossible Dream" season for the BoSox. Then, in August of that season, tragedy struck. 

Tony Conigliaro debuted in Boston in 1964 at the ripe age of 19. He didn't place for Rookie of the Year voting, but he did hit 24 home runs that year and batted .290. Those 24 home runs are a record among teenage hitters in baseball history, getting Red Sox fans excited for a possible World Series championship in the coming years, something they hadn't experienced since 1918. Conigliaro continued his power at the plate in subsequent years, hitting a league-leading 32 homers in 1965 and a respectable 28 home runs in 1966. In 1967, the Red Sox right fielder made his first All Star Game, reaching 20 homers by mid-August, and became the second-youngest hitter ever to 100 career home runs (only behind Mel Ott). Then, on August 18, 1967, in a home game against Angels pitcher Jack Hamilton, Conigliaro was struck by a pitch on his left cheekbone, which left him with a broken jaw and a damaged retina. Conigliaro wasn't wearing a helmet with an ear-flap that we see often today, but it's this specific incident that actually made that flap so encouraged for hitters. Conigliaro was forced to sit out the entire 1968 season. Although he returned in 1969, winning Comeback Player of the Year with 20 homers and 82 RBIs, he was not the same hitter as before. 1970 was his last great year, when he collected career highs in home runs (36) and RBIs (116). After that, he fizzled out due to his deteriorating sight. He died in 1990 at 45 years old. 

Not only was Conigliaro not in the Red Sox lineup for the 1967 World Series, but had he played a full career, he would've most likely been with the Sox for the 1975 World Series. Both the '67 and '75 Fall Classics went seven games, so it's justifiable to say that had Conigliaro not gotten so tragically injured, the Red Sox would've broken the Curse of the Bambino long before events involving Mookie Wilson or David Ortiz. Thanks for reading this post and I hope you enjoyed it. Check back soon for more of "all the buzz on what wuzz."

Friday, June 5, 2020

My History with Baseball 6/5/20

Hey baseball fans!

It's a somber time to be a baseball fan for plenty of reasons, so I wanted share my story of how I fell in love with America's pastime. I don't think I really talk about how I got involved with the game much, but it's a story worth telling.

Back in 2007, Hall of Fame manager Joe Torre and the New York Yankees were in the American League Division Series against the Cleveland Indians. The Yanks had stars like Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon, while the Indians had recognizable names such as CC Sabathia and Victor Martinez, among others, on their roster. The Indians would go on to win the series, then lose to the Red Sox in the ALCS. I was eight years old at the time, beginning the third grade. I remember liking one of my third grade teachers, Mrs. Nathan, a lot. We  were learning where to put commas in numbers with more than three digits, and I taught the class a trick my mom taught me. 1, 2, 3 kick, 1, 2, 3, kick, which is to say that after every three digits, you put a comma. Mrs. Nathan liked that trick so much, that she invited me to the front of the class to do a kick line with her. I was embarrassed at the time, but it's certainly funny looking back. The mantra would help me remember how to correctly write down the multimillion-dollar contracts that MLB players would soon receive.

One school night, my dad was watching one of the games of the 2007 ALDS in his bedroom. I can't recall how I ended up watching the game with him, or whether it was the "Joba Chamberlain Gnats Game" in particular, but I remember being absolutely hypnotized by the game of baseball, jumping up and down on my parents' bed like a monkey. Soon after the Yankees got eliminated from the postseason that year, I got my first baseball video game, MLB Power Pros 2007 for the Wii. It was an amazing game, a game I still play to this day, despite the unrealistic home run robbery animations or the lack of difficulty, and a game that helped shape my love of baseball even further. The next year, I switched schools because my old one closed down. So, I had to make some friends in the new one through the only way I knew how: baseball. We were fourth-graders, so it wasn't like we were talking about sabermetrics, but the conversations were definitely complex for a non-baseball fan. That was also the time I started researching more into baseball's past, solidifying my stance as a Yankees fan.

The Yankees moved into a new stadium in 2009. I went to the first Spring Training, regular season, and World Series game at the new Yankee Stadium, and all three were a blast (even though the Yanks lost the two games that counted). 2009 was the Year of the Walk-Off in the Bronx, so I used to stay up late, switching to reruns of the George Lopez Show on Nick at Nite during YES Network commercials, as I watched the Yankees win in the clutch night after night. As I walked into the House That the Boss Built for Game One of the 2009 World Series, I saw that the Yankees had played in the Fall Classic against the Phillies once before '09. This I was unfamiliar with, and immediately asked my grandpa, who grew up in the Bronx, what that was about. He vaguely remembered the 1950 Phillies, who were called "The Whiz Kids" because they were so young, but he more so remembered the teams from his younger days, teams with Ruth, Gehrig, and DiMaggio. He told me all about those winners of the 1920s and 1930s, as my other grandpa told me about how he used to listen to the Dodgers while growing up in Cuba. It was a whole lot of information for a fledgling fifth-grader to grasp, but I knew I wanted more.

I started Baseball with Matt three years later, on April 2, 2012, about a month after my bar mitzvah. I became an MLB pro blogger that October and a published author three years after that. Baseball has become my life, my anchor, and my passion in my 13 years of fandom, and it means so much for so many other people. In these confusing times, I encourage you to ask people about how they fell in love with baseball, or about any hobby or interest that has a unifying sense, because if there's one thing that we all need right now, it's a little bit of unity.

Thanks for reading this post and I hope you enjoyed hearing my story. Check back soon for more of "all the buzz on what wuzz."

Stay safe, keep yourselves educated on what's going on, and just keep swinging.

Monday, May 25, 2020

The Contact Hitters that Shaped Baseball Since the 60's 5/25/20

Hey baseball fans!

Although batting averages have decreased on average ever since Hall of Famers like Ted Williams and Stan Musial retired, there are a number of notable contact hitters of the last 60 years that I'd like to point out. Yes, I am aware of the "Chicks Dig the Long Ball" philosophy, which states that homers are the quickest and easiest way to score runs and win games (which is exactly how I manage my franchises on MLB The Show 20) but, as I've said before, batting averages keep innings going. So, let's look at some of the best hit collectors since the 1960's.

Tony Gwynn
Mr. Padre and Captain Video, two of the most underwhelming nicknames for a Hall of Famer, but nicknames that are well-deserved by the 15-time All Star. Gwynn is the best hitter the San Diego Padres franchise has ever seen, contributing immensely to both of the Friars' NL pennant-winning seasons of 1984 and 1998. But to get statistical, Gwynn was the king of watching tapes of opposing pitchers and ball placement, giving him a career batting average of .338, the highest lifetime batting average of the latter half of the 20th century. Gwynn won eight batting titles (four of them consecutive when he was ages 34-37) and finished his career from 1982-2001 with 3,141 hits.

Wade Boggs
One of the greatest hitters in Red Sox history, which is certainly saying something, Boggs began his career in Fenway with five batting titles in his first seven years. He would go on to post a .328 lifetime batting average with 3,010 hits. He was a 12-time All Star who was so feared as a contact hitter that he led the AL in intentional walks for six consecutive seasons from 1987-1992. In his 18 Major League seasons, Boggs only batted under .300 in a season three times.

Rod Carew
Carew is one of my favorite hitters and Hall of Famers in baseball history because he's the greatest contact hitter in the history of two different franchises. From 1967-1978 with the Twins, he averaged 174 hits a season and never missed an All Star Game. With the Angels from 1979-1985, despite injuries, he posted a batting average of .314. One of the greatest hitters to never win a World Series, Carew finished his career with 18 All Star years, a .328 batting average, and 3,053 hits.

George Brett
You can't talk about the 1980s in baseball without mentioning Mike Schmidt's third baseman AL counterpart, along with Wade Boggs, of course, but Brett and Schmidt each won the MVP in 1980 and faced off in the 1980 World Series, so the two are pretty comparable. The best hitter in Royals history, Brett collected 3,154 career hits in 21 years from 1973-1993 and posted a .305 batting average during the span. That 1980 year in particular was his best, batting an astounding .390 while leading the AL in OPS (1.118). He couldn't help Kansas City vanquish the Phillies in 1980, but he did help the Royals win the franchise's first World Series five years later.

Kirby Puckett
Easily the most underrated hitter in this post, Puckett was an unstoppable force in the hitting department from 1984-1995, averaging a staggering 192 hits in his tenure with the Twins. He posted a .318 batting average that could've been better had he not retired early due to health concerns. Ironically, though, it's his walk-off home run in Game Six of the 1991 World Series that is his most memorable moment, a moment that only heightens the status of the '91 Series as one of the greatest ever.

Derek Jeter
A lot of people would say that Jeter is the best contact hitter I'm including in this post, even though I think it's Gwynn just based off of career batting average, but Jeter was the man. He's sixth all time in career hits at 3,465, while his .310 lifetime batting clip ain't too shabby, either. The reason why Jeter is so highly-regarded is his leadership of five World Series championship teams and 14 All Star appearances. He never won a batting title, but he led the AL in hits twice (in 1999 with 219 and in 2012 with 216).

Before I end this post, I'd like to give a quick shout-out to Vladimir Guerrero, who batted .318 lifetime, but wasn't included in this post because he had some pop in his bat, too. Still, though, what a batting average! Anyway, thanks for reading this post and I hope you enjoyed it. Check back soon for more of "all the buzz on what wuzz."