Sunday, September 20, 2020

Baseball for Breakfast: My New Podcast! 9/20/20

 Hey baseball fans!

Myself and two of my college friends have started a baseball podcast. It's called "Baseball for Breakfast," with new episodes releasing every Monday morning for the foreseeable future. Click here to access all our episodes so far. We're really excited for you to listen!

So, why did we start a podcast? Well, me and my friends, Brendan and Logan, love baseball, but as you could probably guess, have different opinions going across all topics relating to America's Pastime. We figured it would be quality entertainment to listen to us bicker for an hour about who knows what in the world of baseball. What you could also probably guess is that I'm the historical perspective on "Baseball for Breakfast," using my knowledge of baseball history to win arguments spanning generations of baseball fans. So, I figured for this post, I would go into greater detail about our last podcast topic from a historical point of view. If you want to hear the full episode before reading this post, click the hyperlinked words in the first paragraph of this blog post. 

So the topic of the most recent episode of "Baseball for Breakfast" was the rule changes for the 2020 season. We discussed things like the seven-inning double-headers, the universal DH, the expanded playoff format, and the hastened extra innings. For the most part, we as a trio like the changes for this season alone and don't want to see these same rule changes in future seasons. The only rule we all like for the rest of the MLB's existence is the universal DH. The designated hitter has been a position in a baseball lineup going as far back as 1973, when Ron Blomberg of the Yankees became the first DH in baseball history. The DH, solely a rule in the American League, was originally implemented because of the crazy pitching years of the late 1960s, a la Bob Gibson posting a 1.12 ERA in an absurd 1968 year for pitchers across Major League Baseball. The situation is much different today, as home runs have exploded in recent years, but the DH rule for the National League would, as I said in the podcast, homogenize the league. Baseball is the only American professional sport with a noticeable rule differentiation that alters the play between conferences. There's no four-point field goal in the NFC, nor is there s two-point foul shot in the NBA's Eastern Conference. Giving the NL the DH would stabilize lineups across the Senior Circuit and will even out claims that the NL is the "better pitching league," but only in theory. 

The only other rule change I'll go into for this post is the expanded playoff format. For the 2020 season, eight teams from each league will make the postseason, by far the most for a single postseason in MLB history. I don't like the rule going forward, but commissioner Rob Manfred has said that the expanded playoffs are here to stay, so I might as well criticize the decision. Baseball has probably the least equality among its teams out of the over 120 teams in America's four biggest sports. What I mean by that is big-market and small-market teams are much more pronounced in baseball. In addition, the MLB is the Big Four sport where the one seed is least likely to make the championship round. So, having an expanded route to the World Series would give teams that don't generally compete a chance to wreck the league's powerhouses. A perfect example of this is seeing the Marlins in the postseason picture this year. For all we know, they could win their third World Series in franchise history this year. This move would make the World Series trophy a true dogfight, which I personally don't want to see, but will try to accept when the rule change becomes permanent and official. 

Again, make sure to check out our podcast, "Baseball for Breakfast." You can get it anywhere you normally listen to podcasts. And while you're at it, let me know what you think of the 2020 MLB rule changes. Thanks for reading this post and I hope you enjoyed it. Check back soon for more of "all the buzz on what wuzz." 

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Cubbies? 9/8/20

Hey baseball fans!

From 1946-2015, the Chicago Cubs failed to win the National League pennant. We can blame their struggles on a plethora of factors, but the Cubs actually sported some great players during that span. Here are my top five Chicago Cubs Hall of Famers during their grueling World Series appearance drought. 

Honorable Mentions: Greg Maddux and Andre Dawson

The one major rule for this post is that the player has to go into the Hall as a member of the Cubs. Maddux and Dawson each won awards in the Windy City, but the Braves and Expos logos on their Hall of Fame plaques means they are disqualified from this list. 

Number Five: Ron Santo

Ron Santo was a staple at third base in Wrigley Field throughout the 1960s and early 1970s. Santo played his entire career in Chicago (his last year was with the White Sox), making nine All Star Games in his 14-year Hall of Fame career. Although his .277 batting average is subpar for Hall of Fame standards, his on-base percentage of .362 certainly isn't. In fact, Santo led the NL in walks in four seasons and regularly posted over 90 walks a season. If he wasn't hampered by the strains of Type 1 Diabetes, who knows what this Cubs legend could've additionally accomplished?

Number Four: Billy Williams

It's hard to separate Santo and Williams apart, considering their primes with the Cubs coincided almost perfectly. But Williams gets the edge in several ways, all of which have to do with his seasonal averages. From his Rookie of the Year season in 1961 to his last All Star Game in 1973, Billy Williams averaged 183 hits, 29 homers, and 98 RBIs a season. To put up that kind of consistency definitely gets a hitter on this type of list. The fact that Billy was a fan favorite only solidifies his spot at #4. 

Number Three: Ryne Sandberg

After the days of Santo, Williams, and the next two guys on my list, the Cubs needed a player to rally around. Besides Andre Dawson and Greg Maddux, that player was Ryne Sandberg. The 1984 MVP and ten-time All Star (all of them consecutive), Ryno was the typical five-tool player. Throughout his career, he had seasons with at least 180 hits, 25 home runs, 30 stolen bases, and/or 100 RBIs. He was also a a Gold Glove second baseman, winning the award nine times in nine years.

Number Two: Fergie Jenkins

The only pitcher on my list, Fergie Jenkins certainly had a career to remember in Chicago. In his twelve years with the Cubs, he posted a win-loss record of 167-132, an ERA of 3.20, and 2,038 strikeouts. For his career, the first Canadian-born Cooperstown resident and 1971 NL Cy Young recipient sits in twelfth place on the all-time strikeouts list, with 3,192 career K's.

Number One: Ernie Banks

Was it going to be anyone else? Mr. Cub was the Cubs from 1953-1971. He won back-to-back MVPs in 1958 and 1959, averaging 46 home runs for those two years. He topped 40 homers in a season three other times, finishing his career with 512 of them, currently good for 23rd on the all-time list. One of the greatest shortstops of all time, the positive attitude of Ernie Banks never failed to cast a smile on Cubs fans. As he used to say, let's play two!

Do you agree with my list? Let me know 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."

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

A Historical Perspective on Baseball's Legal Larceny 8/25/20

 Hey baseball fans!

Even in a shortened 2020 season, we are sure to see some crazy home run numbers across Major League Baseball, a trend that will only continue to pick up as we advance deeper into the 21st century. But with an emphasis on power comes the slow demise of one of baseball's most underrated and exciting statistics: the stolen base. 

Most baseball fans like to think that base-stealing was always as common as it was right before the new millennium, but that's actually incorrect. Maury Wills and Lou Brock were the first consistently excellent base-stealers, regularly crushing the rest of the league in the category throughout the 1960s. But it was "Larcenous Lou" who oversaw the true rise of the stolen base in the 1970s. In 1975, Jerry Remy of the Angels and Jose Cardenal of the Cubs tied for tenth place in baseball in steals with 34 each. In 1976, Freddie Patek of the Royals came in tenth in steals with 51 of them. From 1976-1998, there were only two seasons (besides strike-shortened ones) in which the tenth-best stealer had less than 40 steals, a phenomenon that hasn't happened in baseball since 2006 (Alfonso Soriano, 41, Nationals). What's also important to note is that from 1976-1998, four hitters made it to the 500 Home Run Club (Hall of Famers Willie McCovey, Reggie Jackson, Mike Schmidt, and Eddie Murray) but from 1999-2015, twelve hitters accomplished the feat. 

With this information, I wouldn't go as far to say that homers and stealing bases are antitheses of each other, but it is certainly fair to say that the long ball and small-ball aren't not opposites. That's why it makes sense that hitters are stealing less bases and hitting more home runs in modern baseball, but is this good? Does it make sense? Analytically, at least, yes. Hitting a home run is the quickest way to score a run in a baseball game, and sure, a team is more likely to score if there is a runner on second versus one on first, but having more players involved in a run-scoring opportunity makes a team less efficient statistically. But why is base-stealing still important? To answer that question, I'm going to drop some business vocabulary, so hold on to your briefcases. 

A competitive advantage is a proportionate advantage of one entity over another. In the business world, a company that can manufacture a product in a cheaper way than other companies has a competitive advantage in that market. That company isn't unstoppable in that market necessarily, they're just better-equipped. The same thing goes for teams with more base-stealers. As baseball moves more and more into the power department, pitchers and catchers will be trained to be less and less worried about steals. It might be purely psychological, but it'll happen. This would let base-stealers feel more comfortable on the base paths and will collect stolen bases exponentially. Based on WAR, stolen bases might still be inferior to home runs in this future speedy utopia I'm describing, but always remember Syndrome's quote from The Incredibles: "If everyone's super, no one's super." In other words, if every team is trying to win in the same way, the team that will prevail is the team that's winning differently, the team that emphasizes batting average and OBP to reach base, the team that drives pitch counts through the roof, the team with a competitive advantage.

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

Thursday, August 13, 2020

The Coors Effect 8/13/20

Hey baseball fans!

Thus far into the abridged 2020 MLB season, it seems that former and present members of the Colorado Rockies (DJ LeMahieu and Charlie Blackmon) are some of the best hitters in baseball in terms of batting average. DJ is now on the Yankees, but when he played a mile above sea level, he did, in fact, win a batting title. But why are hitters on the Rockies so good? The answer is simple, and I kind of already hinted at it when I said "a mile above sea level." That's right: it's the Coors Effect. 

Denver, Colorado is one of the highest cities in the United States and is also where the Colorado Rockies home ballpark, Coors Field, is situated. This high altitude means that balls hit within the confines of the field travel farther, due to less air density. When Coors Field opened in 1995, the builders were aware of this natural phenomenon, so the field was made with some wide dimensions. But if anything, this just keeps the caverns in between the outfielders open for business. In 2019, Coors Field had the highest park factors in terms of hits, runs, and home runs, meaning that when pitchers pitch there, the ballpark has more to do with their failures than at any other stadium. This works both for and against the Rockies, and here's how. The Rockies lineup has always been full of All Stars. LeMahieu and Blackmon are just the tips of the iceberg, because the current lineup also has hitters like Trevor Story, David Dahl, and my favorite player in baseball, Nolan Arenado. Historically, it doesn't stop there. Todd Helton was a longtime great first baseman in Denver; recently-elected Hall of Fame outfielder Larry Walker made a name for himself in a Rockies uniform; and Andres Galarraga was one of the best hitters in baseball at the turn of the millennium. 

But what about the pitching? Well, while the Rockies rank as one of the best-hitting teams in the modern era, they have had some astronomically terrible pitching seasons. Last season, the Rox ranked dead last in the National League in terms of team ERA (5.56) and have never had a seasonal ERA below 4 in the team's entire history. That's why the Rockies have never won a division title in their 28-year existence. Sure, they've been a Wild Card team a couple of times and even made a World Series in 2007 (which was a sweep by the Red Sox), but they can't keep up in the pitching department because of their ballpark. So, in order for the Rockies to win a World Series, they will have to have one of the best run-producing seasons ever to compensate for the Coors Effect. I, for one, can't wait to see Nolan Arenado hit 60 bombs on the way to the Fall Classic, if it ever happens. 

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

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!