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Putting in the Clutch at the All-Star Break PDF Print E-mail
Rotisserie Duck
Written by Don Drooker   
Friday, 24 July 2015 00:00
The definition of "clutch" seems to be somewhat elusive for many people. The slang dictionary describes it as "the ability to deliver when peak performance is needed" and your imagination can take that beyond the realm of sports. The urban dictionary concurs by saying, "the ability to perform well on a certain activity at a particular moment, despite external pressures, influences or distractions." Of course, the term also has a tendency to fit other circumstances such as, "you are really craving a beer...you go to the fridge and there's one left...so clutch."

For longtime baseball fans, clutch has always been linked with RBI's. After all, don't the leaders in that statistical category come through in the clutch? The answer, of course, is never that easy. The folks who study baseball statistics have known since the 70's that raw stats can be misleading. Batting in runs is a very important factor in a player's success but that outcome is influenced greatly by where he hits in the lineup, whether he has protection in that lineup and, more importantly, how many runners were on base when he came to the plate. To this end, baseballmusings.com gives you the historical data to determine "RBI Percentage." It is a result of a player's (RBI - HR) / Runners On, or in simplistic terms, what percentage of baserunners did a player drive in during the season. In 2014, the stat told us that Miguel Cabrera (22.5%) was the best clutch hitter in baseball and only three hitters had a number over 20%. The other two were Ryan Braun and Devin Mesoraco.

So, as the All-Star Break comes and goes, let's look at the best (and worst) clutch hitters in the game. The statistical information is as of July 13th and includes players who had at least 100+ runners on base when they came to the plate.

1) Carlos Gomez 23.9% - Some fantasy pundits seem to think he's had a disappointing season and mainstream writers keep talking about him being traded. This GM doesn't buy it.

2) Paul Goldschmidt 22.0% - If he was playing in a major media market, he'd be crowned as the best player in the game.

3) Troy Tulowitzki 21.2% - Healthy so far. Fantasy owners are always holding their breath.

4) Andrew McCutchen 21.2% - Last year's MVP started slowly, but he's been clutch for the Buccos.

5) Ryan Braun 20.9% - Consistently clutch since his return from PED's.

6) Nolan Arenado 20.8% - Only in his third season, this youngster has a bright future.

7) Cameron Maybin 20.2% - The Braves appear to have gotten a steal (actually, 15 of them so far) and he's still under contract for 2016.

8) Kendrys Morales 20.2% - Less money and more production than Billy Butler.

9T) Stephen Vogt 20.0% - Makes all us "husky" guys feel better about ourselves.

9T) Michael Taylor 20.0% - Has provided much-needed depth for the Nats.

9T - Devon Travis 20.0% - Very nice overall performance by a rookie.

9T) Alcides Escobar 20.0% - Maybe the All-Star selection wasn't as fluky as it seems.

Bryce Harper and Mike Trout have the best WAR (Wins Above Replacement) numbers this season, but both are right around 15% in the clutch category. When it comes to everyday players, the bottom of the barrel looks like this.

> Marcus Semien 5.9% - Hitting .257 overall.

> Mike Zunino 6.0% - With a .162 BA, you can't expect much.

> Cody Asche 6.1% - The fact that he's an everyday player tells you all you need to know about the Phillies.

There are also some significant surprises on this year's list.

> Ian Desmond 8.0% - This is someone playing for a big, free-agent contract in 2016. Some athletes embrace pressure, others can't handle it.

> Adrian Beltre 8.4% - Every year, we're amazed at the consistency of this veteran. His OPS in 2015 is almost 200 points less than last year.

> Yasiel Puig 9.0% - Only 24, but this isn't the performance level of a star player.

For those of us from a certain generation, it would have been nice if Carlos Gonzalez had made the list because it would have brought back memories of "Clutch Cargo."
 
Defining Moments PDF Print E-mail
Rotisserie Duck
Written by Don Drooker   
Friday, 17 July 2015 00:00

If you've been a baseball fan for decades, there are dozens of mental snapshots available to you at any given time. Some were taken in person and many others have accumulated through watching live games on TV, viewing archival footage or enjoying sports-related docudrama. These collective moments give you a personal history of the game beyond the written word but even the prose of the sport creates images of players you may have never seen. This concept leads each of us to have differing "defining moments" in the game.

Excuse the pun, but everyone has their own definition of a defining moment. If you feel that Ted Williams hitting a home run in his last at-bat or Pete Rose passing Ty Cobb on the all-time hit list or Willie Mays making that catch in the World Series or Derek Jeter hitting a home run for his 3,000th hit were defining moments, you and I are already in disagreement. To me, those players were so great that any one moment can't define their career. It is, however, a very fine line because there will be Hall of Fame players who actually have a defining moment and it might cause an ongoing debate about the term. For the Old Duck, the criteria is simple. When you hear a player's name, is there any doubt about what moment you remember? For example, actor Omar Sharif passed away last week at age 83. In 1965, he starred as the title character in the David Lean classic "Dr. Zhivago" and it is that role he is most remembered for playing. The average person can't name two of his films from the last 50 years.

The specter of an additional pun looms when I say that what is presented here in certainly not a definitive list. It is only one person's reflections from his own snapshots and hopefully, you will add many of your own that we can discuss in the future.

> Fred Merkle (1908) - In the September pennant chase, Giants baserunner Merkle was belatedly called out after failing to touch second base after a teammate crossed home plate with what would have been the winning run. The Cubs ended up taking the pennant when the game was replayed in October. Even though his career lasted until 1926, still to this day, his nickname is "Bonehead."

> Carl Hubbell (1934) - A Hall of Fame pitcher for the Giants, "King Carl" is revered for his performance in the All-Star Game at the Polo Grounds on July 10th. Utilizing his famous screwball, Hubbell struck out five Hall of Fame AL batters in succession...Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin.

> Johnny Vander Meer (1938) - The Reds pitcher no-hit the Dodgers 6-0 after no-hitting the Boston Bees four days earlier. No other major league hurler has ever accomplished this feat.

> Lou Gehrig (1939) - Despite having one of the great careers in the history of the game, this defining moment came after his playing days were over. On July 4th at Yankee Stadium, the terminally ill "Iron Horse" told the crowd that "Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth."

> Mickey Owen (1941) - In the World Series, the Dodgers are leading the fourth game with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning when Owen, the catcher, lets a third strike get past him and the Yankees go on to win the game and the Series.

> Joe Nuxhall (1944) - Not yet 16 years old, the Reds left-handed pitcher makes the first appearance of what would be a 16-year career. It was eight years before he pitched in the big leagues again.

> Jackie Robinson (1947) - On April 15th, he starts at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers and becomes the first player of color in the Major Leagues.

> Eddie Gaedel (1951) - The St. Louis Browns sent the 3'7" pinch-hitter to the plate wearing uniform number 1/8. He walked on four pitches and was replaced by a pinch-runner.

> Bobby Thomson (1951) - "The shot heard 'round the world" was a home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the Giants the NL pennant over the Dodgers.

> Johnny Podres (1955) - Ending decades of frustration for Dodger fans, he shut out the Yankees 2-0 in Game 7 of the World Series.

> Don Larsen (1956) - In Game 5 of the World Series, this Yankee hurler pitched the only perfect game in postseason history when he retired 27 consecutive Dodger batters.

> Harvey Haddix (1959) - This Pirate hurler pitched 12 perfect innings but lost the game to the Braves in the 13th inning.

> Bill Mazeroski (1960) - The Pirates second baseman hits a walk-off home run in Game 7 of the World Series to defeat the Yankees.

> Roger Maris (1961) - A good, but not great player overcame the intense pressure and the insult of the Commissioner to break Babe Ruth's record with his 61st home run on October 1st. Holy Cow!

> Tony Cloninger (1966) - This Braves pitcher beat the Giants 17-3 on July 3rd. He also hit two grand slams and had nine RBI.

> Al Downing (1974) - He won 123 games in a 17-year career, but on April 8th, he gave up Hank Aaron's 715th home run.

> Carlton Fisk (1975) - Another Hall of Fame player, he will always be remembered for guiding his home run off the foul pole in the 12th inning to beat the Reds in Game 6 of the World Series.

> Len Barker (1981) - This Indians hurler threw 84 of his 103 pitches for strikes and pitched a perfect game against the Blue Jays. He recorded 11 strikeouts and they were all swinging.

> Bill Buckner (1986) - Despite a career in which he had over 2,700 hits, all that is remembered is the error he made in Game 6 of the World Series that doomed the Red Sox and opened the door for the Mets to become world champions.

> Kirk Gibson (1988) - His ninth inning walk-off (or was it limp-off) home run in Game 1 of the World Series propelled the Dodgers to defeat the Athletics in five games. It was his only at-bat in the Series.

> Joe Carter (1993) - The Blue Jays outfielder hit a series-ending three-run homer to beat the Phillies and secure Toronto's second consecutive title.

> Edgar Renteria (1997) - Another walk-off World Series winner, his 11th inning single won Game 7 for the Marlins against the Indians.

> Kerry Wood (1998) - This rookie pitcher for the Cubs struck out 20 Astros while pitching a one-hitter. It was his fifth major league start.

> Luis Gonzalez (2001) - His bloop single over the Yankees drawn-in infield in Game 7 gave the Diamondbacks the World Series title.

> Aaron Boone (2003) - A walk-off home run in the 11th inning of Game 7 gave the Yankees the AL Pennant over the Red Sox.

> Dave Roberts (2004) - As a pinch-runner, he steals second base and eventually scores the tying run for the Red Sox, who go on to beat the Yankees in extra innings in Game 4 of the ALCS and come back from a 3-0 series deficit to win the pennant.

That takes us to about a decade ago and many current players still have their defining moment to come. Which of your memories did we leave out? How about names like Bucky Dent, Ray Fosse, Jack Morris, Fernando Tatis, Rennie Stennett, Vic Wertz, Cookie Lavagetto or Enos Slaughter? I'm guessing some of those snapshots are in your mental camera.

Just for the record, on the Sharif question, if you said "Lawrence of Arabia", it doesn't count. That movie was prior to Zhivago. And it is Peter O'Toole's defining moment.

 
Baseball Fathers & Sons - Part Deux PDF Print E-mail
Rotisserie Duck
Written by Don Drooker   
Friday, 10 July 2015 00:00

In last month's MLB Draft, the sons of Mariano Rivera, Kirk Gibson, Craig Biggio, Roger Clemens and Mike Matheny were among the players chosen. In our last visit, we talked about current major leaguers with obscure family lineage and also touched on some family ties of players from the 50's and 60's.

On this visit, we'll move up the timetable to the 70's and 80's and while you'll probably recall most of the players from that era, remembering their dads might be a little more difficult.

> Buddy Bell, Indians and Rangers 3B (1972-89) - Gus Bell was a very productive outfielder in the 50's and 60's with over 200 home runs and 1,800 hits.

> Bob Boone, Phillies and Angels C (1972-90) - Ray Boone was an AL third baseman from 1948-60, made two All-Star teams and led the league with 116 RBI in 1955.

> Jim Campanis, Dodgers C (1966-70) - Al Campanis only had 20 at-bats for the Dodgers in 1943 but was the Scouting Director for the team from 1960-68 and the GM from 1969-87.

> Joe Coleman, Tigers P (1965-79) - The dad, also named Joe, pitched in the AL as a rookie in 1942, then again after World War II from 1946-55. He made the All-Star team in '48.

> Terry Francona, Expos OF (1981-90) - Tito Francona was a major league outfielder from 1956-70 and made the All-Star team as a member of the Indians in '61.

> Jerry Hairston Sr., White Sox OF (1973-89) - Sam Hairston was a catcher in the Negro Leagues from 1945-48 and played four games for the White Sox in 1951. His lifetime BA was .400 (2-for-5).

> Terry Kennedy, Padres C (1978-91) - Bob Kennedy was another big-leaguer who missed three years during the War. A 3B/OF, he played from 1939-1957.

> Matt Keough, A's P (1977-86) - Marty Keough was a major league outfielder from 1956-66 and still works in the game as a scout.

> Hal Lanier, Giants IF (1964-73) - Max Lanier pitched in the big leagues from 1938-53, mostly with the Cardinals.

> Vance Law, Expos IF (1980-89) - Vern Law pitched exclusively for the Pirates from 1950-67 and missed two seasons while in the military during the Korean War. He won the Cy Young award in 1960 when the Bucs won the World Series.

> Mel Queen, Reds and Angels P (1966-72) - The older Mel Queen pitched in the big leagues from 1942-52. The dad's lifetime ERA was 5.09. The son's was 3.14.

> Dick Schofield, Angels SS (1983-96) - The father, also named Dick, was a major league infielder from 1953-71 and long before NCIS, his nickname was "Ducky".

> Joel Skinner, White Sox, Yankees and Indians C (1983-91) - Bob Skinner roamed NL outfields from 1954-66 and had his best season for the champion Pirates in '60.

> Steve Trout, White Sox and Cubs P (1978-89) - Paul "Dizzy" Trout was a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher for the Tigers and his career spanned from 1939-52. He won 27 games in 1944.

> Mike Hegan, AL 1B and OF (1964-77) - Jim Hegan was a major league catcher for 17 seasons starting in 1941 and missed three full years during World War II. He made five All-Star teams in the late 40's and early 50's.

Die-hard fans also know that a few of the father-son combinations on our list also represented three generations of major leaguers. Buddy Bell's sons, David and Mike, appeared in the major leagues. Bob Boone's sons, Bret and Aaron, had productive careers. The third Coleman pitcher was Casey, who broke in with the Cubs in 2010. Jerry Hairston had Jerry Jr. and Scott become big league players.

Maybe we'll get to see Mariano Rivera Jr. pitch for the Nationals someday. Keep your eye on the bullpen.

Last Updated on Friday, 10 July 2015 00:47
 
Father, Father There's So Many Trying PDF Print E-mail
Rotisserie Duck
Written by Don Drooker   
Friday, 03 July 2015 00:00
With the emergence of the first Triple Crown winning thoroughbred in 37 years, the term "bloodlines" has been showing up on sports pages with regularity. Interestingly, during the same timeframe, MLB's 2015 amateur draft included 34 players who are the sons of former major league players.  

The reasons for teams selecting these players are certainly varied. As Mark Kram Jr. points out in a recent Sports Illustrated piece, having a gene pool heritage that includes major league talent is a factor, but it also helps that the youngster probably had a higher level of instruction and grew up within the proximity of pro sports. The history of the game has a few players who eclipsed the accomplishments of the father such as Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr., Roberto Alomar and Prince Fielder. More often than not, however, the son ended up as an afterthought, like Pete Rose Jr., Dale Berra, Tony Gwynn Jr., Kyle Drabek, Eduardo Perez and Bump Wills.  

For today's visit, we'll look at some obscure facts surrounding this phenomenon. First, a list of current major leaguers who are sons of former ballplayers, but not the obvious ones like Scott and Andy Van Slyke or Dee and Tom Gordon. These will be connections even a trivia expert might find challenging.

> Peter Bourjos, Cardinals OF - Chris Bourjos had five hits in 22 at-bats and one home run for the Giants in 1980...he is also the nephew of Otto Denning, who played two seasons with the Indians in 1942-43.

> Michael Brantley, Indians OF - Mickey Brantley played with the Mariners from 1986-89 and hit .259 with 32 lifetime home runs.

> Robinson Cano, Mariners 2B - Jose Cano was a pitcher who appeared in six games with the Astros in 1989...he had a record of 1-1.

> C.J. Cron, Angels 1B - Chris Cron had 25 major league at-bats for the White Sox in 1991 and 1992...he accumulated two hits for a lifetime BA of .080. He is also the cousin of former big league outfielder Chad Moeller.

> Jason Grilli, Braves P - Steve Grilli pitched for the Tigers from 1975-77 with a lifetime record of 4-3...he also had three saves and a 4.51 ERA.

> Chris Johnson, Braves 3B - Ron Johnson was in the Majors from 1982-84 but only had 46 lifetime at-bats with zero homers and two RBI.

> Joc Pederson, Dodgers OF - Stu Pederson was also a Dodger...in 1985, he went 0-for-4 in eight games and never played in the big leagues again.

> Neil Walker, Pirates 2B - Tom Walker was a big league pitcher from 1972-77 with a lifetime record of 18-23. He is the brother-in-law of Chip Lang (Expos P, 1975-76) and father-in-law of current Marlin Don Kelly.

Not to leave the Baby Boomers out, here are a few familiar names from the 1950's and 60's...the question is, did you know about their fathers?

> Tom Tresh, Yankees IF (1961-69) - Mike Tresh was a catcher for the White Sox in the 1930's and 40's and hit .249 with only two home runs in over 3,000 at-bats.

> Ray Narleski, Indians P (1954-59) - Bill Narleski was a Red Sox infielder in 1929 and 1930...he hit .265 in 358 at-bats with zero home runs.

> Don Mueller, Giants OF (1948-59) - Walter Mueller played in the outfield for the Pirates in the mid-1920's...he hit .275 with two homers in 345 at-bats.

> Doug Camilli, Dodgers C (1960-67) - Dolph Camilli had a very productive career as a first baseman with the Phillies and Dodgers in the 30's and 40's...won the NL MVP in 1941.

> Fritz Brickell, Yankees IF (1958-61) - Fred Brickell was an outfielder for the Pirates and Phillies in the 1920's and 30's...hit .281 over eight seasons. They are not related to Edie Brickell and therefore are not connected to Paul Simon.

> Earl Averill, Angels C (1956-63) - The dad, also named Earl, was an outstanding centerfielder for the Indians in the 1930's...led the AL in Hits and Triples in 1936. His nickname was "The Earl of Snohomish."

In a future visit, we'll look at the baseball lineage of players you remember from the 70's and 80's.
Last Updated on Thursday, 02 July 2015 23:17
 
This Ethan Allen Made Memories, Not Furniture PDF Print E-mail
Rotisserie Duck
Written by Don Drooker   
Friday, 26 June 2015 00:00

In a couple of weeks, the Old Duck will make a presentation to our local community sports interest group about Fantasy Baseball. As most of the attendees will be from the Baby Boomer generation, they'll need to be reminded that young baseball fans have always played some sort of game that simulated our national pastime.

In ancient times, before personal computers and the Internet, board games were an important part of American culture. As youngsters in the 50's and 60's, we had a number of choices when it came to baseball-themed games and each one has its aficionados. American Professional Baseball Association (APBA) was first introduced in 1951. Created by Dick Seitz, it was played with dice and player cards representing both hitting and pitching statistics. The game caught on immediately and allowed fans to pass time during the off-season. As Seitz refined the game, it continued to gain popularity and is still sold today. And now, the game is offered in baseball, football, golf, hockey and soccer.

During the same era, Hal Richman was also developing a baseball simulation game and Strat-O-Matic was introduced in 1961. While it took a little longer to catch on (Richman had to borrow money from his father in the 3rd year), the game survived and now has a cult following and is updated each year with current players.

The game that took me and my friends away from our homework was called All-Star Baseball and it has a long and interesting history. First distributed in 1941, it was never as intricate as APBA or Strat-O-Matic and didn't include pitching stats, but for the target audience of 9-12 year-old boys, it was the most fun we could have while also learning the history of the game.

Ethan Allen was a major league outfielder from 1926-1938 and had a lifetime batting average of .300. He later was the head baseball coach for Yale University, winning five Ivy League championships in his 23 years at the school. For Allen, however, all of these accomplishments pale in comparison to his creation of this famous board game. The key to the game were player disks where the individual player's statistics were represented. Power hitters would have a larger home run area while contact hitters were more likely to hit singles, so when you placed the disk in the game's slot and spun the dial, the outcome of each at-bat would be based in reality. Youngsters would put teams together and then by making up a batting order of the disks, play out a nine-inning game to determine the winner. Results of each play are recorded on the field using plastic pegs for base runners, while runs and outs are posted on a rotating scoreboard.

To understand the genesis of the game, here's Allen's recollection in a 1983 interview with The Sporting News - "I had this idea, even when I was playing, that you could put a man's playing record on a disk. While I was with the Cubs in 1936, I went to various manufacturers with the hope of selling the idea to them as a game, only to have most of them practically kick me out of their offices."

The moment of truth happened when Allen approached a Chicago company called Cadaco-Ellis in 1940. Donald Mazer was the principal owner and had marketed other sports board games such as "Elmer Layden's Scientific Football", "Touchdown" and "All-American Football'. Mazer made a quick decision to add All-Star Baseball to the company's products and 40 star players of the day were included in the 1941 edition. The following year, 19 of them returned and the rest were replaced by other stars, and that's the way it worked for the next 50 years.

For an old codger, the memories of playing this wonderful game as an 11-year-old come rushing back. Other than the recollection of putting a band-aid on my index finger to alleviate the pain from hours of hitting the metal spinner, the clearest memory is the disks and the players they represented. By the 50's, the game had evolved and not only had disks of current stars like Ted Williams, Duke Snider and Hank Aaron, it also had added legendary Hall-of-Famers. We didn't need a baseball encyclopedia when we could look at the disk and understand the player's statistical attributes. Some of the players who would occasionally be in the lineup included Ty Cobb, Eddie Collins, Bill Dickey, Lou Gehrig, Rogers Hornsby, Walter Johnson, Mel Ott, Babe Ruth, Tris Speaker, Pie Traynor and Honus Wagner.

You see, some of us were playing Fantasy Baseball before Fantasy Baseball was cool.

 
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