Sunday, June 19, 2011

Box Score Stories: Two Heroes and Two Legends

The greatest website ever created is Baseball Reference. I can spend hours on that site just looking around. One of my favorite features is their collection of historic box scores. When I was growing up we didn't have cable. I had to find out scores of Red Sox games on the local news or the following morning from my father. We would get an afternoon newspaper and I would always get to it first and dive into the sports section and the box scores from the night before. Those were great days.

I started thinking about all the games I have been to in my first three decades on this earth. So many great memories and even greater was the ability to access their box scores years later. This is the first installment of the Box Score Stories series. I figured it was only fitting that I chose Father's Day to launch this new series since so many of my great childhood memories involve my father and baseball.

Weekend in New York
The very first installment will break the very first rule. This series is supposed to be stories and box scores from games I attended. I am making an exception this one time. Two of my heroes have always been and always will be my father and my late grandfather. My father grew up a die hard Willie Mays fan and I wrote about Willie and my father a few weeks ago here.

My grandfather was a fan of Ted Williams. This is perfectly logical since my grandfather and Ted were the same age, both WWII veterans and both had similar personalities. They were members of the "greatest generation" and told you what was on their mind and didn't care if you liked it or not.

I never saw Ted Williams play. I have read three books about him, watched documentaries and have stared at his page on in amazement. If I had access to a time machine I would use it to go back and watch him hit from the box seats at Fenway Park.

My father saw Ted Williams play once. It was in Yankee Stadium and my grandfather took him. Ted hit a grand slam. My father would always tell me the story and explain how it was a pop fly homer. One of those cheap Yankee Stadium homers to right field. It is scary to think if Ted would have played his whole career there.

The next day my grandfather and father went to Ebbets Field to watch a Dodger/Phillies game. I decided to look up this weekend and make it the first installment of Box Score Stories. It was 1957, late September. I wish I was there.

Saturday, September 21, 1957 Yankee Stadium

Attendance: 22,617, Time of Game: 3:13

WP: Willard Nixon (12-12)
LP:   Bob Turley (12-6)
 S:    Ike Delock (11)

Red Sox         1  6  0   0  0  1   0  0  0    8  9  2
Yankees         0  0  1   0  1  0   0  0  1    3 10  1

A big day for Ted Williams. He only had one official at bat and in that at bat he hit a grand slam. The Yankees intentionally walked him once and unintentionally walked him two other times. With the bases loaded there was no place to put him and he took Turley deep.

Mickey Mantle was near the end of another MVP season but he left this game early. I wonder if he was injured or if he had a rough night out with the boys.

Yankees with 94 wins are cruising to another pennant while the Red Sox are looking very mediocre. This was the norm for much of Ted's career. The Red Sox of the 40's were great. Johnny Pesky and Bobby Doerr were long gone by 1957 and the Red Sox would never be a threat again during Ted's tenure.

Bobby Richardson was also part of this game. Richardson is the father of Gamecock baseball. He was the first ever manager for the University of South Carolina and set the foundation for a college baseball power. I had a chance to meet Bobby two years ago. I shook his hand and explained to him that I was a die hard Red Sox fan but was also an alum of the University of South Carolina. He smiled and said "we are both Gamecocks and that's all that matters". It sure does Bobby.

I also noticed the game lasted over three hours. This was considered very long back in 1957. I guess some things never change, the Red Sox and Yankees involved in a long game.

Sunday, September 22, 1957 Ebbets Field 
Attendance: 6,662, Time of Game: 2:16
 WP: Don Drysdale (17-9)
  LP: Robin Roberts (10-22)

Phillies 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 3 8 2
Dodgers 0 1 1 1 2 0 2 0 X 7 9 1

The big story here is Duke Snider. Snider homered twice and the seventh inning blast would be his last home run ever at Ebbets Field. The Dodgers would move to Los Angeles for the 1958 season. This was a fact that my father had not realized. He was just 11 years old at the time. I am guessing my grandfather made this trip to see a Dodger game before they left Brooklyn. 

Witnessing that in person makes for a special day but there are so many other story lines for this game. Look at the pitching matchup, Robin Roberts against Don Drysdale

Roberts was 30 years old and at the end of a season in which he would have a record of 10-22. The 22 losses would lead the league and while Roberts would eventually be a Hall of Famer, he had already seen his last 20 win season.

Drysdale was just 20 years old in 1957. It was his first full season in the majors. He threw 99 innings in 1956. Drysdale used 1957 as his break out season going 17-9 with a 2.69 ERA. Drysdale would go on to win 209 games for his career that finished with a stop in Cooperstown.

Don Zimmer was also involved in this game. He was in the starting lineup which was rare for Zim. He played in just 84 games that season and batted .219. He was 21 years away from managing the 1978 Red Sox and 46 years away from being thrown to the ground by Pedro Martinez.

It was a great weekend in New York City. Legends Duke Snider and Ted Williams were on display. My two heroes were there to see it all in person. Happy Father's Day to all the fathers out there but especially to mine. It is rare for me to have a baseball memory where my father is not in some way involved. I would not have it any other way. My grandfather has been gone now for over a decade. I miss him more than ever and think about him often. It is great to have memories of a person that always make you smile. Happy Fathers Day.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Gamecocks Nation to Red Sox Nation

The Red Sox used their second pick in the MLB Draft to take Jackie Bradley Jr from the University of South Carolina. I have heard from many Red Sox fans since then voicing their concern over the Red Sox selection. They point to Bradley's 2011 numbers along with his wrist injury which appears to have ended his college career. I understand the concerns but I have been lucky enough to watch Jackie play the last three seasons. Let's break down exactly what the Red Sox organization is getting.

I brought up the concern over Bradley's 2011 numbers but let's not forget the numbers from 2009 and 2010.

2009: .349/.431/.537  11 HR  46 RBI  255 AB
2010: .368/.473/.587  13 HR  60 RBI  242 AB

2010 also concluded with a Gamecock national title in which Bradley was named MVP of the College World Series.

Coming into the 2011 season Bradley was thought of highly. So highly that when I asked around about the possibility of Bradley falling to the Red Sox in the draft I was told there was no chance. Bradley was projected to go in the top ten of the draft at the beginning of 2011.

The Virginia native is what I call a 4.5 tool player. He can hit for power, average, great glove, great range. The only thing he is lacking is the ability to be a prolific base stealer. He has 16 stolen bases in 22 attempts for his college career, not bad but not elite either so I think the 4.5 tool description of him is more than fair.

The numbers at the plate in his first two years say it all. When talking defense I leave it to Aaron Fitt of Baseball America who called Bradley the best defensive player in the nation.

The 2011 season wasn't kind to JBJ, but it wasn't without it's good moments. First, let's take a look at his numbers that are the reason for concern among Red Sox fans.

2011: .259/.361/.468  6 HR  26 RBI  139 AB

Obviously these numbers are a step down from the two previous seasons, but why?

One possible explanation is the new bats. College baseball went to new bats in 2011. These new bats are not as lively and are supposed to do a better job of simulating the results you would get when using a wooden bat.

The difference was obvious from the very first game. There was a different sound and the ball didn't jump off the bat like it had in previous seasons. There is no question that had an effect but I also remember Jackie going deep on Opening Day and it was remarkable how the ball seemed to still jump off his bat.

A few weeks later Jackie homered against the rival Clemson Tigers and it "impressed" Clemson Manager Jack Leggett so much that he had Bradley's bat confiscated. Leggett felt Bradley was getting an advantage by "heating" his bat. This led to a week long controversy between the fans of both rival schools but did drive home the point that the new bats weren't limiting Jackie's power. New bats or not, if you hit the ball on the sweet spot it will go. I think the new bats did their job in that it provided more of a gap between the great hitters and the good hitters. 

Bradley hit six homers in 139 at bats with the new bats before he was injured, a pace that would put him real close to his 12 homer a year average.

The question and concern then turns to his batting average which dropped 100 points from his previous two seasons. Ron Morris, a local Columbia, SC columnist had his take on Bradley's struggles, a column that did not sit well with Bradley. Morris may have been onto something. It certainly is possible that Bradley may have felt the pressure of being so highly touted by MLB scouts and maybe did try and do too much. That is totally understandable. Slumps happen in baseball for a variety of reasons, the tough part was that Jackie got hurt before he was able to break out of the slump, something I am confident was going to happen very soon.

As many of you know, I am a University of South Carolina alum. I played football for the Gamecocks years ago but I have always been obsessed with baseball. I arrived in Columbia in 1993 and loved the fact that big time college baseball was right outside my Roost window.

During baseball season I could be found at the Sarge. Over the years I have had several Gamecock baseball players who have made my list of favorites. Brian Buscher was one of them. I loved the way he played. He reminded me of Pete Rose Then came the 2010 season when my beloved Gamecocks won it all. It was not all that different than when the 2004 Red Sox broke the "curse" and finally became World Champions.

 Every member of that 2010 Gamecocks team will always have a special place in my baseball heart just like every member from the 2004 Red Sox. That being said, there are always a few players who really make an impression on you.

When it comes to the Red Sox, it has always been Jason Varitek for me. Varitek is one of those guys that makes you proud to be a fan of a team. Jackie Bradley Jr. is the same way for me.

First of all, JBJ is just fun to watch play. He can do it all. Talent is fun to watch but more than that Jackie plays the game the right way. He plays hard every night and he is just as fun to watch at the plate as he is running the bases or tracking down a fly ball in the gap.

Off the field, they don't come much classier than Bradley. He is a guy you point to and have pride in knowing that he is a fellow Gamecock. That is important, especially when weekly stories come out about our drunk quarterback embarrassing himself in public again and again.

I was ecstatic when the Red Sox drafted Jackie. It was bigger than a three game sweep of the Yankees in my mind. The Red Sox got a steal. Jackie's tough season is going to turn out to benefit the Red Sox. From the Gamecocks to the Red Sox, it doesn't get any better than that.

To re-live the 2010 Gamecocks run to the national title along with more stories about Jackie Bradley Jr. check out a great new book by Travis Haney called Gamecock Glory. 

Monday, June 6, 2011

Drafting a Dynasty

The MLB draft is tonight and the importance of it continues to grow. The strength of this draft is pitching and the franchise that has a chance to benefit most is the Tampa Bay Rays who have 12 picks out of the first 100  Meanwhile the Yankees do not have their first pick until #51. The Red Sox boast five picks in the first 100 thanks to not re-signing Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez. Thanks to our friends at Baseball Reference, here is a preview of the first 121 picks of the 2011 draft along with how each draft position has done historically.

Here is what the Tampa Bay Rays draft could look like based on history:

Pick 24: Terry Mulholland
Pick 31: Greg Maddux
Pick 32: Lee Lacy
Pick 38: David Wright
Pick 41: Fred Lynn
Pick 42: Dennis Leonard
Pick 52: Ralph Garr
Pick 56: Jimmy Key
Pick 59: Roger McDowell
Pick 60: Steve Garvey
Pick 75: Tino Martinez
Pick 89: Randy Johnson

That wouldn't be a bad 2011 Draft for Tampa! Obviously, those are all the best players ever drafted at each of those positions. The odds of the Rays duplicating that in one draft are slim to none but with 12 picks in the first 100 the Rays don't have to hit on all of them. If they manage to hit on 50% of them the Rays could be set up for a long time

Let's do the same now with the Boston Red Sox

Pick 19: Roger Clemens
Pick 26: Alan Trammell
Pick 36: Randy Johnson
Pick 40: Larry Gura
Pick 81: Jerry Mumphrey

I hate to pick on the Yankees, ok that is a lie, but let's take a look at what the Yankees potentially gave up by signing Rafael Soriano this past off-season against the wishes of GM Brian Cashman

Pick 31: Greg Maddux
Pick 38: David Wright

The Yankees also signed Pedro Feliciano this past offseason and by doing that their 44th pick belongs to the Mets
Pick 44: Joey Votto

Baseball does many things wrong but this is one thing they get right. Big market teams are pressured by their fan base to spend money on free agents who often time are beyond their prime. The cost is huge and the free agent rarely produces enough to justify the years and money on their new contract. The players being drafted are under the control of the franchise for several years at a minimum contract. In other words, the Rays are thankful the Yankees and Red Sox took Rafael Soriano and Carl Crawford off their hands.