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Braves’ Slugger Tony Cloninger Passes Away

August 12, 2018

Hugh Atkins

Tony Cloninger, who pitched in the National League from 1961-1972, died a couple of weeks ago. I started following baseball when the Braves moved to Atlanta in 1966, and one of my favorite baseball memories is the game on July 3 of that year when Cloninger hit two grand slams against the San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park.

Cloninger, nicknamed Top Cat because of his initials, came into that game on July 3 as a hot hitter; he was six for his last 16 with two home runs and nine runs batted in. The Braves knocked out Giants’ starting pitcher, Joe Gibbon, after only 2/3 of an inning. With two men on, Bob Priddy replaced Gibbon and promptly made things worse by walking Denis Menke. That brought Cloninger to the plate, and he hit the first of his grand slams.

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After grounding out in his second at-bat, Cloninger hit his second grand slam in the top of the fourth against Ray Sadecki, the Giants’ third pitcher of the evening. Cloninger flied out to left field in the sixth inning before topping off his magnificent night at the plate by driving in another run with a single in the eighth inning.

On the mound Cloninger labored through the 1966 season, finishing 14-11 with a 4.12 earned run average, including a 13-inning complete-game loss on Opening Day. As a hitter, he hit five home runs, drove in 23 runs, and had a .234 batting average. Such a season likely would get a starting pitcher a long-term deal for millions of dollars these days.

Cloninger first came to the big leagues in 1961 and went 7-2 for the Milwaukee Braves. He steadily improved and won 19 games in 1964. On the strength of a 24-win season in 1965, Cloninger was the starting pitcher on Opening Day in 1966, the first game in Atlanta Braves’ history. Those 24 games he won in 1965 were the most in a single season in the history of the Milwaukee Braves. Only John Smoltz, in 1996, has matched that total for the Braves since.

Injuries limited Cloninger to only 16 starts in 1967, and his record fell to 5-7 with a 5.17 E.R.A. After eight appearances in 1968 – all but one in relief – Cloninger was 1-3 with a 4.26 E.R.A., and the Braves traded him to the Cincinnati Reds along with reliever Clay Carroll and infielder Woody Woodward for pitchers Milt Pappas and Ted Davidson and infielder Bob Johnson.

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From 1968-1971, Cloninger appeared in 110 games for the Reds, made 77 starts, and had a record of 27-33 with a save and a 4.31 E.R.A. He made one start in the 1970 National League Championship Series and made a start and one relief appearance in the 1970 World Series. Cloninger hit one home run in 1968, two in 1969, and two more in 1970.

Just before the 1972 season, the Reds traded Cloninger to the St. Louis Cardinals for infielder Julian Javier.  Cloninger made 17 relief appearances for the Cards and was 0-2 with a 5.19 E.R.A. when they released him; Cloninger’s baseball career was over at age 31.

Tony Cloninger finished his career with a 113-97 record as a pitcher and 11 home runs, 67 runs batted in, and a .192 batting average at the plate. And because of one big night at the plate in July of 1966, many fans will remember him for his heroics as a hitter. He was 77 years old.

(All statistics are from baseballreference.com; game details are from retrosheet.org)

Here Comes the Judge

June 3, 2018

Hugh Atkins

Last week Aaron Judge, the talented, young outfielder of the New York Yankees, hit his 14th home run of the season. The next morning, I read on the USA Today website that Judge made history with that homer; it was the 70th for his career, and he reached that number faster than any other player in the history of baseball.

I’m not sure when Major League Baseball decided that reaching 70 home runs in a career is a major milestone. I grew up reading articles about which players were the youngest to hit 100 home runs, but I have no recollection of 70 home runs being any sort of magical or impressive number.

Magical or not, Judge’s 70th home run came in his 231st game, besting Ryan Howard, who needed 233 games to reach that mark.

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Judge hit four home runs in 27 games in 2016 and 52 in 155 games last year on the way to becoming the American League Rookie of the Year. He is an amazing talent, and we likely have seen only the beginning of what will be a career full of milestone home runs. But is he really the fastest to 70 home runs? I suppose that depends on how one defines the term “fastest.”

Judge was 26 years, 30 days old when he smacked his 70th home run. Mel Ott of the New York Giants, at 22 years, 132 days, is the youngest player to reach 100 home runs, so I figured he must have been quite a whippersnapper when he hit his 70th. In fact, Ott was only 21 years, 82 days old when he reached the mark with his ninth homer of the 1930 season, but it took him 422 games to get there. By the time Ott was 26 years, 30 days old, he already had 211 career home runs, and he finished his career in 1947 with 511.

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Tony Conigliaro of the Boston Red Sox, at 22 years, 197 days, is the youngest player in American League history to reach 100 home runs. Conigliaro was only 21 years, 168 days old when he reached 70 with his 14th homer of the 1966 season, but it took him 315 games to do it. Conigliaro had 160 homers by the time he was 26 years, 30 days old, and he missed a big part of the 1967 season and all of 1968 after getting hit in the eye with a fastball. Sadly, Conigliaro finished his career with only 166 home runs.

For a little more perspective, it took Henry Aaron, baseball’s all-time home run leader*, 437 games to hit his first 70 home runs, but Aaron was only 23 years, 78 days old when he did it. By the time he was 26 years, 30 days old, Aaron already had 179 home runs; he finished his career with 755 homers.

Then, of course, you cannot have a discussion about career home runs without considering the “Big Bambino,” “The Sultan of Swat,” Babe Ruth. Ruth began his career as a pitcher in 1914 with the Red Sox, so he got a late start toward his 714 home runs. Still, Ruth hit his 70th home run in 1920 at the age of 25 years, 140 days; by then, he was with the New York Yankees. It took Ruth 447 games to hit 70 home runs. By the time he was 26 years, 30 days old, he had 103 homers.

Judge clearly hit his first 70 home runs in the fewest numbers of games, so he got there faster than any previous player; however, he is behind the pace of many previous sluggers for career home runs at his age.

Hopefully, Judge will stay healthy and play several more years. With his first 70 home runs behind him, he needs only 684 more (he has hit two more homers since reaching 70) to become baseball’s new home run leader. And if he can hit 643 more home runs in fewer than 9,604 plate appearances, he will supplant Babe Ruth as baseball’s Home Run King.

(all statistics are from Baseball-Reference.com and retrosheet.org).

*This blog does not recognize the career totals of those players who obviously used performance-enhancing drugs.

The Old Switcheroo

January 13, 2018

Hugh Atkins

Two trades during this baseball offseason demonstrate one of the reasons I seem to be less interested in baseball these days. On December 11 of last year, the Miami Marlins traded outfielder Giancarlo Stanton to the New York Yankees for second baseman Starlin Castro and a couple of prospects. Then on December 16, the Atlanta Braves traded outfielder Matt Kemp to the Los Angeles Dodgers for pitchers Brandon McCarthy and Scott Kazmir, utility man Charlie Culberson, first baseman Adrián González, and $4.5 million.

New Marlins owner, Derek Jeter, is taking heat in south Florida for the Stanton trade. Stanton led the National League with 59 home runs and is the league’s reigning Most Valuable Player, so fans see the trade as nothing more than the salary dump it is. While it is easy to sympathize with the Marlins faithful, I think it is important to place the blame for the trade on those who are really responsible for it.

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The Marlins sewed the seeds of the Stanton trade back in 2014 when Jeffrey Loria gave Stanton a 13-year contract worth $325 million; the deal also included a no-trade clause. In a post at the time of the trade, I predicted that the Marlins eventually would regret the deal. Like I said then, Stanton is a very good player, it’s just that the contract limits the Marlins’ ability to retain any other good players. Plus, it is ludicrous to give any player a 13-year contract.

The trade of Stanton to the Yankees symbolizes one of baseball’s biggest problems. Teams from small markets cannot compete with the teams from New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and other large-market cities. The Stanton contract is still ludicrous, but the Yankees can afford to be ludicrous, while the Marlins cannot.

As with the Stanton deal, the genesis of the Kemp trade goes back a couple of seasons. This deal is actually the second phase of the Braves trying to minimize the damage of another bad trade. At the trade deadline in 2015, the Braves obtained third baseman Hector Olivera from the Dodgers and gave up, among others, left-handed pitchers Alex Wood, Luis Avilán, and infielder Jose Peraza.

Olivera was unimpressive in his brief time in Atlanta. In early 2016, Major League Baseball suspended him after his arrest for domestic violence. At the trade deadline that season, the Braves pawned off Olivera on the San Diego Padres in exchange for the Braves taking Kemp.

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Early returns on the Kemp trade looked good for the Braves. During the remainder of the 2016 season, Kemp played in 56 games for the Braves; he hit .280 with 12 home runs and 39 runs batted in. Kemp got off to a good start last season. At the end of May, he was hitting .345 with 10 home runs, and 30 RBIs; then things headed south. Kemp’s production decreased as his weight increased. He also had trouble staying in the lineup due to repeated hamstring injuries.

The Braves needed to move Kemp or Nick Markakis to make room in their outfield for their young phenom, Ronald Acuna, and given Kemp’s falling production, he was the logical choice to go. Whatever the reason for it, the details of Atlanta’s latest Kemp deal sound more like a game of three-card monte than a baseball trade. The main reason for the trade, for both teams, was to move around a lot of money and bad contracts.

To show how convoluted Kemp’s deal is, he will make $21.75 million for each of the next two seasons, with $15.75 million coming from the Braves, $3.5 million from the Dodgers, and $2.5 million from the Padres.

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This whole deal between the Braves and the Dodgers would not even have been possible without González agreeing to waive the no-trade provision in his contract; he agreed only after receiving assurances from the Braves that they would grant him his unconditional release after the trade. So, in this deal, the Braves take on an additional $22+ million for another player who will never wear their uniform.

I hate to sound old-fashioned, but I long for the days when the primary reason for a trade was an attempt for both teams to improve their chances of winning the pennant.

Hall of Fame Voting

When the Baseball Hall of Fame announces its newest members in the next few days, I expect former Brave, Chipper Jones, to make it in; this is his first year on the ballot.

Without going into any sort of analysis or justification, here are the players from the current ballot that I would pick if I had a vote:

Vladimir Guerrero

Andruw Jones

Chipper Jones

Mike Mussina

Fred McGriff

Omar Vizquel

Larry Walker

Pay Me Now or Pay Me Later

July 29, 2017

Hugh Atkins

As the non-waiver trade deadline of July 31 approaches, several teams must decide whether they will be buyers or sellers. The Atlanta Braves chose, wisely, I believe, to be sellers. They have no realistic chance of getting to the playoffs and, even if they somehow managed to defy the odds and squeak into the postseason, it is unlikely they would advance very far.

The Braves made no secret that they were open for business and they put left-handed starting pitcher, Jaime Garíca, in the showroom window. García is typical of the players that sellers dangle to general managers of teams who feel they need just one more pitcher. His salary for the remainder of the season is “only” $4.7 million. He is in the final year of his contract and will be a free agent at the end of the season; his remaining salary is not too much, especially if he helps get his team to the postseason.

As of Monday of this week, the Minnesota Twins thought they had a shot at making the playoffs, so they made a deal with the Braves to acquire García. In return, the Braves received right-handed pitching prospect, Huascar Ynoa, who, according to MLBPipeline.com, is the 22nd-best prospect in the Twins’ organization. What else did the Braves get from the Twins? Actually, the Braves also threw in backup catcher, Anthony Recker–and agreed to pay $100,000 of Recker’s remaining salary.

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At the time of the deal, García was 4-7 with a 4.30 earned run average. In his final two starts with the Braves he gave up only four runs and 11 hits in 14 innings. In his last start he pitched seven strong innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers and even hit a grand slam off the previously undefeated Alex Wood. García is a competent starting pitcher and he is left-handed. Competent starting pitchers are a hot commodity; left-handed starting pitchers who can breathe are a hotter commodity. Competent, left-handed starting pitchers are the hottest commodity. It seems to me that, given his recent performance and the looming trade deadline, García’s value was on the rise, which means the Braves could have gotten more for him had they only been a bit more patient.

Braves’ beat writers Mark Bowman and Mark Bradley were quick to point out that the Twins will pay the remainder of García’s salary, as if it were some act of charity or that this trade was a salary dump. The Twins “traded” for García, so they owe him the money. Marks Bowman and Bradley both insisted that the money the Braves are saving on García’s salary gives them the flexibility to make a move for a “controllable starting pitcher.” If future deals by the Braves hinge on freeing up $4.7 million, then there isn’t a lot of hope for the organization.

I understand the reasoning behind trading García. As I mentioned earlier, he will be a free agent at the end of the season, so, had the Braves kept him, they would not get anything in return at the end of the season. Apparently, the Braves decided to get nothing for him now rather than wait until the end of the season and get nothing for him then.

One last thing just for fun: the aforementioned grand slam by Jaime García was the first by a Braves pitcher since July 3, 1966 when Tony Cloninger hit two of them in one game against the San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park.

Freddie Freeman Returns

July 5, 2017

Hugh Atkins

The Fourth of July saw the return of Freddie Freeman to the Atlanta Braves lineup. Freeman was sidelined on May 17 with a fractured wrist courtesy of a fastball from Aaron Loup of the Toronto Blue Jays. At the time of the injury, Freeman was hitting .341 and led the National League in home runs with 14; the Braves were 16-21 on the season.

Many Braves fans, myself included, felt the loss of Freeman doomed the Braves chances for even a mediocre season. But the Braves went 24-20 during Freeman’s absence and entered play on Independence Day one game under .500 (40-41) at the season’s halfway mark. The Braves got some unexpected assistance from the St. Louis Cardinals to help them bridge the gap until Freeman’s return. Three days after the Freeman injury, the Braves traded minor league infielder Juan Yepez to the Cardinals for first baseman, Matt Adams.

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The Cardinals were having trouble finding a spot in their lineup for Adams since he only plays first base and Matt Carpenter took over that position this year. In 39 games while Freeman was out of the lineup, Adams hit .285 with 12 home runs and 32 runs batted in. While Adams isn’t the only reason the Braves played better during Freeman’s absence, he certainly exceeded expectations and it is doubtful that the Braves would be within a game of .500 without him.

Adams performed so well while Freeman was sidelined that the prospect of dropping his bat from the lineup upon Freeman’s return could not have been something that manager Brian Snitker was looking forward to. But, as I mentioned earlier, since Adams only plays first base, it appeared that he was destined to become a pinch hitter or the designated hitter when the Braves were visiting American League venues. If only the Braves could work out a position change that would allow them to keep both Freeman and Adams in the lineup at the same time.

Lo and behold a position change presented itself. Well, actually Freeman presented a position change to the Braves. He notified management that he would be willing to move across the diamond to third base in order to find a permanent spot for Adams in the lineup. So Freeman began working with coaches Ron Washington and Terry Pendleton to reacquaint himself with the hot corner, a position he hadn’t played since high school.

In his two minor league rehab starts, Freeman played third base for the Gwinnett Braves and then notified the big club that he was ready to go. In his first at bat on July 4, Freeman singled to center field and flawlessly fielded the only ball hit to him at third base. Adams went 2-4, but the Braves still lost to the Houston Astros by a score of 16-4.

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Freddie Freeman added to his reputation as the consummate team player by volunteering to move to third base. He is an established star and, in addition to swinging a powerful bat, he also is one of the best-fielding first basemen in the game. While Adams is no Dick Stuart–a first baseman whose fielding was so erratic that it earned him the nickname, Dr. Strangeglove–it must be pointed out that he also is no J.T Snow (he of the six Gold Gloves). Rookie Johan Camargo was filling in nicely at third base after the injury to Adonis Garcia, swinging a strong bat and having a real impact defensively.

I hope the Braves are not panning for fool’s gold by trying to keep Adams’ bat in the lineup. No matter what, it was nice to see a player of Freeman’s caliber put his team first.

The Opposite of Freddie Freeman

On June 14 New York Mets second baseman, Neil Walker, suffered a hamstring injury while trying to beat out a bunt against the Chicago Cubs. Walker became the latest in a long line of Mets to hit the disabled list this season. David Wright hasn’t played at all this season and Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, and Yoenis Cespedes have spent significant time on the DL. Walker’s double play partner, Asdrubal Cabrera, injured his thumb the night before Walker landed on the disabled list.

With all of their injuries, manager Terry Collins did some creative shifting of personnel. Jose Reyes moved from third base to shortstop and Wilmer Flores landed at third base; first baseman, T.J. Rivera, shifted to second base and Lucas Duda became the fulltime first baseman. With this combo, the Mets promptly lost seven of eight games.

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When Cabrera was set to return from his stint on the disabled list, Collins informed him that he would be shifting from shortstop to second base. Cabrera responded by demanding a trade, but said he’d feel better about the shift if the Mets went ahead and picked up his option for 2018.

In Cabrera’s defense, I don’t see how playing Reyes at shortstop is a good option for the Mets. Why have three players out of position when they could limit it to one by leaving Cabrera at short and moving Reyes back to third? But that’s beside the point. It’s Cabrera’s job to play the position his manager tells him to play. Collins, as manager, decides which lineup provides the best opportunity for his team to win and he suffers the criticism if his decisions don’t work out.

Cabrera moved to second base and hit well, going 14-43 while the Mets won seven of their next 11 games. He improved his average from .244 at the time of his injury to .260. He even reevaluated his stance on the trade, saying he’s good with staying in New York from now on. Even though Cabrera has played well since moving to second base, he can’t just undemand to be traded and hope everyone forgets he wanted out. The damage is done; his reputation as a selfish player is too well established.

It will take a Herculean effort from both the Braves and the Mets for either of them to catch the Washington Nationals; heck, it will take a similar effort for either of them to secure the last Wild Card spot in the National League. But win, lose, or draw, Freddie Freeman volunteered to change positions to keep a potent bat in the lineup while Asdrubal Cabrera demanded a trade if he had to move from shortstop to second base.

Time will tell whether either of these moves really made sense, but one thing is not up for debate. Only one of these players put his team first and that player was not Asdrubal Cabrera.

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What’s the Hurry, Fella?

March 8, 2017
Hugh Atkins

Hugh Atkins

In 1974, Charles O. Finley, maverick owner of the Oakland Athletics, decided to sign Herb Washington to serve solely as a pinch runner.

At Michigan State, Washington set world indoor records in the 50- and 60-yard dash, was a NCAA champion, a repeat All-American, and a seven-time Big Ten titlist but he hadn’t played baseball since he was a junior in high school.

Washington appeared in 92 games in 1974, stole 29 bases, and scored 29 runs; he was caught stealing 16 times. A player who could do nothing but pinch run forced manager Alvin Dark to burn three players each time he used him. Obviously, the player for whom Washington ran was out of the game and, since Washington did not play a defensive position, Dark had to use another player to replace him once the Athletics returned to the field.

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© T.C.G.

Washington was on the Athletics 1974 postseason roster and appeared in two games in the American League Championship Series against the Baltimore Orioles; he attempted two steals and was caught both times.

Unfortunately, Washington’s defining moment may have come in Game Two of the 1974 World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Sent in to pinch run for Joe Rudi in the ninth inning of a 3-2 game, Mike Marshall picked off Washington to snuff out an Athletics’ comeback. Washington appeared in two more games in the Series but he did not steal a base or score a run.

After appearing in just 13 games early in the 1975 season, the experiment with the designated pinch runner ended and the Athletics released Washington. Even Charlie O. realized that it just didn’t make sense to carry a player of such limited use on the roster.

Herb Washington finished his career with 31 stolen bases and 33 runs scored; he never batted and he never played the field.

Just Put Him On

In an effort to speed up the game, Major League Baseball decided to change the procedure for issuing intentional walks. No longer will the catcher stand with his arm fully extended at shoulder height and parallel to the ground to indicate that the pitcher will be tossing the next pitch wide of the plate in order to purposely walk the current batter. Starting this season, the manager merely has to signal from the dugout that he wants an intentional walk.

As changes to the game go, this really isn’t any big deal. It’s not as if Major League Baseball is suggesting that there be a designated pinch hitter to bat in place of the pitcher for the entire game, or that the All-Star Game should determine which league gets home-field advantage in the World Series, or even that teams from different leagues should play games against each other during the regular season.

Baseball purists do not like the new rule for intentional walks. They cite odd plays resulting from wild pitches during intentional walks or the fewer-than-occasional times that batters have reached out and hit a pitch during an intentional walk as reasons for not allowing the manager to merely wave a batter down to first base without any pitches having been thrown.

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One of the best-know intentional walks that went awry occurred in Game 3 of the 1972 World Series.  The Cincinnati Reds were leading the Athletics 1-0 in the top of the eighth inning. The Reds were threatening to increase their lead; they had runners at second and third base with one out and Johnny Bench was at the plate.

Oakland manager, Dick Williams, went to the mound to discuss the situation with pitcher Rollie Fingers and catcher Gene Tenace. Despite the fact that Bench already had two strikes on him, Tenace returned to his position behind the plate and extended his right arm out to his side to indicate that Oakland was going to put Bench on and load the bases. As Fingers went into his windup, Tenace went into his crouch, and instead of soft tossing an intentionally-wide pitch, Fingers delivered a nasty slider that caught the outside corner of the plate for strike three.

These types of plays do not occur often enough to use them as a valid argument against changing the rules for issuing intentional walks. But pitchers also don’t issue enough intentional walks for this new rule to have a significant impact on the total time of the average game. Last season, in 4,856 games, batters went to the plate 184,580 times. Out of all of those plate appearances, pitchers issued only 932 intentional walks—that’s one half of one percent (0.5%) of the total plate appearances. Even if each intentional walk under this new format takes a few seconds off the time of a game, these statistics indicate that this rule change will have virtually no effect on the overall average length of a game.

I really don’t care for any of the other suggestions for shortening the time of a game. I like the idea of telling batters to stay in the batter’s box between pitches and having the pitchers stop fiddling around between pitches. But I don’t think baseball needs a clock to implement those changes.

Another proposal would have extra innings begin with a runner placed at second base. While such a rule might create a roster spot for the next Herb Washington, this proposal is so bad it doesn’t even deserve serious consideration.

It’s the Pitching Changes, Stupid

If MLB officials really want to know why games are lasting longer than they used to, all they need do is look at the team rosters. Every team now carries at least 12 pitchers because late in the game the managers want a left-handed specialist, a set-up man, and a closer. I read somewhere that the Atlanta Braves are considering carrying 13 pitchers this season. It is insane for a team to have more pitchers than position players on their roster.

If a manager has that many pitchers at his disposal, he is going to use them. Whenever a left-handed hitter comes to the plate after the sixth inning, the opposing manager likes to slowly walk out to the mound, paw around in the dirt for a minute, pass the time of day with the entire infield, and wait for the plate umpire to drag out to the mound before finally signaling a left-handed pitcher into the game. If the next hitter is right-handed, whether or not the left-handed pitcher retired the left-handed hitter, the manager again slowly walks out to the mound, paws around in the dirt for a minute, passes the time of day with the entire infield, and waits for the plate umpire to drag out to the mound before finally signaling a right-handed pitcher into the game.

I am not in favor of limiting the number of visits a manager or coach can make to the pitcher’s mound and I certainly do not want MLB to impose a limit on the number of pitching changes a team can make in a game. Rule changes are not the cure for this insanity. For goodness sake, let a big league pitcher try to retire two batters in a row late in the game every now and then. That will do more to speed up the game than a manager waving a batter to first on an intentional walk.

Besides, it is just plain nonsense for teams to spend millions of dollars each year on pitchers who aren’t expected to throw more than a handful of pitches each time they enter a game. These guys are the Herb Washingtons of today’s game.

(Source material for this post: baseball-reference.com, retrosheet.org and msuspartans.com)

All is Well in the Windy City

November 9, 2016
Hugh Atkins

Hugh Atkins

The Chicago Cubs outlasted the Cleveland Indians in extra innings of Game 7 of the World Series and ended more than a lifetime of frustration for their fans. For the first time since 1908, the Cubs are World Champions. As this Series demonstrated, sometimes there is a very thin line between winning and losing; between celebrating championships and enduring long, cold winters; between Grady Little and Joe Maddon.

In the 2003 American League Championship Series, the Boston Red Sox were leading the New York Yankees 5-2 going into the bottom of the eighth inning of Game 7 with their ace, Pedro Martinez, on mound. The Red Sox were trying to get to the World Series for the first time since Bill Buckner broke their hearts in 1986 and they had not won the World Series since 1918.

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© T.C.G.

After Nick Johnson popped out to start the inning, Derek Jeter doubled. Boston manager, Grady Little, did not panic; he stayed with his ace, which was understandable. A single by Bernie Williams made it a two-run game and Little stayed with Martinez. A double by Hideki Matsui put the tying runs in scoring position; Little stayed with Martinez. Finally, after Jorge Posada doubled to tie the score, Little decided that Martinez was finished.

The game remained tied until Aaron Boone ended it with a home run off Tim Wakefield in the 11th inning. Boston fans were devastated and Little never managed another game for the Red Sox.

Joe Maddon may be riding high, but the only difference between Grady Little and Joe Maddon is that Maddon got away with his questionable management of the pitching staff.

Maddon’s mismanagement of the bullpen actually goes back to Game 6 of the Series. The Cubs were firing on all eight cylinders and led the Indians 7-2 going into the bottom of the seventh inning. Mike Montgomery was pitching for the Cubs and he issued a one-out walk and a two-out single to put runners at first and second. Maddon brought in his closer, the flame-throwing lefty, Aroldis Chapman.

It seemed perplexing that Maddon decided to use Chapman in such a situation. Even if Maddon had left Montgomery in, or had gone to another reliever, and Francisco Lindor had hit a three-run homer, the Cubs still would have been up by two runs. Maddon then could have used Chapman if he felt the need.

Even with the five-run lead preserved, Chapman was right back out on the mound for the eighth inning. He got a strikeout and then gave up a single, but a double play quickly erased the threat. Even though the Cubs tacked on two more runs in the top of the ninth to expand their lead to seven, Maddon trotted Chapman back out to the mound to start the ninth inning; he walked the leadoff batter before departing.

Chapman pitched 2 2/3 innings, his longest outing of the season, on Sunday, October 30. With the travel day on Monday and the blowout on Tuesday, Maddon could have had a well-rested Chapman to call upon early in Game 7. If the Indians had indeed made a game of it, Maddon then always could have gone to Chapman.

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© T.C.G.

In his postgame press conference on ESPN, Maddon defended his decision to go with Chapman. “I thought the game could have been lost right there if we did not take care of it properly,” Maddon said. The game could have been lost right there? So there was a chance that Lindor was going to hit a six-run homer off Montgomery?

The Cubs took command of Game 7 and were up 6-3 with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning with their ace, Jon Lester, on the mound pitching in relief. (I actually think Maddon lifted starter, Kyle Hendricks, too soon, but that’s another debate.) This is where things got a little dicey. After Jose Ramirez singled, Maddon decided to bring in Chapman.

Brandon Guyer greeted Chapman with a ringing double, Ramirez scored, and it was a two-run game. Then Rajai Davis hit a laser into the left-field stands and, just like that, the game was tied. Cubs fans could be forgiven if thoughts of, “Here we go again” suddenly danced in their heads.

Chapman gave up another hit before striking out Yan Gomes to end the inning. After the Cubs failed to score in the top of the ninth, Chapman retired the Indians in order in their half of the inning.

The Cubs waited out the rain and pulled out a win in extra innings, so all’s well that ends well. I don’t think the Cubs would have fired Maddon if the Indians had won the World Series. And I don’t think the Red Sox would have fired Grady Little had the Red Sox lost even if he had taken Pedro Martinez out of the game after Derek Jeter’s double.

Managers these days are expected to go to the bullpen at the first hint of the first sign of the first glimmer of trouble. Grady Little thumbed his nose at that philosophy and it cost him his job. Joe Maddon painted himself into a corner and lived to tell the tale.

Jason Heyward Saves the Day?

The morning after the Cubs won the World Series, Nancy Armour had an article in USA Today entitled “Jason Heyward’s speech spurs Cubs during Game 7 rain delay.” The article says that Heyward called his teammates together in a cramped weight room, gave them a pep talk, and told them to get back out there and win just one for the Gipper. Not really, but the article made it sound as if, without Heyward’s speech, the Cubs may not have won the World Series.

© T.C.G.

© T.C.G.

I like Jason Heyward. I met him once during an Atlanta Braves Caravan during the off-season just before his rookie year. He was very polite, well mannered, and well spoken. He hit a home run in his first big-league at bat for the Braves and he is the best defensive outfielder in baseball today. Even though he failed to live up to his early promise while with Atlanta, I hated to see him go when the Braves traded him to St. Louis.

Heyward struggled all season long in the first year of his eight-year, $184 million contract; he hit just .230 with seven home runs and 49 runs batted. He was worse in the World Series, hitting just .150. I don’t believe a pep talk from Heyward made any difference in the outcome of the Series. To believe otherwise would mean that a bunch of professional athletes who won 103 regular-season games, took care of the San Francisco Giants in the National League Division Series and the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series, and battled back from a 3-1 deficit in the World Series needed a pep talk from their least productive player to get over the top.

It makes for a good story, and maybe the Cubs feel better about the first $23 million they paid Heyward, but I’m just not buying it.

(Statistics are from baseball-reference.com; game details are from retrosheet.org)

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