Tag Archive | "Baseball History"

Stolen Base Champion Passes Away

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Stolen Base Champion Passes Away

Posted on 21 February 2013 by Bill Ivie

Pop quiz: Who holds the record for most stolen bases in a professional baseball season, ranks second among all professional base stealers, and averaged 150 stolen bases a season?

If you answered Rickey Henderson, you couldn’t be more wrong.

Her name is Sophie Kurys (pronounced “curries”).  A young woman from Flint, Michigan, she was a founding member of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League and a second baseman for the Racine Belles.

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Kurys signed her first contract, for $50 a week, one day shy of her 18th birthday.

Kurys would play for eight seasons for the Belles, including rejoining them a year after they left Racine and moved to Battle Creek.  Her best season would come in 1946 when she was named player of the year after gathering 215 hits and stealing 201 bases in 203 attempts, a professional record that still stands today.  She would hit .286 that season with a .434 on base percentage, score 117 runs, walk 93 times and collect a .973 fielding percentage, leading the league in each category.  Her walks and fielding percentage marks in 1946 would go down as league records.

She wasn’t done with just the regular season, though.  She would lead all hitters in the post-season that year and have one of the most amazing games in professional baseball history in the sixth and deciding game of the league championship.

The game itself was a bit of an enigma   Carolyn Morris, the Rockford ace, had thrown a no-hitter through nine innings before surrendering the first hit of the game in the 10th.  Meanwhile, Racine’s pitcher, Joanne Winter allowed 19 base runners through 14 innings, stranding them all.  The game had gone 14 innings without a run, despite Kurys four stolen bases up to that point.  She would single and steal her fifth base of the game in the bottom of the 14th inning, putting her at second base with Betty Trezza, her double play partner and shortstop for Racine, at the plate.

As Kurys broke for third as Trezza singled through the right side.  As the throw came home from right field, Kurys would hook slide around the catcher’s tag and provide Racine with the 1946 championship.  It was easy to see that the young lady had earned the nickname “Flint Flash”.

“A hook slide away from the tag by a player wearing a skirt – how about that?  Sophie was certainly one of our best,” stated Lois Youngen, former AAGPBL Players Association President.

Many managers and players credit Kurys for her ability to read a pitcher and her attention to the detail for her base stealing prowess.  While she was certainly fast, she would get an incredible jump off the pitcher and was a “master of the slide”.

She played her first few years in the league as the clean up hitter for the team but new manager Leo Murphy, who took over the reigns of the Belles in 1945, identified her base running abilities and moved her to the leadoff spot where she flourished for her team.

She would finish her career with 1,114 stolen bases.  That mark would stand as a professional record until Rickey Henderson would eventually surpass her, finishing his career with 1,406.  Her 201 stolen bases in 1946 remains a record in professional baseball today.  She would also steal 166, 142, 172, and 137 bases in a season during her career, all more than Henderson’s modern-era record of 130 and three of which were higher than Hugh Nicol‘s 1887 total of 138.

Kurys passed away on February 17, 2013 at the age of 87 years old in Scottsdale, Arizona due to surgical complications.

Read more about Sophie in this comprehensive article, Playing Hardball In The All-American League at aagpbl.org

Bill Ivie is the editor here at Full Spectrum Baseball
Follow him on Twitter here.

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A Look at this Year’s Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot – Meet Fred McGriff

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A Look at this Year’s Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot – Meet Fred McGriff

Posted on 28 December 2012 by Trish Vignola

Fred McGriff played 19 major league seasons with the Blue Jays, Padres, Braves, Devil Rays, Cubs and Dodgers. He is one of 37 players on the 2013 Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) ballot for the Class of 2013 at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. He returns to the ballot for the fourth time after receiving 23.9 percent of the vote in 2012.

FredMcGriff

BBWAA members who have at least ten years of tenure with the organization can vote in the election. The results will be announced Jan. 9. Any candidate who receives votes on at least 75 percent of all BBWAA ballots cast will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2013. The Induction Ceremony will be held July 28 in Cooperstown.

Born on Oct. 31, 1963 in Tampa, Florida, McGriff was drafted in the ninth round of the 1981 amateur draft by the New York Yankees. Nicknamed the “Crime Dog” in honor of his surname’s similarity to the children’s character “McGruff”, the following year he was traded to the Blue Jays. By 1987, he was playing full-time at the major league level.

In his second full season, he hit 34 homers. That was the first of seven consecutive seasons with 30 or more, a feat he accomplished 10 times. The following season he finished sixth in MVP voting and took home his first of three Silver Slugger Awards at first base. His 36 home runs led the league.

“When he comes up, we hold our breath,” said then-Rangers manager Bobby Valentine reports Samantha Carr of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

In 1990, McGriff finished 10th in MVP voting. He was then traded to the San Diego Padres with Tony Fernandez in exchange for Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar. McGriff was not ready to be brushed to the footnotes of baseball history yet.

In his two full seasons with the Padres, he finished in the top 10 in MVP voting twice. He earned another Silver Slugger Award and made his first All-Star Game appearance. In 1992, he led the league in homers with 35, making him the first player since the dead-ball era to lead both leagues in home runs.

“He has outstanding bat speed,” said former Padres manager Greg Riddoch to the Baseball Hall of Fame. “When that ball jumps off his bat to left-center field, it’s like a shot out of a cannon.”

In 1993, McGriff was traded to the Braves. He went on an offensive tear over the second half of the season to rally the Braves to the division title. He finished fourth in MVP voting that season and won his third Silver Slugger Award.

In 1994, McGriff was named MVP of the All-Star Game and finished second in the Home Run Derby to Ken Griffey Jr. He was hitting .318 with 34 home runs before the strike ended the season. The next year, McGriff has another quality season – 27 home runs, 93 RBI – hitting cleanup for the Braves and hit two home runs to help Atlanta win the World Series title.

A quiet leader in the clubhouse, McGriff was known for his positive attitude and love of the game. “McGriff’s smile lights up a room,” said Riddoch.

In 1998, McGriff was picked up by the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays, where he stayed productive for four seasons before ending his career with stops with the Cubs, Dodgers and eventually back with the Devil Rays.

McGriff finished his career just seven homers short of the 500 home run club, tied with Lou Gehrig for 26th all-time. He had a career .284 batting average, 2,490 hits, 441 doubles and 1,550 RBI. He and Gary Sheffield are the only players to hit 30 home runs for five different major league teams. In 10 postseason series, he batted .303 with 10 home runs, 37 RBI and 100 total bases. He was named to five All-Star Games, finished in the top 10 in MVP voting six times and ranks 42nd all-time in RBI.

“He had a marvelous career,” said former Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella. “He’s a classy person. He’s been a dominant player at his position for years. He played on a world championship team. If I had a [Hall of Fame] vote, I’d vote for him.”

With a ballot frought with controversy, a candidate like McGriff is refreshing. He gives legitimacy to baseball’s recent past and is more than deserving of enshrinment.

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A Quiet Giant of the Game Is Gone

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A Quiet Giant of the Game Is Gone

Posted on 18 November 2012 by Trish Vignola

A widely respected true man of baseball has passed away. Lee MacPhail was a primary representative of the second generation of MacPhails, a family that has served the game since the 1930s and still remains involved to this day. He died Thursday at age 95 in Delray Beach, Florida.

MacPhail understood the greater good of the game and worked for it. He helped usher in the designated-hitter rule, presided over the expansion of the American League, was a force in the settlement of the 1981 players’ strike and used his influence to bring Interleague Play to the fore. Before that, he was general manager of the Orioles and Yankees.

Whatever MacPhail did, he did with class and dignity. George Steinbrenner once said, “You don’t want to be against MacPhail on an important issue too many times because you start to look bad if you are.” MacPhail earned a place in the Hall of Fame, in 1998. He and his father, Larry (who guided the Reds, Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers) are the lone father-son tandem in Cooperstown.

“Lee MacPhail was one of the great executives in baseball history and a Hall of Famer in every sense, both personally and professionally,” Commissioner Bud Selig said to MLB.com. “I had great admiration for Lee as American League president, and he was respected and liked by everyone with whom he came in contact. His hallmarks were dignity, common sense and humility.

“He was not only a remarkable league executive, but was a true baseball man as is evidenced by his brilliant leadership of the storied New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles franchises. Lee always put the interests of the sport first and through his love of the game taught all of us to cherish it in every way. Major League Baseball and all of our clubs feel a great sense of loss today, and I send my deepest condolences to one of the first families of the national pastime.”

While Lee MacPhail served as league president during Bowie Kuhn’s tenure as Commissioner, he was seen as the de facto conscience of the game because of his wisdom, fairness and balanced outlook. “Everyone should listen when Mr. MacPhail speaks,” then-Rangers owner Eddie Chiles said in 1982. “We all can learn from him.”

Oddly, MacPhail’s highest profile developed in 1983 when Steinbrenner dragged him into the pine-tar war. The relentlessness of the Yankees owner made prolonged the pine tar incident to such a degree that the generic term eventually warranted upper-case treatment. Countless skirmishes between Steinbrenner and MacPhail about umpires’ calls kept the dignified league president in headlines.

The MacPhail family is the executive-level equivalent of the Bells, Boones and Griffeys. Beginning with Lee’s father, Larry, it carries through Larry’s grandsons. Andy served the Twins, Cubs and Orioles as general manager, and Lee III, who was killed in an automobile accident in 1969 while he was working as the general manager of the Reading Phillies. Lee IV, Lee’s grandson, has worked for the Orioles as their director of professional scouting. In between though was Leland Stanford MacPhail Jr. He was as MLB.com described “a man you could trust with your watch, your secret or your franchise.”

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How Do You Spell Relief, Jim Johnson?

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How Do You Spell Relief, Jim Johnson?

Posted on 07 October 2012 by Will Emerson

Jim Johnson eclipsed the 50 save mark this season and, as the only reliever in the majors to do so in 2012, also led the majors in saves. Now, 50 saves in a season is impressive to some degree, no? No. Well, yes, to some degree I suppose. It is really not quite as black and white as that. I mean, sure, JJ is only the eleventh reliever to do this in the span of baseball history, which should account for something, maybe? Now, of course adding the “in the span of baseball history” is what someone could use to make JJ’s feat all the more impressive, however, the specialist that is a baseball team’s closer did not really exist for the entire span of baseball history, and the stat itself was not even counted until 1969. As for the ten other relievers to do that, well they have all come in the last 22 years and, actually, six of those have been in the last decade, so it is getting slightly less exclusive.

Now JJ does join some good company on the 50 save season list. Mariano Rivera, Eric Gagne, Dennis Eckersley, Trevor Hoffman and John Smoltz to name a few. Of course Rod Beck, Randy Myers and Bobby Thigpen also adorn this list. Now the fact that, in theory, there are let’s say 15 closers who remain in the closer role for a full season every year, makes people think that the exclusivity of this club, means it is quite an accomplishment and should be spoken of as such. Basically it does not happen often and no reliever has been able to do it twice in their careers, therefore it is considered a great season and you could form an argument that way for all of these guys’ and now, for Jim Johnson’s season.

All year, and really still, no one really seems to know how the Orioles have been winning like they have. They outplayed their Pythagorean record (projected record based on runs scored and given up) by eleven games. Eleven! The next highest number of games of above their Pythagorean win-loss total were the Reds and Giants, both by six. When you look at the Orioles roster, their numbers, or really anything, it defies the odds. Not only did they play above their heads this season, but are headed to the ALDS and almost won the AL East, for crying out loud! Baseball pundits and afficianados scoured box scores and articles on the Os to see if they could find something, one thing, that could explain how in the heck they were getting the job done and all of sudden, BOOM! Sorry if I scared you there with the caps lock, but I was trying to be dramatic. So, BOOM! The Orioles are very good in one-run games, so it had to be the bullpen, of which Jim Johnson is the king!

With a 29-9 record in one-run games, no team in the majors was better than the Orioles in that department. So this is when everyone started jumping on the Jim Johnson praise committee. Now, I am not looking to trash JJ by any means, he had a very good season, but the way people are talking it is as if he has pitched one of the greatest relief seasons ever. I have even seen some writers and bloggers go as far as to say Johnson is deserving of a Cy Young vote, which I find to be a bit ludicrous. Just because he had 51 saves? Of the ten other 50 save seasons, only two won the Cy Young award. Now I understand that saying JJ deserves a vote, is not the same as saying he should win the award, but I still think even a Cy Young vote is a stretch. Closers in general, at least in my opinion, need to do a lot to garner Cy Young consideration.

Yes a closer does tend to come in a lot of high leverage, big time pressure, situations, which is why their role is considered so important for a team. The fact is many are just basing their praise of Jim Johnson primarily on that one counting stat, the save. Sure, that is really the stat for closers, and you cannot fault JJ for that, but is that really the best indicator of a closer? Yeah, I know what some of you are thinking, “How could saves, the main closer statistic, not be the biggest factor tied to a closer evaluation?” Well, I’ll tell ya, the stat itself is majorly flawed and, really, can you sit there and tell me Jim Johnson is actually a top five closer, just because he had more saves than anyone?

Yes Johnson had 51 saves, we have established this. This is an accomplishment, sure. But how great is it, really? First off, for a closer to get saves, they need opportunities. The Orioles used their bullpen a lot for a team that made the playoffs. In fact no other AL team used their bullpen more than the Os this season and of the other AL Playoff teams only the Yankees used more relievers than the league average and as a team, only the Reds and Brewers had more save opportunities than the Orioles. But we are looking at Jim Johnson, right? Right! So back to the 51 saves. How any other relievers, in the majors this season, even had 50 save opportunites? One. Fernando Rodney and he had 50 exactly. So no other team even gave a closer a chance to get 51 saves. Is that an accomplishment? That the Orioles rarely blew opponents out and Buck Showalter taxed their bullpen like nobody’s business? And hey, again, I am not trouncing on Jim Johnson, cause that is certainly not his fault and it is a testament to something that he did get all these opportunities, but should he get Cy Young vote for that? I think not. Then there is the other flaw in the saves statistic. The fact that there all different kinds of saves.

Protecting a 3-run lead or 1-run lead, still lands you a save. Obviously one is a bit more difficult than the other, but when all is said and done, they count the same. Now, actually this is where you could make the strongest case for JJ. He was 18-18 protecting 1-run leads, so, you know, pretty good. He was actually much worse when protecting larger leads. In 8 of those 36 other save opportunities he allowed at least one run to score, before shutting the door. Now, some will say, yeah, but he had the runs to spare and yeah, that is true, but does that make him an elite closer? Does that make his 2012 season great? Johnson’s season was just as unpredictable as that of his team’s and this is definitely why he is being so lauded as strong closer. But how strong is he really?

JJ does not strike out a ton of batters, which is very rare for a major league closer. His 5.37 K/9 is the worst amongst closers with ten or more save opportunities this season and he could quite possibly be the first closer in major league history to have 30 plus saves and have less strikeouts than saves. Now sure, that is not that big of thing if he is getting the job done and that number 51 shows that he has been. But generally in high leverage situations, you do not want the ball being put in play so much, especially when your team has the third worst UZR in the American League and the fifth worst UZR in the majors. But couple this with the fact the he walks almost two batters per nine innings and you have a K/BB rate that is not even amongst the top 60 for eligible relievers. To me, it seems like JJ cold be living on borrowed time with his success this season. Now you could say, “Oh yeah, but his ERA and WHIP were very good.” Okay, well let’s explore that.

His 2.49 ERA and 1.02 WHIP are darned good, that is for darned sure. These numbers were so good, that he was eleventh, amongst major league relievers who had ten or more save opportunities this season, in both categories. His ERA was also helped by a strong finish (.38 ERA since the end of July), but through the end of July his ERA was 3.63, which is not impressive for a guy you need to dominate and shut down the opposing team. So, even if you want to say he had good season numbers, it is safe to say that he was not that way all season. His ERA in July, by the way, was over 11. Ouch. His ERA also, of course, does not count the inhertited runners he would allow to score. JJ was not brought into the game much with men on base and probably with good reason. Of the eight runners Johnson inherited this season, he allowed six, yes SIX, to score! Now it’s a small sample size, that is definitely true, but by comparison, Fernando Rodney, who in my mind was far and away the best closer in the AL, allowed just two of his 18 inherited runners to cross the plate. And you have to think Buck Showalter may need Johnson to come in with guys on base in the playoffs and that could get dicey, certainly exposing the flaws in his closer.

So really, I have to say again, this is not to attack Jim Johnson in any way, shape or form. The point here was that everyone needs to slow their proverbial rolls, when discussing his body of work this season. What the Orioles have done is amazing, because it was completely unexpected and unexplainable, and the same can be said of Jim Johnson’s 51 saves if you want to look at it that way. Let us all just take a step back and put this in perspective though. Other than actual number of saves, for instance, Fernando Rodney has been vastly better than Jim Johnson, but without passing the 50 save mark or his team making the playoffs, Fernando will have to sit and watch all the praise being bestowed on JJ. Johnson deserves a kudos and a tip of the cap for sure, but let’s stop there and realize that his 2012 season is not quite as special or dominant as we’d all like to believe.

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uecker

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The Coolest Guy in the Room – Bob Uecker gets his day…and he didn’t even have to pay admission.

Posted on 04 September 2012 by Trish Vignola

How did a backup catcher who batted .200 during a famously forgettable Major League career wind up immortalized with a bronze statue outside Miller Park?

Few know that Bob Uecker found fame as a Major League broadcaster because of he failed as a Major League scout. Former Brewers General Manager Frank Lane sent Uecker to grade prospects in the Northern League in 1970. When the first batch of reports returned to Lane unreadable, slathered in the remains of Uecker’s last meal, Lane demanded a change.

MLB Commissioner Allan H. “Bud” Selig, the Brewers’ owner at the time remembered Uecker as “the worst scout in baseball history.”

Well.

Selig decided to move him to the broadcast booth in 1971. Because of that seemingly small decision at the time, saving the sanity of his GM, Selig set the wheels in motion. Today, Uecker was immortalized alongside two Hall of Famers and the Commissioner of Major League Baseball.

For 42 amazing seasons of entertaining Brewers fans, the Brewers made Uecker a permanent fixture outside Miller Park on Friday afternoon. His seven-foot statue joined similar tributes to Selig, who brought the Brewers to Milwaukee as well as Hall of Fame players Henry Aaron and Robin Yount.

“The baseball announcer becomes a link to their fans,” Selig said. “You go to Harry Caray, or Bob Prince in Pittsburgh, Mel Allen in New York, Vin Scully is legendary, a classic…That’s Bob Uecker here.”

Don’t forget. Although Uecker was a slouch on the field, he was never a slouch in the booth. His knowledge of the game, as well as some pretty amazing comedy chops, put Uecker head and shoulders above his cohorts.

Some highlights of the ceremony as seen on MLB.com:

– Uecker, on why he stayed in Milwaukee all these years: “It was a parole thing.”

– Costas, on the statue’s company: “If you walk on the plaza and listen closely, you can hear Henry’s statue begging to be relocated to Lambeau [Field]. When word of this got out, pigeons all over the Midwest relocated to Milwaukee to pay their respects.”

– Yount, via video message, standing in front of the Colosseum in Rome: “He’s been around so long, I think he played here.”

– NBC executive Dick Ebersol: “One thing I want to set straight right now — Bob did not have to pay for the statue. I know that’s been going around.”

– Hall of Famer, Hank Aaron: “I want to go back to the time when we were playing in Atlanta, and I was in a semi slump. You were always in a slump.”

Contrary to the stories he told over the years, Uecker was actually a terrific high school baseball player. He signed with his hometown Braves in 1956. By 1962, he made it to the Majors as a 27-year-old backup catcher. Uecker was traded to the Cardinals in 1964, just in time to win his only World Series ring. Uecker went on to play for the Phillies and finally finished his career with Braves again, this time in Atlanta.

A talent scout for the Tonight Show discovered him at a nightclub owned by jazz trumpeter Al Hirt in 1969. It opened the door to more than 100 appearances with Carson. As a sports satirist myself, Bob Uecker just went from a second rate backup catcher to the coolest guy in the room.

Carson, people!

Uecker’s appearances on Carson were followed by his popular Miller Lite commercials, a starring role on the ABC sitcom “Mr. Belvedere” and of course…the Major League series of films. Let’s face it folks. Bob Uecker permanently skewed our view of the game… in the best way possible.

“One of the great privileges of my life, and of Bob’s life, was to really know Johnny Carson well,” said NBC executive Dick Ebersol. Ebersol was head of the network’s Late Night division at the time of Uecker’s debut. “And Johnny told me on more than one occasion, including about two months before he died, in a very raspy phone call [because] he had a form of emphysema … that Bob Uecker was the most original humorist he had ever known, that it all came from Bob’s gut, from Bob’s soul. He was not surrounded by an army of writers. He was, legitimately, in Johnny’s mind, the funniest man he ever knew.”

Wow.

Ebersol employed Uecker on a series of other shows, including three Wrestlemania broadcasts. Regardless of his success, Uecker never left his spot in the Brewers’ broadcast booth. Selig revealed that even the late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner once tried to secretly lure Uecker away.

What?!

Other attendees included former Tonight Show band director Doc Severinsen, Hank Aaron’s wife, Billye, and Uecker’s cast mates from “Mr. Belvedere.” Former Braves teammates Joe Torre, Johnny Logan and Felix Mantilla attended as well as former Brewers – Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers, Jim Gantner and Gorman Thomas. Nearly 20 current Brewers including Ryan Braun also broke their usual pregame routine to attend.

“We have a rich tradition in Milwaukee here, and we can’t celebrate it enough,” Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio said. “Today is really a blessing, and really, one of the nicest days in my years of ownership.”

Uecker spoke after the big reveal of his statue, which depicts him standing casually with his hands in his pockets. After pulling the curtain away, Uecker turned to emcee Costas and asked, “What do you want me to do?” Costas replied, “What do you want to do?” Uecker responded in typical Uecker fashion… “I want to get my money back.”

Let’s not kid ourselves. If Uecker played today, none of us would have drafted him to our fantasy baseball teams. (Ok. Maybe I would have.) The point is we would all kill for his post-baseball career. Ok. Maybe I would.

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