Tagged: Kirby Puckett

Dodgers Winter Meetings 2014: This Is What I Think

I have no isolated insight, no secret sources, no magic metrics on the Dodgers flurry of activity under the Andrew Friedman/Farhan Zaidi/Josh Byrnes regime. What I do have is an objective fan’s outlook about both the Chavez Ravine management team and the club that will perform there this coming summer (and autumn).

I first want to address Matt Kemp, as he is the largest name involved in these transactions. For me, I’ve enjoyed his talent but have not consistently praised him as some (many) have. With effortless speed & power, we saw what Kemp could do – nearly a 40/40 season in ’11 when he finished second in MVP to Ryan Braun (Granada Hills HS). We saw the precociousness after the ferociousness, literally moping upon his move to left field. He was disinterested at times, downtrodden at others, and along with Andre Ethier, formed a really needy core.

Especially for really good players. Both of these guys needed to play, but they also needed to be loved. Ethier was nearly despised by some fans, though that chapter will be closed come January or February, when Friedman engineers that deal. In fact, I think both Ethier and Crawford are going to be moved prior to the first pitch of 2015, with management taking a wrecking ball to The Team That Ned Built. But I digress. . .We know Kemp is an undeniable talent, and in fact – I think he will play well in San Diego. The relaxed environ, the spacious field for him to gallop in Center and Right, the Man status; this will all play well to his soul, and he’ll perform. Plus, .280/25/90 on the Padres is performing, so good for him.

And good for the Dodgers. I don’t think the overhaul is so much due to lack of capable ballplayers on Colletti’s roster; I think the entire club ethos needed to change.

Letting Hanley walk, and I LOVED Hanley, was a must. He was the most exciting hitter I’d seen at Dodger Stadium since another Ramirez (99 on his jersey), and has a laserbeam line drive ability (I’m talking absolute screamers, check out his 2013 homer in San Diego, coincidentally) that I’d only seen previously with Gary Sheffield. But he had to go. He needs to have the option to DH, and the Dodgers needed to look for a real shortstop. That bat is irreplaceable, but he commanded too many years; 120 games played would soon be his highwater mark, and the Dodgers don’t need that albatross.

One deal that went nearly unnoticed is the acquisition of Joel Peralta. A professional; unspectacular and easily overlooked, Peralta is more a signal than anything – the bullpen is not a place to invest outside the organization. You can make prudent acquisitions, guys that will calm the ship, eat innings & understand their roles, but as evidenced by the Royals, Giants and Cardinals, you need to build your bullpen from within. Develop guys as starters in the minor leagues and let them hit their preordained innings mark through a variety of roles. But honing in on the pen – especially during formative years – is the most productive way to build pitchers and a safety net.

The Cardinals, in my mind, pioneered this with Adam Wainwright (he was their closer during the ’06 pennant run), converted Rosenthal to perma-pen status, but have brought up the youngsters this way. It’s smart, and it needs to be stated – the bullpen is for guys that aren’t good enough to be starters; they are inherently worse than the guy they’re replacing. Or at least that’s how it was, and why so many bullpens implode. But if you use it as a platform for your best arms, you’re making the bullpen a strength. It makes a ton of sense, and that, along with LaRussa’s inning specialization, will make the biggest impact on the makeup of ballclubs in the last half century.

In short, the Dodgers simply had too many old, crappy arms on the books (Wilson, League, Perez), which weren’t allowing the maligned Scott Elbert, the injured Chris Withrow, and the overlooked Paco Rodriguez to slide into natural roles that could have enhanced the team. I think that Peralta and Friedman acquisition Juan Nicasio will provide a stopgap for the pen while they’ll look to build in 2016 and beyond from the inside, which was luckily left fruitful by Logan White.

And speaking of stopgaps – Jimmy Rollins. What a dude. At least in the 00’s. He still seems like a good guy, a leader type, but is older than the guy the Dodgers let walk. Now, we’re talking a different iteration of player, as Rollins game is/was predicated on quickness & speed with a burst of pop instead of all brawn with a flash of speed. Rollins has been slightly above average for the past four years, yet is remarkably consistent. In today’s game, you don’t need your shortstop to light up the scoreboard, and Rollins’ .260, 14 hr, 55 RB, 29 steals will suffice until Corey Seager snatches the position.Seager, Julio Urias, Joc Pederson. That’s the future right there and Friedman, et al, understand that. The ability to make so many maneuvers (10 trades in 25 days at one point) and upgrade without dealing the three kids is a major coup for this team. I really think the underlying statement that was made is the following:

we have a huge budget and aren’t afraid to use it, but we realize that the future is built on the backs of SABR-minded individuals that also understand that baseball is, and always will be, based on the eyeball test. 

Which brings me to Dee Gordon. Talk about a likable ballplayer; always smiling, always improving, a genuine good person on and off the field. Dodger fans loved his improvement this year, after teetering on the precipice of being a 4A player. “He was an All-Star,” they’d say. Shoot, I said it too. He was exciting. Sixty four stolen bases this year! But the dude couldn’t hit, and I worry that he’d end up being a .262 guy with no pop, and – well, there’s a reason Pat Listach didn’t have a long career. I wish him well in Miami, but most of all I thank him for turning into Andrew Heaney (who’s going to be damn good, ps, and really made me crack up on Twitter), who was flipped for Howie Kendrick.I’ve always likened Howie Kendrick to Kirby Puckett, my favorite player growing up. Free swinging, joyous dudes that came out of junior colleges to light up the big leagues with their smiles & their sticks. Kendrick, of course, isn’t the hitter Puckett was but he can swing it. Especially for a second baseman – and in my mind, the jump offensively from Gordon to Kendrick offsets the perceived drop from Ramirez to Rollins on the other side of the second base bag. Kendrick has a decent glove, and with only one year left on his contract leaves the Dodgers with options heading into 2016, the first real year of the new regime.

Lastly, the Dodgers aren’t done. I don’t know if that means David Price, Cole Hamels, Jordan Zimmermann, James Shields or all of the above (just kidding, I think?). I do think that Yasiel Puig and Clayton Kershaw are untouchable, and Adrian Gonzalez, Kenley Jansen & AJ Ellis aren’t going anywhere.

Anything else is up for discussion.

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photo via fansided/lasportshub

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MLB Favorites – My Lifetime

In a recent email thread with my two closest baseball guru friends, we sent missives back-and-forth noting our favorite baseball players in recent memory. More specifically, in our lifetimes – for this project, that spans the 80’s, 90’s, oughts and 10’s. I’m curious to see your favorites – here are MY players. Not the best, just my dogs by position:

Catcher: Mike Piazza. Never seen a catcher hit like that. Period. I hate to admit it, but Buster Posey COULD be on this list except for his extremely dry personality. Excellent player though. Ironically used to love Jason Kendall until he became the literal singles-est hitting player in baseball. Charles Johnson was a ton of fun but his zero bat grated on me when he was a Dodger. Great arm though. Also Benito Santiago was fun, both with the arm and late career at-bat.
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First Base: Don Mattingly. Gamer. Mustache that wasn’t wack. Awesome baseball cards. Looked great in a uniform. Sweet swing. Manager of my favorite team. Sold. Frank Thomas was just dope. Great, intimidating hitter. I liked Jeff Bagwell at the time, but less and less historically. Go figure. Fred McGriff was lean, dope follow-through, unassuming and just awesome. How do you not love watching Mark McGwire hit dingers, especially that 500+ blast off Randy of all people. Jesus. Mo VaughnCecil Fielder. Prince Fielder is on here too because he shows up every day, loves the game and hits boomers.
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Second Base: Craig Biggio, Roberto Alomar, Carlos Baerga, Jeff Kent.
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Third Base: there are sooooooo many ‘pretty good’ guys at this position; Wade Boggs, Matt Williams, Travis Fryman, Ken Caminiti, obviously Chipper Jones is a hall of famer, Jeff Cirillo nobody really excited here. Even UCLA-alum Troy Glaus was a masher but eh. Adrian Beltre is probably the only one that makes a list of ‘favorites.’
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Shortstop: you’d think this position would be fun. A-Rod pretty much ruined that. And Tejada. And even Nomar. But Derek Jeter is amazing and carries it himself; Barry Larkin is on here for his play but not his persona. Cal Ripken obviously belongs BUT he was fairly boring, sorry Cal. Ozzie Smith and Omar Vizquel were fun, but I’m not a defense-first kind of guy, especially in the era in which we grew up. Rafael Furcal was a LOAD of fun for me, so he’s probably #2 behind Jeter, and Hanley Ramirez is fast approaching. Another 30 bombs – and a title? – this year and he leapfrogs Derek.
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Outfield: Kirby Puckett in center, Barry Bonds in left, Rickey Henderson in right is my dream outfield. Probably my top three favorite players of my lifetime (?) as well. It’s really hard to leave Ken Griffey Jr. out of my starting lineup but otherwise I’d use Rickey as DH and bat him leadoff, move Kirby over to his late-career RF and we’d have the best/most exciting team I could dream of. Otherwise, Tony Gwynn is on the club. Bo JacksonManny Ramirez was SO exciting and dominant for a period that he’s my big bat. Vladimir Guerrero is on the team, really fun to watch in all facets. Ichiro Suzuki was so poetic/artistic at the bat (and arm!!!!), he’s in. Tim Raines makes the club for sure as well. Darryl Strawberry pre-coke, Eric Davis without a doubt (30/80 club!!!!) I also believe Bryce Harper and Mike Trout are good enough to warrant what may fairly be labeled ‘premature’ inclusion here.
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Starting Pitchers: Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux are guys I’d pay to watch pitch from now through eternity. In fact, I don’t think you can beat my club with those guys throwing every three days in my three man rotation (!!!!). Seriously though I have to include Nolan Ryan, Clayton Kershaw, Fernando, Hershiser, Kevin Brown, David Cone (who I like more post-retirement), David Wells (!!!), Felix Hernandez, Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito and pre-coke Doc Gooden. I really enjoy watching Adam Wainwright pitch but he kills the Dodgers so I’ll wait to include him formally, and though it might be premature, Jose Fernandez has some of the best ‘stuff’ I’ve seen since my three aces that I’m going to throw him in there.
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Closers: This list starts with Dennis Eckersley, continues to Eric Gagne and closes out appropriately with Mo Rivera.
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And of course, announcing any and all games would be the incomparable Vin Scully.
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Ted Williams was Mexican, and other tales from Cooperstown

I tried not to include the corny or cliche, but this IS baseball so it is inherent. That said, here’s a quick ‘guided’ tour to our pictures from our visit to Cooperstown, NY, Baseball Hall of Fame, November 4 – 5, 2010:

 

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Yes this really is a “VILLAGE” – population 2,032

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1950 or 2010?
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Our wonderful domicile, the Tunnicliff Inn– Established 1802. Seriously

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The Hall.

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We walk in – first exhibit, “House of David” a band of roving Jewish ballplayers. Sweet.

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The Hall suggests you begin the visit with a trip to the Grandstand Theater.

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The original rules of the game, as established in 1845 by the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club.

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Yes, they played versions of baseball in medieval Spain.

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Come see the Babe in Fresno, CA (1934)

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. . .or just check out Babe Ruth‘s actual Yankee locker.

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I was underwhelmed by the Negro Leagues exhibit, but we asked one of the museum docents why there wasn’t much in the way of memorabilia – “the players were underpaid and oftentimes sold equipment, jerseys. . .the demand is extremely high because there really aren’t too many artifacts remaining.”

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Did NOT realize that the Yankees were one of the last teams to integrate. . .
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Brooklyn Dodgers, baby! Note the sad clown icon. I had a pennant handed down to me as a child from my Dad’s brother that featured that ‘logo.’
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Stan the (literal) MAN’s locker. Check out his numbers – easily one of the top five players ever and seriously underrated nonetheless.

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Uniforms from the women’s game. . .
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A copy of the New York Times from when lefty female Jackie Mitchell struck out Babe & Lou at Yankee Stadium.
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This was sweet – Ted WIlliams hitting zone based on his timeless The Science of Hittting.
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Willie Mays.
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Mickey Mantle.
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Really unexpected, deserved and spectacular – Viva Baseball, celebrating baseball in Latin America throughout the history of the game. Really nice exhibits on Cuba, Mexico, Venezuela, etc. Also, did you know Ted Williams was Mexican?

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This was the one controversial exhibit in my eyes; baseball lore says that Fidel Castro had a tryout with the Pirates sometime around 1947, yet the placard at the HoF states that “research now confirms that he was never a pro prospect.” Interesting. . .except reading the bilingual Spanish translation, the placard says “Las investigaciones confirman ahora que Castro nunca fue un asipirante a profesional.” Translation: “The investigations confirm that Castro never aspired to be a professional.” Semantic, yes – but a HUGE differentiation. Which is it, Hall of Fame?!?!? We want answers!!!

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Viva al beisbol de Mexico!

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Yes, that is an Anaheim Angels (California Angels?) sombrero. Think it’d look mighty nice on Mike Scioscia. . .

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Jamie Jarrin gives both the Spanish and English ‘tour’ at the Hall.
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You remember Fernandomania, right? Did you remember that there were hit records dedicated to the hearthrob?!?!
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Stuff like this is what gives me chills. The original scouting card for Roberto Clemente. Filled out by Al Campanis, nonetheless – “a real good looking prospect!”
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The Count in front of the Dodgers display.

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Yes that IS Sandy Koufax‘s glove and jersey.

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I believe Pete Rose was the only player – ironically – that had two jerseys represented in the Hall.

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Rickey Henderson‘s cleats.

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Yep, rocking the Puckett shirt in the Hall.

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Baseball cards. . .wow, wow, wow. The Hall has quite a collection, as you can imagine. Enough so that I was inspired enough to pick up Mint Condition by Dave Jamieson – check it out if you like cards, baseball, nostalgia or all of the above. ps – if you’re not a card nerd, you might want to scroll a bit – this is where I get nuts-o about the game. Baseball cards really sucked me in during the 1980’s.

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This sign was noted in at least three places in the Hall. Very interesting and well-intentioned approach to the PED controversy.

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This is the closest you’re going to get to seeing The Count worshipping.
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The Mariners locker featured Ichiro, who’s going to be in here personally in about 12 years. . .
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The Aaron Boone bat.

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The base from Armando Galarraga‘s not-so-perfect game.
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The bat/guitar & lyrics from John Fogerty‘s Centerfield.

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The Mangus and designstILes gave a great effort, but after a couple hours, they had to head back to the Village.

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!!!!!!!!!!

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A really great wing of the Hall was dedicated to Henry “Hank” Aaron. Some really good detail from his childhood and early struggles in the Negro Leagues, on through the racial attacks he experienced while chasing down the Babe. Class act, and truly deserving of his own Ruthian section.
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Honestly, did you know Jamie Moyer is the active leader in strikeouts?!?!?
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The hats from each of Nolan Ryan‘s seven no-hitters.
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Again, I’m a sucker for these things – a scouting report on Nolan from High School. Wow.

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The Dodgers 1988 World Series Ring, along with the Pennant Pendants.
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Orel Hershiser‘s World Series clinching jersey.
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The hilarious and classic Abbott & Costello routine is on constant rotation in the HoF.

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The members of the Baseball Hall of Fame. . .
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. . .and those that served their country.

And now a look at a few of the Plaques:

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(above: Hank Greenberg, Ted Williams, Josh Gibson, Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Tommy Lasorda, Kirby Puckett)

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“The First Class” in the Hall.

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The announcer/writer’s wing was a bit smallish for my taste, but certainly represented the legends well, as Vin Scully was part of the six-announcer rotation of all-time greats.
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Best. Movie. Ever.

And a trip to Cooperstown could not be complete without a visit to Doubleday Field, the first ‘official’ ballfield of the Game of Baseball. Talk about evoking the ghosts. . .

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That’s baseball.

again my favorite sportswriter (dissects a topic Jared & I discuss ad nauseum)

Fellow baseball nerds will appreciate this article. Jose Bernstein and I have spent the majority of the 2010 MLB season mocking another Jose B – Bautista – and his seemingly ephemeral shot at baseball lore. Joe Posnanski (there he is again) breaks down baseball’s Jose B., his surprisingly forseeable run at 50 homers, and his outpacing some of the all-time HR hitters. Best of all? An astute and informational Kirby Puckett anecdote. Enjoy.

Jose Bautista and the Big 5-0

Entering this season Bautista’s career high for home runs was 16. (Getty Images)

The thing that stands out about the 50-homer season, I think, is not so much who has done it but who has not. You probably know that Hank Aaron never hit 50 home runs in a season — that’s a rather famous trivia reference point. Aaron hit between 40 and 47 eight different times. Heck, he hit right on his number, 44, four times, which is one of the more artistic statistical anomalies in baseball history. But he never hit 50.

Harmon Killebrew never had a 50-home run season. Five times, Killer hit between 45 and 49 homers — and he hit 49 twice — but he never quite got to the half dollar.

Albert Pujols has not hit 50 homers in a season. Mike Schmidt… Willie Stargell… Willie McCovey… Reggie Jackson… Ernie Banks… Eddie Mathews… Frank Howard… Ted Williams… Frank Thomas… Frank Robinson… none of these great players and great home run hitters hit 50 home runs in a season.

And this year, Jose Bautista will do it. How does that figure?

Baseball is not the only American sport where a great player competes against both the best players in the world today and the ghosts of the past. Now and again, a running back tries to live up to Walter Payton. Kobe Bryant tries to surpass Michael Jordan. Tiger chases Jack Nicklaus, not Steve Stricker.

But in baseball, it is different, I think. These tangos with yesterday are ever present. People don’t seem especially bothered when, say, Priest Holmes scores more touchdowns in a season than Emmitt Smith, who scored more touchdowns than John Riggins, who scored more touchdowns than O.J. Simpson, who scored more touchdowns than Jim Brown. We seem to understand. The seasons get longer. The game of football shifts pretty wildly between offense and defense, between running and passing, the musical notes of the game stretch and contract. The context changes. Between 2000 and 2006, seven years, the touchdown record was broken FOUR times, first by Marshall Faulk, then by Holmes, then by Shaun Alexander and finally by LaDainian Tomlinson. This seemed to spark only mild interest in football (though dramatic interest for fantasy football owners).

But baseball connects in a different way — which is at least part of the reason why the McGwire-Sosa chase of 1998 enraptured America, and why when they both hit more than 61 home runs AGAIN the next year, it began to lose some of its charm, and why, when Barry Bonds broke the record two years after (during the mourning period of 9/11), it seemed mostly like overkill, and part of the reason why when steroid accusations began to go public there was an outcry unlike anything pro football had ever felt during its own, ongoing, steroid dance.

And this is part of the reason why what Jose Bautista is doing feels momentous… and oddly unnerving. Other players in other sports have had seasons or games that did not seem to fit into the context of their careers. Backup NBA forward Darius Miles once scored 47 points in an April game at Denver. Rick Kehoe was a perfectly likable and competent NHL player who almost never got penalized, when suddenly in 1980-81 he scored 55 goals, which tied him for fourth in the league with someone named Wayne Gretzky (Kehoe won the Lady Byng Trophy that year). Before 1990, only three NFL quarterbacks had thrown for more than 4,500 yards. One was Dan Marino. Check. Two was Dan Fouts. Check. Three was… right, Neil Lomax. That would be Neil Lomax.*

*Lomax would never again throw for even 3,400 yards in the NFL, though in 1987, during the strike season, he did lead the NFL in passing yards with 3,387. Two years later, he badly hurt his hip and he was out of pro football.

But baseball is the sport where 61 means Maris and .400 means Williams and 300 means Seaver and Carlton and Maddux and Spahn. Even individual teams inspire this sort of looking back — in New York they celebrate Derek Jeter for getting more hits than Lou Gehrig and in Kansas City people wait impatiently for someone, anyone, to hit 37 home runs and finally wipe Steve Balboni off the record books.

So, when Jose Bautista hits his 50th home run — he enters Wednesday night’s game with 49 — he will not only be putting the final makeover touch on one of the more shocking seasons in baseball history, he will also be doing something that Lou Gehrig never did. And so the conversation goes quickly from “Jose Bautista is going to hit to 50 home runs?” to “FRANK ROBINSON never hit 50 home runs” to “The game has changed. Home runs used to mean something. How can Jose Bautista do something that FRANK ROBINSON never did?”

Just how fluky is Jose Bautista’s home run season? Well, it seems to me that there are a couple of different answers to that. One is we don’t know, not really, not yet. The reason we don’t know is that while Bautista is not exactly young — he turns 30 next month and already has played in parts of seven big league seasons — this is only his second with 500-plus plate appearances. We simply don’t know yet how his career will turn out.

When David Ortiz hit 31 homers in 2003 — 15 of them in his last 34 games — it felt kind of fluky. Ortiz had enough of a muddled career in Minnesota that the Twins released him rather than pay him arbitration money. The Red Sox had an in-house battle about keeping him on the team. The sudden rash of home runs felt fluky, and Ortiz was turning 28 that year so he wasn’t exactly a kid. The next year, though, he hit 41 home runs. Then 47. Then 54. And it was clear that Papi was no fluke.

When Kirby Puckett’s power emerged out of nowhere — 31 homers in 1986 after hitting four the year before — that was viewed as a fluke. But it wasn’t. It was a career-high, but Puckett had other years when he hit 28, 24, 23, 22 homers… 31 is not wildly out of line with those numbers.

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Right now, Bautista’s year seems bizarre, but if he hits 41 homers next year, 38 the following, 46 the year after that, well, then this season will suddenly feel right in line with his talent. And that could happen. Yes, developing sudden power like this at 29 is uncommon, no doubt about it. But it’s not unprecedented.

• Ted Kluszewski suddenly hit 40 home runs when he was 28 (his career high up that point was 25, and he hit 16 the year before). He then followed with years of 49, 47 and 35.

• Carlos Pena bounced around, Texas to Oakland to Detroit to Boston, and flashed some occasional power. But he suddenly crushed 46 homers when he was 29 (his career high up to that point was 27, and he hit one in just a few at-bats the year before). He has since proven to be a terrific power hitter.

• Hank Sauer was practically a rookie when he got the call at 31 years old in 1948. He had gotten a few at-bats during the World War II, but that was about it. He hit 35 home runs, and that certainly could have been viewed as a fluke. But over the next decade he would turn out to be one of the more durable home run hitters in the game, leading the league with 37 homers in 1952 and crushing 41 homers in 1954.

And so on. So, that’s the first answer: We don’t REALLY know the fluke-quotient of Bautista’s season because his true home run value is still to be determined.

The second answer is: Yes, it seems incredibly fluky. I have run a formula (inspired by and partly designed by Bill James) to pick my 32 flukiest home run seasons, which I also posted today. And no matter how I tried to even out the numbers, Bautista’s season shot to the top of the charts. There’s simply no way to see a 50-home run season emerge from a man who had hit his career high of 16 homers back in 2006.

Still: A lot of people around the game thought that Jose Bautista had a chance to be a good big league hitter long before now. As ironic as it may sound, that’s exactly why he has played for seven different teams already. He has been a Rule 5 draft pick, he has been picked up on waivers, he has been purchased and he has been traded three times. He is one of those guys who has always looked better to other teams than to the team he was actually playing for at the time… and that signifies a measure of talent.

I remember when the Kansas City Royals got Bautista (that was the straight purchase). Then Royals GM Allard Baird talked at length about Bautista’s hitting potential. Allard could not turn around the Royals fortunes, but he had (and still has) a knack for scouting hitting talent. He stuck with Johnny Damon when many people around baseball turned off to him. He gave Raul Ibanez* a chance when he seemed like one of those possibly apocryphal Quad-A hitters.

*Ibanez would be another guy you could include in the you-have-to-wait category… he did not play his first full season until he was 30, and he posted a 122 OPS+. At the time that was viewed as a fluke. But his OPS+ in the eight years following has been 118, so that is obviously his true value.

Allard felt certain that Bautista was going to hit at some point. But — then he decided that “at some point” did not mean “now,” and 13 games later Baird used Bautista to horn in on a three-way deal with the Mets and Pirates (the Royals got a very friendly prospect from Australia named Justin Huber, who never panned out, though he did play in something like 43 Futures Games because he was from Australia).

Anyway, with Bautista, there was talent that people did see. But, obviously, nobody saw this season coming. Even the most optimistic of scouts projected Bautista as a line-drive hitter with some patience who might hit 20-to-25 homers. “The ball always did seem to jump off his bat when he made contact,” one scout says. “But contact was an issue for him.” When Bautista smashed two savage home runs against the Royals on April 19 (giving him three for the year) it felt like one of those things than just happens to the Royals. When he hit home runs in back-to-back games in Cleveland on May 3 and May 4 — giving him six for the year — he was still hitting .221 and it felt like he was just going to have a typical Jose Bautista year, flashing talent now and again but mostly making outs. When he hit eight home runs in 11 games from May 15 to May 25, it caught people’s attention, especially people scouting the waiver wire in their rotisserie leagues.

He had a two-homer game against the Yankees on June 4, and another two-homer game against St. Louis on June 22. He had 24 homers at the break, which earned him a spot on the All-Star team. And he kept hitting. When he had his sixth multiple homer game of the season on August 23 — this one against Boston — he became the first American Leaguer since 2007 to hit 40 homers in a season (Paul Konerko, with 37, has a chance to do it this year, too). And by then everyone around baseball had come to realize that no matter what had happened before, you were not going to throw pretty much anything by Jose Bautista in 2010. And, of course, he has kept on hitting home runs since then. He had his seventh multiple-homer game on Sept. 10 against Tampa Bay. A-Rod had eight in 2007 — the last American Leaguer with more in a season.

Is Bautista’s season a fluke? People may point out that the Rogers Centre has been a nice home run ballpark in 2010, for whatever reason (or maybe no reason at all), and Bautista has hit 30 of his 49 homers at home. People may point out that Bautista snuck up on the league and everyone will go to school on him during the off-season and he will have to make all sorts of adjustments next year.* People may point out that Jose Bautista — like Greg Vaughn, like Brady Anderson, like Luis Gonzalez — has no business hitting 50 home runs, the number that Hank Aaron never even reached.

*According to the indescribably wonderful Fangraphs Web site, Bautista has been:

• Third most productive in the league against fastballs (behind only Paul Konerko and Josh Hamilton)
• Second in the league against sliders (behind Robinson Cano)
• Second in the league against curveballs (behind Vlad Guerrero)

That’s a pretty tough combination. Bautista has struggled against changeups, split-fingered fastballs, knucklers — stuff that throws off the timing. After this season, you can bet he’ll get a healthy dose of those kinds of pitches. Trouble is, there aren’t many pitchers in the AL who throw great changeups, splitters or knucklers.

Well, we’ll see. That scout I mentioned above, we were talking about Bautista, and I asked him if he thought the guy could ever repeat this season. He said, “Well, I’m not saying he’s going to hit 50 home runs in a season again. But he will hit 30 or 40 against next year.”

I said, “So you think he’s for real?”

And he said: “Those aren’t imaginary home runs he’s hitting.”

The Proto-Pujols: Frank Thomas Retires

Frank Thomas is set to announce his retirement today.
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Frank Thomas was Albert Pujols before there was an Albert Pujols. From 1991 – 1997, The Big Hurt was THE preeminent hitter in the game. The most feared – and consistent – right-hander since Joe DiMaggio, Thomas walked much more than he struck out, utilized his amazing plate discipline, raw strength and sublime hand-eye coordination to produce numbers that hadn’t been reached in seven straight seasons since Ted Williams.

I’ll always remember the agonizing decision over whether to draft Thomas or Ken Griffey Jr. first in our proto-fantasy leagues, front yard baseball. Being that Kirby Puckett & Don Mattingly were our respective ‘protected players,’ Jared would always draft the lefty, Griffey Jr. Being a right-hander, I was more smitten with the burly White Sox first baseman, the one who legend had it used to block for Bo Jackson when they played at Auburn together.

It was the awkward Frank Thomas 1990 Topps card – of him playing in the field, of all things – that first introduced me to the former fullback, but it was the clean, old school Comiskey, pre-gangsta White Sox unis Frank Thomas 1990 Leaf that had card collectors going crazy. That Walt Hriniak follow-through would come to symbolize Thomas’s swing, and help revolutionize the approach of the modern day power hitter. In his prime, he was the proto-Pujols.
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Well-spoken and ready with an amicable grin, Frank Thomas is now pursuing a career in broadcasting as he awaits results of the 2015 Hall of Fame voting, of which he should be a first ballot inductee.

Big Unit Retires: Randy Johnson, I’ll Miss Ya

Randy Johnson retired today. One of the most dominant pitchers in Major League history, the Big Unit was one of my favorites to watch over the last 20+ seasons. Since his day rocking a sneer as an Expo on the 1989 Donruss Card (limited edition ‘Rated Rookie’ – only 100,000, printed!)
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Randy always intimidated.

His herky-jerky-flamingo-whip arm action mad him nearly unhittable, his attitude was badass and his records speak for themselves:
303 wins, 3.29 Career ERA (in the steroid era!), 4,875 K’s, 1.17 career WHIP. . .and FIVE Cy Young Awards. . .the guy is an automatic First Ballot Hall of Famer.

To one of my favorites – thank you for the memories, Randy, may there never be another like you.

Ev