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2008 OQ Report

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2008 OQ Report

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2008 National League OQ Leaders
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2008 OQ REPORT

2008 OFFENSIVE LEADERS BY POSITION

AMERICAN LEAGUE  
     
C
Joe Mauer
 
1B
Kevin Youkilis
 
2B
Ian Kinsler
 
SS
Jhonny Peralta
 
3B
Alex Rodriguez
 
LF
Carlos Quentin
 
CF
Josh Hamilton
 
RF
Nick Markakis
 
DH
Milton Bradley
 


NATIONAL LEAGUE  
     
C
Brian McCann
 
1B
Albert Pujols
 
2B

Chase Utley

 
SS
Hanley Ramirez
 
3B

Chipper Jones

 
LF
Ryan Ludwick
 
CF
Carlos Beltran
 
RF
Brad Hawpe
 

Bold
indicates 2007 leaders.

To qualify for this list, a player must play at least half his team’s games at the defensive position indicated.

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2008 AMERICAN LEAGUE OQ LEADERS

 
Rank
 
Player
Team
OQ
 
 
1
 
Bradley
TEX
158
 
 
2
 
Rodriguez,A
NY
142
 
 
3
 
Youkilis
BOS
141
 
 
4
 
Quentin
CHI
141
 
 
5
 
Markakis
BAL
134
 
 
6
 
Huff
BAL
131
 
 
7
 
Cust
OAK
130
 
 
8
 
Ortiz
BOS
130
 
 
9
 
Pena
TAM
130
 
 
10
 
Hamilton
TEX
129
 
 
 
 
 
11
 
Mauer
MIN
129
 
 
12
 
Thome
CHI
128
 
 
13
 
Sizemore
CLE
127
 
 
14
 
Cabrera
DET
126
 
 
14
 
Morneau
MIN
126
 
 
16
 
Giambi
NY
126
 
 
17
 
Kinsler
TEX
126
 
 
18
 
Guerrero
LA
125
 
 
19
 
Longoria
TAM
124
 
 
20
 
Dye
CHI
123
 
 
 
 
 
21
 
Granderson
DET
123
 
 
22
 
Ordonez
DET
122
 
 
23
 
Pedroia
BOS
120
 
 
24
 
Abreu
NY
119
 
 
25
 
Roberts
BAL
118
 
 
26
 
Damon
NY
117
 
 
27
 
Ibanez
SEA
116
 
 
28
 
Upton
TAM
114
 
 
29
 
Kubel
MIN
111
 
 
30
 
Scott
BAL
111
 
 
 
 
 
31
 
DeJesus
KC
111
 
 
32
 
Mora
BAL
110
 
 
33
 
Konerko
CHI
110
 
 
34
 
Hunter
LA
109
 
 
35
 
Gordon
KC
108
 
 
36
 
Peralta
CLE
108
 
 
37
 
Overbay
TOR
108
 
 
38
 
Rios
TOR
106
 
 
39
 
Beltre
SEA
106
 
 
40
 
Swisher
CHI
105
 
 
 
 
 
41
 
Ramirez
CHI
102
 
 
42
 
Francisco
CLE
102
 
 
43
 
Jeter
NY
100
 
 
44
 
Millar
BAL
98
 
 
45
 
Polanco
DET
98
 
 
46
 
Lopez
SEA
98
 
 
47
 
Anderson
LA
97
 
 
48
 
Garko
CLE
97
 
 
49
 
Young
TEX
96
 
 
50
 
Iwamura
TAM
96
 
 
 
 
 
51
 
Suzuki
SEA
95
 
 
52
 
Young
MIN
93
 
 
53
 
Ellsbury
BOS
92
 
 
54
 
Teahen
KC
92
 
 
55
 
Guillen
KC
92
 
 
56
 
Ellis
OAK
91
 
 
57
 
Hernandez
BAL
91
 
 
58
 
Barton
OAK
91
 
 
59
 
Scutaro
TOR
90
 
 
60
 
Cabrera
CHI
90
 
 
 
 
 
61
 
Suzuki
OAK
89
 
 
62
 
Figgins
LA
89
 
 
63
 
Pierzynski
CHI
89
 
 
64
 
Renteria
DET
89
 
 
65
 
Cano
NY
88
 
 
66
 
Jones
BAL
87
 
 
67
 
Hannahan
OAK
85
 
 
68
 
Betancourt
SEA
83
 
 
69
 
Crosby
OAK
81
 
 
70
 
Gomez
MIN
77
 

The 2008 American League base-to-out ratio was .705.

This list includes every player who had at least 3 (at bats + walks) for each game his team played.

OQs of selected nonqualifiers, American League: Mike Aviles KC 110, Jason Bay BOS 130, Casey Blake CLE 113, Emil Brown OAK 85, Billy Butler KC 93, Asdrubal Cabrera CLE 95, Melky Cabrera NY 78, Shin-Soo Choo CLE 141, Carl Crawford 91, Joe Crede CHI 104, J.D. Drew BOS 145, Cliff Floyd TAM 110, Ken Griffey CHI 102, Carlos Guillen DET 115, Travis Hafner CLE 81, Eric Hinske TAM 111, Mike Lowell BOS 108, Hideki Matsui NY 108, David Murphy TEX 106, Xavier Nady NY 104, Manny Ramirez BOS 136, Ivan Rodriguez DET/NY 89, Scott Rolen TOR 105, Gary Sheffield DET 98, Kelly Shoppach CLE 119, Denard Span MIN 116, Mark Teixeira LA 176, Marcus Thames DET 111, Frank Thomas TOR/OAK 99, Juan Uribe CHI 85, Jose Vidro SEA 73, Vernon Wells TOR 114.

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2008 NATIONAL LEAGUE OQ LEADERS

 
Rank
 
Player
Team
OQ
 
 
 
 
1
 PujolsSTL
191
 
 
2
  Jones ATL
177
 
 
3
 BerkmanHOU
156
 
 
4
 LudwickSTL
145
 
 
5
 RamirezFLA
144
 
 
6
 HollidayCOL
144
 
 
7
 DunnCIN/ARI
141
 
 
8
 WrightNY
141
 
 
9
 BurrellPHI
134
 
 
10
 RamirezCHI
132
 
 
   
 
 
11
 HawpeCOL
131
 
 
12
 BeltranNY
131
 
 
13
 McCannATL
131
 
 
14
 UtleyPHI
131
 
 
15
 HowardPHI
130
 
 
16
 FielderMIL
129
 
 
17
 EthierLA
129
 
 
18
 UgglaFLA
129
 
 
19
 GlausSTL
127
 
 
20
 GilesSD
127
 
 
   
 
 
21
 SotoCHI
127
 
 
22
 VottoCIN
127
 
 
23
 DelgadoNY
126
 
 
24
 Gonzalez,ASD
126
 
 
25
 SorianoCHI
126
 
 
26
 BraunMIL
126
 
 
27
 DeRosaCHI
125
 
 
28
 McLouthPIT
121
 
 
29
 LaRoche,AdPIT
121
 
 
30
 LeeCHI
117
 
 
   
 
 
31
 ReyesNY
117
 
 
32
 DrewARI
116
 
 
33
 HardyMIL
115
 
 
34
 JacksonARI
115
 
 
35
 CameronMIL
114
 
 
36
 EncarnacionCIN
113
 
 
37
 JacobsFLA
113
 
 
38
 MartinLA
112
 
 
39
 LewisSF
110
 
 
40
 JohnsonATL
110
 
 
   
 
 
41
 ReynoldsARI
110
 
 
42
 WinnSF
109
 
 
43
 RossFLA
109
 
 
44
 KempLA
109
 
 
45
 CantuFLA
109
 
 
46
 RollinsPHI
108
 
 
47
 VictorinoPHI
107
 
 
48
 PenceHOU
105
 
 
49
 FukudomeCHI
105
 
 
50
 AtkinsCOL
105
 
 
   
 
 
51
 EscobarATL
104
 
 
52
 YoungARI
104
 
 
53
 LoneyLA
103
 
 
54
 SchumakerSTL
102
 
 
55
 GuzmanWAS
101
 
 
56
 WeeksMIL
101
 
 
57
 TheriotCHI
101
 
 
58
 PhillipsCIN
100
 
 
59
 HartMIL
99
 
 
60
 MolinaSF
98
 
 
   
 
 
61
 RowandSF
97
 
 
62
 HermidaFLA
96
 
 
63
 LopezWAS/STL
96
 
 
64
 MilledgeWAS
94
 
 
65
 BlancoATL
93
 
 
66
 KouzmanoffSD
91
 
 
67
 TejadaHOU
91
 
 
68
 KeppingerCIN
81
 
 
69
 SanchezPIT
81
 
 
70
 KendallMIL
81
 
 
   
 
 
71
 FrancoeurATL
80
 
 
72
 TaverasCOL
72
 
 
73
 BournHOU
71
 

The 2008 National League base-to-out ratio was .693.

This list includes every player who had at least 3 (at bats + walks) for each game his team played.

OQs of selected nonqualifiers, National League: Rick Ankiel STL 119, Casey Blake LA 103, Russell Branyan MIL 140, Jay Bruce CIN 103, Ryan Doumit PIT 117, Elijah Dukes WAS 129, Jim Edmonds SD/CHI 121, Pedro Feliz PHI 92, Jody Gerut SD 119, Khalil Greene SD 73, Ken Griffey CIN 115, Bill Hall MIL 91, Willie Harris WAS 106, Todd Helton COL 116, Andruw Jones LA 65, Austin Kearns WAS 79, Jeff Kent LA 95, Carlos Lee HOU 138, Xavier Nady PIT 132, Corey Patterson CIN 70, Manny Ramirez LA 222, Chris Snyder ARI 117, Mark Teixeira ATL 137, Troy Tulowitzki COL 98, Justin Upton ARI 118, Omar Vizquel SF 66, Jayson Werth PHI 126, Ty Wigginton HOU 123, Ryan Zimmerman WAS 103.

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FANNING OUT

As I predicted last year, somebody set a new single-season strikeout record in 2008. Arizona third baseman Mark Reynolds became the first player to exceed the magic 200 mark. It must now be conceded, however, that Arizona’s strategy of building an offense around players whose strikeout average exceeds their batting average did not produce a division title. Simply put, the Diamondbacks didn’t “get them on, get them over, and get them in” often enough. Back to the drawing board.

Reynolds finished the season with 204 strikeouts, giving Ryan Howard, who finished at 199 for the second year in a row, a target to shoot for in 2009. Oakland’s Jack Cust set a new American League record with 197. I’m not sure what management regards as an unacceptable strikeout-per-at bat ratio these days.

Did anyone in Arizona notice how Tampa Bay rocketed to success after changing their nickname from the Devil Rays to the Rays? Perhaps the Diamondbacks should become the Backs.

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SLOW MAN WALKING

The Backs’ Adam Dunn uttered a revealing statement this year. Dunn, who doesn’t hit well in the clutch but is always at or near the top of the league in both strikeouts and walks, was defending his pitch-taking proclivities. He said, “The goal is usually to get the starting pitcher out of there and get into the bullpen.”

He’s right. That is the goal, because it’s smart baseball to exploit modern-day organizations’ reluctance to develop stamina in their best pitchers. There aren’t enough good pitchers to furnish every team with 12 of them. So if you can tire out one of the good pitchers, you can force the other team’s manager to insert one of the bad ones.

My problem with this strategy is that it does not a produce a better game for a fan to watch. It’s a way to win, but it’s dull. In the early innings, taking pitches for the sake of taking pitches slows the action. Then, in the middle innings, the parade of inferior relief pitchers who can’t get the ball over ensures an even slower pace. In the larger scheme of things, starters who can’t pitch more than 5 or 6 innings never become pitching stars, and pitching stars help stimulate interest in baseball.

Batters who walk a lot have high OQs because they’re getting on base and not making outs. But I question the value of a slow-running player (like Adam Dunn) whose offensive game is overly dependent on walks.

The 1969 Washington Senators had a backup catcher named Jim French, who, like most catchers, was not fast on his feet. That team was managed by Ted Williams, perhaps the most patient batter who ever lived. The weak-swinging French, who began 1969 with a career batting average of .202, seemed to take Williams’ teachings to heart. French managed just 29 hits in 158 at bats that year, but he coaxed 41 walks. His OQ was 108, above the league average despite a batting average of just .184. Yet he scored just 14 runs and drove in 13. That’s not much production for that many plate appearances. Was French’s OQ a true indicator of his value as an offensive player? I doubt it.

Standing passively in the batter’s box did not transform Jim French into Ted Williams. Williams did not, as I have seen Adam Dunn do countless times, take hittable pitches simply for the sake of taking pitches. He advocated waiting for the right pitch because “to be a good hitter you’ve got to get a good ball to hit.” Be a hitter: thump that ball! When you see the right pitch, you hit it and hit it hard. You don’t continue to wait in case you see another one.

Although Manny Ramirez may not know anything about Ted Williams, he is one contemporary player who approaches hitting as Williams did. Dodger teammate Matt Kemp observed recently that “Manny is a big believer in being patient and getting that good pitch to hit. He thinks it helps to go deep in counts. He says the more pitches you see, the better chance the pitcher will make a mistake.” Ramirez will settle for a walk, but he goes up to the plate wanting to swing. A walk is not as good as a hit for an elite hitter like Ramirez, because any time he makes contact he’s got a chance for extra bases.

Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire had a valid point when he said, "To start telling a guy to just 'take, take, take,' sometimes that's just not human nature. You don't get to the big leagues, and you don't become a big league player, by 'take, take, take' and get walks. Some people are paid to drive in runs. You think David Ortiz goes up there to walk? He's paid to drive in runs. He walks because we walk him. On purpose.”

Patience is good. Passivity is not. Williams was criticized (by luminaries like Ty Cobb and Joe DiMaggio as well as thousands of lesser lights) for his patience, but his approach produced tons of runs scored and driven in because he had the skill to drive the ball into extra-base territory when he swung at it. Develop the ability to do that, and then your patience will reward you.

May the baseball gods preserve us from those batters who take strikes and swing at balls. There will always be guys like that around, but must they play every day?

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BEST HITTING CATCHER EVER?

One of the least-noticed events of 2008 was the midseason announcement by Mike Piazza that he would play no more forever. The broken-down wreck who had staggered through 2007 as Oakland’s part-time designated hitter hadn’t been relevant since 2003, when a sore groin sidelined this perennial All-Star catcher for half the season while his New York Mets sank like a stone to the muddy bottom of the National League East.

Fickle fans forget, however, that not so long ago Piazza was the toast of baseball, a big-market player with a handsome face and a potent bat. Piazza was still in his 20s when he found himself lionized as the best-hitting catcher of all time. The early numbers were dazzling. During his first six seasons as a regular Piazza averaged .335 with 33 home runs, impressive statistics for any player, let alone a man playing baseball’s most demanding defensive position.

But because the “best ever” claims for Piazza were advanced by sportswriters for whom “all time” began in 1970, I was skeptical. Piazza did his hitting in a steroid-pumped era of inflated offense. Were his batting statistics an illusion?

Because the OQ measures dominance, it allows us to compare batting performance across time. Here are Piazza’s career OQs:

1992x
80
 
1993
142
 
1994
132
 
1995
155
 
1996
157
 
1997
173
 
1998
146
 
1999
131
 
2000
147
 
2001
143
 
2002
133
 
2003x
127
 
2004
114
 
2005x
108
 
2006x
115
 
2007x
92
 

x = did not qualify as regular

Was Piazza the best hitting catcher of all time? In a word, yes.

Piazza’s 1997 season was the best offensive season a catcher ever had. Only 6 full-time catchers achieved a single-season OQ as high as 160. They were Charlie Bennett (161 in 1885), King Kelly (161 in 1888), Mickey Cochrane (166 in 1933), Johnny Bench (163 in 1972), Carlton Fisk (161 in 1972), and Javy Lopez (162 in 2003).

Piazza’s career OQ (a 143 average for his 11 years as a regular) is better than any other catcher’s, with one exception. Roy Campanella also boasted a 143 career OQ (with highs of 155 in both 1951 and 1953). But Campanella caught regularly for just 6 seasons, and that is not as impressive a feat as sustained 143-level production for 11 seasons. Even allowing for the facts that baseball’s color line kept Campy out of the major leagues until he was 26 and at 36 a horrific auto accident ended his career, he ranks just a bit below Piazza as an offensive force.

To state that Mike Piazza was the best hitting catcher of all time is not the same thing as to suggest, as some pundits have, that Piazza was the best catcher of all time. Piazza caught 1629 games, which is tied for 20th place all-time. His career won-lost record was 820-705 with 104 no-decisions. His career winning percentage of .538 translates into a 162-game equivalent of 87-75. That’s good, but by no means great. It’s almost identical to the lifetime winning percentage of the catcher he replaced in Los Angeles, Mike Scioscia (1395 games caught), who was never accused of being a good hitter.

There’s some truth to the statement that you win a Gold Glove with your bat, but even swinging the best bat ever at catcher didn’t earn Gold Glove consideration for Mike Piazza. He was a mediocre defensive catcher on his best day. He never played for a world champion, and only one of his teams (the 2000 New York Mets) advanced to the World Series. If I were choosing catchers for an all-time All-Star team I’d choose Cochrane, Bench, Campanella, and Yogi Berra long before I’d consider Piazza, and I’d win more games with any of those guys behind the plate.

Speaking of good-hitting catchers, you’ve got to tip your cap to Joe Mauer. For a catcher twice to lead his league in batting average is unprecedented. A catcher’s hands take such a beating that his ability to grip the bat firmly throughout the duration of his swing invariably tails off in the last month of the season.

As an offensive player Mauer is similar to Cochrane. He bats lefthanded, has excellent strike zone judgment, and hits for a high average without a lot of home run power. Mauer’s teams have had winning records, too, although he has no realistic chance to match Cochrane’s lifetime .643 winning percentage. A .643 winning percentage is what your team would have if it amassed a 104-58 won-lost record in a 162-game season. Cochrane achieved this in a career of 1451 games caught (1925-1937). Mauer, for all his talent and potential (he’s just 25), may never achieve .643 for one season as long as he plays in small-market Minnesota.

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THE ACCOMPLISHMENTS OF IVAN RODRIGUEZ

Catcher Ivan Rodriguez will celebrate his 37th birthday on November 27. 2008 was not a banner year for I-Rod. Fingers were pointed in his direction when his Tigers underachieved. He is no longer any good at blocking errant pitches in the dirt, and supposedly pitchers don’t like throwing to him because he demands too many fastballs with runners on base, the better to display his still-powerful throwing arm. (Is that necessarily a bad thing?) After Detroit cut him loose the Yankees picked him up, but apparently they didn’t like what they got. Rodriguez found himself playing second fiddle in New York to 33-year-old Jose Molina, a career .238 hitter who, while serviceable, is nobody’s idea of an All-Star.

The signs are unmistakable that the decline phase of Rodriguez’s career has begun. But does he realize it? He’s a free agent now, and his handlers are likely to insist on top dollar for his services in 2009 despite his decreasing usefulness. Still, Rodriguez has one important selling point that nobody’s talking about. He’s poised to become the all-time leader in games played at his defensive position, and that fact, if publicized and promoted, ought to generate some fan interest.

Current record holder (and Hall of Famer) Carlton Fisk caught 2226 games from 1969 to 1993. He was 45 when he caught his last one. Fisk won 1139 of these games and lost 962, with 125 no-decisions.

Rodriguez has caught 2173 games. He has won 1082 and lost 1011, with 80 no-decisions. On the all-time list he ranks second in games caught (behind Fisk and Bob Boone), second in wins, and first in losses. He needs 54 games caught and 58 wins to take over the top spot in all three categories. (The 58 wins may be out of reach next year. His record in 2008 was 52-54.)

When you watch Rodriguez catch a game in 2009, you will be watching him make significant history. I’ll be rooting for him. I hope he can be an important contributor to a contending team.

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OPERATION SHUTDOWN

In 2001 right fielder Derek Bell signed a two-year, $9 million contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates, then as now one of baseball’s most dysfunctional franchises. The Pirates lost 100 games, and Bell earned the distinction of the team’s least valuable player, batting .173 (77 OQ) with 13 RBI in the 46 games he played before strained hamstrings shut him down for good. During spring training the following year, Pittsburgh general manager Dave Littlefield asserted that Bell would compete with Armando Rios and Craig Wilson for the job of starting right fielder in 2002. Bell did not react graciously to this announcement.

“If it ain’t settled with me out there, then they can trade me,” Bell told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I ain’t going out there to hurt myself in spring training battling for a job. If it is (a competition), then I’m going into ‘Operation Shutdown.’ Tell them exactly what I said. I haven’t competed for a job since 1991.”

The Pittsburgh brain trust waived Bell on March 30 after watching him loaf around the outfield and bat about .150 that spring. To his undoubted astonishment no other clubs bid for his dubious services, so he went home to count the millions the Pirates were obligated to pay him. Vilified as the personification of the pampered, arrogant professional athlete, Bell never played in the big leagues again.

Bell’s lasting legacy is his attachment of a catchy phrase (Operation Shutdown) to a phenomenon that is probably as old as professional baseball itself: a player deliberately giving less than his best in order to provoke management into trading him or releasing him from his contract. That Bell was frank enough to declare these intentions openly made him a figure of fun before he was forgotten. But only the fans were laughing. At least a few of Bell’s fellow players seem to have as adopted him as their spiritual leader.

Ken Griffey Jr, one of baseball’s most popular players when he played in Seattle, was traded to Cincinnati in 2000 and signed a long-term contract to remain in his hometown. The salary Griffey agreed to was massive, but sportswriters observed that it was somewhat less than his optimum value in the free agent marketplace. Cincinnati fans were soon to learn that for Griffey the idea of a “hometown discount” (a phrase they would hear ad nauseum) was less a token of loyalty than a license to perform at half speed.

Griffey embarked on a nine-season Operation Shutdown distinguished by a consistent disinclination to hustle in any situation. The player Cincinnati got was not the charismatic flyhawk and run producer so beloved in the American League, but a slo-mo outfield loper who turned opposition singles into doubles and an indifferent batter who simply couldn’t be bothered to run out ground balls. None of the Cincinnati teams Griffey played on were contenders, although they seemed to perform somewhat better when Griffey was on the disabled list, which was mercifully often.

What fans found especially exasperating was that Griffey’s “Why are you working so hard?” approach to competition seemed to rub off on the team’s young prospects. In 2008, for example, top-rated prospect Jay Bruce arrived in midseason and set the National League on fire for a couple of weeks with his aggressive energy. Too soon, however, he started playing as if he had lead in his saddlebags: jogging after balls in the outfield, taking halfhearted swings at bad pitches, and lazing around the bases just like “superstar” Ken Griffey.

Sportswriters who lauded Griffey on the occasion of his 600th home run were invariably out-of-town guys who hadn’t actually watched him play since the 1990s. They seemed shocked when the Reds finally gave up on this “living legend.” But Griffey’s legacy lives after him. Reds batters typically stand rooted at home plate after hitting a fly ball down one of the outfield foul lines. They begin to run only if they see the ball fall to earth in fair territory, gaining just one base on what ought to be a double. It may take years to eradicate the culture of losing that has come to afflict this franchise.

Perhaps the most notorious Derek Bell disciple of our time is Manny Ramirez, who, in the midst of this year’s pennant race, declared in a series of public statements that he intended to curtail his efforts until the Red Sox gave him his walking papers. Here was a star player, not a useless stumblebum like Derek Bell, declaring his own Operation Shutdown, an action that struck at the heart of baseball’s integrity, but no investigation by the commissioner’s office was forthcoming. Ramirez got what he wanted: Boston traded him (and amazingly received good value for him). Thereupon Man-Ram decided to exert himself on behalf of his new club, the Dodgers, and his best was good enough to lead them to a division title.

Think we’ll see more of this behavior, or less?

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KNOW YOUR CABRERAS

On Friday, May 16, 1913, in front of a crowd enhanced by 5,000 screaming schoolchildren admitted free by owner Charles Ebbets, the second-place Brooklyn Superbas (17-9) hosted the fourth-ranked St Louis Cardinals (14-13). The Redbirds unveiled a secret weapon that day. He was 32-year-old rookie Alfredo Cabrera, a mainstay of Cuban baseball getting a big league trial at shortstop in place of out-of-favor veteran Arnold Hauser. The success of Cuban outfielder Armando Marsans in Cincinnati probably inspired the Cardinals to take a chance on Cabrera.

Cabrera’s double-play partner was player-manager Miller Huggins, and after five innings Huggins had seen enough. Cabrera had failed to hit safely in two plate appearances and accepted no chances in the field when Huggins replaced him with outfielder Lee Magee. The Cardinals lost the game and never recovered. At season’s end they dwelt in the cellar, 48 games under .500 and 12 games behind Cincinnati, the National League’s next worst team.

Alfredo Cabrera’s name never appeared in another big league box score. He returned to Cuba, where he finished a distinguished two-decade career in 1920. He was elected to the Cuban Salon de la Fama (Hall of Fame) in 1942.

Alfredo Cabrera was the first of his tribe to play big league baseball, although America waited a long time for his successor. He was Francisco Cabrera, a catcher-first baseman from the Dominican Republic who broke in with Toronto in 1989 but played all but 3 of his 196 big league games for Atlanta. What Braves fan can forget the dramatic pinch single Francisco delivered in the bottom of the 9th inning of Game 7 of the 1992 National League Championship Series to plate Sid Bream with the winning run?

This heroic blow was the highlight of Francisco Cabrera’s brief major league career. We are now enjoying, however, a renaissance of baseball Cabreras. No less than 7 Cabreras performed for big league teams in 2008:

Asdrubal (Cleveland second baseman), from Venezuela

Daniel (Baltimore pitcher), from the Dominican Republic

Fernando (Baltimore pitcher), from Puerto Rico

Jolbert (Cincinnati outfielder), from Colombia

Melky (New York Yankee outfielder), from the Dominican Republic

Miguel (Detroit first baseman), from Venezuela

Orlando (Chicago White Sox shortstop), from Colombia

Why now? I don’t know, you tell me.

Who’s next? The next great Cabrera might be Nicaraguan shortstop Everth Cabrera, whom Colorado appears to be grooming as heir apparent to Troy Tulowitzki.

Incidentally, Miguel homered off Daniel on July 19.

Speaking of Asdrubal Cabrera, the fact that Cleveland held a Bobblehead Night for him shows, if nothing else, that someone in their front office has a sense of humor.

Gary Sheffield wasn't laughing when Asdrubal intervened in the September 19 scuffle with Cleveland pitcher Fausto Carmona that earned all three players a suspension. “He’ll get taken care of,” said Sheffield of Asdrubal after tempers had cooled the following day. “You take a cheap shot at me, I’ll never forget it to the day I die.” But he denied reports that he threatened to cut off Asdrubal’s head and hurl it into the Cleveland dugout.

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THIS FOUL ROUT

“Give me to know how this foul rout began, who set it on; and he that is approv’d in this offence…” (Othello, Act II, Scene 3)

The player who dominated the news in 2007, Barry Bonds, emitted just one blip on the 2008 radar screen. That occurred in July when Barry’s agent, Jeff Borris, castigated baseball because no team had made his illustrious client (indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice the previous November) a “fair market value offer” or any offer at all.

“I feel bad for Barry,” Borris asserted. “I think he’s deserving of better. He gave his heart and soul to this game, and I think he deserves to go out on his own terms.”

The days when Barry could dictate his own terms appear (mercifully) to be over, because his hoped-for pity party never materialized. But if Barry wanted to play in 2008, and he was in shape to play, as Borris claimed, why didn’t he? Was owner collusion the problem? Although Borris asked the Players Association to investigate that possibility, the union did not file a formal grievance.

Perhaps each owner, independently and without discussing of the matter with his colleagues, decided that offering Barry Bonds a contract would have been a public relations disaster certain to depress ticket sales. But I don’t buy that. Fans who don’t like Barry are both numerous and vocal, but others revere him as a baseball god, and I don’t believe any team would have suffered at the box office if they had suited Barry up.

One explanation makes sense to me. I’d be willing to bet that none of baseball’s 30 managers knocked on their general manager’s door to declare, “I’d like to have Barry Bonds on my team.” I wonder, too, how many players said, “I’d like to have Barry Bonds as a teammate this year.” Nobody signed Bonds because no club wanted to recreate the travesty that was the 2007 San Francisco Giants. And that includes the Giants.

Rightly or wrongly, the gibbous visage of Barry Bonds now represents the face of the Steroid Era. Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, and Roger Clemens seem to have dropped off the face of the earth, while erstwhile pariah Mark McGwire seems to be undergoing, through no effort on his part, a curious rehabilitation. McGwire, the Howard Hughes of baseball, still isn’t talking, but that hasn’t stopped America’s sportswriters from falling over themselves to absolve him of his sins. I can’t decide whether to be amused or disgusted when I read story after story about what a prince of a fellow McGwire is, how unjustly maligned he is, how terrific a hitting coach he would be, and how important it is that some club offer him a job in that capacity. Hell, guys, why not name him Commissioner?

Baseball fans who disapprove of performance-enhancing drugs ought not to direct their condemnation solely at the players. Equally complicit in my eyes are the club officials who with full knowledge offered economic incentives to these fatted calves, the agents who reaped the commissions on those ever-expanding salaries, and the paid cheerleaders in the media who observed what was going on but so diligently concealed their knowledge. Don’t you think these “journalists” were cheating you too?

Many people who love the game harbor the hope that even one of those chemically augmented heroes of yesteryear will step forth to offer a contrite apology. If that were to happen, the fans would forgive and forget the excesses of the past and feel fully good about the game again. But I do not expect ever to hear an apology from the lips of any of the players who benefited most from performance-enhancing substances. They won’t apologize for one simple reason: they don’t believe they did anything wrong. Each of these athletes made a bargain with his conscience years ago.

Remember this, too: just because a player was not named in the Mitchell Report doesn’t mean he was clean.

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RUMINATIONS

* “Baseball is like church. Many go, few understand.” (Houston Astros radio announcer Brett Dolan on June 28, 2008).

* Who would you rather have: Jay Bruce or Babe Ruth?

* Who would you rather have: Callix Crabbe or Caonabo Cosme? (Both, alas, seem to be stuck at the Triple-A level.)

* When Lastings Milledge leads your team with 14 home runs and 61 runs batted in, your team needs a new general manager.

* Remember the name: Kansas City first baseman Kila Ka’aihue. A Kauai King for the 21st century?

* The era of the slugging shortstop has ended in the American League.  Now that Detroit has moved Carlos Guillen to third base, there’s not one shortstop in the junior circuit who is nearly comparable (offensively) to the Miguel Tejada, Nomar Garciaparra, Alex Rodriguez, and Derek Jeter of the early years of this decade.

Some have speculated that Kansas City’s Mike Aviles (110 OQ) may be heir to this tradition.  Aviles played great after the Royals called him up in May, and the team played its best with him in the lineup.  (Aviles looked even better by contrast.  The guy he replaced, Tony Pena, registered a barely-visible OQ of 40 in 225 at-bats.)  Aviles would have ranked as the American League’s best offensive shortstop if he had had enough plate appearances to qualify as a regular.  But I see a bounce ahead.  Aviles was 27 years old when the Royals summoned him, old for a rookie, and I don’t foresee him improving significantly nor having a long career at shortstop,where he's no better than an average fielder.

* By the way, if you were wondering why Tony Pena isn’t Tony Pena Junior, it’s because his dad, the former major league catcher and manager, was Antonio Francisco Pena.  Young Tony’s middle name is Francisco, too, but he was christened Tony, not Antonio.

* The Positronic Man: Cliff Lee (22-3 with a .500 ballclub, the 2008 Cleveland Indians).

* Indians fans want to know this about Fausto Carmona: who is his Mephistopheles?

* In Huntsville (Double-A Southern League) the PA system used to play Fats Domino’s “I Want To Walk You Home” whenever an opposing pitcher walked a Huntsville batter with the bases loaded. On most of these occasions, of course, the base on balls is inadvertent, an accident, a failure. In 2008, however, a major league manager did want to walk a man home and was bold enough to order it done. On August 17 Tampa Bay skipper Joe Maddon ordered an intentional walk to slugging Josh Hamilton with the bases loaded in the ninth inning of a game at Texas. The Rays won, cementing Maddon’s reputation as an eccentric genius. This was only the third bases-loaded intentional pass in major league history. In 1998 Arizona’s Buck Showalter awarded a freebie to Barry Bonds, and Chicago’s Clark Griffith ordered one to the venerable Napoleon Lajoie way back in 1901. Showalter may have thought he invented the maneuver, but they didn’t call Griffith “The Old Fox” for nothing.

* Because White Sox infielder Juan Uribe's official age is 29, I find it odd that he sported a gray beard this season.

* Is A.J. Pierzynski the worst baserunner in baseball, or the worst baserunner in the history of baseball?

* Never confuse Chone Figgins with Shawn Riggans. (You’re going to see them both in the American League playoffs.)

* When in Bishkek, stay at the Hotel Ak Keme.

October 2008

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