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2010 OQ Report

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2010 OQ REPORT

2010 OFFENSIVE LEADERS BY POSITION

AMERICAN LEAGUE  
     
C Joe Mauer  
1B Miguel Cabrera  
2B Robinson Cano  
SS Alexei Ramirez  
3B Adrian Beltre  
LF Josh Hamilton  
CF Vernon Wells  
RF Jose Bautista  
DH David Ortiz  


NATIONAL LEAGUE  
     
C Brian McCann  
1B Joey Votto  
2B Dan Uggla  
SS Troy Tulowitzki  
3B Ryan Zimmerman  
LF Matt Holliday  
CF Carlos Gonzalez  
RF Jayson Werth  

Bold
indicates 2009 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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2010 AMERICAN LEAGUE OQ LEADERS

 
Rank
 
Player
Team
OQ
 
 
 
 
 
1
 
Cabrera
DET
172
 
 
2
 
Hamilton
TEX
165
 
 
3
 
Bautista
TOR
158
 
 
4
 
Konerko
CHI
153
 
 
5
 
Ortiz
BOS
139
 
 
6
 
Scott
BAL
137
 
 
7
 
Cano
NY
135
 
 
8
 
Beltre
BOS
135
 
 
9
 
Choo
CLE
134
 
 
10
 
Longoria
TAM
132
 
 
 
 
 
11
 
Mauer
MIN
131
 
 
12
 
Swisher
NY
127
 
 
13
 
Butler
KC
126
 
 
14
 
Teixeira
NY
126
 
 
15
 
Rodriguez
NY
125
 
 
16
 
Barton
OAK
122
 
 
17
 
Wells
TOR
122
 
 
18
 
Crawford
TAM
122
 
 
19
 
Matsui
LA
121
 
 
20
 
Martinez
BOS
121
 
 
 
 
 
21
 
Hunter
LA
117
 
 
22
 
Guerrero
TEX
117
 
 
23
 
Abreu
LA
116
 
 
24
 
Markakis
BAL
116
 
 
25
 
Quentin
CHI
115
 
 
26
 
Drew
BOS
114
 
 
27
 
Young
MIN
114
 
 
28
 
Granderson
NY
114
 
 
29
 
Gardner
NY
111
 
 
30
 
Overbay
TOR
109
 
 
 
 
 
31
 
Napoli
LA
109
 
 
32
 
Rios
CHI
108
 
 
33
 
Pena
TAM
108
 
 
34
 
Young
TEX
107
 
 
35
 
Damon
DET
107
 
 
36
 
Upton
TAM
106
 
 
37
 
Kubel
MIN
105
 
 
38
 
Cuddyer
MIN
104
 
 
39
 
Zobrist
TAM
101
 
 
40
 
Boesch
DET
100
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
41
 
Jones
BAL
99
 
 
42
 
Jackson
DET
99
 
 
43
 
Suzuki
SEA
99
 
 
44
 
Inge
DET
98
 
 
45
 
Wigginton
BAL
98
 
 
46
 
Ramirez,A
CHI
98
 
 
47
 
Scutaro
BOS
96
 
 
48
 
Peralta
CLE/DET
96
 
 
49
 
Hudson
MIN
95
 
 
50
 
Lind
TOR
95
 
 
 
 
 
51
 
Wieters
BAL
95
 
 
52
 
Jeter
NY
94
 
 
53
 
Kendrick
LA
93
 
 
54
 
Pennington
OAK
92
 
 
55
 
Span
MIN
89
 
 
56
 
Betancourt
KC
89
 
 
57
 
Gutierrez
SEA
89
 
 
58
 
Bartlett
TAM
88
 
 
59
 
Davis
OAK
88
 
 
60
 
Hill
TOR
87
 
 
 
 
 
61
 
Callaspo
KC/LA
86
 
 
62
 
Kouzmanoff
OAK
86
 
 
63
 
Figgins
SEA
85
 
 
64
 
Pierzynski
CHI
85
 
 
65
 
Suzuki
OAK
84
 
 
66
 
Andrus
TEX
82
 
 
67
 
Pierre
CHI
78
 
 
68
 
Aybar
LA
78
 
 
69
 
Lopez
SEA
73
 
 
70
 
Izturis
BAL
62
 

The 2010 American League base-to-out ratio was .678, the lowest mark since 1992.

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 97, Gordon Beckham CHI 91, Lance Berkman NY 101, Wilson Betemit KC 135, Milton Bradley SEA 86, Russell Branyan CLE/SEA 118, John Buck TOR 108, Jorge Cantu TEX 75, Nelson Cruz TEX 145, Jack Cust OAK 128, David DeJesus KC 117, Edwin Encarnacion TOR 111, Jose Guillen KC 99, Travis Hafner CLE 118, Bill Hall BOS 109, John Jaso TAM 110, Andruw Jones CHI 124, Kila Ka’aihue KC 99, Austin Kearns CLE/NY 102, Ian Kinsler TEX 115, Casey Kotchman SEA 79, Mark Kotsay CHI 92, Matt LaPorta CLE 92, Fred Lewis TOR 100, Kendry Morales LA 114, Justin Morneau MIN 177, David Murphy TEX 116, Magglio Ordonez DET 127, Dustin Pedroia BOS 128, Jorge Posada NY 119, Ryan Raburn DET 112, Juan Rivera LA 96, Carlos Santana CLE 142, Justin Smoak TEX/SEA 95, Jim Thome MIN 174, Danny Valencia MIN 110, Kevin Youkilis BOS 154.

Funny thing: if you merge Justin Morneau, whose stellar season was unfortunately cut short, and Jim Thome, the man who replaced him in the Minnesota lineup, you have a 175 OQ.  That would have led the American League, with Miguel Cabrera’s 172 in second place.  But neither Twin had the necessary at bats to qualify for the title.  Kind of reminds me of Tito Francona in 1959, whose 158 OQ would have topped the 154 mark of leader Al Kaline had Cleveland manager Joe Gordon let him play a few more games.  (Reportedly Gordon’s handling of Francona caused a major rift with Indians general manager Frank Lane after the Tribe fell out of first place for good on July 28.  But I digress.)

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2010 NATIONAL LEAGUE OQ LEADERS

<
 
Rank
 
Player
Team
OQ
 
 
 
 
 
1
 
Votto
CIN
170
 
 
2
 
Pujols
STL
169
 
 
3
 
Gonzalez
COL
151
 
 
4
 
Tulowitzki
COL
147
 
 
5
 
Werth
PHI
145
 
 
6
 
Gonzalez
SD
143
 
 
7
 
Holliday
STL
142
 
 
8
 
Zimmerman
WAS
139
 
 
9
 
Huff
SF
138
 
 
10
 
Dunn
WAS
137
 
 
 
 
 
11
 
Fielder
MIL
136
 
 
12
 
Uggla
FLA
135
 
 
13
 
Johnson
ARI
132
 
 
14
 
Rasmus
STL
132
 
 
15
 
Heyward
ATL
131
 
 
16
 
Wright
NY
130
 
 
17
 
Ethier
LA
129
 
 
18
 
Braun
MIL
128
 
 
19
 
Ramirez
FLA
127
 
 
20
 
Howard
PHI
127
 
 
 
 
 
21
 
Hart
MIL
127
 
 
22
 
Bruce
CIN
127
 
 
23
 
Rolen
CIN
127
 
 
24
 
McCann
ATL
125
 
 
25
 
Utley
PHI
123
 
 
26
 
Torres
SF
121
 
 
27
 
McCutchen
PIT
120
 
 
28
 
Weeks
MIL
119
 
 
29
 
Soriano
CHI
119
 
 
30
 
Drew
ARI
118
 
 
 
 
 
31
 
Upton
ARI
118
 
 
32
 
Davis
NY
118
 
 
33
 
Ibanez
PHI
117
 
 
34
 
Young
ARI
117
 
 
35
 
McGehee
MIL
115
 
 
36
 
Prado
ATL
114
 
 
37
 
Lee
CHI/ATL
114
 
 
38
 
Sanchez
FLA
113
 
 
39
 
LaRoche
ARI
113
 
 
40
 
Reynolds
ARI
112
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
41
 
Stubbs
CIN
111
 
 
42
 
Pence
HOU
111
 
 
43
 
Fowler
COL
110
 
 
44
 
Kemp
LA
108
 
 
45
 
Pagan
NY
106
 
 
46
 
Infante
ATL
106
 
 
47
 
Victorino
PHI
105
 
 
48
 
Uribe
SF
105
 
 
49
 
Phillips
CIN
104
 
 
50
 
Keppinger
HOU
104
 
 
 
 
 
51
 
Ramirez
CHI
104
 
 
52
 
Gomes
CIN
104
 
 
53
 
Ludwick
STL/SD
104
 
 
54
 
Byrd
CHI
103
 
 
55
 
Reyes
NY
101
 
 
56
 
Castro
CHI
101
 
 
57
 
Sandoval
SF
101
 
 
58
 
Jones
PIT
100
 
 
59
 
Blake
LA
100
 
 
60
 
Ross
FLA/SF
99
 
 
 
 
 
61
 
Loney
LA
99
 
 
62
 
DeWitt
LA/CHI
98
 
 
63
 
Headley
SD
95
 
 
64
 
Lee
HOU
95
 
 
65
 
Polanco
PHI
95
 
 
66
 
Bourn
HOU
93
 
 
67
 
Desmond
WAS
92
 
 
68
 
Cabrera
ATL
90
 
 
69
 
Molina
STL
88
 
 
70
 
Schumaker
STL
88
 
 
 
 
 
71
 
Cedeno
PIT
87
 
 
72
 
Cabrera
CIN
84
 
 
73
 
Morgan
WAS
79
 
 
74
 
Theriot
CHI/LA
79
 
 
75
 
Escobar
MIL
78
 

The 2010 National League base-to-out ratio was .665, the lowest mark since 1992.

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: Pedro Alvarez PIT, Jason Bay NY 107, Carlos Beltran p align="left" NY 114, Lance Berkman HOU 127, Roger Bernadina WAS 94, Jorge Cantu FLA 96, Chris Coghlan FLA 98, Ty Colvin CHI 118, Kosuke Fukudome CHI 126, Rafael Furcal LA 121, Jason Giambi COL 119, Troy Glaus ATL 109, Jose Guillen SF 85, Todd Helton COL 108, Chipper Jones ATL 126, Cameron Maybin FLA 87, Lastings Milledge PIT 94, Logan Morrison FLA 129, Xavier Nady CHI 82, Buster Posey SF 125, Jimmy Rollins PHI 97, Freddy Sanchez SF 100, Seth Smith COL 113, Geovany Soto CHI 144, Matt Stairs SD 115, Mike Stanton FLA 122, Ian Stewart COL 113, Will Venable SD 104, Neil Walker PIT 116, Josh Willingham WAS 132.

The National League race for the OQ title went down to the wire.  Joey Votto had a very slight lead over Albert Pujols entering the final day of the regular season.  Both men had three plate appearances on Sunday.  Votto doubled, lined out to center, and walked.  He was removed after five innings, possibly to protect his OQ lead.  Pujols grounded out twice and walked, whereupon he was lifted for a pinch runner.

Pujols has now completed a full decade of major league service.  In his last six seasons he has won the OQ title three times and finished second three times.  For ten years he has averaged an OQ of 169.  He has never played fewer than 143 games, batted below .312, batted in fewer than 103 runs, or scored fewer than 99 runs.  He has never hit fewer than 33 doubles or fewer than 34 home runs.  In 56 postseason games he has batted .322 with 62 runs produced and a base-to-out ratio of 1.119.  At age 30 he is the brightest star in the game and has proven that he belongs in the company of two best righthanded hitting first basemen in baseball history, Jimmie Foxx and Hank Greenberg.  When you watch Pujols play, you are watching one of the game’s immortals.

In 2010 Pujols accomplished the rare feat of leading the National League in both runs scored (115) and runs batted in (118).

The lefthanded hitting Votto, who turned 27 last month, has emerged as a major force.  A charismatic performer and fan favorite, he carried his team to a title in exactly the same fashion that Carl Yastrzemski did in 1967, delivering key plays in the clutch from April to October.  Votto is a somewhat late bloomer who spent six seasons in the minors, playing over 700 minor league games before the Reds promoted him in late 2007.  In contrast, Pujols’ minor league apprenticeship consisted of just the 133 games he played in 2000.

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HOW BAD WERE THEY?

On September 17 Dejan Kovacevic wrote in his column in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “It is an epic failure, quite literally one of historic proportions. And I'm not sure that everyone involved with the Pirates gets that.”

The 2010 Pittsburgh Pirates, who finished 57-105, led the majors in fielding errors (127). Additionally, the Bucs can boast the dual distinction of scoring the fewest runs (587) and giving up the most runs (866) in the National League. That is difficult to do in the modern era of 30 teams. In fact, it hadn’t been done since the 54-106 Atlanta Braves accomplished the feat in 1988. Oddly enough, the last year an American League team anchored both offense and defense was also 1988. The 54-107 Baltimore Orioles were one of just seven teams since 1901 to score the fewest runs and give up the most runs in all of major league baseball.

Since 1901 four teams have recorded the fewest runs scored, the most runs allowed, and the most errors committed in all of major league baseball: the 1910 St Louis Browns, the 1916 Philadelphia Athletics, the 1921 Philadelphia Phillies, and the 1952 Pittsburgh Pirates.

Fewest Runs Scored and Most Runs Allowed, NL

 
Pittsburgh 6 (1890, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 2010)
 
 
Philadelphia 6 (1883, 1921, 1938, 1939, 1941, 1942)
 
 
St Louis 5 (1897, 1903, 1908, 1913, 1916)
 
 
Cincinnati 3 (1876, 1934, 1948)
 
 
Washington 2 (1888, 1893)
 
 
Atlanta 1 (1988)
 
 
Boston 1 (1906)
 
 
Chicago 1 (1949)
 
 
Cleveland 1 (1899)
 
 
Louisville 1 (1895)
 
 
Milwaukee 1 (1878)
 
 
Montreal 1 (1976)
 
 
New York 1 (1965)
 
 
San Diego 1 (1974)
 
 
Worcester 1 (1882)
 

Fewest Runs Scored and Most Runs Allowed, AL

 
Philadelphia 5 (1916, 1919, 1920, 1921, 1943)
 
 
Boston 4 (1906, 1923, 1925, 1932)
 
 
Washington 4 (1903, 1904, 1909, 1963)
 
 
St Louis 3 (1910, 1911, 1951)
 
 
Baltimore 1 (1988) Detroit 1 (1952)
 
 
New York 1 (1908)
 
 
Texas 1 (1973)
 

Incredibly, one of these teams did not finish last. At the end of an unusually exciting negative pennant race, the 1948 Cincinnati Reds edged the Chicago Cubs by a half game for National League seventh place honors. The Reds clinched the seventh slot on the final day when unlikely hero Steve Filipowicz singled home Bobby Adams in the bottom of the ninth to give Johnny Vander Meer a 1-0 victory over (who else) the Pittsburgh Pirates before 7,255 screaming fans at Crosley Field.

The Seattle Mariners, Pittsburgh’s opponent in the 2010 Negative World Series, had their own claim to distinction: they scored just 513 runs. That’s the lowest total in an uninterrupted season since the California Angels plated 511 in 1971. But those Angels managed to win 76 games, while the 2010 Mariners finished with 61 victories. Franklin Gutierrez was their top RBI man with 64.

Jack Zduriencik, the general manager who put that Seattle team together, has a lot to answer for. Milton Bradley, an acquisition who was counted on to provide firepower, did not hit with authority to offset his annual meltdown, and onetime hero Ken Griffey, the Rip Van Winkle of baseball, contributed an OQ of 54. Zduriencik was rehired for 2011, so rest assured that Bradley will be back next year, although Griffey has slunk off into the sunset. Jackie Z apparently endorses the John Thompson dictum, "You can calm down a fool before you can resurrect a corpse."

The sportswriters who paid effusive tribute to Griffey, typified by Boston’s Nick Cafardo, who lauded Griffey’s “22 seasons of excellence,” did not, evidently, watch him play in Cincinnati. From 1989 to 1999 Griffey was Henry Jekyll in Seattle; in Cincinnati from 2000 to 2008 he was Edward Hyde. He began his long downhill coast, disappointingly, at the age of 30. What was worse, the loafing, lackadaisical style Griffey displayed affected the entire Reds ballclub, which did not contend for anything after 2000.

It took Griffey’s departure for the franchise to pull itself together. Cincinnati peddled Griffey to the White Sox on July 31, 2008. On the same day they shed Griffey-influenced dog Edwin Encarnacion to Toronto for Scott Rolen.

Rolen was what Griffey was not: a hard-nosed competitor with a no-nonsense work ethic who exerted a galvanizing influence on his teammates, despite the fact that he, like Griffey, was often sidelined by nagging injuries. Rolen changed the culture in Cincinnati. The evidence for that change was a 2010 Reds team that competed until the last out and developed a propensity to push across go-ahead runs in the late innings. The 2010 Reds won a division title despite the continued insistence of manager Dusty Baker on batting his worst hitters in the leadoff position (Corey Patterson in 2008, Willy Taveras in 2009, Orlando Cabrera this year).

That fans did not flock to Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark to watch the 2010 team, a fact often noted by out-of-town commentators, says plenty about how disillusioned Reds fans became during the Griffey years, when the team looked for excuses to lose rather than ways to win. There was one other factor at play: the stadium is difficult to get to and to park at. This phenomenon, rarely noticed by pampered sportswriters, accounts for several franchises’ lower-than-expected attendance, most notably Tampa Bay’s. When driving to the game is a hassle, many fans opt to enjoy the event in their own living rooms via radio and television.

Incidentally, you may recall that when the Reds obtained Griffey from Seattle for center fielder Mike Cameron in February 2000, the deal was widely regarded as laughably one-sided. No one predicted that Cameron would outperform Griffey on both offense and defense in the following 11 seasons. This supposed non-star produced more runs than Griffey in all but two of those seasons and won three Gold Gloves, three more than Griffey. Four of Cameron’s teams qualified for postseason play, while just one of Griffey’s teams, the 2008 Chicago White Sox, did so. Which player provided better value?

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WHEN ROB DIBBLE OUTWITTED THE PRESIDENT

In an interview with broadcasters Bob Carpenter and Rob Dibble in our nation’s capital on April 5, President Barack Obama, a Chicagoan since 1985, declared allegiance to the White Sox. “I’m a South Side kid,” Obama explained. “I’ve got to make sure that [White Sox chairman] Jerry Reinsdorf doesn’t get too angry with me!”

Whereupon Dibble asked, "Who was one of your favorite White Sox players growing up?"

Obama said (and this is a verbatim transcript): "You know, uh, I thought that, uh, you know, the truth is that a lot of the Cubs I liked too. But I did not become a Sox fan until I moved to Chicago. Because I was growing up in Hawaii and so I ended up actually being an Oakland A's fan. But when I moved to Chicago, I was living close to what was then Cominskey (sic) Park, right, and went to a couple games and just fell in love. And the nice thing about the Sox is it's real blue-collar baseball. We always tease about the Cubs, they, you know, they're up at Wrigley and sipping wine and playing those day games. They’re having a good time.”

America’s number one White Sox fan couldn’t name one White Sox player. Unsurprisingly, this stammered reply won Obama no praise from the sporting public. In the Chicago Sun-Times Kyle Koster commented, “One could make the case that Obama's point was that he didn't become acquainted with the Sox until later in his life, but I'd imagine most fans would have liked him to spit out at least one player's name.”

If I were advising the president, I’d recommend that he regard the incident as a learning experience. He might study these two scenarios:

What Obama Might Have Said (1): “I enjoy baseball. It’s a great American game. I wish I had the time to follow it more closely than I’m able to.”

What Obama Might Have Said (2): “Well, Frank Thomas comes immediately to mind, The Big Hurt, somebody wrote a song about him. I used to cheer for Ray Durham and James Baldwin (the pitcher, not the writer). Going back a little earlier, I liked Ozzie Guillen and Robin Ventura on the left side of the infield. Harold Baines could get you a designated hit. Ron Karkovice behind the plate, as good as Carlton Fisk without all the histrionics. Lance Johnson gave you speed in the outfield. Jack McDowell, all he did was beat you. If he ever faltered, it was Bobby Thigpen to the rescue. Ron Kittle, plenty of raw power. Ivan Calderon the outfielder, not the boxer. Joe Cowley and his no-hit magic. Great pitchers like Britt Burns and Rich Dotson and LaMarr Hoyt. Salome Barajas and that dancing curveball. Mike Squires was a good glove man. Everybody looked fantastic in those clamdiggers they wore in the 70s. Lamar Johnson, no relation to Lance. A sweet outfielder, Chet Lemon. That dazzling kid rotation of Ross Baumgarten, Ken Kravec, Steve Trout, and Rich Wortham, how come they’re not in the Hall of Fame? Man, you’re dredging up some great memories. I’m just getting started. Wilbur Wood and his knuckler. Pete Ward, 1963 rookie of the year. Saturnino Orestes Minnie Minoso. The ageless Sherm Lollar. Jungle Jim Rivera. Billy Pierce, a southpaw like me. Nellie Fox, Little Louie Aparicio, Chico Carrasquel, Luke Appling and his aches and pains. Ted Lyons, he ruled on Sunday. Zeke Bonura could swing the bat. Moe Berg, that guy had read a book. Art The Great Shires. Willie Kamm at the hot corner. Yam Yaryan, what a catcher. Eddie Collins. Shano Collins. Death Valley Jim Scott. Fielder Jones and the Hitless Wonders and the 1906 World Series. And what about that great 1901 team that won the American League pennant? Who can forget Ervin Zaza Harvey…”

Had this reply been forthcoming, this lifelong Republican would have voted for Obama in any subsequent election for any office in the land.

By the way, this was the first and only time I have heard Cub fans accused of drinking wine.

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CAVALCADE OF CATCHERS

Is Russell Martin the new Butch Wynegar?

The remarkable Ivan Rodriguez continues to roll along. He caught 102 games to increase his record career total to 2390. The Nationals intend to bring him back in 2011. He’ll be 39 on Opening Day.

Jason Kendall caught 118 games for the Royals to become only the fifth backstop in history to catch over 2000 games. He has now caught 2025. Kendall is three years younger than Rodriguez, but I don’t believe he’ll surpass Rodriguez’s career record for games caught even if I-Rod retires tomorrow. Kendall does have a chance, however, to overtake Rodriguez’s career record for games lost. I haven’t tallied Kendall’s 2010 won-lost record yet, but I know that currently his losses exceed his wins by more than 100.

No receiver caught his 1000th game in 2010. Rod Barajas and Brian Schneider, who both finished the season with 923, are the currently active catchers closest to 1000. Barajas will be 35 and Schneider 34 on Opening Day.

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THE GAME FOR ALL AMERICA

Has a major league pitching matchup ever mirrored an American presidential election?  The answer is yes, but it happened on just three occasions.

On July 22, 1898, Zeke Wilson of the Cleveland Spiders squared off against fellow righthander Jay Hughes in Baltimore, with the Orioles winning 7-5.  This prefigured, of course, the Woodrow Wilson-Charles Evans Hughes presidential contest of 1916.

September 3, 1967, saw another Wilson-Hughes confrontation.  This one matched a pair of righthanded rookies, Houston’s Don Wilson and St Louis’ Dick Hughes, in the Mound City.  The Cardinals won 13-1.

On July 29, 1978, the Minnesota Twins, by sending forth portsider Darrell Jackson to battle New York righty Ken Clay, re-enacted the Andrew Jackson-Henry Clay conflict of 1832.  The Yankees won 7-3.

Texas starter C.J. Wilson did not face New York’s Phil Hughes this year.

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TRIPLE PLAY TERROR

Could it have happened? Mike Berheide reports that according to legend, a triple play occurred in a minor league game without a defensive player actually touching the ball. Pundit George Will refers to it in his introduction to the new edition of Men At Work.

Such an event is possible. Here is my scenario:

Imagine that the 1974 New York Yankees have the bases loaded with none out. The runners are Lou Piniella at third, Otto Velez at second, and Walt “No Neck” Williams at first. The batter is Graig Nettles.

Manager Bill Virdon orders a suicide squeeze. Velez misses the sign and does not leave second base. Williams, running full tilt after a huge jump, does not see this and is declared out (1) for passing Velez on the basepaths.

Meanwhile, Nettles has bunted a slow roller down the third base line. Nettles’ bat shatters when it makes contact with the ball, with the top of the bat detaching itself from the barrel. Several Super Balls fly out of the broken bat. Piniella, who like Velez has missed the sign, belatedly comes loping off the third base bag. Attempting to dodge the Super Balls, he stumbles over the baseball before a defensive player can reach it. He is declared out (2) for being hit by a batted ball in fair territory.

The ball is now dead. But Nettles is declared out (3) for using an illegal bat.

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A BASEBALL OZYMANDIAS

The sportswriting establishment extolled the virtues of George Steinbrenner for days after the great man passed on to his reward in July.  Looking backward, the knights of the keyboard now characterized Steinbrenner as a gruff but lovable sportsman who added passion and color to the game.

It wasn’t long ago when Marge Schott, another German-American owner who inherited her fortune, was castigated for running her ballclub with the same imperious hand that Steinbrenner always wielded.  Vilified even in death, her reputation has yet to be redeemed and may never be.  Society likes to think of itself as enlightened now but still adheres to a double standard when it comes to boorishness and bad behavior.

Nobody seems to have noticed the striking parallels between Steinbrenner and Schott.  It would be asking too much, I suppose, for some pundit to compare Steinbrenner to an owner he even more closely resembled: Chris Von Der Ahe

How soon they forget.  Von Der Ahe purchased the down-at-heels St Louis Browns in 1882, when baseball was more popular than it is today.  Like most owners he knew little about the fine points of the game, but he was no penny pincher when it came to operating a ballclub.  Under Von Der Ahe’s free-spending ownership the Browns soon dominated the American Association (at that time a major league), winning four consecutive championships and leading the league in attendance.

In 1885 “Der Poss President” (as he called himself) erected a massive statue of himself outside the home of the Browns, Sportsman’s Park.  While his impatience and volatile temper were legendary, these qualities seemed to endear him to the sporting public… as long as the Browns kept winning.

In September 2010 a colossal monument to George Steinbrenner was unveiled at Yankee Stadium, dwarfing the plaques honoring great Yankee players of the past.  “It’s big,” Derek Jeter observed.  “Probably just how The Boss wanted it, the biggest one out there.”  The larger-than-life bronze likeness perfectly captures the frown and wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command that were Steinbrenner’s trademarks.  Keep winning, boys, keep winning.

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THEY CALL THEM THE BREEZE

Some managers are snakebit. Then there is Arizona’s Kirk Gibson. On September 7 Gibson was pulling on a pair of bicycling shorts when he was ambushed by a scorpion that had been lurking in one of the legs. According to news reports, he was stung on the left thigh. It could have been worse, of course. “It’s not life-threatening,” the intrepid Gibson remarked, and he got back on his bike the next day.

For the sake of his sanity, I hope Gibson, whose contract has been renewed for 2011, can shrug off the performance of the 2010 Diamondbacks as easily. They played no better for him than they did for his predecessor, A.J. Hinch, while setting a new major league record for batter strikeouts (1529, which computes to a staggering 9.4 per game). They demolished the old strikeout record of 1399 set by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2001.

Over the course of the season the Backs averaged a strikeout per every 4.04 plate appearances. They whiffed at least 10 times in 73 of their 162 games, and they lost 56 of those games. (Their record in their remaining games was a very respectable 48-41.) Five of Arizona’s eight regulars (1B Adam LaRoche, 2B Kelly Johnson, 3B Mark Reynolds, CF Chris Young, and RF Justin Upton) struck out at least 145 times, and a sixth regular, SS Stephen Drew, added 108.

Reynolds fanned 211 times. That’s fewer than the 223 with which he set the major league record in 2009, but his batting average shrunk from .260 to .198 and his OQ from 132 to 112. Amazingly, Reynolds became the first non-pitching regular in history whose strikeout total was higher than his batting average.

The motto of many of today’s hitters seems to be, “If you’re not striking out 100 times, you’re not trying.” But the novel experiment of building a team composed exclusively of noncontact hitters who flail away at anything a pitcher offers has not worked. It’s a dead end. Arizona has declined in wins from 82 to 70 to 65 while leading the league in strikeouts in each of the past three seasons. Their roster needs to be revamped.

Perhaps help is on the way. Newly appointed general manager Kevin Towers said recently, “The strikeouts are somewhat alarming. You certainly need to cut that back. Personally, I like contact hitters. I like guys with good pitch recognition. Strikeouts are part of the game, but if you have four, five, or six guys in your lineup, it’s hard to sustain any sort of rally.’’ Amen to that.

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JAGGED EDGE

Cubs rookie outfielder Tyler Colvin was impaled by the sharp end of a splintered maple bat while running the bases in September, ending his season.   The projectile pierced Colvin’s shoulder; it might have penetrated his throat or one of his eye sockets.  Nevertheless, the panjandrums of baseball continued to display an attitude of unconcern.   Many worried commentators took note and asked, “Will it take the death of a player or an umpire or a club employee or a spectator for baseball to ban the use of maple bats?”

The answer, I’m afraid, is yes.

It has been demonstrated beyond a doubt that maple bats break more frequently and into larger, more jagged pieces than traditional ash bats.  The heavy, sharp-edged ends of shattered maple bats fly through the air with great force.

Fans want not to have to worry about serious injury.  Players should want not to have their very lucrative careers placed at risk.  Owners should want to protect their expensive investments and to prevent costly lawsuits.  So why has no ban been forthcoming?

Incredibly, especially in light of what happened to Colvin, the Major League Baseball Players Association is doing the resisting to what is very clearly an issue of safety.  Union leaders oppose a ban of maple bats as an infringement on personal freedom, just as they fought the prohibition of drugs that had been proven to damage players’ bodies.  Young men tend to disregard the risk of getting seriously hurt, certain that such calamities will happen to someone else, not to them.  The owners, weary of labor strife, are disinclined to fight the players over this.  Neither side seems to realize that baseball fans will support overwhelmingly whomever stakes out the moral high ground on this issue.

Aluminum bats are already banned; they’re unsafe in the hands of major league hitters.  No one’s life should be at risk at a game of baseball.  Commissioner Bud Selig needs to invoke that forgotten phrase “in the best interests of baseball” and act now.

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RUMINATIONS

* You take Chris Young. I’ll take Cy Young.

* In today’s climate the discussion about baseball seems almost wholly devoted to contracts or salaries. I remember a day when few fans knew or cared what a team’s payroll was or how much money individual players were making. We looked at the game differently. We talked mainly about individual players’ mastery (or lack thereof) of the fine points of baseball. Could Chuck Schilling hit major league pitching? Could or should the Yankees switch Tom Tresh from shortstop to the outfield? Would Steve Barber ever learn to throw strikes? Would a broken jaw affect Larry Jackson’s pitching? Was Lew Burdette over the hill? I miss those days.

* While everyone is patting the Toronto Blue Jays on the back for hitting 257 home runs, nobody seems to have noticed that the Jays scored just 755 runs. No team that has hit over 200 home runs has ever registered a home-run-to-runs-scored ratio of less than 3. The usual ratio is 3.5 or 4 to one. This one-dimensional home-run-or-nothing offense is probably the reason the Jays won only 85 games and were never a factor in the pennant race despite the presence of four respectable starting pitchers and a decent bullpen.

* Toronto’s Jose Bautista was the most talked about non-rookie in baseball this season. Somehow the 29-year-old Bautista slugged 54 home runs after consecutive seasons of 13, 12, 15, and 16 circuit clouts in the majors and a previous total of just 52 home runs in 415 minor league games. An astounding 92 of his 148 hits went for extra bases; he hit almost as many home runs as singles. Bautista became the first player in history to boost his home run total by more than 40 from one season to the next.

Were performance-enhancing drugs at play here? Baseball has not stamped out the use of such supplements, as blood is still not tested for EPO and HGH. Bautista claims he overhauled his offensive game after receiving batting tips from manager Cito Gaston late in 2009. This may be so. Non-enhanced fluke seasons are possible: recall Davey Johnson’s 43 dingers at age 30 in 1973, which exceeded his total for his previous four seasons combined. Johnson fell back to earth in 1974. 2011 will, I hope, tell us more about who Jose Bautista really is.

* It has happened at last: Manny Ramirez has become irrelevant.

* The best broadcasting moment I heard this season occurred early, on April 7. After the Yankees’ Curtis Granderson clouted a late-inning homer off Boston’s Jonathan Papelbon, one-of-a-kind radio voice John Sterling exclaimed, “The Grandy Man can!” Listening to the game on my car radio, I nearly drove off the road.

* Worst broadcasting moment: in Stephen Strasburg’s second inning of major league competition, Bob Costas trumpeted the certainty of Strasburg’s future election to the Hall of Fame, where he would assume his rightful place beside immortals like Walter Johnson.

* By the way, who says Scott Boras is a sharp guy? Jim Callis points out that “if Strasburg had sought political asylum in Andorra, he probably would have received a $60 million or $70 million big league deal as a free agent.” That’s about four times what the Washington Nationals gave him. Somewhere Aroldis Chapman is smiling.

* Nickname Of The Year: “Ajax” (Detroit center fielder Austin Jackson). Wishful thinking? With just 4 home runs and a 99 OQ to show for his season’s work, Jackson hardly resembles the brawny warrior of The Iliad.

* Ernie Banks represented the Cubs in Chicago’s 2010 Gay Pride Parade on June 27. It wasn’t so long ago that such a story was literally unthinkable. That it generated no controversy tells us a lot about the times we’re living in.

* The current revolution in baseball statistics sometimes makes my head spin as I struggle to keep current. But I have a favorite: the Howard, with which a player is credited if he strikes out, commits an error, and hits a home run in the same game. Ryan Howard (for whom the stat was named by the Phillies fans who invented it) and Mark Reynolds tied for the lead in Howards this year with five apiece. Interestingly, the Phillies, on their way to a division championship, won all five of the games in which Howard recorded a Howard.

Minnesota’s Danny Valencia earns honorable mention for logging a Double Howard. On September 25 Valencia hit two home runs, struck out twice, and made two errors. Unfortunately his second miscue led directly to the Twins’ surrender of the winning run in a 13-inning contest in Detroit.

* Orioles infielder Cesar Izturis, never a robust hitter, submitted one of the worst offensive seasons of all time. Izturis says he wants to be back in Baltimore in 2011. I wish him well. * Say it ain’t so: Brewers infielder

Craig Counsell seems to have abandoned the goofy batting stance that has been his trademark for over a decade. Can retirement be far behind?

* Wouldn’t you like to see rotund free agent Prince Fielder sign with the Giants? Visualize an infield safeguarded by Fielder at first and roly poly Pablo Sandoval at third.

* A trenchant observation from former Baltimore manager Ray Miller: “They don’t tell a guy to push himself today. They tell him to take it easy.”

* True or false: Roy Oswalt played left field and batted cleanup in a Phillies game this year. Answer: True. It happened on August 24. Oswalt caught everything hit to him but went hitless at the plate. The Phillies lost the game, and manager Charlie Manuel vowed that the experiment would not be repeated.

* Remember the name: Yu Darvish. Half Iranian, half Japanese, all pitcher. He makes Dice-K look like Danny Kaye.

* If you were looking for a lefthanded relief specialist, would you choose Texas’s Clay Rapada or Arizona’s Clay Zavada? My solution: sign them both.

* Andy Pettitte finished the season 11-3 to boost his career record to 240-138, 102 games over .500. That puts him in very select company, and he’s likely to stay there as long as he pitches for the Yankees. I’ve been saying it for years: there’s no one better at hiding his mouth from prying cameras during those tense conferences on the mound. Pettitte will be 38 on Opening Day.

* You take Roy Halladay. I’ll take Johnny Hallyday.

When in Carmel, stay at the Tickle Pink Inn.

October 2010

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