Top 100 Baseball Blog

Monday, September 28, 2015

Reaction to the Ridiculous Harper-Papelbon Fight That Defined the Washing Nationals' Season

Although the Major League Baseball is in its last full week it couldn’t avoid absurdity as most teams play out the string to either a playoff berth or earlier tee times on their local golf course. On Sunday, the disappointing Washington Nationals had their futility summed up by reliever Jonathan Papelbon after he physically attacked star outfielder Bryce Harper late in the team’s loss to the Philadelphia Phillies, allegedly because of displeasure with his lack of hustle on a lazy fly ball he had just hit to left field. Grantland’s Ben Lindbergh wrote a terrific piece today on the happenings, which left me with the desire to write down some of my thoughts (that I will do here in lieu of the comments section of his article).

Once widely regarded as a near lock for a serious run at the World Series, the Nationals season has instead been defined by injuries and dysfunction. Only this final week will determine if they have enough fortitude to finish above .500. I state freely that I have no inside stories or connections, and that the opinions I am about to spout come from what I, like the public at large, have seen. I freely acknowledge that like most things in life, there is likely more to the story. Even so, I feel more than justified in my reaction to this incident.

Numerous reporters have written that Papelbon’s lunging at Harper was due to his perception that the young star wasn’t giving enough effort- essentially, not playing “the right way.” There are few things I hate more in baseball than that premise. It’s most frequently used by those who are explaining away their own bad behavior. There’s no official book of baseball etiquette, yet there seems to be no shortage of those who feel it is their duty to enforce unwritten rules that happen to ruffle their feathers on any given day.  

As Lindbergh pointed out, the players that take it upon themselves to mete out baseball justice under the guise of playing baseball the “right way” are often laughable in their hypocrisy. Look no further than Papelbon, who was suspended for seven games just over a year ago while with the Phillies for being ejected from a game and then making an obscene gesture towards the crowd once they started booing him.

Much has been made of the Sunday’s encounter because of Harper’s star status. Posting triple crown-worthy numbers, he is a good bet to be named the 2015 National League MVP when the awards are announced later this autumn. However, there should be outrage over Papelbon’s actions regardless of if Harper was the team’s best player, or the bat boy. Simply put, one does not put one’s hands on a co-worker (or anyone for that matter). Only in sports can this happen and there is no possibility of legal consequences. Can you imagine if Greg from your office put his hands around your neck and slammed you into a wall because you weren’t “filing the right way?” It would be a pretty safe bet that if that occurred, Greg would be preparing for his arraignment right about now.

That all being said, going after Harper is especially egregious from a franchise standpoint. At 22, if he isn’t already the best player in baseball, he is absolutely part of that conversation. With his free agency looming in a few years, and his agent being the bull dog Scott Boras, being publicly confronted and embarrassed is not the best way to get in the good graces of someone who will likely be able to name his own price when the bidding opens following the 2018 season.

Incredibly, there are those who agree with what Papelbon did. Fox Sports’ CJ Nitkowki, a former major leaguer himself, reported that he spoke with a number of a current and former players—none of whom fully backed Harper, while most came out in staunch defense of the pitcher. The consensus reasoning by Pap’s supporters is that Harper had recently spoken out to the press (although not very strongly) about the pitcher having been recently ejected for hitting Baltimore Orioles’ star Manny Machado with a pitch following a home run—in essence, playing the game “the right way.” I have no problem with a veteran like Papelbon giving a younger player, or any player for that matter, a dressing down if needed but they should only do that in a private and non-physical manner while simultaneously contemplating if their own track record  taints that message in any way.

Finally, Nats’ manger Matt Williams deserves recognition for the horrible way he has apparently treated the situation. He not only removed Harper from the game following the altercation, but then allowed Papelbon to go in and pitch. This effectively took sides as it pertains to the public eye, even if that was not his intent. Following the game, Williams indicated it was only afterwards that he knew the severity of what had happened. However, given that it all took place in a space the size of a school bus, and coaches jumped in and helped break up the melee, that seems unlikely. Although Papelbon has now been officially suspended for what will effectively be the remainder of the season, the bell signaling that dearth of good leadership cannot be unrung.

Harper may have his faults and may have even played a role in the dugout encounter but that doesn’t account for the actions of Papelbon. It was a disappointing conclusion to a disappointing season. It’s hard to say how this all may impact the players and the team in the future but for right now it’s impossible to see beyond the ridiculousness of it all.

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Boston Red Sox Pitching Prospect Jake Drehoff Talks About His Baseball Career

Although the Boston Red Sox have played better of late they are still likely to finish the year with a losing record—a far cry from the expectations many had for them when the 2015 season started. Among the many things that didn’t go as planned were relatively lackluster results from the pitching staff. However, there figures to be a number of changes to that group in 2016, which is always good for prospects, including the likes of Jake Drehoff.

The lanky lefty (6’4” and 195 pounds), who is a native of Georgia, was a standout at Southern Mississippi. An 11-7 record with a 3.52 ERA over two seasons as a Golden Eagle was enough to earn him the opportunity to be Boston’s 12th-round draft choice in 2013.

Pitching in the lower levels of the minors, Drehoff went just 3-6 in 19 starts over his first two professional seasons but did post an impressive 3.32 ERA. In 2015 he pitched mostly out of the bullpen for Single-A Greenville and continued to have positive results. In 24 games (seven starts), he went 3-2 with a 2.89 ERA, while striking out 65 batters in 71.2 innings.

According to scouting reports the 23-year-old doesn’t have overpowering stuff but simply knows how to pitch. Because he lacks a turbo-charged fastball his more varied arsenal may be better-suited for the bullpen. However, nothing is written in stone and one thing that has been consistent throughout his career has been his ability to get batters out no matter when he has entered a game. As he waits for the 2016 season, Drehoff is poised to make the jump to the high minors where he will see if he can sustain his success and make himself enough of a name to earn a big league call-up.

More information on his career statistics is available at BaseballReference and you can also follow the prospect at his Twitter account. Last offseason he took a few minutes to answer some of my questions, and you can see what he had to say by reading on.

Jake Drehoff Interview:

Who was your favorite team and player when you were growing up, and why?: Growing up in Atlanta I was a big Braves fan and like every other Atlanta kid my favorite player was Chipper.

How did you end up playing college ball at the University of Southern Mississippi?: I was a late bloomer in high school and didn't attract college attention until my senior year. One of my teammates in high school (Chase Fowler), who was a year older than me, went to Southern Miss and his dad contacted their recruiting coordinator saying that he thought I would be a good fit.

If you did not start a career as a professional ballplayer, what field do you think you would have entered?: I'm really not sure what I would be doing if I didn't play baseball, maybe in sales or something with sports medicine/physical therapy.

How did you first find out that the Red Sox were interested in you, and what was your draft experience like?: The scout who drafted me (Danny Watkins) had a meeting with me in the fall before the draft and kept some dialogue with me throughout the year, but I didn't really know how much interest he/they had. The draft experience was a little stressful but one of the greatest moments in my life.

What has been your favorite moment thus far from your professional career?: My favorite moment thus far is probably my overall experience playing for the Lowell Spinners.

What pitches do you throw and which do you believe needs the most work?: I throw a four and two- seam fastball, change-up, cutter, and curve ball. I think my curve ball needs the most work as a strikeout pitch.

Who is one hitter from any time in baseball history that you would like to face, and how would you approach the at-bat?: My dad didn't play past high school but it would be cool to go back in time and strike him out.

How challenging was it going to your first spring training and interacting, practicing and playing with players and coaches you may have only seen in the media before?: I was a little anxious going into spring training not knowing what to expect but it was really cool being around those guys and meeting people that I've grown up watching on TV.

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Lucky Me: A Review

Baseball has a unique power that can suck people into a longtime-obsession—both for fans and those involved directly with the professional game. It’s a bug that when caught often becomes chronic. This is exemplified by Eddie Robinson’s Lucky Me: My Sixty-Five Years in Baseball (With C. Paul Rogers III; 2011; University of Nebraska Press), which chronicles his nearly seven decades as a player, scout and front office man.

Robinson was a good but not great first baseman who carved out a 13-year major league career with seven teams between 1942 and 1957. The four-time All-Star came from humble origins in Texas and became a big league regular in 1947 following a three-year stint in the military. Having access to details of his earlier years is fascinating; as a boy who always wanted to play professionally was able to live out that dream after toiling in the sandlots, the minors and for Uncle Sam.

Unlike some memoirs, Robinson is very candid throughout. He doesn’t mince words talking about why Lou Boudreau wasn’t his favorite manager. His description of how he and teammates once held down Phil Rizzuto and dyed his nether parts blue just before his wedding is cringe-worthy but also an honest look inside look at clubhouse shenanigans.

Following his playing career, Robinson went on to act as general manager, scout, minor league director and president for a number of teams. Here, his anecdotes are just as entertaining as those from when he was a player. Working for famous (or infamous) owners like Charles Finley and George Steinbrenner gave him enough material that another entire book probably could have been written.

The business of baseball is laid open in this book. This isn’t a “tell-all’ per se but Robinson wore so many hates, both literally and figuratively, during his career that he was privy to a much bigger picture than most others who publish similar work. He also doesn’t hold back from talking about situations that weren’t the most pleasant. From describing how he fired Hall-of-Famer Eddie Matthews as manager of the Atlanta Braves because of excessive drinking; to his disdain for former player and manager Davey Johnson, who he believes worked the system to get a bonus he didn’t deserve, there is a veritable treasure trove of his experiences over the years.

Robinson was also present during many major baseball moments through the years. This includes: playing with Lary Doby, the American League’s first African-American player, during his inaugural season in 1948 with the Cleveland Indians; acting as the GM of the Braves when slugger Hank Aaron hit his record-breaking 715th home run in 1974; negotiating with union head Marvin Miller just as the players started to get more of a voice.

Given his extensive experience in the front office, a little more detail of the art of the deal and the process of scouting and signing players would have been a welcome addition. Granted, these are Robinson’s memoires but over the years there were likely innumerable great stories on that side of the ball that didn’t make it to these pages.

On the other hand, Robinson does take on other issues like race and player/manager relations that are often glossed over or simply ignore in similar works. Their inclusion doesn’t have value because of sensationalism but because of its very real and pervasive impact in the game.

Anyone who likes baseball will enjoy Lucky Me. The amount of time Robinson devoted to baseball is staggering, and it is therefore not surprising how many stories he has to share. Other “lifers” (like Tommy Lasorda and Don Zimmer) may get more attention but there others out there who put just as much into the game and have had experiences that deserve the spotlight.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book, but received no payment or other consideration for this review.

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Chatting with Former Kansas City Royals Outfielder Pat Sheridan

After years of futility, the Kansas City Royals have been one of the best teams in baseball over the past couple of seasons. It has been their first extended stretch as contenders since the 1980s, when they fielded some of the most exciting teams of the era. An important cog to some of those squads was outfielder Pat Sheridan, who still remembers his tenure with the team fondly.

Sheridan grew up in Michigan and ultimately attended Eastern Michigan University where he had a standout career. That success caused his stock to rise significantly and he was selected by the Royals in the third round of the 1979 draft. His ability to hit, run and play defense allowed him to move through their system quickly, and he made his major league debut in 1981 at the age of 23—appearing in a total of three games and striking out in his lone at-bat, which came against Albert Williams and the Minnesota Twins.

After spending 1982 dealing with injuries and in the minors, Sheridan became a regular with the Royals in 1983. Over the next several seasons the left-handed hitter often platooned with the likes of Darryl Motley, who was a right-handed hitter.

In 1983 Sheridan appeared in 109 games, hitting .270 with seven home runs, 36 RBIs and 12 stolen bases. He hit .283 with eight homers and 19 steals the following year, as his team made the playoffs.

However, 1985 was the magical year for the Royals. They won 91 games and beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series in seven exciting games.

The following year he was released at the end of spring training but hooked on with the Detroit Tigers. He went on to play in the majors for five more years, including stints with the San Francisco Giants (playing with them in the 1989 World Series) and New York Yankees. In 876 career games he accumulated a .253 batting average with 51 home runs, 257 RBIs and 86 stolen bases.

Although he hit just .174 in six playoff series, he also cranked three home runs in the postseason, including a pivotal solo homer in Game 7 of the 1985 ALCS against Dave Stieb and the Toronto Blue Jays.

Retired from baseball for almost 25 years, I recently had the pleasure of asking Sheridan some questions about his career. Keep reading for more about this Royals great!

Pat Sheridan Interview:

Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?: My favorite player growing up was Dick Tracewski with the Tigers because my dad played minor league ball with him and he used to leave us tickets to the ball games.

Can you describe your draft experience with the Royals in 1979?: I got drafted in the third round of the June draft by the Royals and it was bitter sweet, I guess, because I really enjoyed college baseball at Eastern Michigan. Leaving before my senior year was a little sad, but I wanted to get on my way with pro ball, so I signed.

Your first major league hit was a home run off Milt Wilcox and the Detroit Tigers in 1983. What was that moment like?: My first big league hit was so fun hitting a home run off Milt Wilcox. Later I saw him at the horse track in Michigan because we both owned horses, and I introduced myself to him and told him I hit a home run off him for my first hit in the majors. He responded, “I do that for a lot of guys.” Haha

In your opinion, who was the most talented player you ever played with or against?: George Brett, of course!

What is your favorite moment from your baseball career?: Winning the World Series in ’85; setting a goal as a team and making that come true. It binds us players together for life.

You played in the 1985 and 1989 World Series. What were those experiences like?: Playing in the World Series is what we all as players dream about. It was so exciting and the buzz around both of the cities was electric. The ‘89 series was not as fun because of the earthquake, and we also got swept by the A's.

Please talk a little about what it was like to play for manager Sparky Anderson?: Sparky Anderson was a players’ manager and a great person. The city of Detroit loved him for his baseball but also for his involvement with the city.

What are you up to since retiring as a player?: I'm selling property Insurance here in Michigan for the last 24 years.

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew