Top 100 Baseball Blog

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Steven Wright Is Pitching Himself Into Permanent Status With The Boston Red Sox

The Boston Red Sox have gone through their fair share of pitching woes over the past several seasons. Despite signing a blue chipper in David Price last offseason, the 2016 season has still been one of inconsistency for their staff. While it seems there is still work to be done, the surprise emergence of knuckleball starter Steven Wright may end up going a long way towards fortifying the team’s starting rotation.

The 31-year-old right-hander has pitched in parts of four seasons with Boston since coming over from the Cleveland Indians in a 2012 trade. A second-round draft pick in 2006 who began his career with a more traditional repertoire, he ultimately switched to the knuckler after stagnating in the minors. His acquisition seemed like a good idea, particularly in light of the success fellow knuckleballer Tim Wakefield enjoyed in Boston for 17 years.

Until this year, Wright has been on a yo-yo between the big league club and Triple-A Pawtucket. To date, he has appeared in 29 major league games (14 starts), going a combined 8-7 with a 3.56 ERA. An injury this spring to young hurler Eduardo Rodriguez created an opening for him to begin the year as the team’s fifth starter, and he has run with it, going 1-2 with a microscopic 1.40 ERA in his three starts.

Rodriguez is nearing his return, and given his potential, should be back in the rotation. However, Wright has made a strong case that he should keep his job and be considered as a long-term option at starter. In addition to his strong start to this season, he has also been much more effective starting than coming out of the bullpen. His 3.36 ERA in his 14 career starts, along with 7.2 strikeouts per nine innings and 1.24 WHIP are all more than respectable numbers.

Truly successful knuckleball pitchers are few and far between. It’s a pitch that must be thrown with such feel and command that there aren’t many who can master the offering enough to translate it into a successful career, but it’s looking like Wright might be joining that exclusive club. Although approximately five out of every six pitches he throws are knucklers, he also mixes in other pitches that have made him a challenge to face. In addition to a curveball, he throws a fastball that averages about 83-85 MPH and is hard enough to warrant batters being sent a bottle of fine liquor after feeling its impact.

Poorly thrown knuckleballs can quickly translate into home runs, but what Wright has shown pitching at Fenway Park, a notorious bandbox, has been impressive. In his career, he has a 3.23 ERA and allowed a home run every 9.2 innings at home as opposed to marks of a 3.82 ERA and a home run allowed every 7.9 innings on the road.

What the Red Sox need is a dependable starter at the end of their rotation who can keep the team in games and give them a chance to win. Through the first 17 games, Boston starters have lasted at least six innings just nine times, and three of those efforts were turned in by Wright. The team is also second to last (ahead of only the Baltimore Orioles) in average length of starts (5.1) and in runs allowed per game by starters (5.13, ahead of only the Houston Astros). He is giving them exactly what you want to see from a fifth starter and has earned an opportunity to continue in that role beyond his current status as an injury replacement.

No matter how deserving, higher paid veterans and well-regarded prospects have a tendency to squeeze out lunch pail guys like Wright. In this case, there may be a developing path towards keeping him in the rotation. Joe Kelly has struggled mightily (8.2 innings in three starts) and was recently placed on the disabled list with shoulder trouble. It’s a tough way to get a job but at the very least it will keep him in the Boston rotation longer than originally planned.

Wright may not be a future Cy Young winner but if he keeps pitching the way he has to start the 2016 season he is setting himself up for a lengthy and successful career with the Red Sox and helping sort out what has been a problematic starting rotation. All he needs at this point is Boston to continue believing in him and handing him the ball every fifth day.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Carl Mays Interview: Ray Chapman's Death

One of the most tragic events to ever take place on a baseball diamond was the 1920 death of Cleveland Indians shortstop Ray Chapman, who was hit in the head by a Carl Mays pitch in a game against the New York Yankees. Some thought that the right-hander never showed the kind of remorse or visceral reaction he should have in light of the circumstances, which helped create a reputation that follows him to this day (nearly 50 years after his death). However, he did go public shortly after fateful pitch to talk about what had happened and the aftermath that ensued.

Mays did not speak about the Chapman incident often but there is a written record of his thoughts about his role and the ensuing reaction. Below, excerpts are in italics along with my reactions. These quotes come from an interview he did in the November, 1920 issue of Baseball Magazine (which was reproduced by

Although Chapman’s death was an accident, Mays became a scapegoat as a bad guy in the aftermath: “A ball player is not often called upon to discuss his own faults. Usually those failings are played up behind his back, a certain courtesy forbidding their mention to his face. It would be foolish, however, for me to ignore the widespread criticism of which I have been the unwilling butt. For there have been weeks at a time when I could hardly pick up a newspaper without finding my own name assailed by writers, players or owners indiscriminately.”

With Chapman’s death being a first, it was likely a natural reaction to find someone or something to blame. Mays, who was known to be taciturn and willing to let his fists speak for him, was an easy target. Obviously, he threw the fatal pitch but there has never been anything to suggest an iota of intention behind it, and making him shoulder the blame was unfair.

Mays was painfully aware that he was not a popular person:It was long ago made very apparent to me that I was not one of those individuals who were not fated to be popular. It used to bother me some, for I suppose there are none of us who wouldn’t prefer to be well-thought of. But I was naturally independent and if I found that a fellow held aloof from me, I was not likely to run after him. Evidently I didn’t impress people favorably at first sight. After they knew me better, I was generally able to be on friendly terms with them.”

“When I first broke into baseball, I discovered that there seemed to be a feeling against me, even from the players on my own team. When I was with Boise, Idaho, I didn’t have a pal on the Club until the season was half over. Then the fellows seemed to warm up a bit and we were on very good terms for the balance of the season.”

With 207 career major league victories (and another 75 in the minors) and a 2.92 ERA, Mays had a career that should have put him in the conversation for the Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, the six votes he received on the 1958 ballot has been the extent of his support for inclusion.

Mays used perceived slights against him to help fuel his success on the field: “My fellow players on the Providence team didn’t seem to like me and I wondered why. I always have wondered why I have encountered this antipathy from so many people wherever I have been. And I have never been able to explain it even to myself, though I have one or two theories on the subject. I did get genuinely discouraged at Providence and, of course, feeling as I did, was unable to do good work. In fact I lost all interest in my work. I wrote to my Uncle telling him I had about decided to give up baseball. He is no doubt responsible for my being identified with the game at present, for he replied with a mighty stiff letter in which he handled things straight from the shoulder and without gloves. In brief, he told me if I failed to make good, he would consider me a quitter and that is a word I never liked to take from any man. So I decided to brace up and see what could be done.”

Even Mays’ playing style set him apart from other players. He was renowned for his extreme submarine pitching delivery and thought nothing of standing up for himself when it came to his contract. He was also quick to temper, and was once fined for throwing a ball into the stands and striking a fan in the head during a game.

In an eerie premonition, Mays once joked he would have to get in trouble to get any true recognition in baseball:I remember a conversation I had with my wife about this time in which I told her my baseball career had been singularly free from trouble. I said to her in a joking way that perhaps it would be necessary for me to do something out of the ordinary to get my name in the papers. But I needn’t have been impatient. For could I have looked into the future, I would have seen trouble enough headed in my direction to satisfy the most ambitious trouble seeker who ever lived.”

Mays was right on the money with this. Even though he had a career adjusted ERA+ of 119, which matches Hall of Famers like Warren Spahn and Bob Lemon, his accomplishments as a player are largely forgotten and overshadowed by his role in Chapman’s death.

Just because he didn’t like to discuss it didn’t mean Mays wasn’t sorry about Chapman’s death:The unfortunate death of Ray Chapman is a thing that I do not like to discuss. It is a recollection of the most unpleasant kind which I shall carry with me as long as I live. It is an episode which I shall always regret more than anything that has ever happened to me, and yet I can look into my own conscience and feel absolved from all personal guilt in this affair. The most amazing thing about it was the fact that some people seem to think I did this thing deliberately. If you wish to believe that a man is a premeditated murderer, there is nothing to prevent it. Every man is the master of his own thoughts. I cannot prevent it, however much I may regret it, if people entertain any such idea of me. And yet, I believe that I am entitled to point out some of the many reasons why such a view is illogical.”

“I am a pitcher and I know some of the things a pitcher can do as well as some of the things he can’t do. I know that a pitcher can’t stand on the slab sixty feet away from the plate and throw a baseball so as to hit a batter in the head once in a hundred tries. That is, of course, assuming that the pitcher actually wanted to hit the batter in the head, a thing which is absurd on the face of it.”

The bean ball is an unfortunate tradition in baseball, especially during the time of Mays and Chapman. However, there has never been any evidence that the pitch was thrown on purpose. In an age before video and instant replay, people across the country formed their opinion on this event based on past biases and imagination instead of facts.

Even if Mays had been trying to hurt or maim Chapman, such an outcome would have been highly unlikely:But to actually kill a man it is by no means sufficient to hit him on the head. Walter Johnson with all his terrific speed has hit batters on the head and yet they have not died. Fairly often a batter gets hit on the head and seldom is he even seriously injured. There is only one spot on a player’s skull where a pitched baseball would do him serious injury and that is a spot about his temple which is hardly half as big as the palm of my hand. Suppose, to meet some of these malicious slanders that have been directed against me, we assume that a pitcher is enough of a moral monster to deliberately murder a batter at the plate, a batter with whom he can have no particular quarrel and from whose death he could not possibly benefit. What chance would he have of perpetrating such a crime? He would have to hit that batter, and what is more, hit him on a particular part of the skull of very limited area.”

It’s interesting to note that while Mays was subjected to the blame game, Chapman’s death did nothing to change the culture of pitching inside or even hitting batters on purpose. Batting helmets were still decades away, so the fact that such a sobering result came from this one play is indicative that most people likely knew in their heart of hearts that this was an accident.

In the aftermath, Mays didn’t know what to do and took the counsel of others. This probably helped make things worse for him: “Almost everything I have done or haven’t done since that time has been criticized. I have read newspaper comments which blamed me for not going to the Club House to see how seriously Chapman was injured. The fact that I was a pitcher on the mound and had no opportunity to go to the Club House means nothing to these people. When I was finally taken out of the game, Chapman had already been removed in an ambulance and it was then too late for me to see him.”

“I did not go to see Mrs. Chapman when she was in town. I could not, under the circumstances, bring myself to undergo this ordeal, though I would have done so if any good would have come of it. I did suggest doing so, moreover, to Colonel Huston, and he advised strongly against it on the grounds that it would be a trying experience for Mrs. Chapman. I was guided by his advice in the matter. I wrote to her, however. I did not go to see Chapman after his death. I knew that the sight of his silent form would haunt me as long as I live, and since no good would be accomplished from my going, I decided not to do so. It is possible I was mistaken in this attitude, but it was certainly through no lack of respect for Chapman or his friends. I have been bitterly criticized for pitching again so soon after this terrible tragedy. I can assure anyone who has made such a criticism that it was no easy task for me to take up my work where I had left off.”

This was pretty clearly a damned if he did, damned if he didn’t situation. That being said, his decision to hold back and not reach out to Chapman or his family only strengthened preconceived notions that he was an uncaring jerk who may have thrown the bean ball on purpose.

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Sunday, April 17, 2016

Can The Boston Red Sox Solve the Pablo Sandoval Situation?

A mere 18 months after signing a lucrative free agent contract with the Boston Red Sox, third baseman Pablo Sandoval has for all intents and purposes become a pariah with his new team. Having lost his starting job at the end of the recently concluded spring training, his future with the team is unknown, and at the same time feels untenable. With four seasons remaining on his deal, it’s incumbent upon the Red Sox to find a solution, but what can be done?

A career .290 hitter with three World Series titles to his credit in eight years with the San Francisco Giants, Sandoval arrived in Boston with big expectations. His introduction was a major letdown all the way around, as he hit just .245 with 10 home runs last year and was widely criticized for his perceived weight and conditioning problems. There had been hopes for a fresh start this year but frankly that was never going to happen unless he showed up to camp looking like a Gap model and hit home runs at a prodigious pace. To the contrary, the media has jumped at every chance to point at his girth and how that has contributed to his failings. There has been the gratuitous spring training belly photo, and most recently, the video of his belt breaking after an aggressive swing in a game against the Toronto Blue Jays.

I’m no health professional but as someone familiar with having a few extra pounds I’m comfortable saying Sandoval does not seem to have the body type where it could reasonably be expected that he is going to ever going to play at 185 pounds. We don’t have access to his actual weight but he doesn’t appear to be appreciably larger than when he was with the Giants (although one former trainer recently claimed the third baseman has a problem with food). The Red Sox knew what they were getting into (which included past weight issues with the Giants) when they signed him, so for anyone to hold that against him now or to “fat shame” him is pretty disingenuous.

During his career, when he’s produced, he’s been affectionately known as “Kung Fu Panda,” with fans delighting in his production despite his lack of a traditional professional athlete’s body. On the other hand, when he’s not doing well, he’s portrayed as a slob who is never far from another unflattering photo op or pratfall. Interestingly, he has a reputation as a hard worker on the field and as a good teammate, so his sins could actually be much greater.

Still just 29, redemption may be available down the road for Sandoval. It’s just hard to imagine there’s any way that could happen in Boston. Youngster Travis Shaw has taken his starting job and produced enough that removing him from the lineup would only create another strike against the veteran. For now, the recent addition of Sandoval to the disabled list has bought both parties some time. However, there are already conflicting reports that that transaction was either because of an actual medical issue or the start of his official exit out of town. This has become a “Carl Crawford Conundrum;” a term any Red Sox fan will recognize. It’s likely a waste of his time and a waste of the team’s time to prolong his stay much longer.

Including this season, Sandoval is due approximately $78 million on the remainder of his contract. To say it’s going to be difficult to move him would be an understatement. In all likelihood, the Red Sox would need to pair up with a team that has their own onerous contract and would be willing to do a swap. Given the amount of money involved, it’s a near certainty that Boston will need to sweeten the pot with a (good) prospect or two. The scenario that has gotten the most play in the internet rumor mill is sending the third baseman to the San Diego Padres in exchange for pitcher James Shields.

The right-handed Shields has been an above average pitcher for the better part of the last decade but is now 34 and has thrown at least 200 innings for nine consecutive years. The $63 million he is owed over the next three years (with a $2 million team buyout option in 2019) is no small afterthought. The disparity in money between him and Sandoval would also necessitate Boston including young talent in the deal, as the money does not match up.

Trading Sandoval for a pitcher like Shields may solve one issue but it could create even more. Bringing in the veteran hurler, who is no lock for prolonged above-average performance (which is desperately needed for a team still trying to get its starting pitching on track) for the remainder of his deal, would not only likely dip into the team’s strong farm system but would also tie up a rotation spot that could go to some of the promising youngsters currently on the farm. Talented prospects like Henry Owens and Brian Johnson, who have already had a hard time cracking Boston’s veteran-heavy staff, might find that their top value to the team is shifted from the mound to trade chips.

In theory, standing pat and doing nothing is another option but in that scenario, the team would have to be prepared to reap what it sows. To date, Sandoval has been a good soldier, saying and doing all the right things. However, the way he is being portrayed as a galoot in the media, combined with him seeing his stock fall by the day, means that may not last long—and understandably so.

There are no do-overs in baseball, especially when it comes to contracts. Pablo Sandoval has not worked out the way the Red Sox envisioned when they inked him to such a large contract, creating a situation where it will likely be in the best interests of both parties for a change of scenery. There may be opportunities for that to happen but the team and its fans best steel themselves for the fact that there will be no perfect solutions. 

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Sunday, April 10, 2016

Ron Darling's Game 7, 1986: Failure and Triumph in the Biggest Game of My Life- A Review

I could never stand Ron Darling. Although he was a fine pitcher for 13 major league seasons and I have never met the man, he’s no friend of mine. Of course that’s because he was a prominent member of the 1986 New York Mets, who beat my Boston Red Sox to win the World Series, and thus broke the heart of an eight-year-old yours truly. He, along with Daniel Paisner, has detailed the Series-deciding final game (in which Darling pitched) in Game 7, 1986- Failure and Triumph in the Biggest Game of My Life (St. Martin’s Press; on sale April 5, 2016), giving me an opportunity to relive my childhood anguish all over again. Fortunately, it was much easier the second time around.

Growing up in Massachusetts and hoping to one day play for the hometown team, Darling was actually told as a high schooler by a Boston scout that he did not have what it took to fulfill his dream. 136 major league victories and that big World Series win later proved those to be less than prophetic words.

All personal bad memories aside, Game 7, 1986 is as easy a read as I can recall. Darling, who was knocked out after just three and two thirds innings of the eventual Series-clinching win, reminisces about that contest, what led up to it and the immediate aftermath.

Rain delayed Game 7 by a day, building up even more suspense for Darling, as he contemplated the biggest game of his career. He takes the reader through the emotional ups and downs; his personal disappointment in not submitting a strong performance (after having an otherwise outstanding Series); and touches base on a number of issues that will be of great interest to baseball and Mets fans. These include:

His professional, yet less than perfect, relationship with manager Davey Johnson.

His altercation with police outside of a nightclub while defending teammates who were out on the town celebrating.

The time New York Yankees legends  Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford and Billy Martin suckered him into paying a huge restaurant and bar tab after he had approached them as a young player while out for dinner.

The use of drugs and alcohol in the clubhouse during his playing days. He doesn’t point any fingers at specific players but does offer an interesting look at the culture that encouraged such behavior.

Insight into his relationships with some of his Mets teammates. In particular, he has very direct and honest thoughts about Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden, who both had their incredible talents directly impacted by persistent off-field issues.

The 1986 Mets were a supremely confident team. Darling discusses how the blend of battle-tested veterans and brash youngsters melded into a unit that ultimately won the biggest baseball game of that year. In many ways it’s a surprise that they only won the one Championship, but ultimately any hopes for a dynasty were derailed in part by big personalities and bad behavior by some.

As a Red Sox fan, it was also interesting to see Darling’s take on some of his Red Sox opponents from that Series. Among others, he talks glowingly about scrappers like catcher Rich Gedman (who he grew up playing against) and second baseman Marty Barrett, admiring their professionalism and skill. On the other hand, pitcher Roger Clemens (who had one of the most dominating seasons in history in 1986) rates only a one-sentence mention, and that coming in the discussion about Strawberry and Gooden.

Yes, it can be tough to relive the 1986 World Series through the lens of Ron Darling, but, to the victors go the spoils. He and his teammates will go down as one of the memorable teams in history and this well-written book chronicling their journey should captivate the attention of baseball fans and literary enthusiasts alike.

Click here for Darling answering some questions related to his book.

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

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Friday, April 8, 2016

Kevin Pillar Interview From the Vault

Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Kevin Pillar is one of the most exciting young players in baseball. In addition to a potent bat, he can go and get it in the outfield as well as anyone in the game. Several years ago, when he was still making his way through the minors, I had a chance to ask him some questions about his career. The following piece originally appeared on
The Toronto Blue Jays traded a significant amount of their minor league talent to the Miami Marlins this past offseason in a huge trade that netted Jose ReyesMark Buehrle and Josh Johnson among others. Despite the deal, their cupboard is far from bare. Outfielder Kevin Pillar is one of the organization’s best young players and may also be the most underrated hitting prospect in all of baseball.
Pillar, a 24-year-old right-handed hitter, doesn’t get a lot of attention but all he does is hit and get closer to being major league-ready.
He grew up in California and enjoyed an outstanding high school career, culminating in a .463 batting average as a senior.
He went on to play for Cal State-Dominguez Hills, becoming one of the best players in team history. In 2010, he set a Division-II record by hitting safely in 54 consecutive games, besting the previous record of 49 games set by Southern’s Nick Diyorio.
The Blue Jays made Pillar their 32nd-round draft choice in 2011. He may have gone earlier, but playing for a smaller school prevented him from receiving the same level of attention afforded to other prospects.
Pillar came out swinging to start his professional career and hasn’t stopped since.
He hit .347 in 60 games in the Rookie League in 2011.
Last season, he split his time between Single-A and high Single-A, and was an offensive juggernaut. He combined to hit .323 with six home runs, 91 RBI and 51 stolen bases in 128 games.
In addition to his impressive offense, he’s also an excellent fielder, able to play all three outfield positions, though he is best in one of the corner spots.
Pillar is scheduled to open the 2013 season with Double-A New Hampshire. If he continues hitting at a torrid pace, he shouldn’t be far away from the majors.
I had the chance to catch up with the Toronto prospect over the winter. Check out what he had to say about baseball and his career, and make sure to follow him as he starts his third season as a professional player.
Kevin Pillar Interview:
Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?: Growing up my favorite player was Cal Ripken, Jr. I loved the way he was such an iron man and was mentally able to get himself on the field every day despite aches, pains and sometimes injuries. I pride myself on being able to do that. There are many days throughout a long season in which you are not going to feel your best or have areas that don’t feel so well, but I consider myself extremely mentally tough and push myself to get on the field every single day.
What do you consider to be the best aspect of your game?: The best aspect of my game is my mental toughness. It is something that I have learned over time and something that my parents taught me at a young age. Being mentally strong will counter playing against more talented players. On the field my biggest strength is the ability to hit pitches in the zone, as well as balls out of the zone. I pride myself on being a contact hitter that can use all areas of the field, and want to be the toughest out for a pitcher every single at-bat I take.
What were your expectations going into the 2011 MLB Draft?: Going into the 2011 draft I felt like all the work I had put in at Dominguez Hills and all the work I put in playing summer ball and working out would pay off. I did not know where I was going to go in the draft and obviously had higher hopes than going in the 32nd round, but I knew that where I was selected was out of my control, and what I could control is what I could do once I was given an opportunity to put a uniform on.
Can you talk about how the Blue Jays came to draft you?: I had been in contact with a couple Blue Jays scouts throughout my senor season but nothing that indicated that I would be selected by them. I also went to a local pre-draft workout for Toronto and ran my fastest 60-time of any other pre-draft workouts I went to. I was pretty confident with what I did at the workout but still did not guarantee that I would be selected by them come June. I watched all three days of the draft, and just waited with anticipation. I would be lying if I didn’t say that there were times that I got frustrated and nervous that my childhood dream would not come true. Finally in the 32nd round, three days later, I heard my name called by them and could not be any happier.
What was your transition from metal to wood bats like?: I had used wood bats in summer ball and I liked to hit batting practice with wood bats in college, but never against the competition that I faced in professional baseball. It is definitely an adjustment, especially when I played four years of college with metal bats. Luckily I was able to make that transition sooner than later and was able to have a pretty good first season of professional baseball.
How surprised are you that you have hit .331 in your first two seasons?: I am extremely confident in myself and extremely driven. I cannot say I am surprised, but definitely happy with how my first two seasons have gone. I have put a lot of work into being able to hit .331 over my first two years and am still not satisfied. I know where I can make improvements and am going to work extremely hard in the offseason to improve on the first two years.
How difficult is it to try and stand out in the minors as a low round draft pick?: Once you put a uniform on all that stuff goes out the window. Yes, it is a little bit more difficult as a low-round draft pick to get opportunities, but you will get your opportunity and it’s that much more important to make them count. I know that it’s a stigma that will follow me the rest of my career, and yes it maybe a little bit more difficult to stand out, but I am only worried about the things that I can control and my effort on and off the field.
What kind of knowledge and connection do you have with baseball history?: I love baseball and the history of the game. I grew up in the Los Angeles area and am a huge Dodgers fan and have a lot of knowledge about them and the history of the game. I love reading about players in the past and events that took place. I love watching stuff on MLB Network and have much respect for players and people involved in the game and have they have made it American’s pastime.

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

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

What is Clay Buchholz's Legacy With The Boston Red Sox?

It’s hard to believe but pitcher Clay Buchholz began his tenth year with the Boston Red Sox when he toed the rubber against the Cleveland Indians in the second game of the 2016 season. During that time, he has been a whirling dervish of disappointment, results and expectations. With a $13.5 million team option (or $500,000 buyout) coming up next year, it’s possible that this could be his swan song in the Hub. If that’s the case, what exactly is his legacy?

The right-handed Texan was a first-round pick of the team back in 2005 out of McNeese State University. He was in the majors by the end of the 2007 season, and even no-hit the Baltimore Orioles in his second start. Since then, he has intermittently pitched brilliantly, been injured, and posted middling results. In 169 career games (167 starts), he has gone 73-51 with a 3.85 ERA.

Pitching primarily with a fastball/cutter combo that typically sits in the 88-92 MPH range, and a curve and changeup, he possesses the arsenal of an above average starter. Yet, having reached more than 150 innings just three times in his big league career (with a high of 189.1 in 2012), it has been an exercise in frustration in seeing so much talent and no prolonged record of health. With seven trips to the disabled list to his credit (including seeing last season end in early July), every year seems to start with the hope that this will be the year that he finally breaks free from the shackles of nagging injuries. Unfortunately, now nearly a decade into his career, that refrain has become an annual part of spring training. 

Anyone that might say Buchholz is overrated would be mistaken. Despite the time on the sidelines, he has more than proven his worth on the field. In 2010 he won 17 games and finished sixth in the American League in Cy Young voting.  He was 12-1 with a 1.74 ERA in 16 2013 starts before being shut down due to injury. For some reason, he is invincible in the month of June, going a combined 16-1 with a 2.45 ERA and three shutouts in 21 career starts. 

There has also been not so great results, with his 4.56 ERA in 2012 and 5.34 ERA in 2014 being prime example. However, even now, it’s tantalizing to wonder what he could do if the team could get 200 innings out of him—in one season, not spread out over two or three.

Turning 32 later in the season, Buchholz is no longer a prospect or even a young player. It might even be argued that he is in the latter part of his career. Nevertheless, he remains one of the biggest enigmas in Red Sox history. Despite that, he still elicits the hopes of many fans who still believe his best is yet to come. Sadly, now that he may be in his contract year, it’s possible that watching him realize his full potential may never happen—at least not while he is in a Boston uniform.

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

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Dickie Kerr's Interview About the Chicago Black Sox

The 1919 Chicago White Sox are the most infamous team in baseball history. Eight members of their squad knew about and/or participated in a plot with gamblers to throw that year’s World Series to the underdog Cincinnati Reds. Known as the Black Sox, those eight players were ultimately banned from baseball for life by Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis. Although that team is now notorious for the actions of some, they had teammates who gave it their all, yet aren’t remembered nearly as much. One of those was pitcher Dickie Kerr, who once went on the record about his experience.

Kerr became a hero after winning two games in the 1919 series despite the best attempts of some of his teammates. Ironically, he was later banished from baseball himself after it was discovered that he played in exhibition games with some the Black Sox. Unlike the others, he was eventually reinstated and won a total of 53 major league games before going on to a career in coaching. He became best known for befriending a young Stan Musial in the minors and helping covert him from a sore-armed pitcher to one of the greatest hitters of all time—a role which so indebted the future Hall-of-Famer that he bought his mentor a house in later years.

There are rare examples of members of the 1919 White Sox going on record in an extended manner, regarding the ill-fated team. One such instance occurred in 1937, when Kerr spoke with Dave Bloom, the sports editor of the Scripps-Howard Commercial Appeal of Memphis. The interview was later reproduced in a column by Chester Smith of The Pittsburgh Press. Below are excerpts of that interview (in italics) with my thoughts beneath each section.

 “We knew it (the plot) all the time. Manager Kid Gleason. Ray Schalk, Eddie Collins and I. A newspaper man tipped me off. But what could we do? We had no proof and they tried to make it look good, and succeeded, as far as everybody except those who knew the inside of baseball were concerned. We wanted to do something but we couldn’t.”

This is an interesting statement for two reasons. First, if they really knew of a plot but did nothing, that would make them as guilty as their banished teammates—at least according to the justice of Landis, who banned third baseman Buck Weaver for simply knowing about the shenanigans. Secondly, it’s unlikely that anyone, especially Gleason, knew the extent of what was going on. If they were aware of the particulars, it wouldn’t make sense that he kept trotting out the same players game after game, knowing they weren’t giving their best.

“The newspaperman told me after the first game, which (Eddie) Cicotte lost, 9 to 1. Before the second game, Gleason came running to me in the outfield. He was red in the face.

“’Dickie, you know what’s going on?’”

“Yes,” Kerr said, “but I’m not telling you who told me.”

‘”Well,’ said Gleason, ‘you work tomorrow. You and Cicotte are going to warm up but you’re going to pitch. An listen. When we get into the clubhouse and go over the hitters, whatever Cicotte says he’s going to throw ‘em, you take a note and throw ‘em just the opposite.’

It’s surprising that pulling Cicotte in favor of Kerr for Game 3 didn’t make more waves than it did. Cicotte was probably the best pitcher in baseball, having won 29 games with a 1.82 ERA in 1919. Meanwhile, Kerr was a rookie who had shuttled back and forth between starting and relieving during the season (though he had pitched well with 13 wins of his own and a 2.89 ERA). In today’s game that would be the equivalent of a David Price being a healthy scratch for Steven Wright. In other words, there would be some major explaining to do.

“Before the game, Cicotte got up a good steam and I did a little light tossing with one of the infielders. When the batteries were announced, you should have seen Cicotte’s face.”

Even though Gleason and some of his teammates clearly suspected Cicotte of misdeeds, it didn’t prevent him from taking the mound in Game 4 (a loss) and the pivotal Game 7 (a win).

“The thing is, those birds didn’t make it look bad. They pitched to the hitters’ strength all right and we knew about that. We also knew when the infielders were just a shade late starting for the ball and when the outfielders loafed just long enough to let players take an extra base. But what could we do about it?”

This is the second time Kerr demurs on the responsibility of the Clean Sox to stand up to their teammates. Although it may not be preferable, threatening to expose their throwing of the Series—even if they didn’t know the extent of the plot—may have thrown a sufficient enough of a wrench into the works to change the trajectory. We will likely never know the extent to which players participated in throwing games, or easing up on certain plays. While intentionally playing to lose an entire World Series was unprecedented (as far as we know), players dealing with teammates not bearing down was hardly new. There were always things that could be done. Some of them, such as informing, may just not have been seen as desirable.

“I still can’t understand it. They were a swell bunch of fellows. The next year, nobody held any resentment against them, although I heard that they were betting against the White Sox in every game. I never could tell whether they were bearing down when I was pitching or not.”

This statement seems blatantly disingenuous. Playing in the World Series meant receiving a share of postseason money, with the winners getting significantly more than the losers. The Black Sox ending up taking home about $2,000 less than the Reds’ players. Adjusting for inflation, that’s roughly the equivalent of $29,000 in 2016 money, and almost double what the average worker made ($1,125) that year. It’s hard to believe that there would have been no resentment once the players knew for certain that they had lost money because some teammates intentionally gave a poor effort in order to line their own pockets.

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