Thursday, September 3, 2009

Some Pirate thoughts

Ryan Doumit's temper tantrum last week is inexcusable for a team that is in a rebuilding mode. Depending on what you believe, Doumit is unhappy because he either misses his friends, who were traded away in the latest organizational shakeup, or is frustrated from a miserable season. A wrist injury is the culprit for his poor numbers. Doumit was supposed to be one of the leaders on the team. It's looking more like he'll be one of the traded commodities in the rebuilding, especially if he has a strong September.

Speaking of which, I got into a discussion with one of my friends about whether a strong September really means anything. He believes it does; I believes it doesn't matter at all. Suppose the Pirates win their last 10 games of the season, then go on a nearly five-month break before spring training begins. How does that carry over? I don't think it does. Winning the last 10 games of September means that you had a nice winning streak at the end of the season. Period.

The more I watch Charlie Morton pitch, the more I wonder whether he will contribute to the Pirates next season. He just isn't very effective right now. Maybe playing winter ball might help.

If you were looking for some positives about the organizations this year, then consider this: The Pirates now have players in their minor league system who could replace someone who falters with the big league. If, for example, Andy LaRoche falters at third base, Pedro Alvarez or Neil Walker could take his place. In the outfield, Jose Tabata is an option. That, at least, is a sign of improvement.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Strasburg signs, now the disappointment comes

The Washington Nationals signed ace pitcher Stephen Strasburg to a $15.1 million deal at the draft deadline Monday. Now, they have to keep their fingers crossed. He is almost sure to disappoint, that is, if history keeps pace.

Thomas Boswell points out in his column:

Since 1965, when the draft began, only one pitcher taken in the top 18 spots in the first round has ever won 200 or more games (Kevin Brown). All-time greats? There's not one out of more than 300 such selections. Based on the history of high picks, Strasburg should be viewed as having a good chance to become a very good pitcher. But not more. No pitcher taken in the first four overall picks has ever won a Cy Young Award or made more than two all-star teams. Worst of all, major health concerns, such as the elbow surgery that top Nats prospect Jordan Zimmermann now needs, demonstrate the fragility of pitchers,

Mark Prior's name came up during the negotiations but that was a mistake. Prior was a bust, ravaged up by injuries. It was a waste of the $10.5 million deal he signed in 2001.

Today, Washington players and fans can celebrate the Strasburg signing. The organization has a pitcher who might be something special. History says no, but one can always hope.

BTW, the threats of Strasburg not signing and sitting out the season were bogus. When Washington announced an offer past Prior's $10.5 million, Strasburg had to sign. Had he turned down the offer, it would have been one of the most stupid economic decisions in the history of America.


Because he had nowhere else to go. Forget the Independent leagues, forget Japan. Strasburg would have lost millions and would have awoken every day knowing an injury would make that money go away.

Also, Washington couldn't take Strasburg next year, unless he agreed to be drafted the Nats. So either Kansas City, Pittsburgh or San Diego would have probably drafted him. The Lerner family, which owns the Nats, is one of baseball's wealthiest and can afford to gamble on this deal. The other teams could not.

Whatever team drafted Strasburg next year would have a huge negotiating advantage. He could sit out a second season but now he would possibly be losing money - tens of millions - when he hit free agency in his early 30s instead of late 20s. He would have had no other option, except accepting the deal.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

When it goes wrong

Here is the link to a great story about a pitching prospect who made the wrong choices in negotiations.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The price you pay

The Chicago Cubs handed the Pirates one of the worst losses in franchise history Friday, 17-2. It was 14-0 after two innings and the Pirates played like an amateur team. Starting pitcher Charlie Morton could not have been worse, unless he threw underhanded. The offense stunk again.

Welcome to the post-trade Pirates.

The big question is how many of you can take the rebuilding process if there are more games like this one? You see, that is the problem with rebuilding. Even if you agree with the way Neal Huntington traded away major league talent for future victories, the price you pay are games like the one with the Cubs.

Other rebuilding plans went awry because the pressure to get a win, any win, was so great that the plans were scrapped before they had time to flourish. General managers, fearing for their jobs, dove into the free-agent market, overpaying for players they hoped would add to the win total.

It didn't work.

So this is what you have to put up with in a rebuilding era, games such as this. Whether Huntington has the guts to stay with it for another two or three years will determine whether the Pirates actually have a chance to be competitive.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Thoughts on the Pirates

Watched a feature on Pirates top prospect Pedro Alvarez (left) and was surprised to see that he appears to have gained some weight. He has a pear-shaped body and a large backside. While the extra weight has not seemed to bother Alvarez's hitting or fielding, the Pirates should get him on a weight plan this winter.

The Pirates should be concerned that Kevin Hart did not meet with the media following his Pittsburgh debut. According to the John Perrotto of, Hart avoided talking to the press after the game. So what, you say? So this. The Pirates are at the bottom of the league in attendance and as football season intensifies, the crowds will shrink. The Pirates need all the exposure they can get with these new players and Hart not talking to the media makes fans upset and makes Hart look like he has an attitude problem.

This season is shaping as an important one for manager John Russell. The Pirates could lose 100 games this season, the locker room is filled with inexperienced players and most might not be sure exactly how to conduct themselves on and off the field. I won't judge Russell on wins and losses. I will judge him on how the Pirates respond to his coaching and how hard they play. It's the only legitimate way to evaluate Russell.

The Pirates' bullpen is aweful. One of the ways this team can improve next season is to rebuild the bullpen, most likely through free agency because the minors don't appear to have anyone ready to make the next step.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Giving up the ghost

Steelers open camp Friday.
That is good news for the Pirates organization, which hoisted the white flag on the season Wednesday by trading away shortstop Jack Wilson and second baseman Freddy Sanchez. The purge is probably complete as eight starters (not including pitchers) from the opening day lineup are gone.
These last moves assured a 17th consecutive losing season, the longest for any North American professional sports organization in history.
Well, at lest the Pirates are No. 1 in something.
The trades have left the Pirates in shambles. It is an awful team, maybe even worse the the Washington Nationals. I didn't think that was possible. It's difficult to lose 100 games in a major league season but the Pirates now have the pieces in place to do so.
Maybe you can defend these moves as a way to build a winner, except the Pirates are incredibly inept at developing talent. Quick, name one player this organization has drafted and developed into a star, or even a top-notch major leaguer.
Can't do it, can you?
So it's easy to see why Pirates fans have little or no faith in this organization's ability to build a quality team. It's a reputation that has been earned.
Just look at pitcher Ian Snell, a 20th-round selection who appeared to be the exception to this organization's dismal ability to handle players. He is in Seattle now, dumped there after a tumultuous year.
Why should Pittsburgh fans believe it will be any different with the players the Pirates received in return for this summer selloff?
Last season's trades of Jason Bay and Xavier Nady brought new faces, but none of them shows star potential. And some, such as outfielder Brandon Moss, are apalling inept. Even the success stories from those deals - pitchers Ross Ohlendorf and Charlie Morton, and third baseman Andy LaRoche - are no more than above-average players.
The Pirates have insured a losing season for this and most likely the next three seasons. Their payroll, post trades, is just above $30 million so there is money available for free agent signings.
But who would want to play here?
The remainder of this season will be depressingly similary to next, and maybe the next, a continual string of losing that might be stopped if the organization can develop talent.
General manager Neal Huntington is gambling his job that these moves will turn the team around. If he is right, then he will be considered a hero in the eyes of long-suffering fans.
If he fails, then the next five-year plan will go into place with a new general manager. It's the Pirates' way.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Sanchez traded to Giants

SAN FRANCISCO - The Giants announce they have acquired second baseman Freddy Sanchez from the Pittsburgh Pirates for Minor League pitcher Tim Alderson.

For Sanchez, joining the Giants was a matter of walking from one clubhouse to the other. San Francisco completed a three-game sweep of Pittsburgh with a 1-0 victory Wednesday.

Sanchez, a three-time All-Star and the National League's 2006 batting champion, didn't play in the series due to a sore left knee. That reportedly threatened to scuttle the deal, but Giants management obviously decided to go ahead with the move.

The Giants parted with right-hander Tim Alderson, one of their top pitching prospects, in the deal.

Alderson, 20, has compiled a 6-1 record with 3.47 ERA in 13 starts for Double-A Connecticut this season. In 72 2/3 innings, he has allowed 76 runs while walking 14 and striking out 46.

Wilson, Snell traded to Mariners

SEATTLE — The Seattle Mariners acquired shortstop Jack Wilson (above) and pitcher Ian Snell from the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday for shortstop Ronny Cedeno, Triple-A catcher Jeff Clement and three minor league pitchers.

The 31-year-old Wilson, an All-Star in 2004, becomes Seattle's third everyday shortstop this season.

"This was an opportunity for us to acquire a veteran shortstop, a former All-Star player, with leadership qualities and above-average defensive skills," Mariners general manager Jack Zdurienick said. "As we move forward over the next few years it is nice to know that we have solidified the shortstop position."

The Mariners also think Snell can restart his stalled career. The 27-year-old Snell had a 0.96 ERA in six starts with Triple-A Indianapolis, after starting the season 2-8 with a 5.36 ERA in 15 starts for Pittsburgh.

Zdurienick called Snell "a talented pitcher with major league experience who now has an opportunity restart his career after a very successful reassignment in Indianapolis."

Seattle had acquired Cedeno in the offseason from the Chicago Cubs. He struggled after the Mariners gave him their shortstop job this month by trading Yuniesky Betancourt to Kansas City. Cedeno is hitless in his last 26 at bats and is batting .167 in 59 games. The 26-year-old's contract ends after this season.

In Clement, the Pirates are getting the third overall draft pick in 2005 who has shown impressive power but has been unable to catch consistently. He has played first base while being primary a DH at Triple A. Clement, who turns 26 next month, batted .237 with seven home runs in 75 games for Seattle in 2007 and '08. He was batting .288 with 14 home runs and 68 RBIs in 92 games for Tacoma this season.

The Pirates also get minor league right-handed pitchers Nathan Adcock, Brett Lorin and Aaron Pribanic.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Strasburg a Pirate? Might happen

Pirates fans know how difficult it can be watching an organization deal with Scott Boras. The Pedro Alvarez signing was proof of that. But Boras' antics just might allow the Pirates to draft Stephen Strasburg in next year's draft. Here's how it could happen.

1. Washington, which made the right-handed power pitcher with a 100 mph fastball the No. 1 pick in the draft, must sign Strasburg by the Aug. 17 deadline. With Boras as his agen, er, advisor, that's not a sure thing. Boras was asking for a $50 million deal and reports have it down to $20 million.

2. If Washington does not sign Strasburg, he goes back into the draft. Here's the catch with that. Even though Washington has the worst record in baseball and is probably a lock for the No. 1 pick in 2010, Strasburg would have to agree to be redrafted by Washington. Can't see that happening if he doesn't sign by Aug. 17.

3. The next worst record would draft after Washington in 2010. Heading into Sunday's games, here is the order.

San Diego 38-59, .392
Kansas City 38-58 .396
Cleveland 40-58 .408
Arizona 41-56 .423
Baltimore 41-55 .427
Oakland 41-55 .427
Pittsburgh 43-53 .448

So Pittsburgh is 5 1/2 games off the pace. By Aug. 18, the league will know whether Strasburg will be available. Then, it's a game of what team can lose the most, and the Pirates are pretty good at that.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

La Roche deal a good one

The trading of first baseman Adam La Roche was a good one for the Pirates, even if the minor league prospects don't pan out. Getting rid of La Roche's $7 million contract, or at least what was left this year, is worth it. La Roche came to Pittsburgh with the hope that he would be the power hitter who could carry the offense.

But he couldn't live up to those expectations. La Roche was a decent first baseman, not a $7 million a year player but a so-so power guy with a good glove. He went into maddening slumps to start each season in Pgh., and he never really took advantage of the short right-field wall at PNC Park. He should have been what Garrett Jones is now, a feared power threat in the lineup. Most of La Roche's home runs came when they mattered least, mainly late in the season when the Pirates were long out of the race.

He wasn't the type of player the Pirates need now, even in a power-starved lineup. And if the savings on his salary helps sign Jack Wilson, then it's a plus.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

LaRoche traded

PITTSBURGH (AP) - The Boston Red Sox added one of the Pirates' middle-of-the-order hitters for the second time in as many seasons, acquiring first baseman Adam LaRoche on Wednesday for two midlevel prospects.

The trade, possibly the first of several involving the last-place Pirates before the July 31 deadline for trading without waivers, follows up last July's three-team deal that sent All-Star outfielder Jason Bay to Boston.

The Pirates, who have traded five starting position players since last July, will receive Double-A shortstop Argenis Diaz and Class-A right-hander Hunter Strickland, an 18th-round draft pick two years ago.

The Red Sox lost their fourth consecutive game Tuesday night to fall out of first place in the AL East, a game behind the New York Yankees. Boston had been one of the teams pursuing Toronto starter Roy Halladay, but a bat turned into the bigger priority for a team that is hitting .236 since June 17 and has scored 12 runs in five games since the All-Star break.

LaRoche, eligible for free agency after this season, has been a disappointment to the Pirates, hitting .247 with 12 homers, 40 RBIs and 81 strikeouts in 87 games. He has been slumping since July 4, going 5 for 46 (.109) with one RBI and 16 strikeouts. LaRoche was hitless in 22 at-bats during the slide.

The 29-year-old LaRoche was expected to supply a much-needed left-handed power bat when the Pirates dealt left-handed reliever Mike Gonzalez to Atlanta for him in January 2007, but he hasn't hit better than .272 in two-plus seasons and had poor starts in 2007 and 2008.

LaRoche hit 32 homers for Atlanta in 2006, but his best season with Pittsburgh was 25 homers and 85 RBIs a year ago.

Likely trade bait

With the trade deadline fast approaching, I thought I would lit the Pirates I believe will be traded in the order of their value to other teams. So here goes:

1. Zach Duke, SP: This is the only player the Pirates would be willing to trade who will bring back greater value than they would give up. The contending teams in the majors would be interested in offering top prospects to land him. Pulling the trigger on him would be difficult because of the PR hit the organization will take.

2. Robinzon Diaz, C: The Pirates have depth at this position and Diaz could bring a couple prospects. The question is do the Pirates believe Ryan Doumit can stay healthy for the remainder of the season.

3. Freddy Sanchez, 2B: The problem with trading Sanchez is his salary, $8 million. That is too high for a player of his ability: good hit, good field, no power, not enough speed. If Sanchez is traded, the Pirates would probably have to pick up some of his salary for next season.

4. Jack Wilson, SS: If it will be hard to trade Sanchez because of his salary, then it will be almost impossible to trade Wilson, who is making nearly $8 million. The best scenario for the Pirates is to let Sanchez and Wilson finish the season in Pgh., then see what other teams offer. If it's reasonable, then match it.

5. Adam LaRoche, 1B: With Garrett Jones emerging, LaRoche won't be back with the Pirates next season. But who wants to trade for him now? He's hit just 12 home runs this season in a homer-friendly PNC Park for lefties. Heck, even baseball Fantasy owners don't like him (only in 78 percent of the leagues on ESPN).

6. John Grabow, RP: He walks too many (24 in 43 inn.) but is a decent set-up man. Minnesota is interested. He will be a free agent at the end of the season. I can't see any team knocking the Pirates over with an offer for him.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Who is this guy?

Since PNC Park opened, the Pirates have been trying to find a left-handed power hitter who could take advantage of the short right field wall. Jeremy Burnitz was a bust, so was Adam LaRoche.

Enter Garrett Jones, a 29-year-old rookie, stands 6-4 and weighs 245, has been the surprise of the season. He cracked his fifth home run in the last four games and has seven in his first 12 games since being recalled from the minors. His two home runs against San Francisco Friday night were all the runs the Pirates scored. He homered in the first inning and won it with a one-hopper into the river in the 14th.

Jones spent most of his career in the Minnesota Twins organization and landed in Pittsburgh after Minnesota released him. He was a 14th-round pick by the Atlanta Braves in 1999 but was released three years later.

The nice thing about Jones is that he can play first base, too. LaRoche is plodding along with another unremarkable season (12 HR, 39 RBI, .246 ave.) and has to be considered trade bait before the deadline at the end of the month.

Jones probably won't continue at this pace, but he just needs to provide consistent power and hit .260 or .270 to remain in the lineup. At least he has more promise than Steve Pearce and is providing a much-needed spark to this team.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

We've seen this before

Last year, it was Xavier Nady and Jason Bay.
This year, it's Nyjer Morgan and Nate McLouth.
The annual summer Garage Sale the Pirates hold got under way in June with the trading of two-thirds of their starting outfield. McLouth was traded to Atlanta for prospects and a starting pitcher in Charlie Morton who looks very, well, average.
Tuesday's deal sent Morgan and reliever Sean Burnett to the Washington Nationals for reliever Joel Hanrahan and outfielder Lastings Milledge.
Of course, general manager Neal Huntington says these trades are for the betterment of an organization that is bereft of minor league talent. In Morgan, the Pirates had a speedy outfield who personified the workman-like ethic Pittsburghers like in their athletes.
What they get in return for Morgan is a flake. Milledge, a first-round pick of the New York Mets, is on his third team in four seasons. He failed to hold the starting center field job with the Nationals, the worst team in the league, but lasted seven games. He hit .167, walked once in 24 at-bats and played a poor outfield. He has more power than Morgan - who doesn't - and that's what seems to intrigue the Pirates.
Milledge made a stir in his rookie year with the Mets when he high-fived the fans along his route to the outfielder after hitting a home run against the San Francisco Giants.
In May of his second season, it was reported that Milledge appeared in a rap song, "Bend Ya Knees," by Manny D, a childhood friend. The song contained the usual description of women in rap. The Mets distanced themselves from Milledge's actions and after the season traded him to Washington for outfielder Ryan Church and catcher Brian Schneider.
This trade didn't go over well in the Pirates clubhouse as Huntington begins the annual fire sale. Shortstop Jack Wilson told the Associated Pressc:
“What’s so shocking is we’re (six) games out and we’ve lost three of our everyday players. It’s tough for the guys who’ve been here and have seen these trades happen and absolutely do nothing. I’ve seen these trades two or three times a year and we still haven’t had a winning season.”
Good point.
Of course, Wilson won't have to worry about it much longer. He will either be traded before the deadline or leave as a free agent after the season. So will second baseman Freddy Sanchez and first baseman Adam La Roche.
It's just the Pirates way.

Pirates trade Morgan, Hinske, get Milledge

The Pittsburgh Pirates, swapping outfielders at a rapid rate for the second successive season, sent starting left fielder Njyer Morgan to the Washington Nationals in a four-player deal involving outfielder Lastings Milledge and also shipped backup Eric Hinske to the Yankees on Tuesday.
The Pirates, who have pushed to restock a thin farm system by making numerous trades over the last year, get Milledge and reliever Joel Hanrahan from the Nationals for the fleet Morgan and left-hander Sean Burnett, a former first-round draft pick.
Earlier, they sent 2002 AL Rookie of the Year Hinske to the Yankees for minor-league right-hander Casey Erickson and outfielder Eric Fryer. The Yankees also get some cash to help pay Hinske’s $1.5 million salary.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

You decide

Which of these two players were thought to be using performance-enhancing drugs? Barry Bonds or Darryl Strawberry.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Donald Fehr: A legacy derailed

At one point, Donald Fehr was the most powerful man in Major League Baseball. He might have been the most powerful leader of any labor movement in the United States. But when Fehr announced Monday that he would retire from his post, the legacy he had carved out early in his career had been siginificantly tarnished.

As head of the Major League Baseball Players Association, Fehr brought great riches to the players while keeping team owners and the commissioner at arm's length. Under Fehr, there was unprecedented growth, not only in contract money but in the popularity of the sport. In the late 1990s, baseball was actually making a run to overtake the National Football League as this country's most popular sport.

But Fehr ran the union with little regard to the game. That's why the average salary went from about $300,000 to $3 million in his 25 years of leadership. His negotiation tactics were born from a bullheadedness that was almost totally backed by the players. Not even a work stoppage that forced the postponement of the 1994 World Series seemed to slow him or his influence.

But performance-enhancing drugs did. When the use of steroids and other PED was finally revealed in the early part of this decade, Fehr suddenly seemed more like a co-conspirator of a gang of cheaters than the leader of a great union.

The figure who testified before Congress on steroid use did not look like the crusading leader that bouyed baseball and its players. One by one, the players who helped Fehr elevate interest in the sport, now looked pathetic as they also were called to testify. These immortals who were once sure-shot Hall of Famers now sparked debate about whether they should even be considered.

Fehr's influence in the game can't be underestimated. He was a moving force in propelling baseball to where it is today. But it's your view of how it got there that will determine how this man is judged.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Alvarez promoted

It's always interesting to watch the way organizations handle the minor league talent. In the case of Pedro Alvarez, the Pirates seem to have a plan in mind and won't let little things such as batting average and defense get in the way. He was moved to Class AA Altoona and will play his first game Tuesday.

Most people hope Alvarez rapidly progresses through the minors. It's no secret the Pirates need him to prosper for a number of different reasons. The Nutting Family won't look so cheap if he becomes a star, the minor league scouting won't look like incompetent boobs if he becomes a star, and the fans won't be so distracted by the losing if he becomes a star.

Here is what director of player development Kyle Stark told the Post-Gazette.

"Pedro has demonstrated to us that he is ready for the challenge. People typically focus on performance when it comes time for promotions, but we focus on the process and the specific things we're trying to accomplish at each level. Pedro has accomplished those things, in our minds. Plus, the performance actually has been better than the superficial numbers have shown for a while now."

In other words, yeah, his numbers are not so great for a college-aged player in high Class A baseball, but we don't care.

The 22-year-old Alvarez was hitting .247 with 14 home runs and 55 RBI. He has struck out 70 times in 243 at-bats. He has 13 errors in 66 games.

It's unlikely Alvarez will get a September call-up. Remember, he spent an entire summer sitting on his backside while his agent Scott Boras negotiated his contract so he missed nearly a year of organized ball. That also delayed his development in the Pirates' system.

Alvarez probably will become an outstanding player. How he reacts to Class AA ball will give us of indication of when that might happen.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Around the League

In the history of Major League Baseball, there have been only 20 games in which brother played against brother. No. 21 took place Saturday night when Jeff Weaver started against brother Jered when the Dodgers took on the Angels in an interleague game. The Elias Sports Bureau did the research from nearly 200,000 games. One of the coolest parts of the game was that their parents attended the game with mixed stitched uniforms. Dad wore a baseball shirt that said Do-Gels on the front and mom had one that said An-Dgers on the front. Dodgers won 6-4, Jered took the loss, and Jeff the win.

Kerry Wood has finally been able to help out the Chicago Cubs. The prized selection in the 1995 draft - the Cubs took him fourth - had been an underachieving, oft-injured and finally unwanted part of the Cubs machine. But over the weekend, Wood, now the closer for the Cleveland Indians, was scorched on back-to-back nights by the Cubs. He blew a save Friday and allowed the winning run on a wild pitch Saturday. In true unprofessional fashion, he refused comment following Saturday's game.

Jose Canseco is at it again. The former slugger wrote a tell-all book about steroid use in 2005 that led to the exposure of a number of high-profile players in the league. Now, he's suing Major League Baseball and the player's association because he believes the book release is causing him to be blackballed and his entry into the hall of fame blocked. That's pretty funny. But it might also be a legal first. Canseco is suing over a situation that he helped create. Can't wait to see who he calls as a witness.

When Jim Leyland, Detroit's manager, benched outfielder Magglio Ordonez for a few games because he is in a massive hitting slump, it angered Ordonez ... and his agent Scott Boroas. Boras believes the benching has to do with an option that pays Ordonez $15 million in 2010 if he reaches 540 at-bats. Leyland said the benching is because Ordonez stinks at the plate right now: 2 home runs and 22 RBI. He hasn't homered since April 27 and it's just possbile the 35-year-old Ordonez is finished. But baseball matters mean nothing to Boras, who is only concerned about the contract. It only makes himself more of a pariah to the game, not that Boras cares.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Say it ain't So-sa

The New York Times reported Tuesday that the name of Sammy Sosa was on a confidential list of Major League Baseball players who tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs.

Wait a moment, I need a chance to compose myself at this totally unexpected news.

OK, I was being facetious.

Most of the evidence against players such as Sosa has been anecdotal. Sosa was not an extremely powerful hitter when he came up with the Texas Rangers but in a span of four seasons, he broke Roger Maris' single-season home run mark of 61 three times. In two of those seasons - 1999 and 2001 - he didn't even lead the league in home runs.

Most fans couldn't care less about this issue but it is vitally important to baseball because so much of the comparison of players is based on numbers. In no other sports do numbers play such a role. Mention the number 714 and you know it's Babe Ruth's home run total, 56 (Joe DiMaggio's hitting streak), 511 (Cy Young's win total), etc.

Who is the NFL's leading rusher and what is his total? (Answer at the end)

Performance-enhancing drugs have turned slap hitters into power mongers. One suspected example was former Baltimore Outfielder Brady Anderson, who cracked 50 home runs in 1996. His previous best was 21 in 1992.

Cheating in baseball is nothing new. Players have done it throughout the game's history. But this era is different in that steroids allowed players to develop unnatural strength. Their numbers wiped away cherished records under suspicious circumstances.

Sosa's alleged cheating should keep him, and other like him, from being voted into the Hall of Fame, simply because we don't know what his career would have been had he not allegedly taken performance-enhancing drugs.

Oh, the answer is Emmit Smith, 18,355 yards. I had to look up the total.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Pirates tidbits

Dejan Kovacevic of the Post-Gazette reports that the Boston Red Sox have inquired about trade for shortstop Jack Wilson. Talks are reportedly only in the early stages but the Pirates have made it clear they do not intend to pick up the $8.4 million option next season.

Outfielder Andrew McCutchen is off to a sparkling start with the Pirates. The 11th pick in the 2005 draft, McCutchen has shown the potential to be a special player. In 49 at-bats through Sunday, he is hitting .327 with seven RBI and two stolen bases. More important, he is a player whose at-bats are a must-see for Pirates fans. They have not had many of those types of players.

Watching Detroit pitcher Dontrelle Willis struggle with control in a 6-3 loss to the Pirates was like watching a car wreck. It was hard to look away. Willis walked eight and gaveup six runs in three innings. More telling, as TV color man Bob Walk pointed out, was the Pirates helping Willis out by swinging at pitches early in the at-bat. Walk was right. The Pirates could have provided a first-inning knockout had they been more patient. It shows how little the Pirates players understand about game management.

Maybe I'm just drinking the kool-aid but I tend to agree with the Pirates drafting Tony Sanchez because he was signable. . . if the Pirates do what they say and use the savings to sign their higher selections. There was no Pedro Alvarez-type player available to them, so this strategy seems to make sense because there is still not a lot of talent in the minor leagues.

Best PR move of the season came in Sunday's game against Detroit, when the Pirates introduced members of the Penguins, fresh from a Stanley Cup championship, before the game. It was a classy move, even though the two organizations battle for ad dollars, attendance and better play in the newspapers.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The five worst No. 1 draft picks

Stephen Strasburg will become a very rich man this year, thanks to being picked No. 1 by Washington in this year's major league draft. But those riches do not always produce a productive player. The following is one writer's view of the five worst No. 1 picks in the draft's history.

1. Brien Taylor, LHP, N.Y. Yankees, 1991 - After being taken first out of Beaufort (N.C.) High School, Taylor held out for what was then the largest signing bonus is the sport's history: $1.5 million. In 1992 he was 6-8 for Fort Lauderdale, with a 2.57 ERA and 187 strikeouts in 161 innings. The next year, he tore his labrum in an offseason fight in Beaufort and was never the same. He was out of baseball by 1998 and became a brick layer.

2. Steve Chilcott, C, N.Y. Mets, 1966 - He was selected ahead of Reggie Jackson, among others, so you understand why the Mets struggled so much. Injuries derailed his career. A catcher from Antelope Valley High School in Lancaster, California, Chilcott is notable in that he and Taylor were the only No. 1 picks to not play a game in the major leagues.

3. Bryan Bullington, RHP, Pirates, 2002 – The Pirates were penny-pinching and not willing to go after the bigger names and better players in the draft, including BJ Upton, Prince Fielder, Scott Kazmir, Nick Swisher, and Cole Hamels. Because of injuries and inconsistent pitching, Bullington has logged just 18 innings in the majors through 2008.

4. David Clyde, LHP, Texas Rangers, 1973 - Clyde stands as a living testament to the perils of rushing a pitcher to the majors. He was taken first out of Westchester High School in Houston and was supposed to head to the minors. But his contract called for two major league starts. He won the first start and pitched well in the second. Rangers' owner Bob Short kept him in the rotation more as a way to draw fans and he finished with a 4-8 record and 5.01 ERA. He developed arm problems and was out of the league by 1981.

5. Shawn Abner, OF, N.Y. Mets, 1984 - He was taken first in the 1984 draft out of Mechanicsburg High School in Pennsylvania but never played a major league game for the Mets. The Mets passed on Mark McGwire, Cory Snyder, Terry Mulholland, and Jay Bell. Abner, an outfielder, struggled in the minors and was traded in 1986 to Houston. His best year was 1992 when he hit .279 batting in 97 games with the White Sox. His career ended in 1995 because of injuries.

Pirates draft strategy

The selection of Tony Sanchez, a 21-year-old catcher from Boston College, on the first day of the major league draft, marked a different strategy for the Pirates from last season. In 2008, the organization spent most of its budget on first-rounder Pedro Alvarez, a power-hitting third baseman from Vanderbilt. He hasn't disappointed but is still a year away, at least, from the majors.

Sanchez was the top-rated catcher but predicted by most to be a mid- to late-first round selection. Drafts are never a perfect science but many of the prognosticators felt after pitcher Stephen Strasburg, the players ranked in the top 20 were nearly equal in ability at their positions.

So the Pirates choice to pick Sanchez, and have him signed, was important because it allowed them to spread more of the budget on their selections at the top of the draft.

The Pirates selected pitcher Victor Black of Dallas Baptist University at No. 49, pitcher Brooks Pounders of Temecula (Calif.) Valley High at No. 52 and center fielder Evan Chambers, 20, of Hillsborough (Fla.) Community College at 84.

The strategy seems sound. The Pirates minor league system was a mess when Neal Huntington was named GM and needs an infusion of talent. If the strategy works, Pittsburgh might have three or four above average players for the price paid to Alvarez last year.

One thing that struck me was that Sanchez's position, catcher, is the same as Ryan Doumit's. A position switch - first base, outfield? - seems to be coming for Doumit. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Pirates take catcher

The Pirates made Tony Sanchez, a 21-year-old from Boston College, the No. 4 pick in the draft. The Pirates have already signed Sanchez, who was rated the top catcher in a pitcher-heavy draft. He was named a first team All-ACC player last season and led Boston College with a .355 average. He hit 14 home runs and drove in 53.

Monday, June 8, 2009

With the No. 4 pick in the draft, the Pirates . . .

will probably choose one of three pitchers. But a fourth is an intriguing wild card.

The guess here is that the Pirates will take Aaron Crow, a right-handed pitcher who was selected with the No. 9 pick in last year's Major League Baseball draft by the Washington Nationals. When the two sides could not agree on a contract, Crow spent the year pitching for the Fort Worth Cats of the American Association of Independent Baseball. He's 6-3, has a good fastball but struggles with control.

The Pirates could also go for Alex White, a right-handed pitcher from the University of North Carolina. He's 6-3, hits the mid-90s with his fastball, and has a nasty slider.

Tyler Matzek is a left-handed pitcher from Capastrano High School in California. He's 6-3, throws his fastball in the low-90s, and also possesses a curve, slider and change.

The most intriguing candidate is Tanner Scheppers, who was the Pirates second-round pick last season. Scheppers did not sign with the Pirates and spent the season with the independent St. Paul Saints. Last year, he did not pitch for Fresno State in the NCAA playoffs because of an injury. But he appears to be healthy now but his injury problems from last year will probably cause him to drop to the mid and late first round.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

McLouth deal from the other side

Here is the link to the Atlanta Journal Constitution coverage on the Nate McLouth trade.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

McLouth is gone, and so are the Pirates hopes

Remember this little tidbit when it comes to judging whether people are telling you the truth. Do their actions match their words. In the Pirates world, they do not, at least not this year.

When the Pirates dealt All-Star outfielder Nate McLouth, arguably their most consistent hitter, to the Atlanta Braves for three prospects Thursday, it went against what president Frank Coonelly and GM Neal Huntington had said about this season: that they were not writing off the year.

There is no attempt to win when you trade your best hitter. McLouth, only 27, hit .276 average last season with 26 homers and 94 RBI. He signed a three-year, $15.75 million deal in Feburary. This move is eerily similar to the ones last year, when the Pirates traded away Xavier Nady and Jason Bay. The season went down the drain after that.

Now that McLouth is gone, well, a record 17th-consecutive losing season is probably all but certain. The prospects the Pirates received for McLouth are, well, just that, prospects. Atlanta sent pitcher Charlie Morton, outfielder Gorkys Hernandez, and pitcher Jeff Locke to the Pirates. Who knows how good they will be. Locke and Hernandez are each 21 and Morton is 25. You will find out a few years from now.

Meanwhile, the Pirates will fill McLouth's spot with Andrew McCutchen, giving them one of the least powerful outfields in the majors.

If the Pirates are thinking about the future instead of the present, then make the move and tear up this team. Trade Jack Wilson, Freddy Sanchez and Adam LaRoche before the deadline and go from there.

Just be honest about it.

Beating up on . . . Gatorade?

The Chicago Cubs either can't control their emotions in the dugout or they really dislike Gatorade. The club installed a new machine for the season, a dispenser of the soothing liquid on the hot days in Chicago. But now, the dispenser is being removed after suffering two attacks in the span of a week.

First, pitcher Ryan Dempster sent a forearm shiver into the machine after being pulled from a game against the Pirates. The blow dislodged the front plate that showed what type of Gatorade was available. A few days later, pitcher Carlos Zambrano took a bat to the machine after being ejected from a game, again against the Pirates. The machine has been leaking liquid ever since.

Fits of rage are nothing new to baseball. Heck, former Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon had one that was reshown again and again by ESPN when he removed a base from the ground and took it with him to the dugout, making him the first manager to steal a base without getting a hit.

As for the Chicago massacre, Dempster seemed genuinely disappointed the machine was being removed.

Dempster told the LA. Times: "It would have been more entertaining [to keep it], that's for sure. I'm going to miss it. It's part of our team. I gave it a big hug."

Now word yet on what will take its place.

How about a nice water fountain, made out of quarter-inch steel plating?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A major-league city?

Altoona is home to the Curve, the Class AA affiliate of the Pirates.

But the Blair County city once had a major-league team.

The year was 1884, and a new league, christened the Union Association, was ready to challenge the other two established major leagues, the National League and American Association.

The UA had seven members and wanted an even eighth, so league founder Henry Lucas allowed Altoona's team, known collectively as the Mountain City, to be admitted. Lucas promptly scheduled eight of Altoona's first 11 games against his own St. Louis Maroons.

According to David Nemec in his book "The Beer and Whisky League," Altoona lost all of those games to St. Louis on the way to opening the season 0-11. After 25 games, the Mountain City called it quits at 6-19.

The team's best player in its brief existence was George "Germany" Smith, who hit .315 and went on to play 15 seasons in the majors, albeit finishing with a lifetime .243 average. He was the starting shortstop on two pennant-winning teams, the Brooklyn Bridegrooms (later Dodgers) of 1889 in the American Association and 1890 in the National League.

By the way, baseball statistics-history guru Bill James heavily disputes the Union Association's standing as a major league, contending that no one considered it as such until decades after the fact.

For now, though, Altoona can call itself a major-league city ... old-school.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Random Pirates thoughts

Ian Snell is struggling and that might be good news for Brad Lincoln. Snell, who was supposed to be one of the cornerstones of the Pirates pitching staff, has been so bad that a move to long relief so he can work out his problems might be the next step. If so, Lincoln would probably get the call. He is 1-2 with a 2.05 ERA with the Altoona Curve. Most impressive: He has allowed just 42 hits in 52 2/3 inings.

At Class A Lynchburg, Pedro Alvarez is slowly raising his average. He was hitting just above .200 a month ago but is now at .242. He has nine home runs and 41 RBI. Maybe the best stat is that he has not made an error over the past two weeks.

I would like to see more of Delwyn Young, who has replaced Freddy Sanchez at second base and played in the outfield. Young is hitting .294 in 51 at-bats and has made only one error in 73 career chances.

Catcher Ryan Doumit is on track to return a couple weeks early from a fractured wrist suffered last month. His two replacements - Jason Jaramillo and Robinson Diaz - have done a good job defensively and are hitting well. Diaz is at .327 and Jaramillo .271. The two have not replaced Doumit's run-producing ability as they have combined for one home run and 11 RBI.

Tim Neverett has been a solid play-by-play man since taking over for Lanny Frattare. He doesn't get lost in discribing the action and knows how to use his voice to reflect the ups and down of a game. What also strikes me is that he sounds a little like Bob Uecker, the Milwaukee Brewers play-by-play guy.

Monday, May 25, 2009

A real gem for stats nuts

I remembered going to a Cleveland Indians game when I was 12 and seeing Sam McDowell pitch against the Yankees. I remembered he struck out 12 batters - don't know why but that number stuck with me. Well, one day at work I told me friend about the game, how much of an impression it made on me because of my great seats and how I loved Sam McDowell. I could not remember much else about the game, outside of the fact that no matter how many times I yelled for McDowell, my favorite Indians player at the time, he never looked up to see me in my seats behind the dugout.

After searching the Web for a few minutes, my friend told me that game was held June 27, 1969, and Cleveland scored four runs in the seventh and eighth innings to win it, 5-1. Oh, and a future Atlanta Braves manager was in the Yankees' lineup and Art Frantz was the home plate umpire.

How did he know this?, that's how.

It's the most complete and easiest to use Web site for stat geeks like myself. This site has every game every played documented. I know, for example, that in 1871, the Cleveland Forest City's finished seventh in their division with a 10-19 record. And they were managed by Charlie Pabor, and pitcher Al Pratt started 28 of the 29 games.

All this information is available at no cost.

BTW, the former Braves manager who played third base against Cleveland the day I was there was Bobby Cox and he was hitless in four at-bats.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Ups and downs

Scoring double-digit runs in one inning doesn't happen every day. So Pirates fans had a big reason to celebrate Sunday, as the team erupted for a 10-spot against Colorado, taking advantage of some very shoddy defense.

The 11-4 victory gave Pittsburgh two wins in the weekend's three-game series, and it could have been a sweep had closer Matt Capps not melted down in the ninth inning Friday. The Pirates finished 4-2 in a short homestand before heading to the District of Columbia.

More in the category of good news: Zach Duke, who's been trying to live up to the hype he generated by his 8-2, 1.81 ERA debut in 2005, finally seems to be pitching somewhat decently again. He improved to 5-3 this season with a fine 2.84 ERA, and if he continues in that vein, he could receive consideration as the Pirates' token representative on the National League All-Star team.

Down: The Pirates still are in last place in the NL Central with a 16-21 record. They'll have to go 66-59 the rest of the way to avoid that record 17th straight losing season. Some more double-digit innings definitely would help.

Up: The three division leaders in the American League are Toronto, Detroit and Texas. That means no New York, no Boston, no Chicago and no Los Angeles.

It's not even Memorial Day yet, but it's good to see some different teams at the top of the standings.

The Rangers seem to have captured particular attention in a division that's been dominated by the high-payroll Angels in recent years. Texas' problem usually is pitching, which must be mortifying for the team president, Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan.

But this year, under the tutelage of pitching coach Mike Maddux (Greg's older brother), the moundsmen are putting up respectable numbers. According to By Gil LeBreton of the Fort Worth Star-Telegraph: "Before Sunday’s shutout [3-0 win over the Angels], Rangers starting pitchers had averaged 6.24 innings per start, most in the American League. Their 4.37 ERA as starters ranked fifth in the AL, and their .258 batting average allowed was fourth. The teams ranked behind the Rangers’ starters include the Yankees, White Sox, Red Sox and last year’s AL champions, the Tampa Bay Rays."

The good start has revitalized a team that, since it arrived from D.C. in 1972, has played in the shadow of the Dallas Cowboys. Sunday's game had more than 30,000 walk-up ticket sales.

See what some winning baseball can do?

Down: The statistics caught up with the Mets' Mike Pelfrey on Sunday.

Pelfrey started the season with a 4-0 record, despite a 4.89 ERA. He took his first loss last night in San Francisco, giving up just two runs, but New York failed to score.

The Giants scored both their runs in large part because of two balks by Pelfrey. He ended up with three balks for the game, the first time that's happened in 15 years.

“I think maybe when I get on national TV I like making a fool of myself,” the Associated Press quoted Pelfrey as saying. “It seemed like I almost had the yips. It was like I was fighting myself to come set because my mind kept telling me to pick the guy off. I went back and watched replays and I balked.”

This is the major leagues, Mike. Get a grip.

Up: Matt Cain was on the receiving end of the Giants' victory Sunday, even though he struggled at times. Cain walked the bases loaded in the second, but San Francisco first baseman Travis Ishikawa made a nifty play on Jeremy Reed's grounder for a 3-2-3 double play that preserved the shutout.

The win gave Cain a 4-1 record this year, which represents quite a turnaround from previous seasons. He came into 2009 with a 30-43 lifetime record, despite an ERA well under 4. That's because he has received the lowest run support of any active pitcher with more than 100 lifetime starts.

Those two runs last night didn't help that statistic, but they were good enough.

Down: My PC, after about six years of heavy use, finally seems to have bitten the dust. I'll have to dig out the hard drives and see if I can order a new computer that still has Windows XP.

Trivia #19: What was the highest-scoring World Series of all time?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sanchez, by the numbers

The Nutting family has shown, ahem, frugality in some of its dealings with the Pirates payroll since taking over the team. Others might label it as being cheap. But the situation with Freddy Sanchez's contract can't be construed as that.

Speculation rose last week that Sanchez was being "rested" early on so he would not hit a clause in his contract that kicks in an $8.5 million option fror next season if he makes 635 plate appearances or if he makes 600 plate appearance and is picked for the All-Star Game.

Sanchez and shortstop Jack Wilson will become free agents after the season and it would cost the Pirates a combined $16 million to bring the duo back. That's not going to happen. The most pressing need is at shortstop but not at such a steep price.

Sanchez played in a career-high 156 games in 2006 and led the league with a .344 batting average. Since then, his production has slipped each season, .304 in 2007, and .274 last season. He's hitting .314 in 33 games this season. He's 31 and probably is not in the team's long-term rebuilding plans.

If the Pirates don't want to pay Sanchez, then the easy solution is to trade him before the deadline.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Downs and ups

I haven't picked on the Pirates recently. They have enough problems.

But after watching last nights game vs. Colorado, I felt I had to break my silence.

Once again, a starting pitcher was throwing a gem of a game. And once again, he had to leave the mound.

Paul Maholm rebounded from a series of mediocre starts by tossing seven scoreless innings Friday, giving up just five hits and one walk. The Pirates weren't doing much better against journeyman Rockies pitcher Jorge de la Rosa, but they had managed to scratch out a run.

Tyler Yates and John Grabow managed to contain Colorado in the eighth, but there might have been a collective groan around PNC Park when Matt Capps walked to the mound to being the ninth.

Sure enough, Ian Stewart led off the inning by bouncing a ball over the fence, then Brad Hawpe put one in the seats. (The photo above is Capps after the home run.) The Rockies tacked on an insurance run, then Colorado closer Houston Street struck out the side in the bottom of the ninth.

Capps now is 0-3 with an 8.18 ERA. Next time manager John Russell brings him in to close a game, he'll have some 'splainin' to do!

De la Rosa, by the way, has put up a stellar 3.16 ERA so far, but has an 0-3 record to show for it. For all the Coors Field effect, the Rockies aren't the bombers they used to be.

Up: You might not know to much about Zack Greinke, seeing as how he pitches for the Kansas City Royals. You might not even have known they still have a team in Kansas City. The Royals haven't made the playoffs since winning the 1985 World Series.

But the emergence of Greinke as the American League's best pitcher has sports commentators mentioning KC and baseball in the same sentence once again.

Greinke was loaded with potential when he arrived in the majors at age 20 in 2004. He put up respectable numbers as a rookie, and entered '05 with plenty of expectations.

What resulted was a 5-17 season and some personal issues that shelved Greinke for most of 2006. He came back in '07 to split time between the bullpen and rotation, and last year he put up some spectacular numbers for a Royal: 13-10, 3.47 ERA and 183 strikeouts in 202 1/3 innings.

Last night, Greinke beat Baltimore, 8-1. The run was earned, the fourth he's surrendered this season. In 60 innings. That gives him an ERA of 0.60.

His record went to 7-1 (his only loss, of course, was 1-0). So far, he's struck out 65 batters and walked 10. He has yet to give up a home run.

Anything can happen between now and October, but if Greinke remains healthy, Kansas City just might continue to play baseball longer this season than they have in the past 24 years.

Down: I stopped rooting for the Red Sox when they started paying out semi-Yankee-esque payrolls, but I always kind of liked David Ortiz.

So I'm sad to see Big Papi hit what looks to be the end of the road.

Sox manager Terry Francona reluctantly benched Ortiz after he took an 0-for-7 collar and left an incredible 12 runners stranded during a 12-inning loss to the Angels on Thursday.

That performance left Papi with a .208 batting average for the season. He has yet to hit a home run in 130 at bats.

Ortiz is 33, which on the surface doesn't seem that old. But his statistics have declined so precipitously since the middle of 2008 that observers can't help but wonder if he'll ever be more than a spot player again. He already is a designated hitter, and there's really no room in a starting lineup for a DH who can't hit.

The excuse usually given on Ortiz's behalf is that he doesn't have Manny Ramirez in the lineup to protect him anymore. But should that really be enough for Papi to lose his power stroke totally? For crying out loud, the man hit 142 home runs in the span of three seasons to become one of the most feared hitters in baseball.

There's been conjeture, considering Manny's recent problems ... well, you're not going to read it here.

Perhaps after a rest on the bench, Ortiz will get back on track. But that will come as a surprise.

Up: The San Diego Padres play in one of the worst ballparks for hitters, but that hasn't fazed Adrian Gonzalez.

The Padres' first baseman cracked his 15th homer of the season last night, in a 5-3 win over the Reds, extending his major-league lead in that department. Baseball fans love to extrapolate, so he's on a pace to hit 67 bombs for the season and make San Diego fans forget all about Nate Colbert.

Predictably, Gonzalez has done most of his damage on the road, hitting 11 home runs in just 21 games. If he played his home games in, say, Cincinnati's Great American Bandbox, he might be making baseball fans in general forget all about B. Lamar Bonds.

We'd sure like someone to do so!

Friday, May 15, 2009

All about the Deacon

Dean Phillippi, originally from Washington, Pa., and now living in Jacksonville, Fla., was kind enough to send us this writeup about his relative, Charles Louis "Deacon" Phillippe, one of the greatest pitchers in Pirates history and a man who has received serious Hall of Fame consideration.

Charles Louis "Deacon" Phillippe was the winner of the first game of the first World Series in 1903 against Cy Young. Deacon set iron-man marks in the Series by pitching 44 innings of the eight game series and completing five games. Twice, he started consecutive games and he is the only pitcher in baseball to win three series games for a losing team.

In 1969, Pittsburgh fans voted Deacon Pittsburgh's all-time right-handed pitcher. Incredibly, Deacon never had a losing season in his 13 years of Major League Baseball (1899 with Louisville; 1900-11 with Pittsburgh).

He was born Charles Louis Phillippi near the small rural town of Rural Retreat in Wythe County, Virginia, on May 23, 1872, a son of Andrew Jackson and Margaret Jane (Hackler) Phillippi.

Career highlights

  • Lifetime record of 189-109 with a 2.59 ERA

  • Five seasons with 20 or more wins

  • Completed 242 of the 288 games he started over his career, while striking out 929

  • His best ERA was in 1902, when he posted a 2.05 mark to go with a 20-9 record.

  • Over a four-year period (1900-1903), he pitched 1136 1/3 innings.

  • He is near the top of the Pirates' all-time pitching list in innings pitched, wins, strikeouts, shutouts and completed games.

  • Best year: In 1903, he was 24-7 with a 2.43 ERA. He struck out 123, walked only 29 and gave up 265 hits in 289 innings.

Note: Information for this story below was compiled by Tom Bralley of Wytheville. Bralley is a vice president and branch manager at Premier Bank and is a baseball historian.

Rural Retreat man pitched in the very first World Series

There have been a lot of excellent athletes who have come from Rural Retreat. Many residents of Rural Retreat and Wythe County are no doubt aware of people who have done well at the high school level and gone on to achieve notoriety in college sports.

But probably few people are aware that one of the greatest Major League baseball players in history was born in Rural Retreat. Charles Louis Phillippe was born May 23, 1872, in Rural Retreat. Phillippe pitched for 13 years in the Major Leagues. Perhaps the highlight of his career was pitching in the first World Series in 1903. In that Series, Phillippe, who was nicknamed "Deacon" because of his mastery over batters, and his family would not let him play baseball on Sundays as well. In the World Series, he pitched five complete games and won three for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Phillippe died in 1952, but in 1969 Pittsburgh fans voted him Pittsburgh's all-time right-handed pitcher.

Phillippe signed his first professional baseball contract in 1897 with a team in Minneapolis. He was drafted into the National League by Louisville in 1898. The next year, he finished the season with a 20-17 record which included a no-hitter against New York.

Phillippe joined the Pittsburgh team in 1900 and was one of its leading pitchers for the next 11 years. He led the Pirates to pennants (league championships) in 1901, 1903 and 1909. Probably his most successful season came in 1910, when he finished at 14-2 and had a 7-1 record as a relief pitcher.

But his moment in the spotlight was the 1903 World Series when he carried the team that had an injured and decimated pitching staff. Although Pittsburgh eventually lost the Series to Boston, Phillippe won his first three games (the Series then was the best-out-of-nine games) which prompted a local newspaper to write in a headline: "Deacon Phillippe has the American League Champions at his mercy."

Phillippe completed all five games he pitched in the Series, but lost the last two mostly because of pitching with very little rest. And a definite lack of support at the plate from his teammates.

He finished his career with an overall record of 186 wins [Harry's note: credits Phillipe with 189 victories] and 108 losses. He finished with an ERA of 2.59 over 372 games and 2,607 innings.

While Phillippe's complete game mark was noteworthy, pitchers back then were expected to pitch more. According to Abby Mendelson in "The Birth of a Classic, "a pitcher was "expected to last nine innings - not because he was stronger, but simply because he wasn't supposed to overpower a hitter. By and large, pitches were meant to go over the plate so that a batter could hit the ball and put it in play. Therefore, a 1903-style moundsman threw more easily and less often in a game (which consequently made a contest shorter than we're used to)."

"On top of that, new balls were rarely brought into a game, and the pitcher worked with a scuffed and welted ball. That he made it dip and slide with less arm exertion than today is an understatement," he continued. "Pitching, in short, was much like tossing batting practice today. Pitchers, from their looks in old photographs, threw standing fairly straight, using only a short step and a lot of arm movement to get the ball humming."

Two of the hitting leaders for that 1903 Pittsburgh team were the great shortstop Honus Wagner and left fielder-manager Fred Clarke. Both ended up in the baseball Hall of Fame.

Wagner finished the season with a .355 batting average; it was one of eight years in which he won that title. Clarke finished the year batting .351.

Wagner said that Phillippe was always eager to pitch. "He wanted to hurl against the other team's best pitcher and often worked out of turn to do it."

The first game of the 1903 Series was played in Boston. Phillippe pitched the entire game as Pittsburgh won 7-3. "Much of the credit belongs to Phillippe," said Clarke. "The steady man had delivery that was most difficult to solve ... The Deacon was never in better condition, the way he cuts loose with his benders is a caution."

And the Boston manager [future Hall of Famer Jimmy Collins] also praised the Deacon. "Phillippe pitched in masterly style."

And the Boston pitcher who lost the game was none other than the immortal Cy Young.

Boston came back and won the second game 3-0.

Phillippe returned to pitch the third game with only one day's rest and led the Pirates to a 10-3 victory. Manager Clarke told Phillippe, "You stood them on their heads the last time, Deacon, you can do it again."

The Pirates went back to Pittsburgh with a 2-1 game lead. When the train pulled into the station, however, Phillippe was not on it. Anticipating the huge crowd gathered there, the shy man got off the train at a previous stop and took a street car to his home.

Phillippe also pitched game four and won, 5-4. According to Mendelson, "Phillippe allowed only four hits in the first eight innings, but was touched up for five more in the ninth. A newspaper account of the game reported that the Deacon "never turned a hair and finished without a tremor." Phillippe also wowed the crowd, said Mendelson, "with some fancy base running, scoring a tally himself."

In the fifth game, Boston came back with Cy (short for "Cyclone," because fastballs were called that then) Young and Boston won to close the gap to 3-2. Boston also won the next game to even the Series at 3-3. Phillippe was back on the mound for game seven. He was matched again with Cy Young. Boston won 7-3 to take a one-game lead. Young was called "invincible" by a newspaper.

Mendelson said, "The Sunday Post ran a photo of Phillippe with the accompanying comment that he 'went to the rubber too often.' The game, according to the paper, was 'sad, chilly and tedious.' Both teams were exhausted, players slid all over the muddy field, and the stalwarts on both sides committed a total of seven errors. It was, in short, a disaster."

One of the few positive notes for Pittsburgh came in the third inning, when Phillippe came to the plate. A fan walked up and gave him a diamond horseshoe stickpin, paid for by the fans, as a token of their appreciation.

Phillippe thanked the fans and then belted a clean single off of a Cy Young fastball. News accounts said the ovation was deafening.

The Deacon was called on one more time, but his arm didn't have much left. Boston won the game 3-0 and thereby won the Series, five games to three. But the Pirate fans gave the team a warm welcome on its return home. Manager Clarke received a raise to make him the highest paid player-manager at that time. Phillippe was given 10 shares of stock in a nearby business.

After he retired from baseball, Phillippe worked in a Pittsburgh steel mill and then as a bailiff in a local court.

Phillippe died at the age of 79 in 1952. Mendelson described Phillippe as a shy man who stood over six feet tall and weighed a muscular 180 pounds. "He avoided the limelight because of modesty. A handsome man, Phillippe had a sturdy oval face, lantern jaw, and dark hair parted a shade left of center."

Mendelson prefers to remember Phillippe after he won his third game in the 1903 World Series. "This, after all, is one of the great tales of World Series heroism," he wrote. "A story of a man who pitched because he had to. The image that best sticks in the mind of the quiet man with the bewildering curveballs is from the victory celebration after Game four. After Phillippe's first home victory, and his third straight, the crowd hoisted the sweating pitcher to its shoulders and carried him all around Exposition Park. Deposited in the Clubhouse, Deacon proceeded to shake hands with everyone in sight.

"Let us remember him that way, joyful, flushed with victory, confident in his team's future and surrounded by a host of Pittsburgh fans in the early autumn of 1903."

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Not quite psychic

While watching the MLB Channel, Brant Newman of View on the News fame heard an announcer's prediction during a "vintage" rebroadcast of the Orioles-Royals 1990 season opener:

"A lot of people feel that in the '90s, Craig Worthington will replace Gary Gaetti as the best third baseman in the American League."

Hmmm ... let's hope the announcer in question didn't wager on Worthington.

We looked it up, and the "third baseman of the '90s" was coming off a 1989 campaign in which he hit .247 with 15 home runs, 70 runs batted in and a stolen base at age 24, earning him fourth place in the Rookie of the Year balloting.

All those numbers turned out to be career highs, although he did tie his steals mark.

Craig did go 1-for-5 to start 1990, and that pretty much set the tone for the season. He hiked his average up to .262 on April 22, but that was his high-water mark. Worthington ended up at .226 with 8 homers and 44 RBI. And one more stolen base.

Manager Frank Robinson gave Craig a chance to redeem himself in 1991. But around the time Robinson was fired in late May and Johnny Oates took over, Worthington was shipped out to Rochester, never to appear in an Orioles uniform again. His replacement at third base for Baltimore: Leo Gomez.

Worthington appeared in a handful of games for the Indians in '92 before surfacing three years later to put in a pair of partial seasons with the Reds and Rangers.

Let's hope he never has to hear that Opening Day '90 commentary.

Trivia #18: Who won the American League's Most Valuable Player award for a team with only 67 victories that season?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Cooperstown bound

With all the talk these days about whether to vote "steroid era" players into the Hall of Fame, I did as I usually do: peruse an encyclopedia to remind myself of the sport's rich history.

And I asked the question: In which season did the most future Hall of Famers participate?

I made an educated guess of 1928, which was Ty Cobb's final year in the majors. Whether that's true, I haven't ascertained, but plenty of men who played and/or managed that year ended up in Cooperstown. Here we go:

New York Yankees (10): Earle Combs, Stan Coveleski, Bill Dickey, Leo Durocher, Lou Gehrig, Waite Hoyt, Miller Huggins, Tony Lazzeri, Herb Pennock, Babe Ruth

Philadelphia Athletics (8): Cobb, Mickey Cochrane, Eddie Collins, Jimmie Foxx, Lefty Grove, Connie Mack, Al Simmons, Tris Speaker

St. Louis Browns: Heinie Manush

Washington Senators (4): Joe Cronin, Goose Goslin, Bucky Harris, Sam Rice

Chicago White Sox (3): Red Faber, Ted Lyons, Ray Schalk

Detroit Tigers: Harry Heilmann

Boston Red Sox: Red Ruffing

St. Louis Cardinals (6): Grover Cleveland Alexander, Jim Bottomley, Frankie Frisch, Jesse Haines, Rabbit Maranville, Bill McKechnie

New York Giants (7): Carl Hubbell, Travis Jackson, Fred Lindstrom, John McGraw, Mel Ott, Edd Roush, Bill Terry

Chicago Cubs (4): Kiki Cuyler, Gabby Hartnett, Joe McCarthy, Hack Wilson

Pittsburgh Pirates (4): Burleigh Grimes, Pie Traynor, Lloyd Waner, Paul Waner

Cincinnati Reds: Eppa Rixey

Brooklyn Dodgers (4): Max Carey, Al Lopez, Wilbert Robinson, Dazzy Vance

Boston Braves (2): Rogers Hornsby, George Sisler

Philadelphia Phillies: Chuck Klein

That's 57 future Hall of Famers on 15 teams (only Cleveland failed to make the list). Extrapolating to today's 30 teams, that would mean 106 current players or managers would be Cooperstown bound.

I don't see that happening.

Giants roamed the earth in those days, and they didn't all play in New York. (But 21 men playing or managing in New York in 1928 are in the Hall of Fame. And they say there isn't a Big Apple bias!)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Two losses, 0.00 ERA

Once again, today's top baseball story took place off the field. And once again, it involves performance-enhancing substances.

But let's forget about Roger Clemens and the book that just came out about him to dwell on what's happening on the diamond.

Here's an interesting number: 0.78. That's Johan Santana's earned-run average so far this season. He has a 4-2 record for the New York Mets.

Here's another number: 5.46. That's teammate Mike Pelfrey's ERA. Pelfrey is 4-0.

Santana has continued his extraordinary pitching after arriving in the Big Apple from the Twin Cities, where he twice was the Cy Young Award winner. As a Met, he has a 2.25 ERA in 41 starts. His record is 20-9 for a season and a quarter, which is pretty darned good. But it should be a whole lot better.

Last night, for example, Santana surrendered an unearned run to the Braves in the first inning and went into the seventh with the scored tied 1-1. With one out and with his 108th pitch, he gave up a single to Kelly Johnson.

With Santana's pitch count that far over the century mark, Mets manager Jerry Manuel made the obligatory call for a reliever.

Now, the Mets' bullpen generally gets the blame for the team's failures the past few seasons, but it was supposed to be vastly improved this year. At least, that's what Pirates announcers Bob Walk and Greg Brown were saying over the weekend. Then again, all pitching staffs tend to look pretty good against Pittsburgh.

At any rate, the Braves proceeded to pound the Mets' arson squad for nine hits over the last 2 2/3 innings, turning the game into an 8-3 blowout. An error by New York shortstop Jose Reyes that would have ended the seventh didn't help matters as Santana ended up with the loss on two unearned runs.

What would have happened had Manuel left him in the game is up for conjecture.

In Santana's other loss this season, 2-1 to Florida, both the runs also were unearned. Outfielder Danny Murphy's error was the culprit on that occasion.

Let's go back to 2008. Santana logged a stellar 16-7 record. But at least once a month, he was victimized by lack of run support and/or poor relief pitching:

  • April 6: The Braves score once off Santana in his seven innings, but that's one more than John Smoltz surrenders on way to a 3-1 Atlanta victory.

  • May 4: The Diamondbacks score once off Santana in his six innings, but the Mets can muster only a tie to that point. Finally, New York scores three runs in the ninth for the win.

  • June 12: Santana has the Diamondbacks shut out 4-0 through seven innings, but he's thrown 116 pitches. Joe Smith opens the eighth and gives up two runs, then Billy Wagner surrenders two more in the ninth. Arizona goes on to win 5-4 in 10.

  • July 22: With the Mets leading 5-2 in the eighth inning, Manuel sends Argenis Reyes in to pinch hit for Santana. Reyes hits a weak grounder. Duaner Sanchez, Smith and Pedro Feliciano contrive to give up sixth runs in the ninth.

  • Aug. 7: Santana gives up a single to open the eighth with a 3-1 lead over the Padres. Five Mets relieves give up two runs to tie the game before David Wright wins it with a walk-off homer.

  • Sept. 13: Manuel yanks Santana with a 2-0 lead after consecutive singles by the Braves to open the seventh. In come four relievers in that very inning alone to cause a 3-2 Mets loss.

Santana is earning his massive paycheck for the Mets so far, and if he starts running into some better luck, an NL Cy Young Award probably will be headed his way.

Friday, May 8, 2009


He's better than his brother Joe …

So went the rhyme around Boston, which ended with Dominic DiMaggio.

Neither the remembrances of old-timers nor the statistical legacy bears that out, but the onetime Red Sox outfielder was quite the ballplayer in his own right, even if no one from New York was willing to acknowledge it.

Dominic, the last survivor of the three DiMaggio brothers who played in the majors, died today at 92. Preceding him were Joseph in 1999 and Vincent in 1986. Each had Paul as his middle name.

His brothers already were entrenched in the big leagues when Dom debuted in 1940, hitting .301 for the Red Sox on his way to a .298 career average. He lacked the power of Joe and Vince - Dom hit 87 home runs in 11 seasons - but he was an integral part of a feared lineup that included Hall of Famers Ted Williams and Bobby Doerr.

Dom was named to seven American League All-Star teams and drew Most Valuable Player consideration in six seasons. His best statistical year was in 1950, when he led the league in runs scored with 131, triples with 11 and stolen bases with a whopping 15, the lowest top total in history. He also hit a career-best .328.

According to the Associated Press, "DiMaggio hit safely in 34 consecutive games in 1949. The streak was broken on Aug. 9 when his big brother caught a sinking line drive in the eighth inning of a 6-3 Red Sox win over the New York Yankees. The younger DiMaggio also had a 27-game hitting streak in 1951, which still ranks as the fifth'longest in Red Sox history."

Joe, of course, had that epic 56-game streak that stands as one of baseball's probably unbeatable records.

Word was received Thursday of the death of Danny Ozark at age 85. His name probably isn't recognizable outside of Philadelphia, where he managed the Phillies during the better part of the 1970s.

Phillies fans back then had a tendency to gripe about Ozark, despite his leading the team to three consecutive National League East titles. He also makes a strong case for being the most successful manager in team history, a contention that reflects more on the Phillies' perpetually losing ways than Ozark's skills.

At any rate, Philadelphia general manager Paul Owens used a poor start in 1979 to can Ozark and put Dallas Green in charge, and the team won its first World Series the following season, with poor Danny probably watching on television, if at all.

Some information has come out of the Manny Ramirez case that could help kids stay away from steroids.

Reports have Ramirez testing positive for human chorionic gonadotropin, a female fertility drug that apparently is used as part of the "cycle" of taking steroids.

Young men, do want that kind of stuff in your system? Didn't think so!

Trivia #17: Who is the last active player on the last Pirates team to finish above .500? For the answer, scroll down and look to the right.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Another one bites the dust

Manny Ramirez has given the baseball world plenty of reason to shake its collective head over the years.

His often unconventional behavior led to the coining of the phrase "Manny being Manny." And he apparently slacked off last summer until he was traded out of Boston, in a deal that involved the Pirates giving up Jason Bay.

Once he arrived in Los Angeles, Ramirez went on a tear, earning him MVP consideration although he spent less than half the season for the Dodgers.

Through it all, Manny seemed to be one of the heavy hitters who escaped being linked to the steroids-banned substance scandal that's pretty much dominated conversation about the sport in the past several years.

The benefit of the doubt for Ramirez, of course, has disappeared with Thursday's announcement that he'd been suspended for 50 games for testing positive for one of those banned substances.

He now joins the likes of Bonds, Clemens, Sosa, McGwire, Palmeiro, Giambi and several of the biggest baseball luminaries of this generation of the persona-non-grata list.

Good luck, future Hall of Fame voters. You're going to need it.

Well, maybe not. I think most of us will be long gone by the time you see any of the above names on Cooperstown plaques.

Read more about Manny's dilemma.

Trivia #16: What two future Hall of Famers were implicated in 1926 for a game-fixing scheme that allegedly occurred in 1919?

A legend in their minds

Jim Waugh, who was 18 years old when he debuted in 1952, was the youngest player for the Pirates since the start of the 20th century. Click on the title to read about him in my Observer-Reporter column.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Great Drought

The Pirates' 17th straight loss to Milwaukee eerily coincides with the 17th straight sub-.500 season Pittsburgh is about to suffer.

As the 82nd loss inevitably approaches, growing mention will be made of the team the Pirates will supplant in the record book: the 1933-48 Phillies.

What might not be so widely reported is that the Phillies of that era preceded their losing-season streak with a single year in which the team registered a 78-76 record. Prior to that had been 14 consecutive under-.500 seasons.

That makes 30 out of 31 losing seasons. Can even the Pirates ever approach that sustained level of futility?

Perhaps this will make the remaining Pirates fans feel a bit better: Let's take a look at the Great Drought that afflicted National League baseball in Philadelphia for three decades.

It begins

Grover Cleveland Alexander already was a star pitcher when he went on a three-year period of absolute domination. From 1915-17, the man known as "Pete" won 94 games for the Phillies. In 1915, he pitched 16 complete-game shutouts to spearhead the team to its first NL pennant. He also earned the only World Series victory for the team until 1980.

After the 1917 season, Phillies owner William Baker took a look at Pete's salary and, using the specter of World War I as an excuse, traded Alexander to the Cubs, getting a couple of marginal players and $55,000 cold cash in return. Alexander went into the service in 1918 after pitching just three games, so it would appear that Baker got the better end of the deal ... except that Philadelphia tumbled from second place all the way to sixth.

Manager Pat Moran jumped ship to Cincinnati for 1919, leading the Reds to the pennant, while his former team plunged into the basement for the first time in 15 years. It was going to be a long stay.

The '20s

The Phils began the new decade with no less than three players who now have plaques in Cooperstown: Dave Bancroft, Eppa Rixey and Casey Stengel. But in 1920, Bancroft was traded to the Giants after driving in just five runs in 42 games; Rixey went an abysmal 11-22 on the mound; and Stengel wouldn't earn his Hall of Fame credentials for another 35 years. And the Phillies finished last again.

The team also began the decade by going through a dizzying array of managers: Gavvy Cravath, Bill Donovan, Kaiser Wilhelm, Art Fletcher and Stuffy McGinnis all manned the helm between 1920-27. Only Fletcher managed to bring the Phillies home as high as sixth place.

McGinnis, a former mainstay at first base for the crosstown Athletics, compiled a 51-103 record in 1927, his only season. His replacement was former St. Louis (Browns and Cardinals) outfielder Burt Shotton, who did even worse: The '28 Phils bottomed out at 43-109. One bright spot was the debut of a 23-year-old Indianapolis native named Chuck Klein, who hit .360 with 11 home runs in 64 games.

In 1929, Klein was joined in the outfield by a failed pitcher, Francis "Lefty" O'Doul, who not only hit .398 but set an NL record with 254 hits. Klein didn't do badly, himself, leading the league with 43 home runs, edging out Mel Ott of the New York Giants. To ensure Klein's title, Philadelphia pitchers walked Ott intentionally each time he came to the plate in the season finale.

Best of all for long-suffering Phillies fans, the team won 71 games and managed to creep into fifth place. With Klein, O'Doul and fellow offensive threats Don Hurst and Pinky Whitney in the lineup, there seemed to be reason for optimism as a new decade dawned.

The '30s

In 1930, Phillies' batters set an NL record by belting out 1,783 hits, as the team hit a collective .315 and scored 944 runs.

And the team finished last.

Writer Jack Orr summed it up when he titled his 1953 article for Sport magazine "The Pitchless Wonders." For example:

"The Phils played in the old Baker Bowl, with its famous [just 280 feet from home plate] right-field fence. Often, the story went, young infielders would pick up grounders and throw to Klein in right instead of Hurst at first. And though the Philly thunderers were rocking the opposition pitching at the remarkable clip of 6.8 runs and 11.4 hits a game, Philly pitchers set a record which probably will never be broken: they gave up 1,199 runs, a breathtaking 7.7 a game. ... Opposing hitters smaked the right-field wall as if it were a gong and Klein, who had his work cut out for him, set a record that still stands, 44 assists by an outfielder."

More about the Phillies of that era was written by former pitcher Kirby Higbe in "The High Hard One":

"The man who owned the ball club, a Mr. Baker, had died [in 1930] and left the club to his secretary, but he didn't leave any money to run it with. So Gerry Nugent, the husband of the secretary, sold promising players every year to stay in business. ... When a good player went to the Phillies, he would hustle and bear down in the hope he would be sold to a good ball club."

Somewhere in there, the team managed that 1932 season above .500, riding the success of Hurst, who drove in a league-leading 143 runs, and Klein, who was voted the league's Most Valuable Player after topping the loop in hits, runs scored, home runs and, believe it or not, stolen bases. The pitching staff wasn't particularly stellar, but it did feature six double-digit winners.

Klein hit his pinnacle the following year, winning the next-to-last NL Triple Crown. But with the Phillies sliding back into seventh place, he finished second to Giants pitcher Carl Hubbell in the MVP voting. Then he was gone to Chicago, with the Nugents getting $65,000 and three warm bodies in return.

Other stars emerged in Klein's place. Dolph Camilli hit 80 homers in a three-year span before he fetched $45,000 from Brooklyn, where he won an MVP award. Bucky Walters successfully converted from the infield to pitcher's mound, then brought $50,000 from Cincinnati ... where he won an MVP award. Higbe eventually went to the Dodgers for a cool hundred grand.

On a logistical note, the Phillies finally abandoned the half-century-old Baker Bowl in 1938 to become tenants at the A's Shibe Park, later Connie Mack Stadium. Everyone hoped the change of scenery might help.

The '40s

The Phillies entered another new decade hoping to avoid a third straight cellar finish, with Klein back in the fold. Unfortunately, he hit only .218 in 1940, and pitcher Hugh Mulcahy lived up to his nickname, "Losing Pitcher," by racking up 22 defeats. He subsequently become the first major-leaguer to be drafted for service in World War II, which he just might have counted as a blessing.

The team's story was the same in 1941, and even worse in '42. That year, Philadelphia went 42-109 and finished last in the league in, among others: runs, hits, home runs, stolen bases, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, total bases, earned-run average, complete games, shutouts, saves, runs against and fielding percentage. Klein, relegated to a pinch-hitting role, had exactly one hit in 14 at-bats.

After creeping into seventh the following year, the Phillies finished wartime baseball with two more cellar dwellings. With the exception of Vince DiMaggio, the least-remembered of the three famed baseball brothers, the team boasted little in the way of talent. About the most interesting occurrence was the acquisition of legendary slugger Jimmie Foxx in 1945; to draw some kind of fan interest, Foxx toed the rubber in nine games, winning his only decision while posting a 1.59 ERA.

There were a few signs of better days to come, though, including the first full season for catcher Andy Seminick and the debut of 18-year-old shortstop Wesley Garvin "Granny" Hamner. Joining the team the following season was outfielder Del Ennis. Pitcher Curt Simmons debuted in '47. And pitcher Jim Konstanty, third baseman Willie "Puddin' Head" Jones and two future Hall of Famers, Robin Roberts and Richie Ashburn, came aboard in '48.

Those men formed the nucleus of the so-called Whiz Kids, the collection of talent that finally led the Phillies out of the wilderness and to the National League pennant in 1950, just a year after the team ended its record (for now) streak of consecutive sub-.500 seasons.


The Whiz Kids proved to be a one-hit wonder, and with the exception of the near-pennant of 1964, the Phillies never were really competitive until the likes of "Lefty" Steve Carlton and Michael Jack Schmidt took control in the '70s.

And the collective baseball world thought it never would see the likes of the 1918-48 Phillies.

Until now?

Can't buy a win

No, this isn't about the Pirates losing 17 straight times to the Milwaukee Brewers.

It's about Arizona pitcher Max Scherzer, who was beaten by the Dodgers last night.

Scherzer dropped to 0-3 on the season and 0-7 in his short major-league career. That despite a lifetime earned-run average of 3.16, which is close to league-leading territory in this day and age. He also has struck out 90 batters in 82 2/3 innings, the kind of ratio that should ensure him some success.

The 24-year-old righthander seems to be shrugging off his goose-egg win total, but he has to be more than a little frustrated with his teammates in the batting order. The D-backs have scored a total of five runs in his past four starts.

The wins should come, but 0-7 with a 3.16 ERA is just plain ridiculous, even if this were the Dead Ball Era.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


In the free-agency era, it's relatively common for players in the peaks of their careers to skip from team to team to team.

Let's use the example of CC Sabathia: Cy Young Award for Cleveland in 2007; midseason trade to Milwaukee in 2008, pitching the Brewers into the playoffs; and a monumental payday to pitch for the Yankees this season (just 1-3 with a 4.85 ERA so far).

Or, going back to the dawn of free agency, there was Reggie Jackson. Fans might forget his one-year stint in Baltimore (1976), where he went in a blockbuster deal involving Ken Holtzman, Don Baylor and Mike Torrez, among others. Reggie led the league in slugging percentage his only year as an Oriole, then the Yankees came calling.

The Yankees, of course, also made the very first free-agent splash by signing the late Jim "Catfish" Hunter for an unimaginable amount of money at the time.

OK, this isn't supposed to be a whine-fest about the Yankees killing the sport with their spending. Rather, I'd like to point out that major-league stars of the 20th century didn't move around all that much before the '70s, unless they were near the beginning or end of their careers.

There were some exceptions, of course. Here are some involving future Hall of Famers:

  • Napoleon Lajoie. "Larry" jumped ship from the Phillies to the brand-new Philadelphia Athletics of the newly "major" American League in 1901. He went on to hit either .422 or .426, depending on the source, with the caveat that foul balls didn't count as strikes in the AL until 1903. At any rate, the Phillies got an injunction against him playing for the A's, but the action only was enforceable in Pennsylvania. Lajoie's contract was transferred to Cleveland, and when the Indians visited Philadelphia in 1902, Lajoie spent a few days relaxing in Atlantic City.

  • Eddie Collins, Frank Baker, Eddie Plank and Chief Bender. Popular belief has it that A's owner-manager Connie Mack was so distraught at his team being swept four straight in the 1914 World Series that he subsequently sold off his stars. Another version has Mack fearing the financial impact of the competing Federal League. Whatever the case, with four future Hall of Famers suddenly elsewhere, the A's dropped from 99 wins in '14 to a mere 43 in '15, a record that eclipses even the 1997-98 Marlins.

  • Tris Speaker. The Grey Eagle was the leading hitter by a wide margin for the World Champion 1915 Red Sox, and that includes a lad named George Herman Ruth (granted, he was a rookie pitcher that year). Speaker, realizing the Sox desperately needed his bat, tried for a pay raise and instead earned a trade to Cleveland. He proceeded to win the battle title in '16. As for the Red Sox ... well, even without Speaker, they managed to win the Series again, lefty Ruth contributing with a 14-inning, complete-game victory.

  • Babe Ruth. After clobbering 29 home runs in 1919 to set a new record, Ruth fetched a mighty dollar from the Yankees - wow, they were doing that before free agency! - when Red Sox owner Harry Frazee was desperate for money to finance his stage shows. "Frazee's Curse" denied the Sox another Series victory until 2004, or so New Englanders would believe.

  • Rogers Hornsby. The Rajah's nomadic ways would be extreme even in the age of free agency. After he won six straight National League batting titles, including a record .424 in 1924, Cardinals owner Sam Breadon promoted Hornsby to player-manager, and he was a success at that, too, guiding St. Louis to its first world's championship. So what did Breadon do? Shipped Hornsby off to the Giants, although another future Hall of Famer, Frank Frisch, came in return. Hornsby spent a season in New York, where he clashed with manager John McGraw. In 1928, Hornsby found himself banished, more or less, to the lowly Boston Braves. He won the battling title at .387, still a franchise record. The up-and-coming Chicago Cubs figured they could use Hornsby at second base, so they gave the Braves a bunch of bums named Bruce Cunningham, Percy Jones, Lou Legett, Freddie Maguire and Socks Seibold, plus $200,000. Hornsby helped the Cubs to the NL pennant in '29 and was named league MVP.

  • Al Simmons, Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Cochrane and Lefty Grove. Mack strikes again. This time, supposedly, the Depression is to blame. At any rate, the A's went from three straight pennants in 1929-31 to not seriously contending for another 40 years, by which time Mack was long gone and the team was in Oakland (starring Jim Hunter and Reggie Jackson).

  • Frank Robinson. The 10-year veteran and 1961 MVP was shipped out of Cincinnati in what still is regarded as one of the very worst trades of all time. Robinson was just 30 when he landed in Baltimore in 1966, and he proceeded to win the next-to-last Triple Crown while guiding the Orioles to the championship.

  • Steve Carlton. "Lefty" lost 19 games for St. Louis in 1970 but rebounded to win 20 in '71. Cardinals owner Gussie Busch tended to dwell on the former during contract negotiations. Carlton objected and promptly was dealt to cellar-dwelling Philadelphia for that team's pitching ace, Rick Wise. In 1972, Carlton put together perhaps the greatest season in baseball history: 27 victories for a team that won only 59. No pitcher has surpassed that single-season win total since, and the way pitching staffs are formatted nowadays, no one is likely to do it in the future.