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.

He's OK

Rick Ankiel is OK.

He's out of the hospital, where he was taken after banging his head into the outfield wall against Philadelphia last night.

Rick Ankiel is OK on a whole other level, too.

He's a starter in the Cardinals outfield nearly a decade after breaking in with the team as a phenom pitcher, a nearly inconceivable transition in this era of sports specialization.

In 2000, Ankiel finished second in the National League Rookie of the Year voting and was a solid member of the St. Louis rotation heading into the playoffs.

He started against the Braves and future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux, who pitched uncharacteristically poorly and surrendered six runs in the first inning.

But Ankiel suddenly developed what's become known around baseball as "Steve Blass disease": He couldn't throw the ball over the plate. In the third inning, he recorded five wild pitches, something that hadn't happened in 110 years, let alone the postseason. Manager Tony La Russa was forced to relieve the rookie after 2 2/3 innings, during which he also walked six batters.

Despite Ankiel's problems, the Cardinals beat the Braves in the opening playoff series, advancing to face the Mets. La Russa opted to start Ankiel in the second game, but he walked twok threw a wild pitch and gave up two runs in just 2/3 of an inning.

La Russa used Ankiel again in mop-up duty as the Cardinals lost 7-0 to the Mets in the fifth and deciding game. According to Retrosheet, "Ankiel's last warm-up throw went to the backstop; during (Mike) Bordick's at bat the crowd chanted 'wild pitch' to Ankiel." The crowd was prophetic. Bordick walked, was sacrificed to second, and scored after two wild pitches. Ankiel then walked Edgardo Alfonzo and was relieved.

Ankiel won two more games in the majors, one each in 2001 and '04, but a series of injuries ended his pitching career. He announced he was going to switch to the outfield, but no one took that very seriously until he re-emerged in St. Louis in 2007.

Since then, he's hit 38 home runs in 666 at bats, not bad for a former hurler!

Here are some other players from way back when who made the switch from pitcher to batter:

  • George Herman Ruth (as if you didn't know). Keep in mind that Ruth was regarded as the best left-handed pitcher in the American League when he made the switch. In 1916, he hurled nine complete-game shutouts, still the AL record for lefties, later tied by Ron Guidry. And don't forget the 29 2/3-inning scoreless streak in the World Series.

  • George Sisler. The Hall of Fame first baseman always said his greatest thrill was, as a young pitcher, beating Walter Johnson twice. But Sisler's St. Louis Browns needed his bat more than his arm, and he compiled a lifetime record of 5-6 with a 2.35 ERA.

  • Francis "Lefty" O'Doul. The future batting champion, who still co-holds the National League record for hits in a season, was a marginal major-league pitcher with the Yankees and Red Sox in the early '20s, compiling a 1-1 record in 34 relief appearances. In 1923, he set a 20th-century record by allowing 13 runs in a single inning.

  • "Smokey Joe" Wood. Howard Ellsworth Wood was a pitcher of legendary prowess during the Dead Ball era, winning 81 games before he turned 23, including a 34-5 season for the Series-winning Red Sox in 1912. He hurt his arm the following spring, and despite leading the AL in earned run average in 1915, decided he was through pitching. He came back as an outfielder with Cleveland and played in the 1920 World Series.

  • James "Cy" Seymour. In his first two full seasons with the New York Giants, 1897-98, Seymour was a 20-game winner. In 1898, he struck out 239 batters, an extremely high total for the era. He also walked 213, eclipsing any single-season mark of the 20th century, and his career totals show 655 bases on balls in 1,043 innings. By 1905, he was a full-time outfielder with the Cincinnati Reds and nearly won the Triple Crown, posting a .377 batting average with 121 RBI and finishing second with eight home runs. He also led the NL in slugging, hits, doubles, triples and total bases.

Celebrating the greatest

The greatest game ever pitched occurred May 26, 1959.

That's the contention of the Springfield/Clark County Baseball Hall of Fame, and it's difficult to argue the point.

On that evening in Milwaukee, Pirates pitcher Harvey Haddix (1925-94) retired the first 36 Braves he faced for 12 perfect innings, one of those records that is extremely likely to stand forever. Unfortunately, he ended up losing the game, 1-0, in the 13th.

The folks in his hometown of Springfield, Ohio, are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the accomplishment with an event at the Heritage Center of Clark County. Scheduled speakers include members of the Haddix family, along with former major leaguers Bill Virdon, Jim O'Toole, Rick White and Galen Cisco.

To find out more about the proceedings in Springfield, which is about 3 1/2 hours from Washington, PA, call 937-324-0657.

Trivia #15: Whom did Harvey Haddix intentionally walk in the 13th inning on May 26, 1959? For the answer, scroll down and look to the right.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Enough with the pitch count!

So, Paul Maholm is the Pirates' "ace." But once he's thrown near a hundred pitches, he's done for the evening. Don't want his arm to fall off.

So it's time for the relief corps. Tyler Yates holds everything together for one batter, but John Grabow comes in and allows the game-tying run.

That's OK, because on an uncharacteristically good offensive night, Andy (not Adam) LaRoche cracks a home run to put the Pirates back on top, 4-3.

So one comes closer Matt Capps, who's been effective ... Whoa! Was that just a three-run bomb hit by Rickie Weeks?

Yet another loss to the Brewers, who once were compared to the Pirates as far as their market and their ability to win. All those comparisons obviously have gone by the wayside.

So "Ace" Maholm ends up with a no-decision, his arm intact to pitch another day, but at the cost of the loss that probably sends the Pirates below .500 for the record-setting 17th straight season.

Draw your own conclusions, Pirates fans. Just remember that the complete game used to be a routine part of Major League Baseball.

Here we go again ... again

Five games. Four losses, three of them by shutout. No home runs since April 26.

Everyone knew the Pirates' lineup was no murderers' row. But the bats have gone silent so quickly that we have to wonder if they'll ever wake up for any kind of sustained stretch.

The lineup that the Reds' Johnny Cueto (pictured in Associated Press photograph) mowed down on Sunday contained some names of note: Nyjer Morgan and Freddy Sanchez, both of whom still are hitting over .300; Nate McLouth, last year's token Pirates All-Star; and Adam LaRoche, who leads the team with five homers.

Then there was the lower half of the order: Brandon Moss, Andy LaRoche, Jason Jaramillo and Brian Bixler. Sounds like the core of a Triple-A roster.

Supposedly, Pirates manager John Russell has made comments to the effect that he's more impressed with the team's offensive output this season compared with last. That's because two legitimate big-league hitters, Jason Bay and Xavier Nady, were here then, and now they're not.

Injury has played a factor: catcher Ryan Doumit and shortstop Jack Wilson are on the disabled list. But even when they return, Pirates fans shouldn't expect a ton of runs to cross the plate.

Neither should they expect the Bucco pitching to keep up its impressive start. Even Pirates GM Neal Huntington admits that the staff's BABIP is very low and there might be some trouble once it starts to rise.

What's BABIP? That's batting average on balls in play, meaning that when a pitcher doesn't register a strikeout, he takes his chances with where the ball happens to land. In other words, a low BABIP means you're getting a lot of good luck, and the law of percentages tends to even those things out after a while.

And in other words, the Pirates' 11-7 start this year seems likely to have been an illusion. But the prospect of a 17th straight losing season is all too real.

Trivia #14: Prior to Sunday, when was the last time the Pirates were shut out three times in the span of four games? For the answer, scroll down and look to the right.

The youngest of 'em all

He was 18 years, four months and 25 days old when he first pitched for the Pittsburgh Pirates, a post-1900 record as the team's youngest player.

Members of the Forbes Field chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research were fortunate to hear him speak on Saturday about his experiences with some of the sport's immortals.

Who is he? Find out in my column in Wednesday's Observer-Reporter.

Sunday, May 3, 2009


Carl Crawford's six stolen bases on Sunday drew a lot of attention, seeing as how he's only the fourth player to do so since 1900. He still needs to do it again to tie Hall of Famer Eddie Collins, who did it twice. Still, with the comparative scarcity of stolen bases in this era, Crawford deserves a round of applause. His fantasy owners will sit up all night doing so ...

Crawford's performance prompted Alex Remington to post a blog entry on Yahoo!'s Big League Stew called "Baseball's most untouchable career record? Close, but not quite," in which he postulates that the career record for triples (variously cited at 309 and 312) set by Hall of Famer "Wahoo" Sam Crawford (no relation to Carl) is safer than Rickey Henderson's 1,406 steals.

I'm not sure that either of those records is remotely approachable, but I do know Remington's post set off a long series of comments that shows people, indeed, still know and care about the storied history of baseball.

I've always contended that the unbreakable Major League Baseball record was set by John Taylor, who pitched 1,727 consecutive innings without being relieved, a streak that was broken in 1906. Today, that's about 1,720 more innings than the typical starting pitcher would go without relief.

But pitching has evolved to the point where many records like that have absolutely no chance of being broken: Cy Young's 511 wins and 750 complete games, Walter Johnson's 110 shutouts and "Iron Man" Joe McGinnity's three complete-game doubleheader victories (that's two per day) in the same month come to mind.

As for batters, Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak usually is cited as the ultimate in unbreakable records. OK, they used to say that about Lou Gehrig's 2,130 consecutive games played, but ... at any rate, the conventional wisdom is that the pressure on a hitter nowadays to get within, say, 20 games of DiMaggio comes to be unbearable.

Just off the top of my head, here are a bunch more hitting records that should stand forever:

- Ty Cobb's .366 (or .367, by some calculations) lifetime batting average

- J. Owen Wilson's 36 triples in one season (no one else in the 20th century hit more than 26)

- Earl Webb's 67 doubles in one season

- Ted Williams' reaching base in 16 consecutive plate appearances

- Hack Wilson's 191 RBI (especially since that extra one was added half a century after his death)

- Rogers Hornsby's .424 batting average (unless you count the sources that had Nap Lajoie hitting .426 in 1901, when foul balls weren't counted as strikes)

- Tommy Holmes leading the league in home runs while striking out fewer than 10 times (28 home runs, 9 strikeouts), which might be the most impressive on this list

- Babe Ruth's career .690 slugging percentage

- Babe Ruth's career 1.164 OPS

- Babe Ruth out-homering every other team in the league (1927)

- Babe Ruth hitting 35 more home runs than the league runner-up

- Babe Ruth tying for the league lead in home runs while winning 13 games as a pitcher

- B. Lamar Bonds' 73 home runs (think about it), not to mention his career 500-plus homers / 500-plus stolen bases

All right, now that we're veering into Bonds territory, enough is enough. But it's good to see that baseball records still spark a lively debate.

By the way, Charles "Ol' Hoss" Radbourne once won 60 games in a season, plus three more in the first World's Series. But that was way back in 1884 ... so can we be sure it really happened?

(There's way too much trivia in this post to ask a trivia question!)

Friday, May 1, 2009

The savior struggles

When the Pirates managed to sign Pedro Alvarez last year after contentious negotiations with agent Scott Boras, most thought he would spend a little time in the minors and then be called when the rosters expanded in September.

Well, the savior is not off to such a hot start in Class A Lynchburg. In 21 games, he is hitting .219 with four home runs and a league-best 20 RBI. The latter number is a bit deceiving in that he drove in five runs on either sacrifice flies or groundouts. He's also made seven errors at third base.

This doesn't mean he's going to be a bust. Most players need a period of adjustment in the minors, and Alvarez is too talented not to thrive. What it does mean is that missing all that time last season while his agent played games with the Pirates (ignoring offers, not returning phone calls) delayed the process. Alvarez is 22 and has played three years of college ball at Vanderbilt. But he hasn't been in a competitive baseball game since last spring. The layoff after the draft has obviously affected him.