Monday, July 26, 2010

MLB Trivia: Crowded Classes

While unlikely, it's possible that the MLB Hall of Fame Class of 2014 will include five players inducted on their first ballots: Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Jeff Kent, and Mike Mussina. The current record for most players in an MLB Hall of Fame Class inducted on their first ballots is three; and it happened in 1999. Can you name those three players? (Hint: One went into the Hall as a Royal, another went in as a Ranger, and the third went in as a Brewer.)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Hit Parade: 7/25 - 7/31

MAYBE THEY'RE NUTS: Why don't more MLB players wear cups? (And if Huston Street doesn't wear one, will he change his mind?)

WHAT'S WITH ALL THE NO-HITTERS this year? Uh, not much, really. Joe Sheehan's article from a few weeks ago still holds up today: "This isn't actually that unusual, even in modern baseball history. Back in 1990 there were four no-hitters in June alone, capped by Dave Stewart and Fernando Valenzuela each tossing one on June 29. A year later, there were five no-hitters in a two-month stretch starting just before the All-Star break, including two combined no-hitters and a perfect game by Dennis Martinez. Those two seasons, '90 and '91, are tied for second place all-time in number of no-hitters thrown at seven, and they hold the modern record."

ARE THE WHITE SOX running into trouble? (Personally, I buy into the 70% theory.)

NEW BULLS' FORWARD Kyle Korver demonstrated how not to throw the first pitch at a Cub game this past weekend.

HAWK IN THE HALL: "I never knew what it felt like to be loved by a city until I arrived in Chicago. You are the reason I kept playing the game. I can't thank you enough for what you gave to me. You were the winds beneath the Hawk's wings." (Congrats to Andre Dawson!)

REPORT CARDS: Chairman Gau is handing out grades for the first half of the UPL fantasy baseball season.

ADVANCED FANTASY BASEBALL: Post All-Star Break Prospects to Watch. (I was disappointed a few days ago to discover that Domonic Brown is not available in the UPL. Blast you, CJ! Fortunately, this article goes way beyond Brown.)

CARLOS QUESTIONABLE: This is for all you Sox fans and Carlos Quentin fantasy owners out there:

HT: Carl Skanberg's Smells Like Mascot.

Memo to Drew Storen

To Mr. Drew Storen:

You might not be aware of this, but you are a member of my fantasy baseball team, the '90 Reds. In other words, I "own" you.

It has recently come to my attention via Mark Titus, Club Trillion founder, that you have a Twitter account. As part of my responsibilities to ensure that the '90 Reds and its players are always performing at an optimal level, I have taken to monitoring your tweeting activities.

Yesterday, mere hours before your night game against the Milwaukee Brewers, you were tweeting about your upcoming Bobblehead Night in August. This shameless act of self-promotion wouldn't normally be a problem for me, except that when you entered a tie ballgame in the 9th inning later that night, you didn't get the job done and took the loss.

What was wrong with you? Were you thinking about how cool it will be to have a Bobblehead Night in August? Perhaps you were pondering what you'd tweet after the game? Or maybe you were wondering when you'll get your 5,000th follower on Twitter?

Here's the problem. My '90 Reds fantasy team is in a dogfight trying to get back in the Urbana Premier League (UPL) race. For a while there we were in 5th, trying to claw our way into 4th and then maybe higher. But now we've fallen back to 6th. When I look at your last six outings, four of them have been stinkers. I don't expect you to be perfect, but I do expect you to have a laser focus on getting batters out. This laser focus comes into question when I see you on game day tinkering with your iPhone to tweet your peeps about Bobblehead dolls.

I'm your biggest fan, Mr. Storen. I used my #1 waiver priority to scoop you off the waiver wire the day you were called up to the bigs. So I have a lot invested in you, especially considering that the UPL is a keeper league. But I also want you to know that by using my #1 waiver priority on you, it cost me a shot at Buster Posey, who has turned out to be one of this season's best young hitters. So that's the benchmark you'll be measured against. And, if you let me down, I won't hesitate to trade you to UPL's last place team.

Your Fantasy Boss
Owner, '90 Reds fantasy baseball team

Saturday, July 24, 2010

George Steinbrenner Remembered

George Steinbrenner, legendary owner of the New York Yankees, passed away nearly two weeks ago. I've been meaning to comment on his passing, but it's been hard to find the right words. The more I read about him and the more videos I see of him in his own words, the more I've come to admire not only what he's meant to baseball, but to people.

Steinbrenner's roots are in the midwest: Born in Ohio, went to high school in Indiana, and met his wife while earning a master's degree at Ohio State. And, as this article by Bob Greene suggests, Steinbrenner was the type of guy who remembered where he came from. Greene's article is the story of Steinbrenner's friendship with Alex Clowson, a great baseball player who suffered a knee injury and thus never made the big leagues. But Clowson's love of baseball never died and he enjoyed playing in the minors. After his playing career, he went on to run a few different bars in Ohio. Here's an excerpt:

One of [Clowson's] steady customers was a young Air Force second lieutenant assigned to nearby Lockbourne Air Force Base. The customer's name was George Steinbrenner.

"Daddy told me that Mr. Steinbrenner never ordered an alcoholic beverage," Wendy Clowson said. "He would come in and order a Coke with a cherry in it. And he would sit there and he and my father would talk about baseball for hours on end."

This was many years before Steinbrenner, who died last week at the age of 80, bought the New York Yankees; George Steinbrenner with his Coca-Cola and Alex Clowson behind the bar were just two guys who loved to talk baseball.

Clowson never struck it rich in business, but Steinbrenner, of course, did, and despite the difference in their worlds they remained friends over the years. "Every time we would see Mr. Steinbrenner, he would say to us children, 'Your father taught me everything I know about baseball,' " Wendy said. It may not have been literally true, but it was a lovely thing to tell the Clowson children, and they always were grateful for how Steinbrenner treated their dad.

And, while we're at it, I thought it would be fun to list a few things about Steinbrenner that most people of a younger generation wouldn't know:
  • Worked as an assistant football coach for Northwestern and Purdue.
  • Brought a championship to Cleveland. Owned the ABL's Cleveland Pipers, which won the league in 1961-62. The next season the league folded.
  • His bid to buy the Cleveland Indians in 1971 was rejected.
  • His group bought the New York Yankess in 1973 for $8.8 million. Today the Yankees are worth in excess of $1.5 billion.
  • His father graduated #1 in his 1920 engineering class at MIT and was a world class track and field hurdler.
  • Convicted of illegally contributing money to Richard Nixon's re-election and for obstruction of justice. That made him a felon. But one of Ronald Reagan's last acts as president in 1989 was to pardon Steinbrenner.
  • Was suspended from baseball - twice.
  • Made a real-life appearance on Seinfeld, although it never aired.
  • Most of the people he "fired" were actually kept on the Yankees' payroll.
For the most part, I've always rooted against the Yankees and their "Boss," George Steinbrenner. But that's because I respected their power so much. Steinbrenner and his Yankees were at the top of the baseball food chain, and if your team could beat them, then that said a lot about your team. In order to be the best, you have to beat the best.

The quote that I'll most remember Steinbrenner for is this one: "I don't like losing. Winning is important to me. It's second ... second to breathing. Breathing is first, winning is second."

And with that, there's something poetic about how the last World Series seen by the Boss was a Yankees' winner.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Ryno to Replace Sweet Lou? Not So Fast

With Lou Piniella recently announcing that he'll retire at season's end, speculation on who will be the Cubs' next manager has already begun. Here in Chicago amongst a sea of Cubbie fans, there's a growing chorus for that person to be Hall-of-Famer and current Triple-A manager, Ryne Sandberg.

I'm not one of the people in that chorus.

In a way, I've been wondering about this day for years. Back in 2007 when I first heard that Sandberg would take over as the manager of the Cubs' Single-A affiliate, Peoria Chiefs, I thought, "That's kinda neat. Good for him." But when I later learned that his goal was to eventually work his way up and become a major league manager, warning flags went off in my mind. After all, what is a Hall-of-Fame player who has aspirations to manage in the big leagues doing in Single-A with the Peoria Chiefs? (Full disclosure: I tried for a radio stats internship with the Peoria Chiefs in the spring of 2004. I wasn't hired. But somehow a legend has grown through the years that has me instead attempting to become the mascot of the Peoria Chiefs, complete with having to dress up in costume and run the bases during tryouts...)

Over the past four seasons, I've picked up little nuggets from Sandberg's managing career. Apparently in his first season, his Chiefs made it to the championship game and lost. That's admittedly a good season for a rookie manager. But I also was hearing reports that Sandberg would argue with umps and get ejected a lot. A LOT. Some people will say that shows he's got the fire. I don't know, though. If you're frequently getting ejected from Single-A games, that just seems lame. Keep your head in the game.

I've never seen Sandberg manage a game. And even if I did, I'm no judge of what makes a great in-game manager. But for the time being, let's put aside the fact that Sandberg started managing in Single-A and that he's frequently ejected from games. Here's a bigger question: Why does Ryne Sandberg still have zero coaching experience at the day-to-day major league level?

In order to make an interesting comparison to Sandberg, all we have to do is look across town at the Chicago White Sox skipper, Ozzie Guillen. Guillen's last season playing in the majors was 2000, and about a year later he had a coaching job with the Montreal Expos. Then in 2003 he got a coaching job with the Florida Marlins - and by the way, the Marlins won the World Series that year.

So when the White Sox had their manager position open up in 2004, here is how Guillen's resume read:
  • 13-year White Sox veteran
  • Last played in the majors in 2000 (just 3 full seasons had passed)
  • Played for the Atlanta Braves and learned firsthand from one of the best managers ever: Bobby Cox
  • Coached in the majors for two teams, one of which won the World Series just last season
  • Numerous professional references who vouched that Ozzie Guillen would be a great manager, ranging from people he played with to the Sox announcer, Hawk Harrelson. (I've heard at least a few people say they "always knew" even back when Guillen was playing that one day he'd be a manager. He was a natural for it.)
Now let's take a look at Sandberg's resume:
  • 16-year Cubs veteran
  • Last played in the majors in 1997 (13 full seasons will have passed)
  • Spent 8 springs helping the Cubs as an instructor during spring training
  • Spent 2 seasons managing at Single-A (which is basically remedial level baseball for a Hall-of-Famer like Sandberg)
  • Spent a season managing Double-A, then a season at Triple-A
In this NewsOK article from last week, Sandberg says he got the itch to get into managing during 2005 when he got inducted into the Hall of Fame. That's probably true. But I also think that seeing Guillen's success with the White Sox winning the World Series in 2005 also got his competitive juices going.

The feel-good storyline with Sandberg, aside from being a Cub fan favorite, is that he's working his way up the minors as a manager the same way he did as a player. And I can see why that story sounds good on the surface. The only problem is that this isn't how a Hall-of-Fame player, who is already well known throughout the majors, should be discovered as a managerial talent. If Sandberg indeed has a special skill as a baseball communicator and tactician, shouldn't there be at least a half dozen major league teams asking him to coach on their staff? Not necessarily as a manager at first, but at least as a hitting coach, third base coach, or bench coach? By being a coach in the major leagues, Sandberg would be able to see how today's major league organizations operate on a day-to-day basis, learn the nuances of the various new ball parks (he's probably played in less than half of today's parks), and most importantly, it would be the best way for him to scout all the major league managers and players, learning their tendencies and getting his own ideas as to how he'd compete at this level.

In this ESPN article a few days before Piniella announced his retirement, the topic of Sandberg possibly being the next Cubs' manager was explored. Here's an excerpt:

Last offseason, Piniella was quoted as saying Sandberg would be "in the mix" to replace him one day, but pointed out that there is no real substitute for managing in the majors.

"Managing in the minor leagues gives you an insight into the game," Piniella said. "You don't really have six or seven coaches like you have up here. You've got to dwell in a lot of different areas and, at the same time, you get a chance to find out if you really like this or don't like it. But I'll tell you this: Handling young players at the minor league level and handling players at the big league level, they're a little different."

It will be interesting to see what the Cubs do. From a PR standpoint, Sandberg would probably be a good hire. And who knows, maybe it would work out. But if the Cubs are looking to hire the best manager possible, it's hard to believe that Sandberg would top their list.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Trivia: Cycling Through

This past week, Bengie Molina became the ninth player in MLB history to hit a grand slam and for the cycle in the same game. The record for most cycles in a career is three, and its held by three players: Bob Meusel, Babe Herman, and John Reilly. However, only one of those guys, John Reilly, hit for the cycle in different leagues. Can you name the most recent player to hit for the cycle on an NL team and an AL team?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

LeBron James: From Loyalty to Royalty?

Note: This is a baseball blog. But on rare occasions I'll focus on something else. This is one of those occasions.

If LeBron James refers to water boys as "Hey you," I'm not surprised. If he celebrates All-Star Weekend Tiger Woods style, I'm not surprised. If he sometimes takes ill-conceived advice from Maverick Carter, I'm not surprised. But if LeBron's behavior, as this Yahoo Sports article by Adrian Wojnarowski suggests, was so much worse than other NBA stars that Team USA seriously considered not taking him to Beijing, I am shocked. I never would have guessed that he had been that big of a problem, mainly due to his on-court success and so many other players seemed to like him.

I don't know what LeBron is like when the cameras are off. Although, my hunch is that some journalist out there will have a LeBron book ready by the NBA playoffs next spring, if not sooner.

Yes, I realize it's just basketball and there are a million things more important in this world, but as somebody who is originally from Ohio and whose first NFL TV-watching experience was "The Fumble," I've always been a fan of LeBron and the Cavs' resurgence. This whole free agency saga has intrigued me, mainly because I knew it would give us further insights into the real LeBron James. And this is bearing out.

A star is born: Cavs' fans hit the jackpot when Cleveland drafted their home grown talent, LeBron James. But maybe LeBron also hit the jackpot by playing in Cleveland, the only place where America could so quickly and so strongly perceive him to have that rarest of traits in professional sports: Loyalty.

From a basketball standpoint, LeBron's decision to go to Miami might prove to be the smartest choice. He gets to team up with another top 5 player and buddy (Wade), an All-Star big and buddy (Bosh), and an executive with championship, even dynasty, pedigree (Riley). And South Beach ain't bad either, especially with its proximity to the Bahamas. For a star who craves luxury and privacy...

I just never dreamt that LeBron would go on national TV and tell Cleveland that he was leaving them during a primetime reality show. But once the show was scheduled and his rumored leanings toward Miami surfaced in the media, I pretty much knew that he would indeed go on TV and stab Cleveland in the heart.

One aspect of the LeBron saga has been the perceived economic impact on Cleveland. Aside from Dan Gilbert losing about $100 million in the value of his Cavaliers franchise, some estimates have the economic community surrounding Quicken Loans Arena, where the Cavs play, as losing $20 million to $40 million per year. While I feel bad for the rabid Cleveland sports fans that LeBron is leaving, I don't feel bad for Cleveland. As a community, if Cleveland wants to stop being "The Mistake by the Lake," then they need to elect better politicians and implement smarter policies. It's not LeBron's fault that people have been fleeing Cleveland for 60 years.

As a Bulls' fan, I wanted to see LeBron James play for Chicago. Although, as I mentioned above, I can definitely respect his decision to play in Miami. My biggest problem is with how he made the decision. By breaking the news during a primetime TV special, he showed a lack of respect for Cavs' fans that was alarming. But then again, shame on me for being alarmed. We've actually seen this from him before.

What has impressed me most about LeBron, aside from his hometown pride, is how quickly he transitioned into the NBA. By age 19, he was already a bona fide NBA superstar. And there's no doubt that I enjoy watching him play more than anyone else in the league. However, my first "uh oh" moment with LeBron came at the end of the 2009 season. Do you remember what happened then?

After the Cavs were eliminated from the playoffs by the underdog Magic, LeBron walked off the court without shaking hands. He then proceeded to skip his media duties and disappeared into the night. When he was finally asked about his poor sportsmanship in defeat, rather than apologize or at least acknowledge that he should have handled it better, LeBron dug in and offered this:

"It's hard for me to congratulate somebody after you just lose to them. I'm a winner. It's not being a poor sport or anything like that. If somebody beats you up, you're not going to congratulate them. That doesn't make sense to me. I'm a competitor. That's what I do. It doesn't make sense for me to go over and shake somebody's hand."
At the very least, a disconnect in LeBron's world was being revealed. When he wins, it's great for other people to come up and shake hands with the "King." But when he loses, for some reason it doesn't make sense for him to show the same type of respect to others?

In fairness, LeBron apparently did email congratulations to the Magic center, Dwight Howard, after the game. And when his Cavs were eliminated from the playoffs this season, LeBron showed that he had learned his lesson and shook hands with the Celtics. But the memory of him walking off the court without congratulating the Magic, and then shrugging it off by saying that type of immediate congrats "doesn't make sense to me," lingered in my mind. LeBron wasn't being malicious by not shaking hands with the Magic. He wasn't even taking anything personal. He was simply in his own world. A world of rules that are foreign to you and me, but normal for him.

When I first heard that LeBron was scheduling a one-hour primetime TV event to announce his free agency decision, I didn't believe it. This is a joke, right? But when I realized it was not a joke, I immediately went back to LeBron not shaking hands with the Magic and then explaining it away with his own set of special rules which he takes for granted as much as the air he breathes. His primetime TV event, "The Decision," by all appearances was setting up to be "The Non-Shake: Part II." LeBron was going to publicly do something that seemed perfectly normal to him, but it would be perceived by most people as borderline delusional.

Cleveland sports fans have suffered through Red Right 88, The Drive, The Fumble, The Shot, The Move, and Jose Mesa. Now you can add The Decision.

Going into the free agency summer, LeBron was admittedly facing a situation where his brand image would be permanently affected, no matter what. This is partly due to the fact that he obviously wouldn't be able to please everybody (can only play for one team), but it's also partly due to the nature of his brand.

 When I think of LeBron's branding from 2003 to 2009, here is what I most associated with him:
  1. Superstar basketball talent. Possibly the best player in the NBA? People always respect that. 
  2. Fun phenom. Not only did LeBron reach a truly elite level as a basketball player, but he did it in record time at age 19. Just a kid, "Bron Bron" brought his own brand of fun to the NBA with his make-believe team photos, half-court pre-game circus shots, and chalk-exploding spectacle. 
  3. Loyal. It was a feel-good story when the Cavs were able to draft the hometown kid. And it only grew as LeBron continued to lift the franchise to new heights--and re-signed with the team the first time in 2007.
A few things to note: The "fun phenom" tag is steeped in youth. When you're 24 and leading your team to the best record in the league, the make-believe photos of your teammates are cool. But once your team starts getting upset in the playoffs a few times, it stops being cute. And, of course, people are always looking for who's going to be "the next superstar." You can't stay young forever, so from the beginning this fun phenom tag was a ticking time bomb.

The other thing to note is what's absent from the above list: Champion. LeBron has stated that this is what was most important to him. And it probably is, especially considering that winning a championship is the best way to take your brand to the next level. While we can debate Kobe vs. LeBron here in the U.S., there's no debate in China where they tend to respect championships even more. When it comes to selling apparel in China, Kobe owns LeBron.

Now that LeBron has made his free agency decision, how has his brand image changed? Well, by leaving Cleveland, we knew the Loyalty tag would be diminished. But by announcing it on TV during his own primetime special, LeBron has destroyed the Loyalty tag. Granted, I could tell by Gilbert's comments after the Cavs lost in this season's playoffs that he would be a terrible owner to play for and that LeBron should leave. But the manner in which he left has made himself look like an egomaniac not just in Cleveland, but across America.

It's often been said in sports that "Winning takes care of everything." And it's no different for LeBron. If he can win the NBA championship next June, King James will have legitimized his nickname and officially become NBA Royalty. He also would be well on his way to forging a moneymaking brand image stronger than he's ever had.

Miami 3-Heat: LeBron and Co. have a chance to be the biggest NBA rock stars since the Jordan/Pippen/Rodman Bulls of '95-'98. Much like Tiger Woods, LeBron needs to win in order to clean up his PR mess.

Ideally, I think LeBron would have wanted both Loyalty and Royalty. But when he realized that he couldn't have both, he had to make a choice. I don't blame him for choosing Miami, the path that he thinks will best lead him to Royalty. But for now, the only thing we know is that he's shed Loyalty. We'll see if he can seize Royalty.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

UPL Update: Be Careful What You Wish For

This time of year I like to give an update on the UPL Baseball standings. Last season at this time I was admiring the view from above. But, while I didn't admit it at the time, my mind briefly entertained thoughts of a different challenge. Rather than going for first, what would it be like to have a fixer-upper? You know... to rebuild. It actually sounded kind of fun to me. Take over a depleted roster and then, slowly but surely, make moves to get better. For a moment I actually kinda wished for that. But just for a moment.

Unfortunately, I'm now reminded that sometimes you need to be careful for what you wish for. After stumbling out of the gate this season, my '90 Reds have been "rebuilding" all season without any results:

1. O.N. Thugs                  124.5     
2. Hats for Bats                118.5    
3. Phatsnapper                  116    
4. JimmyDix'sSmallballs     90.5    
4. IamJabrone                   90.5    
6. SuckMyknuckleballs       87    
7. '90 Reds                        82.5    
8. Benver Droncos            78.5    
8. Black Sox                     78.5    
10.Westy's Sluggers          74    
11.Cheeseheads                64    
12.Muddy Mush Heads      57.5    
13.Chicago Zamboneheads 30

Pauly's Hats for Bats have been one of the biggest UPL stories this year, going from second-worst record in 2009 to second-best record at the break. Furthermore, they look like a legit contender to battle all the way into October.

The Thugs seem to be toying with the idea of finally leaving their comfort zone in the UPL Museum and actually coming out to compete. This could be a good thing, because I literally can't remember the last time the Chairman won a UPL championship.

We'll see how the second half goes. I'm not conceding anything yet.

Monday, July 12, 2010

It's the All-Star Break. Do You Know Where Your Team Is?

I thought Tom Verducci had an interesting piece over at called, "Why All-Star Break Standings Should Not Be Overlooked." Among his fun nuggets of info:

  • Now that the Reds have finally reached the All-Star break in first, that leaves only four teams in the wild-card era that have never led their division at the break: Colorado, Florida, Tampa Bay, and Toronto.
  • In the 14 years of the wild-card era, every team with at least a 5-game lead at the break went on to make the playoffs. Well, every team except the 2003 Royals, which blew a 7-game lead. (This season no team has a 5-game lead at the break, although the Texas Rangers have come the closest with a 4.5-game lead.)
If you do check out the article, you'll see that there's some bad news for the Cubs.

Trivia: Losers

With a record of 30-58 heading into the All-Star break, the Pittsburgh Pirates are likely to end up with their 18th losing season in a row. Their 17 losing seasons in a row is already an MLB record. However, over those same 17 seasons, there is actually one MLB team that has lost more games than the Pirates. Do you know which team?

Monday, July 5, 2010

Trivia: All-Star Game Representin' Part 2

This one keeps with the same theme as last week's question. Stan Musual has hit the most career home runs in All-Star games with a total of six. But all of his homers came while representing one team: the St. Louis Cardinals. The highest number of different teams that a player has hit an All-Star Game home run for is three. Can you name that player? (Hint: Yes, this player is currently active .)