Do we have a Yankees team with no future Hall of Famers?

19 07 2016

I wonder whether the current edition of the Yankees might not have a single player who will make the Hall of Fame.

Let’s start with speculation on the players with the best shots at Cooperstown:

Alex Rodriguez


Of course, A-Rod would be automatic by any statistical measure used historically to measure Hall of Fame qualifications. He ranks third in career RBI, fourth in homers, eighth in runs and 20th in hits. Throw in three MVP awards, the major league record for grand slam homers, five home run titles, two RBI titles, a batting championship, 329 stolen bases, a 40-40 season. Even with his disappointing post-season record (but he finally won a championship ring in 2009), that’s an automatic Hall of Famer, easily one of the best 10 to 20 players in baseball history. Except …

Rodriguez is essentially in the same situation as Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, though they are already on the Hall of Fame writers ballot and he’s still playing. Despite historically great careers on a par with (or even better than) Rodriguez’s, neither of them has reached 50 percent of the writers’ vote, and they need 75 percent to achieve election. What we don’t know is whether they (and presumably A-Rod, too) will be denied Hall of Fame admission forever, or have to wait some yet-unknown period in baseball purgatory.

I wouldn’t be surprised if they all get in someday through a Veterans Committee, rather than the writers’ vote. I doubt if the Hall of Fame will adopt my suggestion for a Scoundrels Committee to consider drug cheats and gamblers, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a committee decide some day that they’ve been punished long enough.

I feel confident, though, that A-Rod will wait longer than Bonds and Clemens, beyond the fact that he will be retiring about a decade after they did. Their offenses came before baseball had rules and testing, and each eventually was cleared in court (even if the baseball world remains doubtful). A-Rod, by cheating after his first admission of drug use, is a more certain drug offender and a more egregious one.

I’d guess that A-Rod makes the Hall of Fame someday, along with Bonds, Clemens and perhaps a few more drug cheats (David Ortiz might be the fourth most-likely, though his popularity could push him ahead of Bonds, Clemens and Rodriguez, all more accomplished but widely disliked). But I’d guess there’s a 25 percent chance, if not higher, that the players facing the strongest suspicion of using performance-enhancing drugs never make it to Cooperstown. And A-Rod certainly is in that group.

Still, A-Rod probably has the best shot at the Hall of Fame of anyone on the current Yankees.

Carlos Beltrán


Beltrán has perhaps the second-best shot at Cooperstown among current Royals. At 39, he doesn’t have many years left, but he made the All-Star team this season and could pad his career totals a bit more and push himself from long shot to probable.

He’s a nine-time All-Star, which sounds like it makes him a likely Hall of Famer. But Elston Howard, Fred Lynn and Dave Concepcion also have nine All-Star selections, and they’re not in the Hall of Fame. Steve Garvey and Bill Freehan each have 10 All-Star selections but not yet a call from Cooperstown.

Beltrán’s career totals (411 hits, 1,501 RBI, 2,549 hits, 1,494 runs, 311 stolen bases) are certainly in the range where he should receive Hall of Fame consideration. And he’s a three-time Gold Glove winner. But at this point, he looks likely to fall short of Cooperstown, at least on the writers’ ballot and maybe forever.

He’s one of only eight members of the 300-300 club with that many career homers and steals. But that’s a meaningless achievement for Hall of Fame purposes. Willie Mays and Andre Dawson are the only club members with Cooperstown plaques. A-Rod is still playing and Bonds is being kept out of the Hall because of drug suspicion. But three other 300-300 members — Bonds’ father, Bobby, Steve Finley and Reggie Sanders — never even reached 11 percent of the writers’ Hall of Fame vote.

During the All-Star Game, I heard Joe Buck (or someone) reel off a list of a half-dozen or so stats (probably the ones above, maybe one or two more, perhaps his 1,000-plus walks and/or 500-plus doubles) and noted that only a handful of players, mostly Hall of Famers, had reached them all. But I think Beltrán probably comes up short. He never led his league in any important statistic.

Look at his neighbors on the career-leader lists and you see a few Hall of Famers, but also quite a few that didn’t make it to Cooperstown. He hasn’t caught Kenny Lofton yet in career runs, Steve Garvey in hits or Carlos Delgado in RBI or homers. He isn’t top-50 in any of those categories (though he’s approaching it). On the homer list, he trails a bunch of sluggers with little or no shot at Cooperstown: Jason Giambi, Dave Kingman, Jose Canseco, Juan Gonzalez or Andruw Jones.

Beltrán’s career averages — .281, .354, .492, .846 — are solid enough they don’t hurt his case, but they don’t help it either. He’s not top-100 in any of those categories.

If post-season performance counted for a whit in Hall of Fame voting (as it does in all other sports), Beltrán’s 16 post-season homers and his record-setting 2004 post-season might push him into the Hall of Fame, but as I’ve noted time and again here, post-season performance and championships simply don’t matter when choosing members of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

If Beltrán has another strong year or two, his Hall of Fame chances grow considerably, but I’d guess he’s a little less than a 50 percent shot right now.

Mark Teixeira


Teixeira‘s case for the Hall of Fame is similar to Beltrán’s: Each has over 400 homers, each has eight 100-RBI seasons, each has a 40-homer season (Tex has more 30-homer seasons). Each has won multiple Gold Gloves. Beltrán has more speed and a higher batting average, but Tex’s other career averages are higher (but, again, not so high as to ensure a spot in Cooperstown). Unlike Beltrán, he has led his league (once each in homers, runs and RBI, twice in total bases).

Teixeira is younger, 36, and he was an All-Star last year. But that was his only All-Star appearance in his 30s, and he hasn’t played 125 games in a season since 2011. He appears to be in a significant career decline, and he’s not likely to match Beltrán’s career totals in anything but walks.

CC Sabathia


When Sabathia won his 200th game during the 2013 season, I considered writing a post about his chances of winning 300 games. I’m glad I didn’t. At that point, he was about 33, and would have been able to reach 300 by around age 40 at about 14 or 15 wins a year (down from his pace of the previous seven years). Of course, Sabathia has slowed down way below that pace, winning just a total of 13 games since the start of 2014. With 219 wins at age 36, he has almost no chance of reaching 300 wins.

You can hardly argue that Sabathia is in the top 10 starting pitchers among his contemporaries. His early career overlapped with Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, all substantially better, as well as Curt Schilling and Roy Halladay, both of whom were also better but more comparable. Johan Santana was better, but not as durable, and Hall of Fame voters love longevity. More recently, Clayton Kershaw is absolutely better. And I’d expect that by the time Sabathia would be facing Hall of Fame consideration, some younger pitchers such as Max Scherzer, Felix Hernandez and Zack Greinke will have eclipsed Sabathia as well. Some eras have sent more than 10 starting pitchers to the Hall of Fame, but I’m certainly not going to predict enshrinement for a guy who wasn’t in the top 10, or maybe even the best dozen, of his day.

Without a sustained return to his performance level of 2008-2012, Sabathia isn’t going to make the Hall of Fame. It’s hard to imagine any of the other Yankee starting pitchers getting as close to Cooperstown consideration as Sabathia, though.

Other players


Starlin Castro is a long way from Hall of Fame territory, but he might have a better chance than any Yankee but A-Rod. With three All-Star appearances and 1,000-plus hits at age 26, he has a solid start and a shot at Cooperstown if he can maintain this pace for another decade-plus.

Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances, both 28, are pitching dominantly, each with multiple All-Star selections. Both are a long way from Hall consideration, but off to starts that could take either one there. Andrew Miller saved 36 games last year and made his first All-Star team this season. At age 31, he’s a long way from Hall of Fame consideration. He waited too long to blossom, unless he spends the next decade as a dominant reliever.

Brian McCann is a seven-time All-Star at age 32, with nine seasons of 20 or more homers. His numbers don’t put him out of reach of the Hall of Fame for a catcher. But among his contemporaries behind the plate, at least Buster Posey, Joe Mauer and Salvador Pérez appear more likely Hall of Famers. And Yadier Molina has a comparable career to McCann at this point. It’s hard to imagine four of this era’s catchers making it to Cooperstown, and McCann might not even be fourth-best.

Jacoby EllsburyBrett Gardner and Chase Headley, all 32, have two All-Star appearances combined, and none has any shot at the Hall of Fame. Didi Gregorius is just 26 but not on the Cooperstown path.

I’d guess there’s a Hall of Famer somewhere on this team, but it’s far from certain, and I wouldn’t be surprised in the 2016 (and 2015) Yankees get shut out of Cooperstown.

Yankee teams without Hall of Famers

My Mantle autograph

My Mantle autograph

From the time Frank “Home Run” Baker joined the Yankees in 1916 through 1968, Mickey Mantle‘s final year, the Yankees always had at least one Hall of Famer, a string that included Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and more players bound for Cooperstown. Frankly, the string should have continued in 1969, Thurman Munson‘s rookie year, but Hall of Fame voters have denied Munson his due. Graig Nettles, who also belongs in the Hall of Fame, joined the Yankees in 1973, but the Yankees went until 1975, when Catfish Hunter joined the team, without any future Hall of Famers.

That launched another string of 16 seasons with always at least one Hall of Famer, including Reggie Jackson, Goose Gossage, Dave Winfield and Rickey Henderson. The 1991-92 Yankees had two players who belong in the Hall of Fame, Don Mattingly and Bernie Williams, but no one who’s made it yet. Wade Boggs joined the Yankees in 1993, and certain Hall of Famers Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter joined in 1995.

But since Rivera and Jeter retired, the Yankees returned in 2015 to that rare spot in team history of perhaps not having a future Hall of Famer on the roster.

Source note: Unless noted otherwise, statistics and other facts cited here come from Baseball-Reference.com.

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A team of the best players for both the Yankees and Mets

18 09 2015

As we head into another Subway Series tonight, with both teams in contention for the post-season, I present the all-time team of players who have been both Yankees and Mets.

I discuss criteria for choosing players at the bottom of the piece, but read it first if you prefer. To qualify for the team, you had to play in games for both the Yankees and the Mets. You only had to play the position you’re assigned for one team, but playing it for both is preferred, and everyone but the designated hitter did play the position in question for both teams.

Catcher: Yogi Berra


This is as easy a call as you have on this team. Yogi didn’t give the Mets much as a player: four games, nine a-bats and two hits in the 1965 season, and only two games behind the plate. But he was a Yankee stalwart from 1947 through 1963, hitting 358 homers, winning three MVP awards and setting World Series records for games played, at-bats, hits and doubles. Most important, he has the all-time record for most World Series championships by a player, 10.

He made a bigger contribution to the Mets as a manager than as a catcher, leading the Mets to the 1973 World Series.

First base, Marv Throneberry


If Dave Kingman had played more first base for either team, he would be the choice here. Kong was a mighty homerun hitter for the Mets, leading the National League in 1982 with 37 homers (he also led the league with 156 strikeouts that year) and getting 37 more homers for the Mets in 1976 and 36 in 1975. But he played only eight games (and hit four homers) for the Yankees. He was only a DH for the Yankees and that 1982 season was the only year he played primarily first base for the Mets. Even so, if this were decided on quality of (offensive) play, Kingman would still win.

But Marvelous Marv Throneberry, gets a spot on this team based on his cultural niches in both teams. For the Yankees, he hit only 15 homers in three part-time seasons. He was barely better for the Mets, hitting 16 homers and 49 RBI, with a .244 batting average in his only full season as a Met. And he led NL first basemen with 17 errors that year (in just 97 games at first).

So why does he merit a spot on both teams? Well, he went from the Yankees to Kansas City in the Roger Maris trade, and that worked out pretty well. And “Marvelous Marv” came to symbolize the dreadful 1962 Mets. This great passage from his 1994 New York Times obituary explained:

In a game against the Chicago Cubs, he hit what appeared to be a game-winning triple with the bases loaded and two outs. The problem was that everybody in the dugout noticed that he missed touching first base. When the Cubs’ pitcher tossed the ball to the first baseman, the umpire called Throneberry out. The inning ended and the runs didn’t count. Casey Stengel, the grizzled manager of the Mets, couldn’t believe it and began arguing with the first-base umpire. As they exchanged words, another umpire walked over and said, “Casey, I hate to tell you this, but he also missed second.”

Not surprisingly, whenever Stengel lamented, “Can’t anybody here play this game?” the target of his plea often was Throneberry.

You gotta have that guy on this team. And Kong’s strikeouts, batting average, fielding and attitude make it easy to leave him off the team.

Second base, Willie Randolph


Randolph gave the Mets more than Yogi, but his spot on this team is similar: a long and outstanding career for the Yankees, ending with a brief stint with the Mets, whom he later managed.

Randolph anchored the infield for the Yankees when they played in four World Series (and won two) from 1976 to 1981. He played 13 seasons for the Yankees, getting five of his six All-Star appearances for them. He hit .275 for the Yankees and stole 251 bases for them in 1,694 games. He played only 90 games for the Mets in 1992, getting only 72 hits.

Shortstop, Phil Linz


Tony Fernandez was a better shortstop than Linz, but not in New York. He played his best seasons for the Blue Jays and played less than a full season for each of the New York teams late in his career.

Linz played in 70 or more games four straight years for the Yankees, 1962-65. Tony Kubek was the starter, but Linz saw plenty of action. His best season was 1964, when he played 112 games and hit .250 with 92 hits and 63 runs scored. Plus, his harmonica incident in 1964 is a fun part of Yankee lore. He also managed two homers in the 1964 World Series, one of them off Bob Gibson, after hitting just five all season (and 11 for his career).

Like Berra and Randolph, Linz wrapped up with the Mets, playing part-time in 1967 and ’68.

Third base, Robin Ventura

Ventura is the first player on this team to give quality seasons to both teams. He had the best year of his career for the Mets in 1999, hitting .301 with 32 homers and 120 RBI. He finished sixth in the MVP voting that year and won the last of his six Gold Gloves.

After giving the Mets two solid seasons, Ventura moved across town and had an All-Star season for the Yankees, with 27 homers and 93 RBI in 2002. He was traded to the Dodgers during the 2003 season.

Ventura is tied with Willie McCovey for fifth in career grand slams. His most famous grand slam, though, was his 15th-inning “grand slam single” to beat the Braves in the 1999 National League Championship Series. Because he was mobbed by hit teammates between first and second bases, and never touched home plate, the official scorer credited Ventura with a single.

Left field, Rickey Henderson


Rickey played four-plus seasons for the Yankees in his prime, leading the American League in steals in 1985, ’86 and ’88 and in runs in ’86 and ’85 (a career-best 146, setting the table for RBI king Don Mattingly). The Yankees traded Henderson to the A’s during the 1989 season and his combined totals led the league in stolen bases, runs and walks.

Rickey was 40 when he reached the Mets in 1999, but still he managed to hit .315, with a .423 on-base percentage, 37 steals and 89 runs scored. It was one of the best age-40 seasons ever. And he added 10 hits, seven runs and seven stolen bases in the post-season.

He did more for the A’s than either New York team (thus the A’s video above), but his Yankee contributions were huge and his Met performance was respectable. I could make a case for Darryl Strawberry over Henderson in left field, based on his play for the two teams. But I chose Henderson.

Update: Jeff Edelstein reminds me that Strawberry played right field for the Mets (he played some left for the Yankees). More on that in my right field section.

Kingman got brief consideration in left, but not much.

Center field, Carlos Beltrán


This might be the closest call of any position. Beltrán and Curtis Granderson have nearly mirror-image careers. Each started his career and became a star with another American League team. Beltrán reached New York (with the Mets) the year he turned 28, just a year younger than Granderson when he joined the Yankees. Both continued starring for their first New York team and neither was quite as good in his second Big Apple stint.

Beltrán didn’t have any year with the Mets greater than Granderson’s 2011 season for the Yankees (leading the league with 119 RBI and 136 runs, plus 41 homers and 25 steals). But Beltrán was close in 2006, with 41 homers, 116 RBI, 127 runs and 18 steals. His averages were all better than Granderson’s in those best seasons, and both finished fourth in MVP voting.

But even if you give Granderson the edge for best year, Beltrán topped 100 RBI twice more for the Mets and Granderson only did it once. Beltrán had three great seasons for the Mets and Granderson had only two for the Yankees.

Both were disappointing last season, their first seasons for their second New York teams. Granderson had 20 homers and 66 RBI for the Mets and Beltrán had 15 and 49 for the Yankees. Both have improved, but not returned to star form, this year.

You could argue that their New York tenures were pretty equal. While I give Beltrán a slight edge for New York performance, I give him a bigger edge for performance with other teams: He topped 100 RBI and 100 runs each four times for the Royals and a fifth time (for both runs and RBI) in a season split between the Royals and Astros. He topped 30 homers once each for the Royals and Cardinals and topped 30 steals four straight seasons for the Royals.

Granderson’s tenure with the Tigers was impressive, but he topped 100 runs only twice and never reached 100 RBI or 30 steals. He reached 30 homers once before coming to New York. All of Beltrán’s career averages are higher than Granderson’s.

And when you add post-season performance outside New York, Beltrán blows almost anyone away: After that incredible eight-homer post-season for the Astros in 2004, he hit three more for the Mets and another five for the Cardinals. His 16 career post-season homers are tied for ninth all-time, and he holds the records for homers and runs scored in a single post-season. Granderson was mostly a post-season disappointment for the Yankees.

Granderson is four years younger and could end up doing enough more for the Mets that he pushes Beltrán from this spot.

Right field, Gary Sheffield


Sheffield had back-to-back great seasons for the Yankees, topping .290, 30 homers, 120 RBI and 100 runs in both 2004 and 2005.  He finished his career with a mediocre 2009 season for the Mets.

Sheff and Henderson have to be near the top of the list of great players who played for the most teams (and who had great seasons for the most teams). Sheffield played for eight teams and had 100-RBI and/or 100-run seasons for six of them. He didn’t get 100 RBI for the Brewers (he left at age 22), but he stole a career-high 25 bases for Milwaukee in 1990. He was an All-Star for the Padres, Marlins, Dodgers, Braves and Yankees. The Mets were the only team he didn’t play well for.

Henderson played for the A’s (four separate times), Yankees, Blue Jays, Padres (twice), Angels, Mets, Mariners, Red Sox and Dodgers. That’s more teams than Sheffield, even if you don’t count separate tenures with the same team. He led the league in stolen bases for the Yankees and in three of his four Oakland stops. He also managed 30-steal seasons for the Padres, Mariners and Mets. He spent only 44 games with Toronto, but stole 22 bases (and three more in the post-season).

Bobby Abreu and Ron Swoboda got brief consideration in right field. Having already included Throneberry as an early Met-fan favorite, I couldn’t choose Swoboda over Sheffield. The gap in quality is much bigger in Sheffield’s favor than it was at first base for Kingman (plus Sheffield actually played right field primarily, and Kingman didn’t play much at first base in New York).

Update: As noted earlier, I should have considered Strawberry in right field instead of left, because his best years were for the Mets, where he played right. But I’m not going to change the picks here, because Strawberry played more DH for the Yankees than Sheffield, who excelled for the Yankees. Strawberry might have been the better New York right fielder, though, so I’m not going to argue if you want to put him in the field and play Sheffield at DH.

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Designated hitter, Darryl Strawberry


Strawberry actually might have been a better leftfielder, considering just their New York tenures, than Henderson. But Strawberry played more DH for the Yankees than either Henderson or Kingman, the most notable hitter left off this team. Strawberry hit 29 homers and drove in 77 runs in 143 games as a DH.

And his non-DH career was both more notable than Kingman’s and more in New York. Except for three seasons with the Dodgers and one with the Giants, Strawberry played his whole career for the Yankees and Mets. The Mets definitely got his best years, including 1988, when he led the league in homers (39), slugging (.545) and OPS (.911).

He’s the only hitter on this team to win World Series rings for both New York teams.

Starting pitcher, Dwight Gooden


Gooden is the only pitcher on this team to win World Series with both teams. He and Strawberry had parallel careers: Rookies of the Year who starred for the Mets in the 1980s, won World Series rings in 1986, ruined their careers with cocaine addiction, came back as role players for the Yankees of the 1990s and went to prison following their baseball careers. They both had Hall of Fame talent but pissed away their greatness and will never make it to Cooperstown.

Gooden’s Cy Young performance for the Mets in 1985 was one of the best seasons ever, 24-4 with a 1.53 ERA, 268 strikeouts and 16 complete games, all figures (except losses) leading the league.

Gooden’s Yankee highlight was his no-hitter May 14, 1996.

Starting pitcher, David Cone


Cone and Gooden both won 194 games and both pitched no-hitters for the Yankees (Cone’s was perfect). Gooden is the first pitcher here because he had the greatest season, but Cone spread his greatness better across both New York teams, winning 20 for the Mets in 1988 and 10 years later for the Yankees.

Cone won his Cy Young Award for the Royals in 1994 and won his first World Series ring for the Blue Jays in 1992. But he pitched five full seasons for each New York team, plus part of a sixth, then returned to the Mets in 2003 at age 40, without much left. He went 81-51 for the Mets and 64-40 for the Yankees.

Cone excelled in the post-season, going 6-1 for the Yankees, 1-1 for the Mets and 8-3 overall.

Starting pitcher Al Leiter


Better pitchers such as Kenny Rogers and John Candelaria pitched for both New York teams, but they didn’t pitch as well or as long in New York as Leiter. He split time between the Yankees and the minor leagues in 1987, ’88 and ’89, showing promise but not nailing down a starting spot. Then he returned in 2005 at age 39. His 11-13 career for the Yankees, spread over four seasons, just qualifies him for this team. It’s his 95-67 record in seven seasons with the Mets that wins him a spot in this rotation.

Leiter was probably the Mets’ best pitcher, with strong seasons, in 1998 (17-6, 2.47, 147 strikeouts), 2000 (16-8, 3.20, 200) and 2003 (15-9, 3.99, 139). He was also the best pitcher for the last-place Mets in 2002 (13-13, 3.38, 172). He never won fewer than 10 games in a season for the Mets and never had a losing record.

He pitched in the 2000 Subway Series, getting no decision in the 12-inning Game 1 win by the Yankees and taking a tough loss in Game 5. Matched up with Andy Pettitte, he took a 2-2 tie into the ninth inning. After two strikeouts to open the ninth, he walked Jorge Posada and gave up a single to Scott Brosius. Luis Sojo‘s groundball up the middle put the Yankees ahead and Brosius scored on an error on the throw home. John Franco came in to get the last out, but the Yankees handed Mariano Rivera a 4-2 lead and he wrapped up the series.

Starting pitcher Orlando Hernandez


“El Duque” probably pitched his best in Cuba, before joining the Yankees at age 32. But he pitched respectably for both New York teams. He broke onto the scene with the Yankees in 1998, going 12-4, with a 3.13 ERA, and giving up only one run in two post-season wins.

He followed that with a 17-9 showing in 1999 and three more post-season wins.

After that, he was never as dominant, and missed the full 2003 season (when he was an Expo) due to rotator-cuff surgery. But El Duque re-signed with the Yankees and finished 2004 strong, going 8-2 with a 3.30 ERA in 15 starts.

He was the starter in Game Four against the Red Sox, with the Yankees leading the American League Championship Series three games to none. El Duque left in the sixth inning leading 4-3, in position to return to another World Series. But nothing good happened for the Yankees after that.

El Duque’s post-season record for the Yankees was an impressive 9-3. He won a fourth World Series ring with the White Sox and returned to New York as a Met at age 40. He was 9-7 in 20 starts and 9-5 in 24 in 2006-7 to finish his career respectably.

Starting pitcher Mike Torrez


I could argue that Candelaria or Rogers or Ralph Terry or Dock Ellis or Doc Medich could make this team ahead of Torrez. (Actually, it would be kind of cool to have a rotation that was 60 percent “Docs” — Medich, Ellis and Gooden). But none of them was a clear choice, pitching well for both teams.

Torrez wins the fifth starting spot on the basis of five factors:

  1. A solid 14-12 season for the 1977 Yankees.
  2. Two World Series wins over the Dodgers that same year, his only season as a Yankee.
  3. He did pitch a lot for the Mets in 1983, going 10-17 for the last-place team and leading the league in losses, earned runs (108) and walks (113). Not a great season, but he pitched a lot of innings for a really bad team.
  4. He does hold a special place in Yankee lore, though not for his pitching as a Yankee. The year after he pitched for the Yankees, he signed with the Red Sox and served up the Bucky Dent home run.
  5. He’s the only guy who’s on both my all-Yankees-Red Sox team and my all Yankees-Mets team.

Medich and Terry each had a few strong seasons for the Yankees, (Medich topping out at 19 wins in 1974 and Terry at 23 in 1962), but neither managed even a single win in brief stints with the Mets. I have to go with Torrez as the No. 5 starter.

Closer, Jesse Orosco


Again, we have a close call, this time between two closers who were standouts for the Mets and made only brief appearances with the Yankees. The Yankee fan in me hoped that Sparky Lyle or Goose Gossage made a brief appearance in Shea, but this decision came down to Orosco and Armando Benítez.

Based on their pitching with the Yankees, Benítez has the advantage, with a 1.93 ERA, compared to 10.38 for Orosco. But they only had 14 innings combined for the Yankees. This choice has to be based on pitching for the Mets.

Orosco pitched in eight seasons for the Mets, 1979 and 1981-87. He became the closer in 1983, his first of two All-Star years. He shared closer duties with Roger McDowell from 1985 to ’87. Benítez shared closer duties with John Franco in 1999, then took over the closer role in 2000 and held it until being traded to the Yankees in July 2003. The Yankees traded him less than a month later to the Mariners.

So they both had roughly five seasons as a closer for the Mets. If you based it solely on saves, Benítez would win, with 160 of his 288 career saves for the Mets. Orosco had 107 of his 144 career saves for the Mets. Benítez saved 41 games in 2000, 43 in 2001 and 33 in 2002. Orosco’s best save totals were 31 in ’84 and 21 in ’86.

But you have to evaluate relief pitchers especially in context of their times. When Benítez saved 41 in 2000, he was third in the league in saves, same ranking at Orosco when he saved 31 in 1984. Benítez pitched in a time when managers gave nearly all of their saves to a single pitcher, mostly in one-inning outings. He appeared in 76 games in 2000 and pitched 76 innings, with a 4-4 record. On the other hand, Orosco’s 1984 performance included 84 innings over 60 games, with a 10-6 record.

From 1981 to 1986, Orosco’s ERA didn’t go above 2.73, and he had two seasons under 2.00. Benitez had two seasons as a closer with an ERA over 3.00. But again context mattered: Benítez pitched at the peak of performance-enhancing drugs, reaching his career peak for saves the same year Barry Bonds set the tainted record of 73 homers in a season.

I see Orosco and Benítez as a standoff for best regular-season closer for the Mets. Here’s why I give Orosco the edge: Each was his team’s closer in a World Series. Benítez blew a save in Game One of the 2000 World Series, giving up the tying run in the ninth inning of a game the Mets eventually lost in 12 innings. He did get a save in Game Three, but that should have put the Mets ahead, rather than keeping them from going down 3-0. Orosco pitched 5 2/3 scoreless innings against the Red Sox in 1986, saving Game Four and Game Seven. When a franchise has only celebrated two championships in its history, you have to give some credit to the pitcher who got the final out that triggered one of those celebrations.

Benítez pitched well in the playoffs, but didn’t match Orosco’s 1986 National League Championship Series performance of three wins in four relief appearances. In Game Three, he entered in the eighth inning, trailing 5-4 and kept the game close, winning on Len Dykstra‘s ninth-inning walk-off two-run homer. In Game Five, Orosco entered in the 11th, retired six straight Astros and got the win on Gary Carter‘s 12th-inning RBI single. In Game Six, he entered in the 14th inning. This time he blew the save, giving up a tying homer to Billy Hatcher. But Orosco kept battling. He got out of that inning without further damage and retired the Astros in order in the 15th. After the Mets took a 7-4 lead in the top of the 16th, Orosco gave up a walk and three singles to make the game 7-6. But Davey Johnson stayed with him, and Orosco struck out Kevin Bass to nail down his third win. Though he gave up those three runs, Orosco gave up only five hits and two walks in eight innings against the Astros and struck out 10. He’s the only pitcher ever to win three games in an NLCS.

Also, I gave Orosco a slight edge for career outside New York. Benítez led the National League with 47 saves for the Marlins in 2004, but otherwise he was nothing special except in his stint with the Mets. Orosco holds the all-time record for most games pitched, with 1,252. While Benítez pitched a respectable 15 years in the majors, Orosco pitched 24, pitching in four decades and making the transition from set-up man to closer to that left-hander who comes in to retire one or two left-handed batters.

Manager: Casey Stengel


This is closer than you might think. Yogi Berra was the only manager to be successful with both teams, leading the Yankees to the 1964 World Series and the Mets to the 1973 World Series and losing both times. But he only managed three years for the Yankees (in two hitches) and four for the Mets, and never finished first again.

Stengel and Joe Torre both managed awful Mets teams. Casey never got out of last place in four Met years. And Torre never had a Met winner in five years and finished last three times.

But Stengel and Torre had splendid, similar 12-year runs with the Yankees. Both men finished first 10 of their 12 years, but Stengel was winning the eight-team American League and Torre was winning the five-team Eastern Division. Torre also won an incredible six American League pennants, but that’s four less than Stengel. Casey also won more World Series than Torre, seven to four, including five in a row from 1949-53.

Stengel was also an awful manager for the Brooklyn Dodgers and Boston Bees and Braves, never finishing higher than fifth. I don’t know how he got the Yankee job. But he did, and he won seven World Series and 10 pennants. That simply trumps what anyone else who ever managed did. So he could have sucked 10 more years for the Mets and he’d still be the manager here.

And he gave the greatest congressional testimony ever, though Mickey Mantle might have topped him:

How I chose this team

My primary criteria in choosing players for this team was how they played for the two New York teams. In close calls, these were deciding criteria (in order):

  1. Was he an all-time great (Hall of Famer or someone who should or will be in the Hall of Fame)? So Yogi Berra would make it over a catcher who had multiple good years for both teams. This helped Rickey Henderson beat out Darryl Strawberry in left field.
  2. Playing well and long for both teams. David Cone, with five-plus strong seasons for both teams, is the best example.
  3. Does he hold a special place in Yankee or Met lore? This helped Marv Throneberry, Phil Linz and Mike Torrez win spots on the team.
  4. How much did he actually play this position for either team? If Dave Kingman had actually played first base much in New York, his quality of play might have pushed him ahead of Throneberry, but he didn’t.
  5. Can either player play another position? If Strawberry hadn’t DH’d significantly for the Yankees, I might have had to give him the edge in left field, based on more time played for the New York teams than Henderson. But given Rickey’s excellence with both teams, including four-plus prime seasons with the Yankees, and his overall career, plus the fact that Strawberry would also be best at DH, I was able to get both players on the team.
  6. Post-season play always matters to me. Hernandez, Torrez and Orosco nailed down their positions here partly based on their post-season play.
  7. Overall career. This was decided mostly on the basis of performance for the Yankees and Mets. But Henderson’s career greatness came into play in the left field decision, and Beltrán’s overall career helped break a close tie with Granderson in center. But I wouldn’t place a player with a great career here based mostly on play for other teams. Tony Fernandez had a far superior career at shortstop to Phil Linz. But his New York years weren’t as good as Linz’s. If he were Ozzie Smith or Cal Ripken Jr., his overall career might tip the balance over a role player like Linz. But Linz won on better New York play and the harmonica incident.

Source note: Unless noted otherwise, statistics cited here come from Baseball-Reference.com.

Correction invitation: I wrote this blog post a few months ago late at night, unable to sleep while undergoing medical treatment. I believe I have fact-checked and corrected any errors, but I welcome you to point out any I missed: stephenbuttry (at) gmail (dot) com. Or, if you just want to argue about my selections, that’s fine, too.





A team of the best who played for Yankees and Royals

28 10 2014

Decades ago, the Kansas City A’s and New York Yankees made so many trades the A’s were derided as a Yankee farm team. The Yankees and Royals haven’t made as many trades, but still have shared a lot of the same players.

Since I usually blog here about the Yankees, but have been blogging about the Royals this month, I’ve compiled a team of the best players who played for both teams (most of them not involved in trades between the two teams).

Catcher: Don Slaught. Slaught barely missed the Royals’ world championship year. He caught 124 games for the 1984 division champions, but was traded to the Texas Rangers in a four-team deal that brought Jim Sundberg to Kansas City. After three years in Texas, Slaught was the starting catcher for the Yankees in 1988 and ’89, two fifth-place seasons.  This isn’t a strong position, but Slaught started for both teams. Fran Healy had a couple mediocre years as the Royals’ starter, but was just a sub for the Yankees.

First base. Steve Balboni was a feast-or-famine slugger for the Royals who had his best year in the Royals’ 1985 championship year, with 36 homers, and led the league in strikeouts that year with 166 (he had 146 hits). Known as “Bye Bye” Balboni in the Yankee farm system, he had no chance of winning the first base job away from Don Mattingly. Balboni became “Bonesy” in Kansas City, where his homers are remembered fondly, but not as fondly as the single that eventually became the tying run (Onix Concepcion pinch-ran) in Game Six of the 1985 World Series. Read the rest of this entry »





The Kansas City Royals’ amazing 9-game post-season winning streak

12 10 2014

Update: It’s an 11-game winning streak now. While I blogged about making it to the World Series, I won’t be updating this one further. But I’m glad no one has reason to think I jinxed the winning streak by writing about it.

 Time for another post on the Royals (maybe not the last of this post-season).

The Kansas City Royals are on an incredible nine-game, 29-year post-season winning streak. Let’s take a look at those games:

1985 World Series

Game Five

The Royals trailed 3-1 and Game 5 was supposed to be the Cardinals’ chance to celebrate their World Series championship on their home field. But this Royals team has also trailed 3-1 to the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League Championship Series. It was a scrappy team that didn’t give up when it fell behind.

Danny Jackson, a 23-year-old lefthander who won 14 games for the Royals, faced off against 35-year-old Cardinal veteran Bob Forsch, who would win 163 career games for the Cardinals, but only nine that year.

Each pitcher gave up a run in the first. That was the last run Jackson would give up, and the last full inning Forsch would pitch. An RBI single by Buddy Biancalana and a two-run triple by Willie Wilson chased Forsch in the second inning. Jackson scattered five hits and three walks in pitching a complete game for the 6-1 victory. The Royals got a chance to play again back home in Kansas City.

Game 6

Ah, Game Six.

This game should not be remembered for a bad call, though it had a couple of them, neither of which had a significant impact on the outcome of the game.

In the bottom of the 4th inning, Frank White got a one-out bunt single for the Royals. He then stole second, possibly on a busted hit-and-run play. The throw beat White easily, but Ozzie Smith tagged White high on his chest, after his foot was safely on the base. But White was called out. You can see it at about the 57-minute mark of the game video below. The replay clearly showed he was safe, and announcer Tim McCarver, a former Cardinal whose St. Louis favoritism always showed, noted casually that Smith had tagged White high, after his foot reached the bag. But Royals manager Dick Howser didn’t argue and TV showed only one replay. Pat Sheridan, who was at the plate, hit a groundball single to right field that almost certainly would have scored the speedy White, who stole 10 bases that year and 178 in his career (a guy who can bunt for a single can score from second on an outfield single). Tough luck. Bad calls are part of baseball. Play on.

Instead of being tied 1-1, the Royals trailed 1-0 when they came to bat in the bottom of the 9th inning. Charlie Leibrandt of the Royals (the hard-luck loser of Game Two, which I watched) matched zeroes for seven innings with the Cardinals’ Danny Cox, an 18-game winner. The Cardinals scratched out a run in the eighth on a single and a walk, followed by Brian Harper’s RBI single, pinch-hitting for Cox. Lefthander Ken Dayley pitched a scoreless eighth inning for the Cardinals.

The bottom of the ninth started innocently enough, with Jorge Orta hitting a ground ball to first baseman Jack Clark. Cardinals reliever Todd Worrell (more on him later) covered first base and the throw clearly beat Orta in a bang-bang play. But umpire Don Denkinger blew the call. Herzog, Worrell and Clark argued vehemently, but with no replay, they couldn’t change the call any more than Howser would have been able to change the fourth-inning call if he’d argued. The calls were examples of two of the most-blown calls in baseball: throw beats runner so he’s called out even though the tag was high and ball beats runner to the bag by an instant (or vice versa) and umpire misses it because it’s almost impossible to watch a ball hitting a glove and a foot hitting a bag at the same time when they are about eight feet apart.

A USA Today review of this year’s replays midway through the season showed that 318 calls had been reversed on review after being challenged by managers. So bad calls happened a lot before replay. Good teams played on and won games.

It’s also worth noting that, as bad calls go, this one was about as inconsequential as you can get on multiple accounts:

  • It was the lead-off hitter, rather than the potential third out. A potential third out means you should have gotten out of the inning. Whether the lead-off hitter gets on or out, you still need to get more outs to end the game.
  • The winning run scored with one out, so if you replay the inning without Orta’s bogus single, the Royals have still scored the tying run, with Lonnie Smith coming up. He hit .333 in the series.
  • The bad call was at first base, rather than at home plate, where it costs you a run, or at second base (as the bad call on White was), where it costs you a runner in scoring position. When you’re screwed on a bad call at first base, you have to give up an extra-base hit, a huge error or multiple little things (singles, walks, hit batters, errors, wild pitches, sacrifices, etc.) for the bad call to result in a run. And by the time those other things happen, the bad call is never the main reason the run scored.

And those little things that happened after the bad call were an amazing, exhilarating (for a Royals fan or neutral baseball fan) mix of good and bad plays by the Royals’ role players. The Royals had a stellar, if young, pitching staff that year, but no pitchers hit in the inning. Their offensive superstar, having one of his best seasons, was George Brett, who didn’t come to bat in the ninth inning. White, Smith and Wilson were all All-Stars in multiple seasons and none of them hit in the ninth either. Hal McRae was another multi-year All-Star, and perhaps the best designated hitter of the 1970s and ’80s, and he would come to the plate, but he drew an intentional walk, playing a minimal role. The only All-Star who would play an important role in the Royals’ ninth-inning comeback was a defensive star, Jim Sundberg, a six-time Gold Glover and three-time All-Star who hit only .245 for the 1985 Royals. And he botched his assignment in the ninth. As did some Cardinals All-Stars. Both managers tried different maneuvers, some that worked, some that didn’t.

Let’s go through that inning, play by scrappy play:

Orta was not scheduled to lead off the ninth. Sheridan, who platooned in right field with Darryl Motley, was the scheduled hitter. Sheridan, who hit lefthanded, had started against the righthanded Cox. So Howser sent the righthanded Motley in to hit against Dayley. But Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog countered with Worrell, a righthanded rookie.

The Cardinals had no single closer that year. Jeff Lahti saved 19 games and had an ERA under 2.00. He had already saved Game Two and warmed up in the ninth inning of Game Six, but never came in. Dayley had 11 saves and a 2.76 ERA and two saves against the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series. Herzog had become enamored with Worrell, a late-August call-up who would still be eligible for (and win) Rookie of the Year in 1986. Worrell saved five games in September of 1985 and had saved Game One and pitched briefly in Game Five. So Herzog brought him in with an opportunity to be on the mound when the Cardinals won the World Series. Howser countered with Orta, a left-handed batter who had platooned at designated hitter with veteran McRae for much of the year. Orta got his only hit of the series on the bad call.

The next batter, Steve Balboni, had led the Royals with 36 homers, but he was also a likely strikeout candidate, leading the American League with 166 strikeouts. Worrell got Bonesy to loft a high pop foul over by the Royals’ dugout. Clark should have caught the ball, but misjudged it, then was distracted by Porter, who also came over to see if he had a play. The ball bounced harmlessly on the top step of the Royals’ dugout.

Both the Denkinger and Clark mistakes gave the Royals extra chances, but the Clark mistake, which was not scored an error, was more costly. Denkinger’s mistake put the potential tying run on first base. When Balboni used his second chance to send a ground-ball single to left, Clark’s error allowed the potential tying run to move into scoring position and put the winning run at first. Instead of bases empty and two outs, the two mistakes combined left the Royals with no outs and runners at first and second. Backup shortstop Onix Concepcion pinch-ran for Bonesy.

McRae was on deck to pinch-hit for Sundberg, but Howser decided he wanted a bunt to advance the runners. McRae had only two sacrifice bunts all season. Sundberg had only four. Howser sent Sundberg up to bunt. I’m not a big fan of the sacrifice bunt. Outs are precious and I prefer to make the defense work for them. My preference would have been to take three shots at getting the tying run home from second. But Howser stayed with the bunt, even with two strikes. Sundberg laid down the bunt, but Worrell fired to third to force Orta. This time he was correctly called out.

Sundberg was not a fast runner. He had been thrown out stealing on his only two attempts in 1985 (no doubt on busted hit-and-run plays). For his career, he had 20 stolen bases and 621 runs in 16 seasons, less than 40 runs a year (and 38, in fact, in 1985). The Royals’ backup catcher, John Wathan, had three years earlier set the single-season stolen-base record for catchers, with 36, a record that still stands. I fully expected Howser to send Duke in to pinch run, but he didn’t. Yet.

The next scheduled batter was shortstop Biancalana, whose name and weak hitting had been mocked by David Letterman in his Buddy Biancalana Hit Counter (a take-off on the hit counters used to track Pete Rose’s chase of Ty Cobb’s all-time hit record). Biancalana, who split time with Concepcion during the season, reached the peak of his career in the 1985, getting most of the time at shortstop in the post-season, with 43 plate appearances to only one for Concepcion. His .278 World Series batting average was nothing special, but it was 90 points higher than his regular-season average.

Even with his meager batting average, Biancalana had only five sacrifice bunts during the 1985 season and only 15 in his major-league career. I don’t think Howser would have used him even for a squeeze play if Sundberg’s bunt had worked. Which makes the bunt even more puzzling: If it had succeeded, first base would have been open for the Cardinals to walk Hal McRae (maybe Howser would have pinch-hit someone else).

But McRae came up with the tying run on second, with 1,000-plus career RBI, 70 in a platoon role in 1985 and an RBI crown just three years earlier. From 1976 to 1985, baseball followed a ridiculous practice of alternating years with and without the DH in the World Series. Pitchers hit in the odd years, so McRae had come to the plate only twice in the World Series, grounding out with the bases loaded in Game Four and being hit by a pitch in Game One. As a Royals fan, I was ready for him to jump on the opportunity and bring Concepcion home.

But Porter and Worrell apparently got crossed up on a pitch. The ball got away from Porter and the runners advanced, giving Kansas City the same result as they had sought with Sundberg’s bunt: runners at second and third, one out. The umpire’s mistake had just put the potential tying run on first base. Porter’s passed ball put the winning run in scoring position and advanced the tying run to third. Again, a much bigger part of the inning than the bad call.

Herzog chose to walk McRae intentionally, which set up a possible series-clinching double play. McRae’s run wouldn’t matter, though loading the bases raised the risk of walking in the tying run. Still, Herzog preferred to take his chances with the next pinch-hitter.

The next scheduled hitter was Royals closer Dan Quisenberry, who had relieved in the eighth inning, after Leibrandt gave up the Cardinals’ only run. Dane Iorg came to the plate as the Royals’ fourth pinch-hitter of the inning, including Motley, who didn’t actually hit.

And now Wathan went in to pinch-run, but for McRae, instead of Sundberg. If the thinking in using Wathan to run for McRae was because he could break up the double play, that certainly overlooked McRae’s famous 1977 slide into Willie Randolph in a Yankees-Royals post-season showdown. But this McRae was eight years older, and maybe Howser thought Wathan could get down to second base faster. Fine, run for McRae. Lynn Jones and Greg Pryor also were available to pinch-run, both undoubtedly faster than Sundberg. Jones had a triple and a double in his three World Series at-bats and undoubtedly would have hit if Howser needed another pinch-hitter. Howser left his catcher at second base with the potential winning run.

At the plate, Iorg was familiar to the Cardinals. He had played for the Cardinals from 1977 until being sold to the Royals in May 1984. He’d never played more than 105 games in a season and never had more than 80 hits in a season. But he was a respected role player. He’d hit 9 for 17 in five games of the 1982 World Series for the Cardinals.

Iorg wasn’t a great pinch hitter, but he pinch-hit a lot, 69 hits in 282 career pinch-hit at-bats. In 1985, he was only 4 for 27 as a pinch-hitter for the Royals, a worse batting average than Biancalana, the guy he probably hit for most often, since pitchers never hit then in the American League. But he’d hit respectably as a spare outfielder, with a couple games each at DH and first base. With a .255 average, 60 hits and 30 RBI for the year, he was the logical pinch-hitter against a righthander.

Iorg won a special place in Royal lore forever with his single to rightfield against Worrell. Concepcion raced home easily with the tying run and third-base coach Mike Ferraro waved Sundberg home, too. Andy Van Slyke had a gun in right, and I thought he’d nail Sundberg at the plate. But he got a good jump from second, chugged home hard and slid home head-first, ahead of Porter’s tag.

In just five plate appearances, 11 Royals were scheduled to hit, announced as pinch-hitters, actually hit or pinch-ran in the ninth inning. The bad call was not as important to the outcome of the inning as the two legitimate singles Worrell gave up, the pop foul Clark misplayed or Porter’s passed ball. But the Cardinals and their fans whined loud and long about the call, exaggerating it in baseball legend way beyond its importance to the outcome of the game or the series.

The call most certainly didn’t cost the Cardinals the World Series. However big the bad call was to Game Six, the Cardinals had a chance to come back. The Big Red Machine was devastated by a Game Six loss a decade earlier, when Bernie Carbo’s three-run pinch-hit homer tied the game for the Boston Red Sox and Carlton Fisk’s extra-inning homer stayed fair to win it. And the Reds regrouped to win the next night.

Watch the ninth inning here:

Watch all of Game Six here:

Game Seven

The Cardinals were set up perfectly for Game Seven. Herzog had his choice of 21-game winners. John Tudor had held the Royals to one run in Game One and shut them out in Game Four. Tudor was 21-8 in the regular season, with a 1.93 ERA and a league-high 10 shutouts. He’d have won the Cy Young Award, if not for the historic season Dwight Gooden had for the Mets. Joaquín Andújar was 21-12 in the regular season, his second consecutive 20-win season, but had not been effective in the post-season. He had lost to the Royals’ Bret Saberhagen in Game Three. Though Tudor would be pitching on short rest, Herzog went with his ace, who was on a roll.

Game Seven should have been, and appeared likely to be, a pitching duel for the ages. Saberhagen also was a 20-game winner and would win the A.L. Cy Young Award (Ron Guidry probably should have won, but Sabes had a great year and was the exciting 21-year-old breakthrough star). Saberhagen had given up just one run on six hits and a walk in the Royals’ Game Three win in St. Louis, getting the Royals back into the series after two losses in Kansas City. His wife gave birth to their first child, a son named Drew, the night of Game Six.

The umpires’ clockwise World Series rotation moved Denkinger behind home plate.

Through the first inning and a half, both pitchers looked sharp, Tudor just giving up a single to Brett, Saberhagen giving up a single to Clark. Balboni walked in the bottom of the second. Then Motley, whose only involvement in Game Six was to be announced as a pinch-hitter, blasted a homer to give the Royals a 2-0 lead.

In the third inning, Tudor began to unravel. He walked Smith, gave up another single to Brett, then gave up a double steal. After Frank White walked, the bases were loaded. Then Tudor walked Sundberg to give up the third run. In the regular season, Herzog might have given Tudor time to work through his wildness, but with Saberhagen looking dominant, he had to use a quick hook. He brought in Bill Campbell, and Tudor took his frustration out on an electric fan in the clubhouse, cutting his finger. Campbell gave up a single to Balboni and the Royals led 5-0. Biancalana got the only intentional walk of his career, bringing up Saberhagen with the bases loaded and two outs. Sabes struck out swinging, about the only thing that went wrong for the Royals.

Saberhagen put two more zeroes up on the scoreboard and Lahti came in to replace Campbell after Sundberg singled leading off the fifth. After singles to Balboni and Motley, the Royals led 6-0 and Saberhagen was batting. He tried to advance the runners with a bunt, but Clark threw to Ozzie Smith to force out Motley. Lonnie Smith followed with a double, scoring Balboni and Saberhagen. Then Wilson drove Smith home and the Royals led 9-0.

Ricky Horton replaced Lahti and gave up a single to Brett, his fourth hit of the game already. After Horton threw two balls to White, Herzog turned to Andújar. I was puzzled by the move at the time, but I guess he thought he couldn’t keep burning through his bullpen in the fifth inning. He needed his best remaining pitcher, someone to stop the bleeding for a few innings, just in case the Cardinals could mount some sort of offense against Saberhagen.

It didn’t quite work out that way. After fouling off several Andújar pitches, White singled home a run. The Royals led 10-0. If it were a softball game, they would have won by the 10-run rule. But the Cardinals had to keep playing.

Denkinger called ball three on a pitch that was clearly inside, with Sundberg checking his swing. Andújar angrily charged toward the umpire to protest. Herzog charged out of the dugout to take the lead in the argument, while teammates restrained Andújar. Pretty quickly, Herzog turned the argument to the night before. He had seen enough and dropped f-bombs in an obvious intentional move to get thrown out of the game. Even after leaving the field, Herzog returned to continue the argument. Surprisingly, Andújar was not ejected for his initial reaction to the call.

When order was finally restored, Andújar threw ball four, also inside, and again immediately reacted angrily. His Wikipedia entry says Denkinger “misread a gesture by Andújar” to Porter. But that’s BS. The video shows Andújar reacting immediately to the call, the same way he did after ball three. He was furious, perhaps more at Herzog than Denkinger, and didn’t have any intention of sticking around any longer in this blowout. Teammates and coaches restrained him and it took about three of them to pull him off the field.

Forsch came in to pitch, and his wild pitch allowed Brett to score the 11th run. Finally Forsch and Dayley shut down the Royals’ offense, but the Cardinals could muster only five singles off Saberhagen. Van Slyke was the only Cardinal to reach second base, when he and Terry Pendleton singled back-to-back in the seventh.

With two out and an 11-0 lead in the ninth, Brett came over to the mound to talk to his pitcher. He wasn’t talking strategy or trying to settle the young pitcher down. He instructed Sabes to come his way after the final out. Brett wanted to be the first to embrace the winning pitcher. And he was. The Kansas City Times front page with that photo hangs in my office wall this month, until the Royals’ season ends.

You gotta love it

Here’s a short video of Saberhagen’s pitching and the celebration:

Watch all of Game Seven here (Jim Sundberg’s at-bat in the fifth inning starts at the 1:37:55 mark):

1986-2013

The 29 years between post-season games were mostly miserable for Royals fans. Saberhagen had another Cy Young season in 1989 and Brett won another batting title in 1990. The Royals were good and still exciting in the Bo Jackson years, but then wasted good years by Kevin Appier and Mike Sweeney. David Cone, Johnny Damon, Carlos Beltrán and Zack Greinke teased Royals fans with their talent before moving to better teams. Wathan and McRae (and a lot of others) took their turns as managers, without success. McRae’s son, Brian, played five years for the Royals.

Baseball expanded the playoffs, from two teams in each league to four and then five. But the Royals were never good enough to make the cut. Twenty-eight seasons passed without a post-season game. Then came …

2014

OK, I won’t go into as much detail on the 2014 games, because anyone who’s made it this far has fresh memories of all the games. Just a quick comment on each:

Wild-card game

I feared I would bitterly blame Ned Yost for losing the one-game wild-card playoff with the A’s for wasting too many outs on bunts (when his base runners were perfectly capable of stealing their way into scoring position). But the Royals prevailed. My oldest son, Mike, flew down from the Twin Cities to watch the game in person. My youngest son, Tom, wrote a guest post on what it meant to finally watch the Royals play and win a post-season game.

The A’s led this game 2-1 after one inning and the Royals came back to take the lead. The A’s led 7-3 after six innings and the Royals came back with three runs in the eighth and one in the ninth to tie. The A’s led 8-7 after the top of the 12th. And the Royals got two runs in the bottom of the 12th to win, with a Salvador Pérez base hit bringing home the winner.

I wonder how many teams have come from behind three different times in a post-season, including in the ninth and extra innings. As incredible as this post-season run has been, that might have been the best game. Mike says it’s the best game he’s ever attended, and I took him to a lot of good ones.

For Kansas City fans, which my sons are (I’m a Chiefs fan and cheer for the Royals if they’re not playing the Yankees), this was the first post-season win in any pro sport since 1994.

Angels series

Game one

Because the Royals are the wild-card team, both of their American League playoff series this year have started on the road. Game One of the Division Series in Anaheim was a well-pitched game, with starters Jason Vargas of the Royals and Jered Weaver of the Angels each giving up a run in the third and fifth innings and the bullpens pitching scoreless ball until Mike Moustakas, batting ninth in the Royals’ lineup, started his incredible post-season run with his 11th-inning homer.

Game Two

Starters Matt Shoemaker of the Angels and Yordano Ventura of the Royals were even better in this game, each giving up just one run. Game Two also went to extra innings, tied 1-1. Eric Hosmer delivered another extra-inning homer, following a Lorenzo Cain single. Pérez continued his extra-inning success with an RBI single and the Royals won, 4-1.

Game Three

This game was, on a smaller scale and with no ejections, a counterpart to Game Seven in 1985: an easy win following a nail-biter. The Royals led Game Three 3-1 after one inning, 5-1 after three and 7-2 after four. They cruised to an easy 8-3 win in front of the home fans. Hosmer and Moustakas homered again and Alex Gordon had a three-run double. Cain made back-to-back amazing catches.

2104 A.L. Championship Series

Game One

OK, it was back to extra innings: Both starters, James Shields for the Royals and Chris Tillman for the Orioles, were ineffective and neither made it to the sixth inning. The Royals blew a 4-0 lead and a 5-1 lead. But again the bullpens were strong, each pitching scoreless seventh, eighth and ninth innings to go to the 10th with a 5-5 tie.

Gordon opened the 10th with a homer, the third different Royal to homer in extra innings this post-season. After a walk to Perez, Moustakas added his second extra-inning homer. Closer Greg Holland, who’s been stellar this post-season, finally allowed a run, but still nailed down an 8-6 win. (Like Saberhagen in 1985, Holland and Cain have welcomed new babies during the 2014 post-season.)

Game Two

The Game Two win took only nine innings, but it took the full nine. The teams were tied 4-4 going into the ninth. Moustakas had homered in the fourth, so I was miffed that Yost had him bunting after Omar Infante led off with a single (Terrance Gore pinch-ran; as in 1985, pinch-runners have played a role for the Royals). Moustakas successfully advanced the runner, though. Then Alcides Escobar doubled Gore home. Lorenzo Cain, who’s made brilliant plays in the outfield throughout the playoffs, added an RBI single. Holland nailed down the win and the Royals go home with a 2-0 lead in the series.

Tom has made it to both Baltimore games. Tom, Mike and their brother, Joe, and I have been texting like crazy during this incredible run (just the last six games; none of us had mobile phones in 1985, of course).

What’s next?

Of course, the Blue Jays and Cardinals each had two-game leads in 1985, so any Royals fan knows it’s not over. But I like the Royals’ chances. This scrappy team reminds me of the 1985 Royals. Each had lots of heroes, rather than just riding the back of a dominant player. And, whatever happens, this nine-game winning streak has been a delight: four extra-inning wins, two ninth-inning wins and a ton of memories for two generations of deserving fans.

Source note: Statistics and some game details for this post came from Baseball-Reference.com.





Joe Torre should have made the Hall of Fame as a player

15 12 2013


Catching up on off-season Yankee news:

Joe Torre is a Hall of Famer — finally

I actually intended to write a post sometime this year making the case for Joe Torre‘s election to the Hall of Fame. But the Expansion Era Committee chose Torre to enter the Hall of Fame this year, along with his managing peers Tony LaRussa and Bobby Cox.

All three managers are clear Hall of Famers, ranking third (LaRussa), fourth (Cox) and fifth (Torre) on the all-time wins list for managers.

Torre was a strong candidate for the Hall of Fame as a player and probably should have been chosen on that basis, regardless of his performance as a manager. He and Elston Howard were the best catchers of the 1960s and most people who were best of their era at a position are in Cooperstown. He was a nine-time All-Star and most eligible players who’ve made that many All-Star teams are in the Hall. He also was MVP in 1971 (after moving to third base), leading the league in batting, RBI and hits.

No Hall of Fame catcher topped Torre’s career figures in all of the triple-crown categories (.297, 252 HR, 1185 RBI) as well as his 2,342 hits, and each of those figures ranks in the top half of all Hall of Fame catchers. Among third basemen, only George Brett topped Torre in all four categories, and his totals again measure up as a Hall of Famer compared to the third basemen in Cooperstown. And he won a Gold Glove as a catcher, so he wasn’t being kept out of Cooperstown because of defensive deficiencies (though he wasn’t good defensively at third). Read the rest of this entry »