Results tagged ‘ Johnny Bench ’

Whelan in sort of select company

It doesn’t take long for the guys and girls at Baseball.Reference.com, a sensational web site, to dig up history related to a contemporary event. Less than 10 hours after Yankees rookie Kevin Whelan had walked four batters in two-thirds of an inning Friday night against the Indians, Steve Lombardi had posted a list of 12 pitchers since 1919 who had pitched two-thirds of an innings or less and walked four batters in their big-league debuts.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi tried to comfort his young pitcher Friday night when he removed him from the game, smiling at Whelan as he took the ball and saying, “Hey, we have all gone through this.” He meant fighting the heart-pounding that comes with playing in the majors for the first time.

Whelan might also be comforted with knowing that the list included several pitchers who went on to some success in the major leagues. In fact, Friday marked the 67th anniversary of the first game pitched by the youngest player to appear in a big-league game. Lefthander Joe Nuxhall gave up six runs on two hits and five walks June 10, 1944 for the Reds against the Cardinals in an 18-0 Cincinnati loss.

It was understandable, considering Nuxhall was only 15 years old at the time. His appearance was among the oddities during the World War II years when rosters were depleted because of military service. Nuxhall returned to the majors in 1952 and had a 135-117 record over a 16-season career before becoming a fixture behind the microphone as a long-time broadcaster of Reds games.

The only other Yankees pitcher on the list was Karl Drews, who gave up six runs on two hits and four walks in the second game of a doubleheader Sept. 8, 1946 in a 9-8 loss to the Washington Senators. His contract was sold to the St. Louis Browns during the 1948 season. The righthander from Staten Island went on to pitch also for the Phillies and Reds and compiled a 44-53 record in eight seasons.

The best pitcher of the lot was Fred Hutchinson, who broke in with the Tigers May 2, 1939 and was clocked for eight runs, five hits and four walks in a 22-2 shelling by the Yankees. “Hutch” lost five seasons to military duty during WW II but returned to post a 95-71 record and 3.73 ERA in 10 big-league seasons, all with Detroit.

He later became a manager, notably with the Reds, and was their skipper when Cincinnati lost the 1961 World Series in five games to the Yankees. Hutchinson was diagnosed with cancer during the 1964 season but continued to manage the team. He died after that season at the age of 45.

The Hutch Award has been presented annually since 1965 to a player who has embodied the spirit and determination of Hutchinson as a fund raiser for cancer research. The first recipient was Mickey Mantle. Other former Yankees honored have been Tommy John, David Cone, Jim Abbott, Jason Giambi and manager Joe Torre. In addition to the Mick, other Hall of Famers who have been recipients were Sandy Koufax, Carl Yastrzemski, Al Kaline, Willie McCovey, Willie Stargell, George Brett, Johnny Bench, Paul Molitor and Andre Dawson.

Another holiday list

As each year comes to a close, baseball writers center on their annual responsibility of voting for the Hall of Fame. Ballots are mailed out to writers Dec. 1 and due back in the hands to the Baseball Writers’ Association of America by a Dec. 31 postmark.

So it is not just Santa Claus who makes a list and checks it twice come the Christmas season.

As secretary-treasurer of the BBWAA, I have conducted the election since 1995, the year Mike Schmidt was elected. I will be busy with Hall of Fame business the next few days but will find time to share some thoughts with Yankees fans about the election. Results will be announced at 2 p.m. Wednesday on bbwaa.com, baseballhall.org, MLB.com and the MLB Network.

The ballot contains 33 names this year, eight of whom spent a portion of their careers with the Yankees, including two of the most popular figures in the franchise’s history, first basemen Don Mattingly and Tino Martinez. Others on the ballot who spent time with the Yankees are pitchers Kevin Brown, Al Leiter and Lee Smith, outfielders Tim Raines and Raul Mondesi and first baseman John Olerud.

Mattingly has been on the ballot for 10 years and has never done better than 28 percent of the vote going back to his first year. To gain entry into Cooperstown, 75 percent is required. Mattingly was at 16.1 percent last year. Martinez, his successor at first base for the Yankees, is a first-time candidate this year. It is doubtful writers will find Tino’s candidacy all that compelling, any more than they did another Yankees fan favorite Paul O’Neill two years ago. Martinez’s goal should be to get five percent of the vote necessary to stay on the ballot, which players must do to stay in contention for the full 15 years of eligibility. O’Neill failed to do that and was dropped after one year.

Brown, whose time with the Yankees was filled with controversy, had a fine career, but New York fans rarely saw him at his best except when he pitched against the Yankees for the Rangers. Yankees fans know Brown for breaking his pitching hand in anger and his implosion on the mound in Game 7 of the 2004 American League Championship, the franchise’s worst moment.

Leiter started and ended his career with the Yankees but had his best seasons with the Blue Jays, Marlins and Mets. His 162-132 record and 3.80 ERA does not spell immortality.

Raines, on the other hand, is an interesting case. He came to the Yankees after years with the Expos and White Sox and was a key role player on the World Series title teams of 1996, ’98 and ’99. With 2,605 hits and 808 stolen bases, Raines has some Hall of Fame numbers, but after three years on the ballot he has done no better than 30 percent.

Smith, Olerud and Mondesi had limited time in pinstripes. Olerud and Mondesi are on the ballot for the first time and are not likely to get the five percent of the vote necessary to stay on the ballot. Smith, who pitched in only eight games for the Yankees in 1993, once held the major-record for saves with 478 but has yet to attract even half the vote in eight previous elections.

The favorites this time around are second baseman Roberto Alomar and pitcher Bert Blyleven, each of whom came close last year. Blyleven was on 74.2 percent of the ballots cast and missed by five votes. Alomar missed by eight votes at 397, or 73.7 percent.

The only player not to get elected when eligible the year after getting more than 70 percent in the vote was pitcher Jim Bunning. He was on 74 percent of the ballots in 1988 and missed by four votes. The next year, however, with a thicker ballot consisting of first-year inductees Johnny Bench and Carl Yastrzemski and fellow pitching greats Gaylord Perry and Fergie Jenkins, Bunning lost 34 votes and dropped 11 percent in his final year on the ballot. He was eventually elected by the Veterans Committee in 1996.
 
The most accomplished of the new names are first basemen Jeff Bagwell and Rafael Palmeiro and outfielders Juan Gonzalez and Larry Walker. Palmeiro and Gonzalez will have a rough time.

Despite being only the fourth player in history to get more than 3,000 hits and 500 home runs, Palmeiro is a long shot because of his positive test for anabolic steroids in 2005, the same year he testified before Congress that he had never taken them. Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray, the only other members of both the 3,000 Hit and 500 Home Run Clubs were elected in their first years of eligibility.

Gonzales, a two-time AL Most Valuable Player, showed up in the Mitchell Report as a steroids user, which could hurt his chances for a big vote. After all, Mark McGwire with his 587 home runs has been on the ballot for four years and is hovering at 23 percent.

Bagwell, who had an amazing career (.297, 449 home runs, 1,529 RBI, 1,517 runs, .408 on-base percentage, .540 slugging percentage), never failed a drug test but faced suspicions of possible performance-enhancing aid after he felt in love with the weight room in the mid-1990s. Walker, like Bagwell a National League MVP, had some very good years in Montreal and then some monster years in Colorado. Will the Coors Field effect hurt his chances?

See, this voting stuff isn’t easy. After thorough study, I finally filled out my ballot.

Checks went to Alomar, Bagwell, Blyleven, Walker, Mattingly, Raines, Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff and Jack Morris.

My take on Bagwell was that he is innocent until proved guilty. Larkin is following a path not dissimilar to another NL MVP middle infielder who took a few years to get to Cooperstown, Ryne Sandberg. Ask any Yankees fan who watched the 1995 Division Series about Edgar Martinez, who was simply one of the greatest right-handed hitters I ever saw. McGriff, who came through the Yankees system but was traded away, slugged 493 homers the clean way and made a major difference on the only Atlanta Braves team to win a World Series. Morris was the ace of every staff for which he pitched, including three teams that won the World Series – the 1984 Tigers, ’91 Twins and ’92 Blue Jays.

Let the arguments begin. I’ll be back after the election.

Former Yanks farmhand 2nd in Rookie voting

It turned out that the Yankees did not trade a future American League Rookie of the Year Award winner to get Curtis Granderson from the Tigers 11 months ago.

Austin Jackson, a highly-touted prospect in the Yankees’ system, went to Detroit along with relief pitcher Phil Coke in the three-team trade also involving the Diamondbacks Dec. 8, 2009 that brought Granderson to the Bronx and included sending pitcher Ian Kennedy to Arizona.

When Jackson got off to a smoking start for the Tigers as their center fielder and leadoff hitter, Rookie of the Year talk surrounded him for much of the first half. Jackson tailed off somewhat in the second half, although he still had a fine year. It just was not as good as that of Rangers closer Neftali Feliz, who set a rookie record with 40 saves and was the choice of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America for the Jackie Robinson Award that was announced Monday.

Felix, 22, was listed first on 20 of the 28 ballots submitted by two writers in each league city, second on seven and third on one to amass 122 points, based on the 5-3-1 tabulation system. Feliz’s saves total broke the previous rookie mark of 37 by 2000 winner Kazuhiro Sasaki of the Mariners.

Feliz, who had a 4-3 record with a 2.73 ERA in 70 relief appearances, is the first Dominican pitcher to win the award and the third winner from the Dominican Republic overall, joining Alfredo Griffin and Angel Berroa. Dominican-born winners in the National League were Raul Mondesi, Rafael Furcal, Albert Pujols and Hanley Ramirez.

A closer has won the AL award three times in the past six years. Oakland’s Andrew Bailey won in 2009 and Huston Street in 2005. Feliz is the fifth closer honored. The first was the Orioles’ Gregg Olson in 1989. Yankees pitcher Dave Righetti, now the Giants’ pitching coach, was a starter when he won the award in 1981. Feliz is the second Rangers player to win the award. The other was first baseman Mike Hargrove in 1974.

Jackson, who received the other eight first-place votes and was the runner-up in the balloting with 98 points, led all AL rookies in runs (103), hits (151), doubles (34), triples (10), extra-base hits (48), stolen bases (27) and total bases (247). Jackson batted .293, stole 27 bases and scored 103 runs, but he struck out 170 times, a very high total for a player who hit only four home runs.

In the National League, Giants catcher Buster Posey beat out Braves right fielder Jason Heyward for the award. Posey, 23, was named first on 20 of the 32 ballots cast by two writers in each league city, second on nine and third on two to finish with 129 points. Posey hit .305 with 18 home runs and 67 RBI and handled a pitching staff that helped the Giants win the NL West title. His 21-game hitting streak from July 4-28 was the longest of the season by a rookie in either league.

Heyward (.273, 18 HR, 72 RBI) received nine first-place votes and was the runner-up with 107 points. Cardinals pitcher Jaime Garcia (13-8, 2.70 ERA) got one first-place vote and placed third with 24 points. The other two first-place votes went to Marlins first baseman Gaby Sanchez (.273, 19 HR, 85 RBI), who finished fourth with 18 points.

Posey was the sixth NL catcher honored, joining Johnny Bench, Earl Williams, Benito Santiago, Mike Piazza and Geovanny Soto. Catchers who won the award in the AL were Thurman Munson, Carlton Fisk and Sandy Alomar Jr. Other former Giants winners were Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey, Gary Matthews and John Montefusco.

The victories by Feliz and Posey marked the third time since the award’s inception in 1947 that the winners were opponents in the World Series. The other years were 1981 when Righetti and the Dodgers’ Fernando Valenzuela started Game 3 at Dodger Stadium and 1951 when Mays and Yankees infielder Gil McDougald played in all six games of the Series.

It should have happened in 2003 with the Yankees’ Hideki Matsui and the Marlins’ Dontrelle Willis, but Matsui lost out to Berroa in a disputed election.

Swish takes early lead

With 1,218,121 followers on his Twitter account, Yankees right fielder Nick Swisher may have a huge step up on the other contenders for the Final Vote spot on the American League All-Star team. And it has showed so far with 10 million votes in over the past 24 hours, and Swisher taking the lead over the White Sox’ Paul Konerko, the Red Sox’ Kevin Youkilis, the Twins’ Delmon Young and the Rangers’ Kevin Young.

The “SendSwish” logo that was featured on the Mitsubishi video screen at Yankee Stadium Sunday was also the desktop background for the Yankees.com website Monday. Yankees fans are getting into it, trying to get Swisher to Anaheim, Calif., next week for the July 13 All-Star Game with teammates Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, Phil Hughes, CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte.

Pettitte was named to the team Monday to replace Red Sox pitcher Clay Bucholz, who is on the disabled list. Andy was expected to be named to the team next Sunday once Sabathia took the mound in Seattle. A loophole in the process allows Sunday game starters to be excused from playing in the game but still designated as an All-Star. That would permit AL manager Joe Girardi of the Yankees to replace Sabathia with another pitcher now that Pettitte, who might even start the Midsummer Classic, has already been added.

As for Swisher, he is a good example of a hard-working, journeyman having a strong season and deserving of some recognition. It might be his only chance to make an All-Star team, as was the case of his father, former catcher Steve Swisher, who was a reserve on the National League squad for the 1976 game at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, Steve, then with the Cubs, did not get into the game. Johnny Bench started and played the first four innings, and Bob Boone caught the last five.

But like pop, Nick just wants to make the roster. Yankees fans can help. Mobile voting in the U.S. is exclusive to Sprint, Nextel and Boost subscribers. To receive the 2010 All-Star Game Final Vote Sponsored by Sprint mobile ballot, text the word “VOTE” to 1122. To vote for a specific player, simply text message your choice to 1122. EXAMPLE: Text “A2″ to vote for AL Player 2, which is Nick Swisher. Message and data rates may apply.

“It would mean so much extra now because it’s up to the fans,” Nick said. “I think I’ve generated a pretty good rapport here with the fans of New York. There’d be nothing more that I’d want to do than represent them in the All-Star Game. It would mean the world to me and my family, and not only that, but to be able to represent your team and your city. This city has been nothing but great to me. I have an opportunity, and hopefully my Creatures get everybody to vote on that last spot. It’s something I’d be really excited for.”

Voting continues through 4 p.m., EDT, Thursday. So do you part to “Send Swish.”

Jorge back to squat

Barring any kind of setback from running around the bases Saturday, Jorge Posada will be behind the plate Sunday in the finale of the Yankees’ three-game series against the Astros. It has been a long time coming for Posada, who has labored as a designated hitter in 10 games since he was activated off the disabled list June 2.

It may seem odd that a player would rather strap on the infamous “tools of ignorance” and toil through the demands of  the game’s most arduous position than to simply take three, four or five swings a game and return to the dugout, but Jorge Posada like many catchers takes a great deal of pride in doing that job. For him, the DH role is half a job and one that has mental torments that outweigh the physical rigors of squatting behind the plate.

There was pride in Posada’s voice talking about reaching 250 career home runs, a plateau of true significance for a catcher. “I’m told not a lot of catchers have hit that many,” he said.

In truth, Posada has 237 home runs as a catcher. The grand slam he hit to right field batting right-handed against Houston lefthander Wandy Rodriguez off a hanging curve was Posada’s eighth career homer as a DH. He has also hit four as a pinch hitter and one as a first baseman. Altogether, though, 250 is a nice round number for a player whose primary role is catching.

Here is the company Jorge is in. He is only one of five catchers with career totals at or above 250 homers, 350 doubles and 1,500 hits. The others are Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, Gary Carter and Ivan Rodriguez. The first three are in the Hall of Fame, which could be the fourth’s destiny as well.

There has been speculation that due to Alex Rodriguez’s testy hip flexor that it might be prudent for the Yankees to utilize Posada more as a DH so as not to risk losing him for an extended period perhaps with another injury incurred while catching. Posada doesn’t want to hear it.

“I enjoy it,” he said of catching. “I’m happy to get a chance to get back in there.”

Yankees manager Joe Girardi, a former catcher, knows that Posada is going through, but he is also cautious. Sunday seemed to make a sense for a starter because the Yankees have an open date Monday.

“It’s tough for me,” Posada said of being a DH. “I try to find things to do between at-bats, do some exercises, work out, anything to stay loose.”

These are not problems in the job he loves the most

Robin Roberts: A complete pitcher

Two days after the passing of broadcasting legend Ernie Harwell, baseball lost another of its greatest ambassadors with the death of Hall of Fame pitcher Robin Roberts of natural causes at the age of 83. Roberts won 286 games pitching mostly with Phillies teams that except for the “Whiz Kids” year of 1950 when he pitched against the Yankees in the World Series were usually middle of the pack at best.

Roberts was also a member of the Hall’s board of directors and served last year on two Veterans Committees, the one for executives and the one for managers and umpires. I served with Robin on the latter committee and can attest that his views were thoughtful and direct. And there was never a finer dinner companion. Roberts lived in the Tampa area and occasionally accompanied Hall president Jeff Idelson and me to dinner while we were there with the Yankees during spring training.

“His legacy will be his Hall of Fame career and his important role in establishing the Players Association, but his hallmark was the class and dignity with which he led his life,” Idelson said Thursday.

Roberts, who was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America in 1976 along with former Indians pitcher and Yankees manager Bob Lemon, was actually with the Yankees in spring training in 1962 when his old uniform No. 36 was retired by the Phillies, the first player for that franchise so honored. The ceremony took place at the Phillies’ facility in Clearwater, Fla., on a day in March when the Yankees were in town and Robin was the starting, and eventual winning, pitcher.

The Phillies had sold Roberts’ contract to the Yankees after his abysmal 1-10 season for last-place Philadelphia in 1961, but he never got to pitch for the Bombers. They released him in May. Roberts signed on with the Orioles and was 42-36 in 3 seasons in Baltimore.

Roberts was a dominant pitcher in the National League in the 1950s. The hard-throwing righthander was a 20-game winner six times and led the league in innings pitched and complete games five times each. He once pitched 28 consecutive complete games, a feat that will never be duplicated in this era of pitch counts, and ended his career with 305 complete games in 609 starts. That’s 50.1 percent!

Roberts’ 1952 season (28-7, 2.59 ERA, 30 complete games in 37 starts, 330 innings) earned him the runner-up finish to Cubs outfielder Hank Sauer for the NL Most Valuable Player Award. Roberts’ failure to win the MVP Award that year was among the reasons commissioner Ford C. Frick pushed for the BBWAA to establish an award for pitchers, which was adopted in 1956 and called the Cy Young Award.

Robin’s most notable achievement away from the field was his part in hiring Marvin Miller as executive director of the Major League Players Association in 1966. Roberts was the chairman of the committee that also included Jim Bunning, Harvey Kuenn, Brooks Robinson and Joe Torre, and had been led to Miller through contacts he had at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business.

When Robin was honored with the Casey Stengel “You Can Look It Up” Award at the New York Baseball Writers’ Dinner in 2003, Miller attended the affair out of respect for Roberts.

“Robin was so proud to be a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, and he served as a Hall of Fame Board member with great distinction, thoughtfulness and a fondness for the Museum’s role in preserving the game and its history,” Hall of Fame board chairman Jane Forbes Clark said.

Here are some thoughts about Robin from other Hall of Famers:

Dennis Eckersley – “Robin was my favorite Hall of Famer. I felt a genuine connection with Robin. He had an ease about him and he transcended generations. He touched many lives, mine being one. I feel blessed to know him, and I will miss him deeply.”

Ryne Sandberg – “He was very supportive of my managing at the minor league level. He often told me to get your pitchers to throw as often as they can, all year around. He also said the best pitch in baseball was a fastball at the knees. He told me he became a Hall of Fame pitcher when he started pitching to contact, allowing his teammates to make the plays. I will miss him.”

Jim Bunning – “A truly great all-time pitcher and hall of famer in baseball, but even more, truly a great human being who I will miss dearly, as will all Phillies and baseball fans across America.”
 
George Brett – “I first met Robin in 1999 when I was inducted.  He welcomed me with open arms and I had the chance to get to know him over the years and even manage against him in Hall of Fame Fantasy Camps. I have never met a kinder, nicer, more genuine person in my life. He had that knack of being able to embrace you and become your friend, regardless of age.”

Johnny Bench – “Robin was a Hall of Fame person. He gave so much of his time and intellect to the game and the players. He will be missed for his smile and wit. His passing hurts so much.”

Ralph Kiner – “Probably the best fastball I ever saw was Robin Roberts’. His ball would rise around six or eight inches, and with plenty on it. And he had great control, which made him very difficult to hit.”

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