Category Archives: History of the Game

Ken Burns’ Baseball, Inning 1


Netflix was finally able to get the original 9-part documentary by Ken Burns about the great game, and despite being a huge fan I have never actually seen it. There are so many little factoids that are brought up as a part of it that despite my high level of knowledge regarding the history of the game, still surprised me to find out.

  • The Dodgers were originally known as the “Trolley Dodgers”, hence where the Dodgers moniker came from.
  • “It is a haunted game in which all players are measured against the ghosts of all who have gone before.”
  • The game of baseball was believed “too violent” for women to play.
  • The first conspiracy to throw games was in only the 2nd season of the National League with Jim Devlin and 3 others being paid to throw games in the 1877 pennant race. Devlin and the others were banned from baseball permanently.
  • Louisville Slugger was formed essentially out of luck – Pete Browning asked Hillerich to make a new bat for him after his previous bat broke. Browning then went 3 for 3 that day.
  • It’s amazing how many of the players in the early years of the league would find any way that they could to get little advantages via loopholes in the rules.
  • Players attempted to fight the reserve clause as far back as the late 1890s, with little or no success at all.
  • Daniel Okrent made a pair of appearances in the episode as well, discussing some of the historical anecdotes. Besides being an editor and also a historian, Okrent is known for helping to invent rotisserie baseball.

I’m really looking forward to watching the rest of the documentary, as Inning 1 only got us to the turn of the century.

Fun with Old Copies of BA’s Almanac (2003 edition) – Part 4


Part 4 of the 2003 BA Almanac Series takes a look at their 2002 Top 100 Prospects list. The list in the book is just that: A list, with each player listed, and the highest level that they reached in the 2002 season. It’s actually really interesting to me to look at it, as it can give further perspective on the level of risk involved with any prospect.

My Thoughts on the List

Out of the top 100, 32 were what I would consider to be solid Major Leaguers. These are, in my mind’s eye, players who started in the Major Leagues, and would have for a lot of teams had they been with them instead. The interesting thing to note is how many of them did this with teams they were not listed with. These include:

Looking at the top 5, all 5 of them had at least some large amount of playing time in the Majors, but they’ve all had some interesting paths in their careers:

1. Josh Beckett (FLA) – Beckett helped pitch the Marlins to a World Series victory in 2003, and provided solid seasons for the team through 2005 before being traded to the Red Sox in part to acquire future face-of-the-franchise Hanley Ramirez.

2. Mark Prior (CHC) – Prior burst onto the scene in 2002 with 147 strikeouts in only 116 innings pitched, and went even further in 2003 with an 18-6 record and 243 strikeouts in 211 innings pitched to help lead the Cubs to the NLCS. Sadly, the pitcher who supposedly had “the perfect mechanics” apparently still could get injured. Baseball Reference kind of puts the perfect line to it unfortunately, as it says that his last game was on August 10, 2006. He is still trying to comeback, but at this point it remains to be seen if he will ever be able to get on a team again.

3. Hank Blalock (TEX) – Blalock was an All-Star in his second and third seasons with the Rangers, and hit 25 or more homeruns in 3 straight seasons during that time. Unfortunately for him, injuries also derailed his career to some extent, as he has missed time in each of the last 4 seasons. He did rebound nicely in 2009 with 25 homeruns in only 123 games, but hit just .234 in that time. He was recently released by the Rays, and is still looking for a job.

4. Sean Burroughs (SD) – Burroughs was best known for playing in the Little League World Series coming into his Major League career, and unfortunately that accomplishment could still be his crowning baseball achievement. He did hit for a nice average a couple of times, but never really developed the power that it was thought he would. He was out of baseball by 2007.

5. Carlos Pena (OAK) – Pena was traded during the 2002 season by the Athletics after getting off to a slow start. He was with Detroit for a couple of seasons, who (along with the Boston Red Sox) both chose to release Pena at one point or another. These moves have been Tampa’s gain, as he went to Tampa and immediately became an MVP candidate (2 top 10 finishes in a row), and has hit 30 homeruns or more in each of the 3 full seasons there.

It is interesting to me to see how some of them were such colossal misses. With prospects, it’s bound to happen, and there are some pretty stunning examples of players who just never lived up to the hype:

  • 9 – Drew Henson (NYY)
  • 14 – Ryan Anderson (SEA)
  • 16 – Nick Neugebauer (MIL)
  • 25 – Ty Howington (CIN)
  • 32 – Corwin Malone (CHW)

I have to be honest with you, I’ve never heard of either Howington or Malone. Looking at their profiles on Baseball Reference can help to explain that a bit – they never played a day in the Major Leagues.

Fun with Old Copies of BA’s Almanac (2003 edition) – Part 3


Part 3 of the 2003 BA Almanac Series takes a look at the Top 20 Prospect Lists created by BA for each of the minor leagues.

Players on More than One List

Brandon Phillips – Eastern League (AA) and International League (AAA)
Aaron Heilman – Eastern League (AA) and International League (AAA)
Mark Teixeira – Texas League (AA) and Florida State League (High-A)
Jose Reyes – Eastern League (AA) and Florida State League (High-A)
Hanley Ramirez – NY Penn League (SS-A) and Gulf Coast League (Rookie)

#1 Overall in Each League

International League – Carl Crawford (TAM)
Pacific Coast League – Jesse Foppert (SF)
Eastern League – Jose Reyes (NYM)
Southern League – Jake Peavy (SD)
Texas League – Mark Teixeira (TEX)
California League – Rocco Baldelli (TAM)
Carolina League – Sean Burnett (PIT)
Florida State League – Mark Teixeira (TEX)
Midwest League – Joe Mauer (MIN)
Sally League – Gavin Floyd (CHW)
NY-Penn League – Hanley Ramirez (BOS)
Northwest League – Andy Sisco (CHC)
Appalachian League – Jeff Francoeur (ATL)
Pioneer League – James Loney (LAD)
Arizona Rookie League – Felix Pie (CHC)
Gulf Coast Rookie League – Hanley Ramirez (BOS)

My Thoughts from the Lists

When you look at the two AAA lists, I find it interesting to see how their careers have gone:

  • All-Stars: 12 out of 40
  • Solid Major League Regulars: 14 out of 40
  • Cup of Coffees: 14 out of 40
  • Never Made It: 0 out of 40

I believe that Major League teams view players who make it to AAA as at least a reasonable chance to play in the Majors, so this doesn’t really surprise me that none of BA’s top 40 failed to play in the Majors for at least 1 game.

Of course, there are definitely some players who had less than stellar careers that come from this list, including:

Overall though, this class of 40 prospects is pretty solid, with perennial All Stars Carl Crawford and Chase Utley probably considered to be the best of the group.

Some other notes:

  • The Eastern League had 9 future MLB All-Stars out of their top 10 in 2002. The lone player who has not made an All-Star team: Aaron Heilman
  • The Pioneer League (Adv. Rookie) had a surprising amount of MLB regulars with 11 of their 20 listed playing big roles with teams now, including Prince Fielder, James Loney, and Ubaldo Jimenez.
  • The Northwest League (Short-Season A) only had 2 players with a measurable impact this season: Ricky Nolasco and Fred Lewis.
  • The California League had 13 players who have had a solid impact in the Majors, including Josh Hamilton, J.J. Hardy, Corey Hart, and Bobby Jenks.

Overall, it’s really interesting to me to see what hindsight can tell us now that it has been nearly 8 years since this was published. Looking at the performance that the players on the list provided, it is pretty clear to me that the prospect lists were very accurate at the time, and clearly reflected a lot of research on the whole by the staff over at BA. But them, just like the rest of us, are pretty much guessing sometimes when it comes to prospects and how they will turn out once they get to the Majors, if they get there at all.

Fun with Old Copies of BA’s Almanac (2003 edition) – Part 2


One of the things that Baseball America does every year as a part of their Almanac is release a pair of minor league All-Stars, regardless of level. I thought it was interesting to see who some of the top players from the 2002 minor league season were, and which ones have established themselves as regulars in the Major leagues. I am only looking at the 1st Team members from 2002.

Major League All-Stars

C Victor Martinez – Martinez has clearly become one of the top hitting catchers in the Major Leagues, with his most recent All-Star appearance this season. In 2002, he hit .336 with 22 homeruns and 85 runs batted in for the Indians’ AA team in the Eastern League.

3B Mark Teixeira – It’s hard to remember sometimes that Teixeira was actually a 3B while in college and in the minors. Teixeira split the 2002 season between the Florida State League and the Texas League, but hit .318 with 19 HR in only 321 plate appearances between the two levels.

SS Jose Reyes – Reyes was only 19 years old in 2002, but still stole 58 bases and scored 104 runs in his time between the Florida State League and the Eastern League. He would be in the Majors the following season, and has been the catalyst in the Mets’ lineup ever since.

Major League Regulars

1B Lyle Overbay – While Overbay has not necessarily had an amazing career, he has remained a solid first baseman wherever he has played. In 2002, he drove in 109 runs and hit .343 for Tucson in the PCL. He is currently with the Blue Jays, although it remains to be seen if he will be traded before the July 31st deadline.

2B Scott Hairston – Hairston has only just recently started receiving regular playing time, as a member of the Padres. In 2002, he hit .345 with 22 HR, 98 RBI, and 10 SB.

OF Rocco Baldelli – Baldelli was BA’s minor league player of the year for 2002, as he vaulted through 3 levels of the minors from High-A all the way to the International League in AAA. Sadly, his career has been derailed by mitochondrial myopathy, a rare disease which there is no cure for. From Baldelli himself:

“Literally my muscles fatigue to the point where they’re burning, then severe burning, then they cramp up. They can seize up just after what I would call minimal exercise.

He currently works in the Rays’ front office, and it sounds like he hopes one day to play again.

DH Brad Hawpe – Hawpe has been out in the Rockies’ outfield for the majority of the last 7 seasons, hitting 22 or more homers in each of his last 4 seasons. He has made 1 All-Star Appearance as well, but is currently in a bit of a platoon for the Rockies. In 2002 he hit 22 HR and 97 RBI to go with his .347 batting average in the Carolina League.

Cups of Coffee

OF Robb Quinlan – Quinlan has been up and down between the Angels and AAA Salt Lake City every year since 2003, but has never been able to establish himself as an everyday player for the team. The most games he has appeared in with the team is 86, which he did in 2006.

OF Michael Restovich – Restovich never really caught on with any of the 4 teams he played for in his 6 year Major League career, never playing in more than 66 games in any one season. I think he was probably a bit of a casualty of not getting a chance, as he had Torii Hunter, Jacque Jones, and Shannon Stewart all playing in the OF for the Twins in that 2003 season.

SP Sean Burnett – Burnett did not make his debut with the Pirates until the 2004 season, and then proceeded to run into all sorts of arm problems. He missed all of the 2005 season, and parts of the 2006 through 2008 seasons as well. He is now with the Nationals working out of their bullpen. It is interesting to note that Burnett is only 27 years old in 2010, and went 13-4 with a 1.80 ERA in the Carolina League in 2002 as a 19 year old.

SP Joe Roa – Roa is a bit of an unusual case, as he had been in the majors for parts of 3 different seasons when he went 14-0 for the Phillies’ AAA affiliate. He did end up being called up during the 2002 season, making 11 starts and having reasonable success. 2002 unfortunately was pretty easily his best season in his career, and was out of baseball after the 2005 season.

SP Kirk Saarloos – Saarloos went 12-1 with a 1.54 ERA between the Astros’ AA and AAA affiliates in 2002, and even made 17 starts for the Astros in 2002. His best season in his career probably came in 2005 when he went 10-9 with a 4.17 ERA for the Athletics. He last appeared in the Majors in 2008, and spent the 2009 season with the Indians’ AAA team.

SP Billy Traber – Traber went 17-5 with a 2.94 ERA between AA and AAA for the Indians in 2002, and made his major league debut with the club in 2003. He missed all of the 2004 season due to injuries, and pitched parts of the 2006-2009 seasons in the Majors with 3 clubs. He is currently pitching for the AAA affiliate of the Seattle Mariners.

RP Joe Valentine – I remember Valentine being included in the trade that acquired Jose Guillen for the Athletics in 2003. The Athletics had acquired him as a part of the Keith Foulke trade after the 2002 season where Valentine had saved 36 games for the White Sox AA affiliate. Valentine appeared in games in 2003, 2004 and 2005 for the Reds, and has been pitching in either independent ball or the Mexican League since 2007.

Overall, this group of prospects is kind of what you would expect: a mixed bag. You have some clearly top tier players in Martinez, Teixeira and Reyes. But you also have quite a few players who had a very minimal impact in their time at the Majors.

Fun with Old Copies of BA’s Almanac (2003 edition) – Part 1


A couple of weeks ago, I was at a used book sale, and there were a couple of copies of old Baseball America Almanacs available. I picked them up, as I thought it would bring some interesting insights now that it’s been a few years since they were published. I’ll be writing a few posts on and off during the remainder of the season, with plans to cover both this (2003) edition as well as the 2008 edition as well.

The 2003 edition follows after the end of the 2002 season. The Almanac starts out with a recap of the top stories of the 2002 season:

Contraction

After the 2001 season, Commissioner Bud Selig mentioned that he was a proponent of the idea of contracting two of the organizations, as neither team appeared to be economically viable based on their current market conditions. The two teams: The Montreal Expos and the Minnesota Twins. I can distinctly remember at the time being extremely interested in how they would go about doing this: How would they distribute the players currently under contract with these teams, would they become free agents as well or would there be some version of a contraction draft, similar in nature to an expansion draft. Some of the players who were under team control who could very well have been available in such a contraction draft:

  • Torii Hunter, Joe Mauer, A.J. Pierzynski, Brad Radke and Johan Santana from the Twins
  • Vladimir Guerrero, Orlando Cabrera, Javier Vazquez, Grady Sizemore, Milton Bradley, and Cliff Lee from the Expos

This clearly would have also modified the formatting of the leagues themselves as well, as someone would have had to go to one of the leagues to make both of them have even numbers of teams. I think it is interesting to look at, much in the same manner that it would be interesting to see what happened if MLB were to expand to 32 or more teams as well.

The players’ union was clearly not for this idea, as it essentially amounted to losing at minimum 50 jobs for union members. Thankfully for all parties involved, this idea was shelved with the completion of the next item.

If you look at the baseball landscape now, it clearly would have been a lot different had the Twins and Expos been eliminated. The first thing that pops into my mind is just how much of a viable entity the Twins have become in the Twin Cities. Part of this has also been helped by the fact that ownership changed from Carl Pohlad to his son Jim. The newly opened Target Field appears to be another stunning example of a great ballpark in a downtown area.

Labor Strife and Something Different

The biggest story surrounding the 2002 season, which to be honest with you, I had forgotten had even happened, was the expiration of the previous labor agreement on November 7, 2001, and the potential for a lockout or a strike that could result from this. It clearly did not bode well for the parties involved, as they had not been able to come to an agreement for a labor contract without some version of a work stoppage in the past.

Clearly, this much remains true: The fact that they had set a lockout date (August 30th, before the Cubs-Cardinals day game) shows us just how close it really came to being another work stoppage, and potentially more irreparable harm done to the game. The sides were able to come to an agreement 3 hours before the deadline set by the players.

The impact to me, is that it proved to both the owners and the players that their differences were not such that they could not be met together and solved together. So much so that the 2006 labor negotiations came off without any particularly concrete mentions of work stoppages. Long term, this particular contract really has helped to solidify the labor peace for years to come.

Baseball Games Can End in Ties Apparently

Talk about a disappointing finish. No one ever really thought that the All-Star game was particularly important, and knew that nearly everyone was just showing up for a fun three days, see their favorite players, and go back to the business of winning games. But they clearly ran into a bit of a problem in 2002, when both teams ran out of pitchers after going 11 innings in the All Star Game and commissioner Bud Selig declaring the game a tie and ending it there.

Ugh. What a mess this one created. We have the “Now it counts” campaign, which to me has done very little for the All-Star game’s popularity. The point of the game originally was to showcase the stars of the season, but now it gives the winning league the home field advantage in the World Series. I think it honestly should have stayed as an exhibition, allowing it to be a nice break in the season for all the parties involved. Instead, it’s now become extremely important to win this game. However, watching Tuesday’s All Star game it still seems like the managers are less concerned about winning than MLB would hope. To me, if I am trying to win that game no matter what, I don’t let David Ortiz run the bases after getting on in the bottom of the 9th. There’s no guarantee that Alex Rodriguez would have made it in time to second base, but clearly he’s a better baserunner at this point than David Ortiz.

The Passing of Legends of the Game, and One Gone Too Soon

2002 saw two titans of the game pass on unfortunately. For St. Louis fans, it was almost too much to bear when iconic broadcaster Jack Buck passed away on June 18th. You can see what, to me, was one of his greatest moments ever, when he spoke to Cardinals fans when games resumed after September 11th. Sadly for the Cardinals, the week just continued to get worse, as hours before their game against the Cubs 4 days later, it was discovered that 33 year old starting pitcher Darryl Kile had passed away in his sleep from a blocked coronary artery. The Cardinals were still able to win the NL Central division with a 97-65 record, and lost to the Giants in the NLCS.

The other major passing in 2002 was of the Splendid Splinter, Ted Williams. The story that ensued afterward became an embarrassment to everyone involved, as the members of the Williams family disputed Ted’s final wishes. The argument stemmed around whether or not he had made a viable determination that he wanted to be cryogenically frozen or whether he was to be cremated and scatter his ashes. Thankfully, the story sort of went away by the end of the year.

MLB, Owner of the Montreal Expos

In an extremely unusual twist of fate, MLB stepped in in early February to purchase the Montreal Expos from their previous owner, Jeffrey Loria, so that he could purchase the Florida Marlins from their current owner, John Henry, so that Henry could purchase the Boston Red Sox. It became a bit of a contentious point as the other 29 teams essentially became the part owners of the Expos, and it was widely wondered exactly how the team would be allowed to operate, including signing free agents, trading players, and managed. MLB placed Omar Minaya in the GM’s office, and Frank Robinson as the field manager. Surprisingly, the team actually performed very well in 2002, to the point where they actually acquired ace starting pitcher Bartolo Colon from the Indians at the trade deadline. However, the team fell out of contention, finishing with a bery respectable 83-79 record but stunting the growth of the franchise by moving future franchise players Brandon Phillips, Cliff Lee, and Grady Sizemore to the Indians to acquire Colon.

As I am sure it is with any season, the 2002 season had its own share of major stories. Anyone remember any other specific stories from the 2002 season? Post them in the comments below.

The next post from this series will be early next week, and will look at BA’s 2002 Minor League All-Star Teams.