Retirement is a time for introspection, as Sutton learned from Randy Johnson six years ago.
Timing is everything, isn’t it? In life. In love. In baseball. I had the opportunity to be in the ballpark and sit in the ‘local’ loge level for both Derek Jeter Day on September 7th and Paul Konerko Day 20 days later. It was amazing timing to be in attendance on days that devoted fans got to say thank you to the faces of their franchise. These ‘goodbye days’ took me back to a conversation with Randy Johnson on September 27, 2008. It was on the eve of the final start of the season for Johnson; he wasn’t yet sure whether it would be the last of his career. On the day of our conversation, the left-hander already had a resume listing 585 starts, 294 wins, 4,780 strikeouts and five Cy Young Awards, but he drifted back and forth as to whether those numbers plus one more outing might be enough to call an end to the journey. It is safe to assume that the following day locked his decision to return. At 45, Johnson threw what turned out to be the final complete game of his career and beat Colorado and 24-year-old Ubaldo Jimenez.
Many documented the fact that Jeter and Konerko were more reflective than ever on, and in the days just before and after, their Days. The same can be same for Johnson on this day six years ago.
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The pitcher shares his scouting report on himself.
Over the last few days up here in the loge level, we could hear the unsettling clamor surrounding the Royals’ starting pitching assignment for Game One of the ALDS. Many seated behind me would not let go of the thought that it should have been left-hander Danny Duffy. So it turns out those curmudgeons are all smiles now. Duffy didn’t get the start; instead he landed a lead role in one of the final scenes of the opening win.
The Mariners' top pick talks about transitioning from catcher to outfield--and from prep baseball to the pros.
Those who sit in this Loge Level openly admit to having an unprofessional bias favoring pitchers and catchers. That mindset really finds itself challenged when the realization hits that a talented prospect can work on either end of the battery but instead heads in a different direction. Twins no. 1 pick Nick Gordon was the top high school bat grabbed in the 2014 draft, but don’t overlook that he once touched 94 on the mound. Then there’s Alex Jackson, who was up next at sixth overall to the Mariners, and left the prep ranks as the nation's top catcher. A pitcher and a catcher are now a shortstop and an outfielder? How can this be? I guess we’ll get over it—after all, the brats and dogs are really unforgettable at the stand at the top of aisle 105, and this always seems to distract us.
Having a chance to speak with Jackson in June 2013 at the Perfect Game National Showcase, and then again this past Sunday night as part of the SiriusXM show MLB Roundtrip with Baseball Prospectus presented by Perfect Game, provided a unique perspective into this prospect’s development. First of all, the move that I sarcastically scolded above was a move that did not come as a huge surprise. He ran a 6.83 60 at the showcase and threw 98 mph from the outfield as well, proving as a catcher that he was truly athletic enough to move. But heading into his senior year at San Diego’s Rancho Bernardo HS, he was all in on wearing the gear.
What it's like for the players who haven't been in October--and what it's like when that changes.
Though the day was certainly scripted and carried out to honor a Yankee (and sports) icon, Derek Jeter Day also doubled as an October baseball reunion. As the Wild Card era has expanded postseason opportunities for franchises, players, and fans, a select group of major leaguers have seen their dreams of competing in the postseason come true over and over and over again. Jeter has appeared in 158 playoff games, tops in MLB history. Also on the charts and in attendance at Yankee Stadium were no. 2, 3, 6, 7, and 10 on the postseason games played list: Jorge Posada (125), Bernie Williams (121), Tino Martinez (99), Mariano Rivera (96) and Paul O’Neill (85). Reggie Jackson had played in the most postseason games (77) before the addition of the wild card; he was there. Add Michael Jordan to the invite list and you’ve tallied another 179 playoff games of experience to the group, though he would carry the nickname “Mr. June” more fittingly. As a matter of math, the 14 athletes gathered at this on-field mixer share 1,252 games of postseason experience among them, which takes into account Joe Torre’s 142 games of managerial duty.
As we all looked on, a quick glance to the Royals dugout showed that day’s opposing team taking in the festivities from the top step. This gathering of onlookers were composed almost entirely of players who know what the playoffs look and feel like based only on stories they’ve been told and televisions they have watched. Sure, James Shields has battled six games, Omar Infante 30 and Raul Ibanez 44, but nearly every starter on that squad has had nary a sniff of October’s magical scent.
For a nine-year span, from 1994-2004, Troy Percival and Darin Erstad were teammates and eventual champions as Angels. But this duo formed a bond well beyond that of cohabiting a roster. The former college catcher Percival and Erstad understood each other’s intensity, drive and discipline, which carried them to very memorable careers. They would share a daily ride to the ballpark on the road, a carpool that on most days would have them arriving long before their teammates. Percival will kiddingly tell you that he and Erstad were close because no one else had the courage to attempt to do so based on Darin’s dogged approach to the game and gruff personality. Then in the next breath Troy would say something like he said to me back in 2007 when both had moved on to other organizations:
“I can’t say enough. He’s given his body to the game. The guys could’ve probably played 15-20 years, but the way he played the game you have to respect it,” Percival said, while a member of the Cardinals. “I’ve told this to people a lot: I’d come in to get a courtesy inning the last inning with a six-run deficit or lead and he’s still diving in the gap trying to make a play to save his teammates, save me pitches and runs crossing the plate. That’s the type of guy you want out there behind you.”
Preston Wilson recounts his development as a raw prospect with a lot of power.
As of August 21st, MLB’s leaguewide slugging percentage in 2014 sits at .385. The last time the league slugged at that level was in 1992, when .377 was the number. Just for perspective, the peak came in 2000 at .437 and the valley occurred in 1968 at .340. Quick math shows where on the continuum we reside today; therefore, amateur power is at a premium. Whether it’s a polished, explosive bat like that of Florida prep shortstop Brendan Rodgers—ranked the no. 2 overall player in the United States by Perfect Game—or the raw slug ability of Luken Baker—who, despite being the no. 3 right-handed pitcher in Texas according to PG, has gained arguably more attention by winning several home run derbies on a large stages this summer—power gets noticed.
So it seems likely that more truly unpolished big bats could soon enter the pro ranks, simply based on their rare and coveted skill. So I thought I’d connect with a former player who fit the mold of “raw” early in his career, and get inside his head about the growth he experienced and the pitfalls he encountered.
Seeing the best amateurs in the nation play in the Perfect Game All American Classic last weekend in San Diego proved to be quite the preview for the 2015 MLB Amateur Draft. Nine prep pitchers touched 95 mph or higher, including San Clemente (CA) senior Kolby Allard, who put his name in neon lights high above the amateur landscape, partly because of a velocity bump to the mid-90s. That’s just one example of what occurred while the players were centered up in the MLB Network lenses. But in spending time up close with the prospects at the workouts, the meals, the awards banquet and the Rady Children’s Hospital visit, it was easy to see there were many who had solid and diverse foundations provided by families and coaches at home.
And if you coaches wonder how quickly the seeds you have planted, nurtured with baseball wisdom and guidance, might blossom, then many of these athletes were an indication that there are plenty of coachable, skilled players in the next generation. The instant coaching impact had me wondering about the lasting stories that might be told about player/mentor connections decades from now.
This year's All-American Classic will draw athletes who are as diverse as the country. It might be a precursor to demographic changes in the majors.
When one thinks of the elite African-American baseball players of the past, present and future, you quickly realize that these are many of the great faces of the game no matter their ethnicity. Jackie Robinson, Andrew McCutchen, Dazmon Cameron, Hank Aaron, Jason Heyward and Jahmai Jones are all front of mind when compiling that list. While you might not be aware of Cameron or Jones, chances are that you will be in the next few years. Both are top prospects as we draw closer to the 2015 MLB First-Year Player Draft, both are African-American and both are headliners in the 13th edition of the Perfect Game All-American Classic to be played at Petco Park on Sunday, August 10. The annual contest features a collection of elite players beginning their final year of high school. It will be televised on the MLB Network. Cameron and Jones also share the roster with 12 additional African-American players. That number can do nothing but encourage those that have been discouraged by the decreasing population of African-Americans on Major League Baseball rosters. It’s a stat that caught the suddenly optimistic eye of 04’ PG All-American and current Atlanta outfielder Justin Upton.
“I think it’s awesome,” Upton said Wednesday at Dodger Stadium. “The numbers have been down lately and the Perfect Game All American is a big event. To have African-American players playing at an elite level again is awesome. It’s very good to see.”
Joe Garagiola will be honored in Cooperstown this weekend. Daron recounts some of Garagiola's best stories.
For five and a half seasons, it was a true blessing and gift to be able to call major-league baseball games several times a month with one of the legendary voices of several generations, Joe Garagiola. Spending those unforgettable years with Joe, it was amazing how one of the game's greatest personalities of all-time still maintained a humility that allowed him to serve as a mentor and friend to everyone he encountered. This weekend in Cooperstown, Joe will be honored the third recipient of the Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award, a fitting accolade at the very minimum.
A Hall of Famer's remembrances of the Ted Turner years in Atlanta.
The view from the loge level this week has us seated in Atlanta. We’re not in Turner Field, though the Braves will grow roots there over the next month, with 21 of their next 29 on the corner of Georgia Avenue and Hank Aaron Drive. Instead our view is from Fulton County Stadium, aka the Launching Pad or the ‘Original’ Chop Shop. Your usher is one of my mentors and a man who taught the South and a nation about baseball, Braves Hall of Famer Pete Van Wieren. I was fortunate enough to be on the ‘listening-end’ of many great tales the legendary broadcaster shared with his much younger colleague, and a few times these stories managed to be documented. Most of you know at least a few of the details of these occurrences, but here are a handful of Braves’ memories through Pete’s eyes.
In our advanced media consumption world of ESPN, Fox Sports, Fox Sports 1, MLB Network, mlb.tv, etc., imagine the thoughts of a broadcaster in the mid-1970s when he realized that he would be calling games not in Atlanta, nor Georgia, but nationwide as his boss Ted Turner turned a local UHF channel into Superstation TBS and beamed it coast-to-coast into everyone’s home. The network’s most dependable daily program: the Atlanta Braves.
Tips and tricks for playing the infield, courtesy of the Nats skipper and former five-time All-Star.
This past holiday weekend, one would assume, was filled with barbeque, beer, baseball and fireworks. As family and friends gathered, the talk was about life, love, loot, and the Jeff Samardzija deal. Some families with baseball kids spoke of summer as a time of rest, while others shared tales of travel ball, tournaments, and Perfect Game. Meanwhile, Matt Williams concerned himself with his current foe, the Braves, and juggling his now deeper roster. So instead of cornering the Nats’ skipper on subjects of the day-to-day, let’s place the four-time Gold Glove winner in the middle of the Independence Day weekend family gathering and allow him to do some youth coaching, specifically infield instruction. The man who played nearly 16,000 innings on the infield in the big leagues shared with me some of the basics for those youngsters who dream of doing the very same thing.
First up is glove talk. How does one know what to select? What if my player might play both outfield and infield?