Category: Classic Baseball

A Place For Edgar Martinez And The DH In The Hall of Fame

The designated hitter is an actual position that has been debated, discussed, probed, and prodded since the 1890s.  Since the inception of the American League position 44 years ago, the DH has served it’s purpose ably: enhancing offense, while increasing fan interest.  Each year, the best DH  is honored with the Edgar Martinez Outstanding Designated Hitter Award.  Somehow, the player who established the benchmark for excellence at the position has been kept out of the Hall of Fame and has just two remaining years of eligibility — a slight to one the finest hitters baseball has ever seen and to the position as a whole.  

Martinez did not become a full-time player until the age of 27, which limited his career hit total to 2,247 and home run total to just 309, well short of top sluggers from his era.  But looking deeper into the numbers, we discover that Martinez was actually one of the top and most consistent sluggers of his time — or any time period — culminating an 18-year career with an eye-popping .418 on-base percentage and .933 OPS.  Jayson Stark of ESPN describes Martinez as one of the “greatest hitters of his generation.”

Martinez was just one of eight players to have 300 home runs, 500 doubles, a career batting average above .300, a career OBP above .400, and a career slugging percentage above .500.  He is also one of six players to hit at least .320 for six consecutive seasons  alongside Stan Musial, Wade Boggs, Rod Carew, Tony Gwynn, and  Todd Helton.  All but Helton are in the Hall.

Sports edgarmartinezIllustrated’s Jay Jaffe, who spends endless hours crunching numbers to evaluate Hall of Fame candidates, says Martinez is one of the top 30 or 40 hitters of all time.  Martinez outdistanced David Ortiz in career WAR 68.3 too 55.4.  Most consider fellow DH Ortiz a clear cut Hall of Famer, steroid issues aside.  Martinez is one of 25 players with at least eight seasons with OPS+ greater than 150.  All who are eligible and not connected to steroids are in the Hall of Fame except two: Dick Allen and Martinez.  He also has the fourth best career OPS (.933) among right-handed hitters in the modern era … And still not enough Hall of Fame votes.

The anti-DH faction among baseball writers has weakened over the years, but is still clearly present.  There are several players who have appeared extensively as a DH already in the Hall, including Carl Yastrzemski, Reggie Jackson, Dave Winfield and Jim Rice.  But most of these players played the majority of their games at other positions — usually first base or outfield.

Elected in 2004, Paul Molitor served as his team’s DH for nearly 44 percent of the games he started.  Two years ago, Frank Thomas became the first HOFer to DH in the majority of his games played.  Martinez played DH for 71% of the games he started.  If Martinez is not elected before his expiration date, Ortiz will likely become the first almost-full-time DH to receive baseball’s highest honor.  Ortiz collected more hits, home runs, and RBI than any other DH.

The designated hitter first proposed during the 1890s as the designated pinch hitter. Connie Mack took credit for the idea in 1906. NL owners actually approved the DH rule in December 1928, but were ironically overruled by their AL cohorts. In 1940, the Bushrod League, a California winter circuit, adopted the DH. In 1969 the International League experimented with the DH for a year.

After nearly eight decades of debate between league presidents, owners, and players, the American League finally approved the DH before the 1973 season. On April 6, Ron Blomberg, became major league baseball’s first designated hitter when he drew a first-inning, bases loaded walk from Luis Tiant on a cold, windy Opening Day at Fenway Park.

A pulled hamstring forced the 24-year-old first baseman to his new position. If Matty Alou, batting third for the Yankees, didn’t stroke a two-out double in the first inning, the Red Sox Orlando Cepeda, the first player signed specifically for DH duty, would have made the history books.  Although the Red Sox won the game 15-5, Cepeda, the prototype DH, went 0-for-6, the only Red Sox starter to go hitless.

AL owners hoped the DH would increase offense, give aging sluggers the chance to extend their years of productivity, and increase attendance. The three-year experiment worked. AL teams were scoring more runs, league attendance rose from 11.4 million to 13.4 million, and older stars were extending their careers.

Cepeda was exactly what the AL owners had in mind when they adopted the DH. The 35-year-old former first baseman entered the season with bad knees and 358 career home runs, and had driven in over 100 runs five times in his career.

In 1973, Cepeda played all of his 142 games at DH for the Red Sox, hitting 20 homers and 86 RBI — excellent power numbers for the time — winning the first Associated Press Designated Hitter Award.

The DH helped sluggers such as Cepeda, the 1958 NL Rookie of the Year with the Giants and the 1967 MVP with the Cardinals, achieve Hall of Fame status. Cepeda, elected by the Veterans Committee in 1999, finished his career with 379 home runs (21 as a DH) and 1,365 RBI.

The DH is now widely accepted and used in some form in most leagues from high school to the majors. The final hurdle to its acceptance as an actual position may be a deservedly wider presence in the Hall of Fame.

Tim Raines’s Last Chance For the Hall of Fame

There are two outs in the bottom of the ninth with the side of righteousness trailing by a run.  The Baseball Writers Association of America has one more chance to right one of the biggest wrongs in the Hall of Fame by electing Tim Raines.

Raines has steadily gained support, but is in his 10th and final year of eligibility. In his first five years on the ballot, the former Expos great, was nominated by 22-49% of the voters, with 75% needed for election.  Last year he jumped from 55% to 69.8%.  This year Raines is looking to become just the fourth  player to be elected in his final year of eligibility, joining Red Ruffing (1967), Joe Medwick (1968), Ralph Kiner (1975), and Jim Rice (2009).

Placed in a historical context, Raines’s resume is HOF worthy.  He was one of the game’s great leadoff hitters, top base stealers, and — believe it or not — an extra-base-hitting-machine during his 23-year major league career.  Raines wRainesas often lost in the shadow cast by Rickey Henderson, arguably the greatest leadoff hitter ever. But digging deeper into the numbers, Raines was every bit the player as Henderson and even rivaled the great Ty Cobb, arguably the best hitter in baseball history.

We all know Raines was one of the game’s great base stealers, but his consistency on the base paths was unparalleled.  He ranks fifth on the career stolen base list with 808 and is the career leader in stolen base percentage (84.7) among players with 400 attempts. Raines is the only player in baseball history to steal at least 70 bases in seven consecutive  seasons (1981-1986).  He stole 40 consecutive bases between July 1993 – August 1995, a major league record later broken by Ichiro Suzuki with 45 consecutive swipes.

Like Cobb, Raines will never be considered a home run hitter, but the former speedy outfielder combined extra base hits with stolen bases at an historic rate.  He was the only player in baseball
history with at least 100, triples, 150 homers and 600 stolen bases.  Raines finished his career with 113 triples and 170 homers.

Raines finished with 2,605 career hits — well below the imaginary 3,000-hit Hall of Fame threshold. But looking deeper, only nine of the 27 players with 3,000 hits can match Raines’s .385 career on-base percentage.  Raines reached base more times than three HOFers with 3,000 hits: Tony Gwynn, Lou Brock, and Roberto Clemente as well as the ageless and  still playing Ichiro.

Need more convincing?  Raines was the only player ever with four seasons of 50-plus extra base hits and 70-plus stolen bases.  Henderson and Cobb combined for four such seasons; every other HOFer combined for an additional four.

Raines is seldom mentioned with the all-time greats such as Cobb, but he should be and the evidence is in the numbers:  He is the only player in MLB history with five consecutive seasons with at least 30 doubles and 70 stolen bases, which he did from 1982-1986.  Before 1982, the last player to record 30 doubles
and 70 stolen bases in a season was Cobb in 1915.

For more head-spinning stats, be sure to check out the Ace of MLB Stats Twitter account.  Its creator, Ryan Spaeder, seems to be on a personal crusade to get Raines into the Hall of Fame.  Raines did the work and Spaeder has aligned the numbers in convincing fashion.

Just under 70 percent of the HOF electorate voted for Raines last January.  He’s on course to receive the 75 percent of the vote needed for enshrinement this year. Raines is looking to become the third player to go into the Hall of Fame as a Montreal Expo, joining Gary Carter and Andre Dawson.  Raines won two World Series rings (1996 and 1998) in New York as a role player with the Yankees.  Here’s hoping one of baseball’s great injustices is rectified.

The Raines Topps rookie card is one of the top rookies from the 1981 series.  Issued just before the mass-produced sets of the ‘80s, the Expos “Future Prospect” card also includes Roberto Ramos and Bobby Pate, two “future stars” that never panned out.  Be careful if you’re buying:  The “Future Prospect” cards are notorious for having gum-stained backs.  

Happy Birthday Carl Yastrzemski

Happy birthday to Red Sox great Carl Yastrzemski, who turns 77 today. A leader in virtually every major offensive category in Red Sox history, the man they call Yaz is still one of the franchise’s most popular players.

Revered for playing the lead role in the “1967 Impossible Dream” season, Yaz became baseball’s 14th Triple Crown winner, while leading the Red Sox to the American League Pennant. Powering the Red Sox from last place in 1966, Yaz hit .326 for his second batting title, tied Harmon Killebrew with 44 homers aYaz 1960 Toppsnd drove in 121 runs. Yaz capped the season off with 10 hits in 13 at bats.

Upper Deck commemorated the historic feat with the 2007 UD Premier Stitchings “Triple Crown Commemorative Patch”. The card back salutes Yastrzemski’s three AL batting titles, six gold gloves, 18 All-Star Games and his 1989 Hall of Fame enshrinement. Limited to a production run of 50, this popular Yaz item is a great buy for $20.

In one of the greatest seasons ever for a Red Sox player, Yaz led the team to the World Series and bolstered his Triple Crown numbers by pacing the AL in runs, hits and total bases. Over his 23-year-career, Yaz collected 3,419 his, 1,844 RBI, 452 homers — at a time when 400 homers was an accurate benchmark for a top slugger — and seven gold gloves. The 18-time All-Star was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989 on the first ballot.

Yastrzemski’s 1960 Topps rookie card, part of the Sport Magazine “Rookie Star Subset”, sells in the $160- $180 range. Print marks on some copies — a problem throughout the 1960 Topps series — limits the number of truly mint Yaz rookies. The only other major rookie card of the set belongs to Willie McCovey. Finding a well-centered Yaz or McCovey rookie is a daunting task. The popular 1967 Yaz card is a great buy for $18 in excellent condition.

With each passing season the legend of Yastrzemski’s accomplishment grows. Only 15 players have had Triple Crown seasons — Miguel Cabrera joined the select group in 2012 — with Rogers Hornsby and Ted Williams each achieving it twice. Former Red Sox Slugger Jimmie Foxx slugged for the Triple Crown in 1933 while playing for the Philadelphia Athletics.  Baseball immortals such as Hank Aaron and Willie Mays didn’t do it. Babe Ruth came close in 1924, leading the AL in batting and homes, but losing the RBI title to Goose Goslin.

Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds have led their respective leagues in all three categories, but never in the same season. In 2006 David Ortiz was first in the AL in homers and RBI, but hit just .287. With more and more batters specializing in either hitting for batting average or power, a Triple Crown winner in the near future is becoming less and less likely.

Long Lost Reggie Jackson Baseball Card

Remember Reggie Jackson’s only uneventful season from the 1970s, the year he he played for the Baltimore Orioles? A lost season for Jackson, completely ignored by Topps … almost!?! Say what?  First some background information …

On this dRegJacksOriolesay 40 years ago (April 2, 1976), Oakland A’s owner Charlie Finley shocked the baseball world by trading Jackson to the Orioles. Knowing he did not have the money re-sign the pending free agent after the season, Finley sent Jackson and left-handed starter Ken Holtzman to the Orioles for outfielder Don Baylor and right-handed pitchers Mike Torrez and Paul Mitchell. Shocked by the transaction and not thrilled with his salary situation, Jackson refused to report to Baltimore until the Orioles increased his salary from $165,000 to $200,000. As a result of the dispute, Jackson missed the first 16 games of the season.

Seeking the limelight, Jackson did not enjoy his brief time in Baltimore. From 1971-1982, Jackson’s teams made the playoffs 10 of 12 times with one of the exceptions being the year he spent wearing an Orioles uniform and batted .277-27-91.

If you’re using your old baseball card sets to chronicle baseball history, you might think that 1976 was a lost season for Jackson; that his time in Baltimore never actually happened. As soon as Jackson signed with the Yankees prior to the 1977 season, Topps quickly airbrushed the original photo, covering the Orioles home uniform and multi-colored hat with Yankee pinstripes and traditional cap. If you look closely, you will see that the colors are rather dull, not the traditional Yankees colors. The card also pictures the green and gold sleeve of a former A’s teammate over Jackson’s shoulder. Jackson’s first official Yankees card (#10) became a key part of the 1977 Topps set and currently sells for $8 in mint condition.

Jackson never “officially” appeared on an Orioles card, however a few original blank-backed proof cards escaped the Topps shredders and found their way into the markRegJacksYanksetplace. Because of its scarcity and Jackson’s October heroics, this proof card has become one of hobby’s most sought-after commodities. The proof card does not have a facsimile autograph commonly featured on ’77 Topps cards.

According to published reports, television commentator,/baseball historian/hobbyist Keith Olbermann owns two versions of this almost singular collectible. One is an actual card, the other is part of an uncut proof sheet that he purchased at a 1989 Topps/Guernsey’s auction for an undisclosed price.

Although Jackson played the 1976 season with the Orioles, he is pictured in an Oakland A’s uniform because Topps did not have time to doctor the photo before the series was released. Later that season, Star Co. finally released a card with Jackson wearing an Orioles uniform. Nearly a decade later Upper Deck released the first memorabilia cards sporting Jackson in an Orioles uniform.

Tim Raines Belongs in the Hall of Fame

Great to see Tim Raines — one of my all-time favorite non-Red Sox players — throw out the first pitch in tonight’s Red Sox – Blue Jays exhibition game in Montreal.

What’s not to like about Tim Raines? He was one of the game’s great leadoff hitters, top base stealers, and — believe it or not — an extra-base-hitting-machine during his 23-year major league career. Lost in the shadow of Rickey Henderson — though I’m not sure why — Raines has yet to garner enough Hall of Fame votes. But digging deeper into the numbers, Raines was every bit the player as Henderson and even rivaled the great Ty Cobb, arguably the best hitter in baseball history.

We all knowRaines Raines was one of the game’s great base stealers, but his consistency on the base paths was unparalleled. The career leader in stolen base percentage (84.7) among players with 400 attempts, Raines is the only player in baseball history to steal at least 70 bases in seven consecutive seasons (1981-1986). He stole 40 consecutive bases between July 1993 – August 1995, a major league record later broken by Ichiro Suzuki with 45 consecutive swipes.

Like Cobb, Raines will never be considered a home run hitter, but the former Montreal Expos outfielder combined extra base hits with stolen bases at an historic rate. He was the only player in baseball history with at least 100, triples, 150 homers and 600 stolen bases. Raines finished his career with 113 triples, 170 homers, and 808 stolen bases.

Need more convincing? Raines was the only player ever with four seasons of 50-plus extra base hits and 70-plus stolen bases. Henderson and Cobb combined for four such seasons; every other HOFer combined for an additional four.

Raines is seldom mentioned with the all-time greats such as Cobb, but the evidence is in the numbers: Raines is the only player in MLB history with five consecutive seasons with at least 30 doubles and 70 stolen bases, which he did in five consecutive seasons from 1982-1986. Before 1982, the last player to record 30 doubles and 70 stolen bases in a season was Cobb in 1915.

For more head-spinning stats, be sure to check out the Ace of MLB Stats Twitter account. Its creator, Ryan Spaeder, seems to be on a personal crusade to get Raines into the Hall of Fame. Raines did the work and Spaeder has aligned the numbers in convincing fashion.

Just under 70 percent of the HOF electorate voted for Raines in January. He’s on course to receive the 75 percent of the vote needed for enshrinement next year. Here’s hoping one of baseball’s great injustices is rectified.

The Raines Topps rookie card is one of the top rookies from the 1981 series. Issued just before the mass-produced sets of the ‘80s, the Expos “Future Prospect” card also includes Roberto Ramos and Bobby Pate, two “future stars” that never panned out. Be careful if you’re buying: The “Future Prospect” cards are notorious for having gum-stained backs.