American cities are on fire. Literally. The protests and ensuing riots surrounding the murder of George Floyd are dominating the news and social media. Add this to the increasing number of deaths related to COVID-19 in the United States and the lack of reason in response to the pandemic, and it’s easy to see why people are fed up. It’s difficult not to be. The American people are sick and tired of corrupt, inept leadership. Our population feels as divided as ever.
That division has unfortunately bled over into the baseball world. Labor unrest between players and owners may prevent the return of Major League games in 2020. Avid baseball card collectors feel joy is being taken out of the hobby by the response to Topps Project 2020 and this year’s Bowman set. As situations like this arise, sides are chosen. Lines are drawn. I wish I could cross those lines out, but instead I’m a helpless spectator most days.
My love for the game of baseball is challenging to put into words. The spirit of the ballpark lifted me out of the deepest, darkest hole I’ve ever been down in. Starting this blog and connecting with some of the great people within the baseball community in order to write their stories has given me purpose and direction during the difficult span of this pandemic. Part of me understands that the last thing I need, or anyone else needs, right now is a distraction. The issues our nation is facing should be in the forefront of everyone’s minds. Yet, there is another part of me that yearns for the escape of the ballpark. That part of me wishes I could just come home from work, crack a beer, and put the Dodger game on. Our reality has been flipped on its head.
Let’s talk about where I stand on the negotiations between MLB and its players’ union. I feel it paramount to say I think it is a crying shame that the two sides are so far apart on the financials and safety precautions necessary to facilitate Major League Baseball’s return to the field this season. I know the owners are each worth billions, but I also understand the idea that they would not be bringing in the same amount of revenue in a shortened season without the luxury of ticket sales. At the same time, the league and owners’ response to that looming situation is embarrassing. It would be easy for the owners to take one on the chin this year to protect the players (you know, the people that bring in all those billions of dollars for the teams) and to show the players that the league is on their side as we move towards the expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement next year. Instead, the owners expect players to take substantial pay cuts and put their lives, their families lives, in danger. I respect the players’ stance. If I was in their shoes, I would be reacting in much the same way. Much like the protesters in the streets of America, the players are flat out fed up.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred’s regime has made it clear that they wish to eradicate the Minor Leagues as we have known them for decades. They have done little to nothing to show respect nor appreciation to the players. Let us not forget, most players at the Minor and Major League levels don’t make exorbitant amounts of money. The average and median incomes of Major Leaguers appears very high due to the top contracts. The median income for players is around $1.5 million, but many bring in much less than that. Minor Leaguers make pennies on the dollar, comparatively speaking. Those are they guys that are, without question, doing this for love of the game, to chase down a dream. Over the past few days, many of those dreams have become much more difficult to achieve. The release of hundreds of Minor League players has caused some to give up their pursuit of making a living playing baseball altogether. Let’s top that with the fact that the Major League Draft will be 5 rounds compared to 40 rounds this season, eliminating even more players from the affiliated baseball system.
Minor League players are being cut. Less high school and college players will be given an opportunity to play baseball in a Major League system. All this is occurring while Minor League teams are without a season, without fans coming through the gates. Minor League Baseball is predicated on experience. Without the luxury of television dollars, MiLB teams take their money directly from the wallets of fans. The lack of ticket sales, concession sales, and souvenir sales has left teams with zero revenue coming in. Beyond that, sponsorships become useless without people to see nor hear the ad opportunities afforded by Minor League teams. It’s a sad state of affairs. I would love nothing more than to throw a bag in the car and run away to a far off ballpark. That experience would really help in cleansing my sanity.
So Major League Baseball is doing what they can to support their Minor League affiliates to get them through this halt in revenue, right? It’s depressing how laughable that notion is these days. Instead of offering a helping hand to Minor League Baseball, MLB is, by all accounts, utilizing the pandemic to achieve their goal of eliminating 42 teams from affiliated baseball, teams predominately in smaller communities. If these teams disappear, so do the moments in time that instill a romance towards baseball in young fans. Gone would be the countless relationships formed with local businesses and charitable organizations by Minor League teams. When I interviewed Zac Clark, GM of the Johnson City Cardinals, I was pleased to hear that many of the teams on the chopping block, so to speak, are committed to surviving the loss of affiliation and continuing to serve the communities that have supported them for years.
That leads me into a stance I’ve taken since learning that the elimination of Major League affiliation will not mean the end of baseball in my home of Johnson City nor the other communities potentially affected. It is time for the resurgence, on a nationwide scale, of independent baseball. Make no mistake, there are some independent organizations, in small and large cities, doing fantastic things. Yet, I feel that the addition of 42 communities rallying around their teams in a post-MLB climate could reinvigorate independent ball in unthinkable ways. One of my favorite films is the Netflix documentary, The Battered Bastards of Baseball. It tells the story of the Portland Mavericks, the last independent professional baseball team to play in a league with affiliated clubs. The spirit of the Mavericks restored a love for the game in Portland, a major city in the pacific northwest that had been abandoned by the Major League system due to low attendance numbers. The Mavericks brought fun back to the ballpark. Bright uniforms and brighter personalities built the mold for the Minor League experience. The occasion of going out to a game became the focus of the club, and it bled out onto the field as the Mavericks players proved they belonged in the same league as affiliated Single-A players. Although the setting was the 1970’s and affiliated baseball eventually hammered a nail into the Mavericks’ coffin, I firmly believe that the same spirit can exist in the present. If Major League Baseball gets their wish and these 42 teams are pushed to the wayside like Portland was, I would love to see the clubs that are able fight for their place in baseball, be it as independent teams or Summer, wood-bat teams for collegiate players.
My dreams are filled with a return to some semblance of normalcy. Ultimately, I could benefit from the distraction that ballpark trips and Dodger games would afford me. ‘Need’ is a strong word, but it’s tough not to use it. In closing, I want to thank you for reading. This blog has been nothing short of therapeutic for me. It’s given me the chance to connect with some amazing people in our community, the baseball community. I plan to continue this blog for as long as I have the motivation to write about the pastime. I look forward to writing about my baseball excursions, great feats by players during games, and even more of the wonderful folks that make this game so infectious. Let’s band together during these difficult times. At the end of the day, we are all different and unique, but that’s what makes our melting pot of a country and world so amazing. It’s time to start celebrating those differences and close the gap of division that is so wide right now. Afterall, baseball is for everyone, even if nothing else is.
There is a bit of a negative backdrop to this story, and I’d like to get it out of the way at the start. You will learn throughout this article that Austin Scher, Assistant General Manager of the Daytona Tortugas, is not a negative person. I would dare say that by the time you’re finished reading about Austin and his efforts within Minor League Baseball, you will have forgotten the negative undertones. Obviously, there are no baseball games, Minor League or otherwise, being played in the United States right now amidst the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak. This is especially difficult for MiLB clubs because this amounts to a complete loss of ticket, concession, and merchandise revenue at their respective ballparks. This is where the negativity, in terms of this story, will end. Austin is a part of a staff in Daytona that is inspiring, to say the least. They found a way to generate not only revenue for the team, but also excitement in their community and inside Jackie Robinson Ballpark. More on that later.
Austin Scher grew up in Durham, North Carolina, home to the most famous Minor League Baseball club, the Durham Bulls. Combine that with the fact that no Major League club is located less than a 6-hour car ride from Durham, and it becomes easy to understand why Austin’s childhood team was the Bulls. He recounts a multitude of memories at Durham Bulls Athletic Park as well as its predecessor, Durham Athletic Park, known for its role in the 1988 cult classic Bull Durham. Austin recalls birthday parties, school field trips, and even dates at Bulls games, but it wasn’t until a Summer in Madison, Wisconsin that he had the epiphany that he wanted to make a living at the ballpark.
While studying for his bachelor’s degree in Religious Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Austin had a friend who interned with the Madison Mallards of the collegiate Summer Northwoods League. Knowing Austin was a baseball fan, the friend urged him to do the same. As many college students will do, Austin procrastinated and missed the deadline to apply for the internship. That did not stop him from seeking a position with the Mallards. He attended a job fair and sat face to face with a member of the team’s staff, admitting his blunder in missing the internship deadline. He was then offered an unenviable position of “beer mover” in a ballpark with around 150 taps. Austin accepted the position, just happy to be afforded a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes world of the ballpark experience. Sweating through 3 or 4 shirts a game, Austin moved kegs from a refrigerated truck on-site to the various beer taps throughout the park. Oh, by the way, it turns out the staff member who initially interviewed Austin at the job fair was the Mallards’ General Manager.
“Getting to interact with the other members of the gameday staff, getting to interact with the members of the full-time staff, getting to interact with the fans, more than anything, at a ballpark that’s known for packing the place out every single night; that’s all I need to know that it’s what I wanted to do in life.”
Austin’s strong influence from his superiors continued the following Summer when he took an internship with the Appalachian League’s Burlington Royals. At the time, the Royals’ GM was Ryan Keur, who is now the President of the Daytona Tortugas. The Assistant General Manager was Jared Orton, the current President for the innovative Savannah Bananas of the Coastal Plain League. The Royals’ Director of Operations that Summer was Mikie Morrison, who would go on to take the helm as General Manager of the team. Beyond the influential leadership of the team’s front office, Austin remembers the loyal fan bases of the Appy League communities, the friendly rivalries that resonated throughout the league, and the majesty of the ballparks and towns within the Rookie Advanced league.
“Every single day working in baseball is awesome, but I don’t know if I will ever have a Summer that compares to that Summer in Burlington.”
In sharing our adoration for the Appalachian League, we had to touch on the potential for its exclusion from affiliated baseball. Austin has full confidence in the Minor League Baseball negotiating team, but feels that the possibility is ultimately awful for baseball.
“If baseball is going to die, it will die because of this tenure of leadership at the Major League Baseball level and everything that they are doing right now to take baseball away from small towns across the United States of America, all of whom are filled with youth who need to be exposed to the game, who will become the future class of Hall of Famers, who will become the next generation of leaders at the Major League, Minor League, and collegiate levels of baseball. [...] We exist for the communities we operate in.”
Once Austin got a job with the Greensboro Grasshoppers, he put that sentiment into action, establishing and executing Interfaith and Community Night in conjunction with Minor League Baseball’s Diversity and Inclusion Team. As I mentioned, Austin’s degree is in Religious Studies, and he wrote his thesis on the relationship between evangelical protestantism and baseball since the 1800’s. Although he is not a religious person himself, Austin has family members of both Catholic and Jewish faith. He says he would not feel welcome at a Faith and Family Night based solely around a celebration of the protestant faith.
“If it was called Faith and Family Night, you have to open it up to every single faith. You can’t generalize faith as one thing.”
So, Austin developed the idea of a night at the ballpark for people of all religious faiths to be invited, welcomed, and comfortable. This included kosher food options at concession stands and a private prayer area in a secluded part of the ballpark for folks who observe an evening or sundown prayer, which would otherwise keep them away from the park. In a bit of tongue-in-cheek fashion, Faith became Interfaith and Family expanded to Community, and Interfaith and Community Night was born. Austin has carried this new tradition from Greensboro to his new club in Daytona and calls Interfaith and Community Night the single most rewarding thing he’s accomplished in his life and career.
“I believe and have always been a big believer that a Minor League ballpark and a Minor League Baseball team should exist for everybody, and there should never be any hesitation towards providing opportunity for members of the community to enjoy the product, especially members of the community that maybe otherwise would not have felt welcome.”
Austin carried that philosophy with him to the new challenge of the Florida State League’s Daytona Tortugas in 2017, accepting the position of Director of Sales. The Florida State League is rich in history, and Daytona is no exception, boasting Jackie Robinson Ballpark, the first affiliated, professional field Jackie Robinson set foot on, officially breaking the color barrier. Traditionally, the ballparks of the Florida State League are more focused on hosting Major League Spring Training than attracting fans through the gates during the Minor League regular season. Thanks to Austin, the Tortugas, and many others within the league, that mindset has changed over the last few years. The new guard of the Florida State League has proven that it is possible to get fans in the ballpark amidst the hot, rainy weather of the Florida Summer, embodying the idea that “if you build it, they will come.” Over the last 3 years, Austin has built strong relationships within Daytona and the surrounding communities. He has also taken full advantage of his promotions from Director of Sales into Corporate Partnerships and then to Assistant GM, reinvigorating the Tortugas’ gameday staff by revolutionizing the way the team hires and trains their people. Austin has empowered everyone who comes in contact with fans at Jackie Robinson Ballpark to take pride in their role with the club. Afterall, they are more than just cashiers or ushers, they are ambassadors for the team. It’s the definition of leadership. No one in Daytona is resting on their laurels, so to speak. The Tortugas’ philosophy is that it’s never okay to just be okay. They are striving to be great at everything they do. Every game. Every promotion.
That finally brings us to the heart of this story. Jackie Robinson Ballpark became the first park to open its gates to fans on May 22, 2020. The motivation for the event was born from a virtual retreat where many ideas were floated to engage the community and use the ballpark to put smiles on faces again. The original plan was to have a drive-in style showing of the Jackie Robinson biopic, 42, in the parking lot, complete with inflatable projector screens and roller-skating concession service. That changed 4 days after the event was conceptualized when it became legal for the ballpark to open its gates to 25% of its capacity. The idea was reimagined and moved inside the ballpark, on the field.
“We exist for the people. We spend an offseason of tireless work to open up the gates on opening night and have 70 amazing 3 to 4 hour events where people can escape their reality, come out to the ballpark, and just have a great night.”
Many people who live in Daytona spend their lives catering to folks on vacation. The Tortugas strive to offer those people a short vacation-like experience of their own, and this event offered the chance to see those smiling faces at the ballpark again. Austin admits he had a moment, standing atop the roof of the press box, snapping photos for social media, that brought a tear to his eye. After all the test runs, obsessive cleaning of the concession stands, and meticulous measuring of the space between areas where fans would be set up, 800 or so people were sitting in Jackie Robinson Ballpark, on the field where he broke the color barrier, watching a film that celebrates his journey that, in a way, started on that hallowed ground. Austin and the rest of the Tortugas’ staff knew that people were pining for a reason to get out of the house and come to the ballpark, and they knew they had to keep everyone safe. So, their hard work paid off in the realization of a special night.
See, I told you you’d forget this story started with negativity.
You can follow Austin on Twitter @austin_scher and the Tortugas @daytonatortugas. Also, be sure to follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram so you’ll know as soon as I post new articles.
A bunt is when a batter, in lieu of swinging the bat, loosely holds it in front of their body, over the plate and in the strike zone, intentionally tapping the pitched ball into play. The purpose of a bunt can be to sacrifice an out to advance a runner or score a run. More skilled bunters can use the bunt to get on base themselves. The bunt dates back, best we can tell, to the 1860s. It’s literally been a part of the game of baseball for so long, there’s no real telling who invented it or when it was first used. So, as you can imagine, baseball purists and old school fans are very pro-bunt.
I have a tendency to lean toward old school, admittedly to a fault at times. I have always been a fan of the bunt technique. I, as a fan, have bought into the philosophy of manufacturing runs. The fast leadoff hitter gets to first on a walk or a single. Then, the well-rounded #2 hitter bunts him over to second. That puts a runner in scoring position for your #3 hitter with 1 out. Sounds good, right? Yeah, it did in my mind until very recently.
Saying I was late to the party on advanced, analytical statistics in baseball would qualify as an understatement. I flat out resisted. I thought to myself, “There is no way that newly developed stats can change my mind about the way the game should be played.” In retrospect, that was a narrow-minded stance, and frankly, I regret it a little bit.
So, what changed my mind? Why do I now believe that, in many situations, it is better to just swing away? It’s actually pretty simple. Run expectancy is a calculation of the probability of scoring a run in any given situation. Beyond that, it determines the chances of scoring no runs and even multiple runs in all 24 possible base/out states. For instance, based on run expectancy tables using Major League stats between 2010 and 2015, if a runner is bunted from first to second and the sacrifice represents the first out, the average number of runs scored that inning goes down by about 0.2 runs. Doesn’t seem like much, does it? Think about it this way. If a team did that 10 times, mathematically, they would score about 2 less runs. That still probably doesn’t seem like much of a difference until you consider how close many divisional races are, even after a grueling 162 game season. 2 runs could be the difference between a division title and missing the playoffs.
Another situation where bunting has traditionally been common is runner on first and second with no outs. The idea being the elimination of a potential double play and putting two runners in scoring position. This one is a little trickier. The expected runs in an inning if you sacrifice your first out to move the runners to second and third goes from 1.44 to 1.38. That’s only a difference of 0.06 runs. So, it’s kind of a toss-up and creates a little more gray area than our previous situation.Now, allow me to present the data that swayed me more than any other that I read in research of this article.
These statistics I found in a Fangraphs blog post from 2014 were the most fascinating and most convincing to me. During the seasons between 2008 and 2013, Major League hitters committed to attempting a bunt around 36,000 times. Those attempts were only put into fair play 49.7% of the time. Basically, Major League hitters put the ball in play less than half of the time when they attempt a bunt. To my knowledge, no one has expanded this research to get that number down to the percentage of bunt attempts that actually accomplished their goal, be it a base hit or a successful sacrifice. But, this stat alone proves that bunting is not as easy as you might think. I don’t know about you, but I was shocked at that number. Seemed very low to me.
The game of baseball, like anything else, is evolving. Our accessibility to information in this day and age is playing a big part in that evolution. It’s easy to see why bunting is less and less a part of the game at the Major League level. On the other side of the coin, it’s not unwarranted to conclude that the margins are so minimal that bunting is still a valuable strategy in certain situations. So, I can understand the resistance of some to the lack of bunting as a result of analytics being prevalent in baseball. I really can. With just about any debate over old school thinking and trusting the analytics, it’s not exactly black and white. A run expectancy table is made up of averages. Therefore, an above average bunter (or below average for that matter) would alter the percentages. I think that’s fair. At the end of the day, I believe it’s one of many issues in baseball that will be debated as long as baseball exists.
Tell me how you feel about bunting and its place in the game with a comment here or on social media: Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.
(Photo courtesy of baseballhistorycomesalive.com)
Maybe you’ve heard of Deacon Phillippe, the righty who won 20 or more games in each of his first five major league seasons from 1899 to 1903. It’s less likely you’ve heard of the town where Phillippe was born, Rural Retreat, Virginia. I was also born in Rural Retreat, a farming community of around 1,500 people. Although his family relocated to the Dakota territory when Deacon was only 3 years old, Phillippe is still a part of Rural Retreat lore. Today would have been his birthday, so I decided to commemorate the Major League icon by telling his tale.
After playing semi-professional ball in his home near the town of Athol and then in Minnesota, Charles Louis Phillippe, at age 26, was drafted by the Louisville Colonels of the National League after the 1898 season. The Society or American Baseball does a stellar job describing the man who would be dubbed “Deacon” early in his Major League career.
“Standing a shade over six feet and a muscular 180 pounds, Phillippe was described as "a handsome man [with a] sturdy oval face, a lantern jaw, and dark hair parted a shade left of center." Though his friends usually called him Charlie, Phillippe acquired the nickname "Deacon" in the very early days of his major league career. He was not a clergyman, though he did lead a church choir in the off-season. He picked up the name because of his reticent demeanor, his humility and the way he lived his life. In the words of a sportswriter analyzing an upcoming season, "He will be there again, as strong and good as ever, for Phil never does anything during the winter that would result detrimentally to him."”
After the 1899 season, in which Deacon threw a no-hitter in just his 7th Major League game, the National League contracted to 8 teams, and the Louisville Colonels did not make the cut. Phillippe was one of many players from Louisville’s squad moved to the Pittsburgh Pirates, who were owned by Barney Dreyfuss, the same man who owned the Colonels. It was with the Pirates that Deacon Phillippe would become a legend.
In 1903, a new concept was born. The respective pennant winners of the National and American Leagues would meet in a “World Series” to decide the nation’s undisputed baseball champions. The first series was a best-of-9 affair between the American League Champion Boston Americans and Deacon Phillippe’s Pittsburgh Pirates. Deacon would claim the honor of being the winning pitcher of the first World Series game, a 7-3 victory over Cy Young. Phillippe would go on to be involved in 5 decisions in the first World Series, a record that stands to this day and will likely never be broken. Due to injuries, the Pittsburgh pitching staff had been depleted, and Deacon’s effort was valiant, but ultimately, his arm fatigue would doom the Pirates. After taking a resounding 3-1 lead in the series, the Americans would come back to win 4 consecutive games, defeating Phillippe twice.
It’s an interesting notch in my belt to say I was born in the same town as the pitcher who won the first ever World Series game. To be honest, there’s not a lot for me to be proud of in Rural Retreat. It’s a simple town occupied by good, honest, simple people, but my family doesn’t own a farm, so there’s not much for me in Rural Retreat. Phillipe’s family had lived there for generations, but even 100 years before my birth, I can understand why anyone would move away to look for better opportunities.
After the heartbreak of losing the 1903 World Series, Deacon suffered from a sore arm and a sickness that affected his eyes. The 1904 season proved to be his least successful, as he posted a 10-10 record with a 3.24 ERA. It wasn’t until 1905 that Deacon returned to form and won 20 games for the sixth time in his Major League tenure. By 1906, Phillippe was 34 years old and began to show the depletion of an overworked right arm. He would continue to pitch well enough for the Pirates, gradually transitioning to the role of a reliever. After a few disappointing outings for the Pirates in 1911, Deacon left the Major Leagues to become the player/manager of the Pittsburgh side in the new United States League. Newspapers would dub the team the “Filipinos,” an homage to the Pittsburgh legend leading the charge for the squad. The new league would fall apart, and the team joined the Federal League. Deacon managed the side in 1913, the last season before the Federal League was classified as a “Major League.”
Post-baseball life saw Deacon Phillippe dabble in many jobs including scouting for the Pirates, working in a steel mill, owning a cigar store, and even time as a court bailiff. Though he never found a consistent career outside of baseball, Phillippe continued to live in the Pittsburgh area up until his death in 1952. Though he is associated more with the Steel City than his birthplace of Rural Retreat, Deacon Phillippe was elected to the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in 1982. As a boy in Rural Retreat, I can attest that tales of Deacon Phillippe are still told, proudly, in the Virginia town where he was born.
Deacon’s legacy will include his role in the 1903 World Series but is most likely that of the best control pitcher in history. His 1.25 walks per 9 innings is the lowest mark of any pitcher since the mound was moved to its current distance of 60 feet 6 inches in 1893. Renowned actor Ryan Phillippe is a distant relative of the great pitcher and even named his first son Deacon. The spring that provides water to the town of Rural Retreat still dons the name Phillippe Springs. His story just goes to show, greatness can come from anywhere. I’ll conclude with an amusing excerpt from Deacon’s SABR bio.
“Like many players, in later years Phillippe looked back fondly on his own era in the game. In 1946 he told The Sporting News: "Babe Ruth was the biggest drawback to smart baseball the game has ever known. Teams quit playing smart baseball and went in for slugging. I think that's what's wrong with baseball today. Everybody is aiming for the fences."”
A massive thanks to SABR.org for their bio on Deacon Phillippe, where I got a lot of the info in this entry. Were you born in the same place as a great baseball legend? Let me know with a comment here or on any of my social media outlets: Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
The Baseball Hall of Fame is by far the most prestigious, exclusive establishment of its kind. The process for being inducted is arduous compared to other sports’ hallowed Halls of Fame. The neat thing about baseball is it is so numbers-based that it is very easy to compare the star hitters and pitchers from different eras side-by-side. But, should those comparisons be the basis for a baseballer’s Hall of Fame case? Or, should we be viewing a player’s career in the time vacuum of his era in the Major Leagues? It’s a debate that will be waged forever and ever, and ultimately, there is no right or wrong answer. The thing that makes the Baseball Hall of Fame so unique and celebrated is the exclusivity that leaves many greats of the game out of Cooperstown. Here’s my two cents on how we should judge a Hall of Fame career.
First off, I firmly believe that while new analytical statistics such as WAR are useful and important in evaluating players, it is more important to compare a player’s career with others of his era than it is to put him side-by-side with those who came before or after. Therefore, I think the players associated with PEDs such as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Mark McGwire should be hall-of-famers. I mean, let’s be real. If Jeff Bagwell is a hall-of-famer, shouldn’t McGwire and Bonds receive the honor as well? It’s really starting to seem like certain players are taking the fall for the steroid era while others are getting a pass. Doesn’t seem very objective to me. The criteria feels very inconsistent, which stains the credibility of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Next, I think it’s about time that Pete Rose and “Shoeless” Joe Jackson take their rightful place in Cooperstown. Why not? Really, think about that. Why not? What benefit is there to keeping two of the greatest hitters of all-time out of the Hall of Fame? I just don’t see it. I understand the punishments and why they were handed down when they were, but I think Rose and Jackson have both served their time. Let’s just end this and put it behind us, shall we? The Hall of Fame is supposed to be a celebration of the greats of the game, right? So, why is it better to take this ridiculous moral high ground and vote no one into the hall, which was the case in 2013, than it is to let bygones be bygones and appreciate the greatest players from all eras? People will always know that Pete Rose bet on baseball. They will always know that Mark McGwire used PEDs during his magical 1998 pursuit of the single-season home run mark. I just don’t see the benefit of excluding them from the Hall of Fame. I think it works against the voters, puts them in a negative light. But, what do I know?
Just for fun, I’d like to make a case for one of my personal favorite players of all-time who is not in the Hall of Fame, former Dodger and Padre 1st baseman Steve Garvey. Now, let me first say that it’s very difficult to make a real case for a guy like Garvey when Rose, Jackson, Bonds, Clemens, and McGwire are being left out. At the same time, Harold Baines got in. Harold Baines is a Hall of Famer, but Barry Bonds isn’t. Unreal. Anyways, let’s get back on track. I need to confess to my bias. Steve Garvey is the reason I love the Los Angeles Dodgers the way I do. My aunt had a crush on Garvey in his heyday, and she passed the Dodger fandom down to me. I’ve carried it with me to this day. So, Garvey holds a special place in my heart, and I believe it’s criminal that he isn’t enshrined in Cooperstown. Let’s look at his case.
From a numbers standpoint, Garvey doesn’t stack up to a lot of other Hall of Fame players. A 38.1 career WAR seems measly to modern, statiscal minded voters. It’s easy, though, to figure out why Garvey’s WAR number is on the low side. The guy didn’t walk, he didn’t “get on base,” an inexcusable crime in the eyes of analytical buffs. But, it was never Garvey’s job to draw walks. He was supposed to get hits, which he did quite a bit, and drive in runs, something else Garvey did on a consistent basis. Beyond that, his career was cut short due to injury, so he never reached some of the milestone numbers associated with Hall of Fame hitters. Had Garvey been able to play into his 40’s, he might have reached 3,000 hits, but because he was forced to retire at the age of 38, his career total halted at 2,599.
Here’s the other side of the coin. Steve Garvey was a star. A throwback to the clean-cut, all-american idols of the 1950’s, Garvey set the “Iron Man” record in the National League, playing in 1,207 consecutive games. That mark remains as the National League record. Garvey was the 1974 NL MVP, twice won the NLCS MVP for his characteristic clutch performances in the postseason, and was a 10-time All-Star, winning the game’s Most Valuable Player award twice. Again, clutch performer. Off the field, Garvey was an ambassador of the game in Hollywood, landing television roles and appearances. I think that’s something that supersedes statistics. Garvey had a presence in mainstream media that brought more eyes to the Dodgers and Major League Baseball. During his playing career, it was a foregone conclusion that Garvey was headed to Cooperstown.
Perhaps it was the exploitation of Garvey’s extramarital affairs and custody battles, but he never amassed more than 42% of the vote, falling well short of the required 75% during his 15 years on the ballot. Although Garvey has been considered by veteran’s committees since, he has yet to make a serious run at enshrinement. I think Steve Garvey’s career makes him Hall of Fame worthy because of his impact over his 19 years in Major League Baseball, but again, I’m biased.
Barry Bonds should be a Hall of Famer. Roger Clemens, Pete Rose, Shoeless Joe, and Mark McGwire the same. The voters should view the careers of great players within the parameters of each player’s era. Baseball’s Hall of Fame should still maintain some exclusivity and prestige, but I don’t feel that goes away by letting more people in the door. Let’s celebrate the all-time stars and legends of the game and put our self-righteousness aside. It’s time to recognize that, in the grand scheme of life, baseball is a game, a distraction from the darkness of the world. For a man of human flesh to withhold an honor like Hall of Fame enshrinement from someone who has more hits or more home runs than any other player in history is, for lack of a better term, silly.
Let me know what you think makes a Hall of Famer by leaving a comment here or on any of my social media accounts, Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.
One million is a lot. It doesn’t really matter what you’re counting. One million represents an impressive amount of anything.While many dream of a million dollars, Beau Thompson is looking to achieve a unique milestone: one million Chicago Cubs baseball cards.
Beau grew up in Illinois and recalls watching the Cubs play on WGN as a 4 or 5 year old child. Suffice it to say some of his earliest memories consist of Steve Stone and Harry Caray calling the action from the friendly confines of Wrigley Field on the North side of Chicago. In 1989, at the age of 7, Beau acquired his first Chicago Cubs team baseball card set, and a collector was born.
Although Beau was an “off and on” baseball card collector, he never got rid of any cards and ventured into other interests outside of baseball. In the early 90’s, Beau was a fan of Shaquille O’Neal, so he gravitated towards NBA cards. A few years later, he began to buy professional wrestling magazines to add to his diverse sports collection. Like many others across the country, Beau’s baseball fandom was reignited in 1998.
On May 6 of that year, young hurler Kerry Wood struck out 20 Houston Astros batters in a game at Wrigley. The Cubs were in contention, and later that year, the eyes of the world were on Sammy Sosa, who along with St. Louis Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire, was chasing history. Much like Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris in 1961, Sosa and McGwire were both rocketing toward the single-season home run record. It didn’t hurt that Beau turned 16 in the summer of ‘98 and acquired his driver’s license. This allowed him to take Sunday drives to a card shop half an hour away from his home to pilfer through the boxes of cards. He remembers searching for Jeff Blauser and Mickey Morandini, along with Kerry Wood.
It wasn’t until 2014, however, that Beau’s collecting reached its current fever pitch. He had just switched careers and moved to Wisconsin. As you can imagine, Not knowing many people when he first relocated, Beau turned to baseball cards to help him pass the time.
“On Friday, after work, I didn’t have anything to do, and I was just kind of getting back into card collecting. So, it’s like, “I’ve got all this free time.” I’m going to run to Target, buy 3, 4, 5, blaster boxes of baseball cards, a 6-pack of beer, and a frozen pizza, and that’s going to be my Friday night.”
From there, Beau started connecting with the online card collecting community, joining Facebook groups and buying collections from Craigslist. By 2017, he had accumulated around one million cards in total. Rather than selling or throwing out unwanted cards, Beau began to trade team-for-team with other collectors. He would unload thousands of Red Sox and Yankees cards to bolster his number of Cubs cards. Beau had also dabbled in blogging about baseball cards, but nothing had resonated just yet. It was around this time that he decided to attempt to convert his one million cards into a stockpile of one million Cubs cards. He had a goal and a hook for his blogging, and within a month, he was having trouble keeping up with the multitude of trade requests that were coming in. To Beau’s surprise, the One Million Cubs Project caught on immediately.
So, you may be asking yourself, “What constitutes a Cubs card?” Beau, of course, has some rules, but he admits they are not always hard and fast rules. First off, the obvious. Any card of a player wearing a Cubs uniform counts. There are also a small number of cards featuring a player in a different team’s uniform that notes the player is now with the Cubs. Those count. From there, it can get a little tricky. Beau gave one particularly interesting example.
“There’s an error card in 1991 Topps of Seattle Mariners pitcher Keith Comstock. He never even played for the Cubs, but half of the print run the Topps Company put Cubs as the team name on the front of the card, and he was in a Mariners uniform. I do count that card.”
What about sticker cards? Yes, those count. Minor league cards from teams and players within the Cubs’ organization? Yep, count ‘em! Even USA Baseball cards of players in National Team colors that have played for the Cubs go towards the count. Beau did, however, mention that the USA Baseball card of Nomar Garciaparra only counts once. He does not include duplicates of that card because Nomar is widely known for his time with the Red Sox and was only with the Cubs for a short time. One card Beau loves is of a player who only made one appearance with the Cubs as a pinch-runner. Within the 1973 team set of the Wichita Arrows, the Cubs’ Triple-A affiliate at the time, there is a card for Tony La Russa, his only Cubs affiliated baseball card.
So there’s a bit of an explanation for which cards count for the total. Duplicates, in most cases, are added to the total. After all, according to the research Beau has done, there only exist about 140,000 unique Chicago Cubs cards. Add to that the minor league and national team offerings, and Beau theorizes there are around 200,000 different cards that would qualify for the One Million Cubs Project, so duplicates are important to him reaching his goal.
I asked Beau if there was a “holy grail” card that he wished to add to the collection. He came up with 2 answers, one he feels is easily obtainable and one “white whale.” The card that will be easier to acquire is the 1954 Topps Ernie Banks rookie card. Beau has held off picking up this card because he had planned to make it the celebratory one-millionth card. Beau has since changed his mind and entered the market for the 54 Topps Ernie Banks.
“It’s gotten to the point where I’m close to half a million Cubs cards, and if I don’t have the Ernie Banks rookie card, it seems kind of backwards.”
The “white whale” card is an original Allen and Ginter Cap Anson from 1887. Beau is hoping to stumble upon a fortune or win the lottery to purchase this card, which he estimates will cost him approximately $5,000.
Beau and I had a great time talking about his exploits as a collector. He told me about a collection he purchased recently that included autographed baseballs from the early 80’s Quad Cities Cubs minor league teams as well as 2 ticket stubs from Madison Muskies opening day in 1983, the year Jose Canseco played low-A ball. Beau’s main focus is the One Million Cubs project, but he also has close to 400 baseballs autographed by current and former Cubs, everyone from Ryne Sandberg and Kris Bryant all the way down to minor-leaguers who played in the Cubs’ organization that never made it to the big leagues.
“I love those artifacts because they’re rare. Yeah, they’re not valuable. It’s not like I could sell a minor league player from the 80’s autographed baseball, but they all have stories.”
Beyond that, Beau has some Cubs bobbleheads and Cubs-related art pieces. He admits that anything Cubs related that interests him gets added to the collection. He recently acquired a diary belonging to a 1960’s Cubs minor league player who, along with his brother, was a child actor. Between the two, they appeared on shows like Lassie and Leave It to Beaver. Included in the diary are team photos, his minor league contract, and letters he wrote on various hotel stationary. It was a really neat piece of history to hear about.
After Beau reaches one million Cubs cards, he still plans to collect, but his focus will turn away from volume and more toward individual pieces that are missing. Beyond that, Beau will pivot to organization. The plan is to sort the collection by player. The recent pandemic has afforded Beau the time to get a head start on the filing system and expedited the process of reaching the goal of one million. In addition, Beau has started to build an online database to serve as a virtual museum for the collection. Beau claims that this work has been therapeutic for him during this difficult time. The count to date is 439,183, though Beau admits he has 4 or 5 boxes of cards he has yet to count. He hopes those boxes will allow him to amass 440,000.
If you want to arrange a trade or help Beau reach one million Cubs cards, you can visit his website at onemillioncubs.com or follow Beau on Twitter @onemillioncubs. Drop a comment or hit me up on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram to tell me about your massive or unique collections.
(photo courtesy of johnsoncitypress.com)
It’s the little things. You hear that all the time, right? But, what does it truly mean? How does a person execute that old adage into a philosophy for their work and their life? I don’t have the answers to life’s questions, but I think Zac Clark, the General Manager of the Appalachian League’s Johnson City Cardinals, is a fine example of how focus on the little things, attention to detail, can lead to success.
Zac grew up near Lansing, Michigan in Dansville, a community of around 1200 people. As this story goes on, you will clearly see how the influence of a small town upbringing has bled into Zac’s approach to his work in baseball. Zac spent his youth as an avid supporter of Detroit sports, including the Tigers, of course. He had the opportunity to play football, basketball, and baseball but realized in his teenage years that he had a knack for baseball. So, he focused in and made baseball his primary sport. After graduating high school, Zac went to Division III Trine University in Indiana to play baseball. It wasn’t until Zac hung up his spikes and left Trine that he had visions of a career in baseball beyond the playing field. He transferred to Central Michigan University and enrolled in the sports management program.
“I wanted to find a way to create an impact on the game. I remember what it was like being 5 or 6 years old and going to the Lansing Lugnuts for the first time. I was there when that stadium opened, and that was really my first “Oh, wow!” baseball experience. I remember that, and I wanted to be able to make sure as many kids as possible got to feel that feeling.”
While at CMU, Zac worked with the Special Olympics as part of a field study. Special Olympics Michigan’s headquarters were located on the campus of CMU, so Zac had a hand in both the Summer and Winter games, as well as various state tournaments through the year. In addition, Zac got involved with Unified Athletics, a program that connected Special Olympics athletes with intramural sports at CMU. Unified Athletics spawned from Central Michigan’s campus but is now an international organization. Zac also got the opportunity to work as a sales associate for the Detroit Pistons of the NBA while he was working towards his bachelor’s degree. Zac finally got his first opportunity in baseball in the Summer of 2013 with an internship in Martinsville, Virginia for the Martinsville Mustangs of the Coastal Plains League, a Summer wood bat league for collegiate players.
The General Manager in Martinsville at the time was Tyler Parsons, a friend of Zac’s from Dansville. Tyler assured Zac that hard work during his Summer internship would lead to more opportunities. Zac returned to CMU for his final semester, graduating in December 2013. Shortly thereafter, he got a call from Tyler with a job offer. Without inquiring about the position, the pay, or the location, Zac agreed to take the job. Tyler had moved to Johnson City to become the General Manager of the Johnson City Cardinals, and Zac followed suit as Assistant GM. Zac Clark and Tyler Parsons worked together on a plan to rebuild the atmosphere at the ballpark in Johnson City.
They started with things they would want out of a minor league ballpark experience (you know, the little things); beer service, revamped on-field promotions, and an exciting calendar of giveaways such as bobbleheads and t-shirts. With their brick-by-brick approach, Zac and Tyler reinvigorated the Johnson City Cardinals. Then, Boyd Sports came into the picture, purchased the team, and invested in improving the ballpark. New lights were installed, group areas were added to the park, and turf was installed on the field. Baseball in Johnson City started to flourish behind the strong team effort of Zac, Tyler, and Boyd Sports.
Somewhere along the way, Zac feels it became very personal for Tyler and himself. When they first got to Johnson City, they were under the impression that a failure on their part to improve the team would result in the end of baseball in that community. They knew it was their responsibility to save baseball in Johnson City. There was a momentum starting to build in the city, and Zac and Tyler latched on to it, becoming a vital part of the resurgence of Johnson City’s downtown. They laid the foundation for baseball to stay alive in Johnson City forever.
After the 2016 season, his third as Assistant GM in Johnson City, Zac sat down with Tyler to discuss his future. Zac knew that Tyler had no plan to leave his position as GM. He also felt like there was nothing left for him to prove as Assistant GM. Tyler agreed that Zac was ready to take the next step, the next challenge. Zac believed the area where he needed the most seasoning was sales. So, he took a position in corporate sales with the nearby Asheville Tourists. After one season in Asheville, Zac received a phone call from Boyd Sports.
Tyler Parsons had opted to leave his post in Johnson City to return to Michigan and take the helm of the Lansing Lugnuts. This left a void with the Cardinals, and Zac, Tyler, and Boyd Sports all believed there was only one person who could fill that void. Zac Clark understood the design plan in Johnson City. If anyone had the ability to take things one step further, it was Zac. In addition, Zac felt he was ready to be a General Manager. He knew he was up for the challenge, so he accepted the position in Johnson City with no hesitation.
Zac continues to work very hard to ensure that the experience of every fan who attends a game at TVA Credit Union Ballpark is a positive one. Beyond that, he oversees the team’s financial success and is the liaison to the Major League organization in St. Louis. Zac gives a lot of credit to his other two full-time staff members, Carter Koontz and Brandon Bouschart. Carter handles social media, sponsorship services, and outside events. She also writes scripts for the public address announcer and hosts the on-field contests between innings. Brandon is the captain of the ticket sales ship. The team of 3 works tirelessly to achieve the level of success that Zac and Tyler initiated in 2014. Since then, average attendance at TVA Credit Union Ballpark has increased from 800 fans per game to 2500 people through the gates per game in the 2019 season.
Beyond the responsibilities of running a minor league baseball team, Zac challenges his staff to be as involved in the community as possible. Zac is a member of the United Way Board, Johnson City’s Convention and Visitors Bureau Council, and the Young Professionals of the Tri-Cities Board. He believes that baseball gives them a platform to give back to the city that has supported the team through the rebuilding process over the last 6 years. He says it is not an option for anyone wanting to work for the team. They must get behind a cause and do what they can to offer a token of appreciation to the community. Again, it’s the little things.
“We try to be as involved as possible. We really want to walk the walk and make this community a better place, and we think we can genuinely do that through baseball, but we only play 34 home games a year. So, we want to extend that reach. Being involved is kind of a part of who we are.”
When I asked Zac about the possibility of the Appalachian League going the way of the dinosaur, he responded with positivity. Although he doesn’t know exactly where the team and the league stand, he is keeping faith in Minor League Baseball and doing whatever is asked of him in the meantime. I’ve had my own speculations about the future of baseball in my home of Johnson City, but many of my fears were washed away with these words from Zac Clark.
“As Boyd Sports goes, we’re very committed to making sure baseball stays in the Tri-Cities. We’re not going to see the Appalachian League go away and see baseball go away, too.”
Zac believes he and everyone else involved have fought too hard to let baseball disappear from Johnson City. With conviction, he talked about maintaining the hometown team feeling and making sure that baseball in Johnson City is something people can get excited about. Things may change, and time will march on, but Zac assured me that he, along with Boyd Sports, will determine the best possible outcome and work to make it a reality.
During the pandemic, Zac has been keeping an eye on things in hopes of a 2020 season. His goal is to make certain that the team can still execute a majority of the plan that was laid out for the season. Additionally, Zac has been working with Elizabethton Twins General Manager Brice Ballentine to put together a Summer league for high school teams that had to cancel their seasons due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The idea is to give these players, including graduating seniors, the opportunity to play as many games as possible. Zac remembers what it was like to know he was putting on a baseball uniform for the last time, and he doesn’t want anyone to be robbed of that experience. Once more, it’s the little things.
You can follow Zac on Twitter @zacclark4l and the Johnson City Cardinals @jc_cardinals. Be sure to follow me on all my social media accounts, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and let me know what baseball means in YOUR community.
Minor League Baseball is a sport and business centered around fan experience. In order to achieve the goal of being a memory-making entity that brings a smile to the face of every man, woman, and child who attends a game, MiLB clubs have an “all hands on deck” approach. The teams’ employees work long hours with varying responsibilities to ensure the success of the small town attraction of Minor League Baseball. Bobby Coon was one of those worker bees for 8 seasons with 3 different clubs, and now he uses the platform of his Pulling Tarp Podcast to tell the stories of the behind-the-scenes heroes of Minor League Baseball.
Bobby was born and raised in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and as a result, baseball was seemingly always a part of his life. Williamsport hosts the annual Little League World Series, and Bobby’s grandfather grew up down the street from one of the founders of Little League Baseball. In addition, Bobby’s childhood home was mere minutes from Historic Bowman Field, home to the New York-Penn League’s Williamsport Crosscutters. As you can imagine, Bobby and his family attended games together on a regular basis.
After acquiring his bachelor’s degree from Slippery Rock University, Bobby Coon would get an unreal opportunity. He had always appreciated competition and teamwork and dreamed of working in sports. So, that would be the focus of Bobby’s first job search. It just so happened that Gabe Sinicropi, Jr., the Williamsport Crosscutters’ Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations, was in need of an assistant for the Summer. So, Bobby Coon accepted his first job offer out of college and was employed by the Minor League Baseball team he grew up loving. Among his responsibilities was hosting the on-field promotions and contests in between innings, a staple at Minor League games.
“Friends and family would come to the game, and they’d see me out on the field. That’s really the closest I’m going to get to a whole crowd of people cheering for me. It was cool just to be involved in my hometown community.”
Among the unique games that fans at Bowman Field had the opportunity to participate in that Summer was a variation of “Minute to Win It,” an international game show franchise that challenged contestants to complete unusual tasks within 60 seconds. Bobby recalls having to watch videos of the aforementioned challenges and adapt them into on-field contests for Crosscutters games.
After the 2012 season was over, Bobby wanted to make Minor League Baseball his full-time job. He was encouraged to attend the Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tennessee. So, he scraped up some money, bought a suit, and headed South. While at the Winter Meetings, Bobby was able to inquire about several openings within Minor League Baseball, including Director of Media and Marketing for the Beloit Snappers. After staying in contact with the team, Bobby was informed that the position had been offered to another candidate, but there might be a different opportunity for him in Beloit. The Snappers were in need of a Food and Beverage Director and offered the spot to Bobby.
“I asked them, “Are you looking at the right resume?” Because, my bachelor’s degree is in communications and marketing, and that’s what all my experience was up until that point. I really just wanted to go off on my own and do my own thing, and I moved to Beloit, Wisconsin to be the Director of Food and Beverage. I had never even worked in fast-food or anything like that. Everything was brand new. It was probably the most physically demanding job I’ve ever had.”
By the time Bobby’s season in food and beverage was over (and he had burnt off his eyebrows. Check out Episode 2 of Pulling Tarp for the story), he was already doing some work with the Snappers’ website and social media, so when the Director of Media Relations and Marketing position became available, it was a smooth transition. Bobby migrated desks and took over a new department at Pohlman Field.
After the 2016 season, his third in Beloit, Bobby wanted to move back towards the East coast, so he began to search for a new opportunity in Minor League Baseball. He found it in Salisbury, Maryland with the South Atlantic League’s Delmarva Shorebirds. From 2017 to 2019, Bobby Coon was the Communication Services Coordinator for the Shorebirds, but by this time, the long and arduous hours that Minor League Baseball demands were wearing on Bobby, and he decided to find a career outside of baseball.
The idea for a podcast was one Bobby had had in his mind for quite some time, but the execution never fit into his schedule until he was no longer working in baseball. Bobby noticed through social media that Nate Metz, who Bobby had hired as an official scorer in Beloit, had begun working for a small media outlet producing podcasts. Bobby reached out to Nate for advice on which microphone to purchase if he were to start recording a podcast of his own. Nate loved Bobby’s concept of a podcast about working in Minor League Baseball, one thing led to another, and the Pulling Tarp Podcast was born. Bobby, to date, has released 14 weekly episodes, interviewing the people who turn the gears behind the scenes of Minor League Baseball.
“The great thing about Minor League Baseball is everybody’s kind of at an arm’s length.”
One of the more unique elements of Pulling Tarp is that at the end of each episode, Bobby asks his guest to name their favorite walk-up song from their time working at the ballpark. A walk-up song is the music that a player chooses to be played while they are walking up to the plate for an at-bat. Bobby has obviously spent a lot of time playing walk-up songs and being responsible for communicating with players to ensure the correct song is played when they come up to the plate.
“It brings a form of personality to the game. You can find out so much about a player just by the type of walk-up song he has.”
According to Bobby, some players keep walk-up songs long enough for fans to recognize they are coming up to bat based solely on the music playing. Some players, however, will change their song everyday, game-to-game, especially if they struggled at the plate the previous day.
Another topic that Bobby mentions on the podcast as well as on his Twitter account is his love for the Philly cheesesteak. Bobby refers to the cheesesteak as the “ultimate meal.” He considers himself a connoisseur but claims he has some controversial opinions on the much-debated cheesesteak. For instance, Bobby likes his cheesesteak with lettuce and tomato and sliced cheese opposed to cheese whiz. Bobby’s favorite cheesesteak comes from Joe’s Pizza in his hometown of Williamsport. Joe’s is located next to the high school Bobby attended, and he notes the bread made from the same dough as the pizza is one of the elements that sets this cheesesteak apart.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Bobby has been spending more time at home but says not much has changed for him. He had plans to work for the Delmarva Shorebirds on a part-time basis and has one other goal he has yet to achieve with the lack of a baseball season so far this year.
“I was really looking forward to going to a baseball game and drinking some beers. I hear that’s nice.”
You can find Bobby on Twitter @ItsRACoon and check out The Pulling Tarp Podcast wherever you find your favorite podcasts. New episodes are released Thursday mornings at 6am Eastern. If you love Minor League Baseball and want some insight on how the sausage is made, so to speak, I believe you’ll enjoy Pulling Tarp. Give it a listen, and let me know what you think here with a comment or on any of my social media outlets: Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
I was poking around the internet, trying to figure out what to write about today when I discovered that May 17th, historically, is an eventful day. A perfect game, two hall-of-famers reaching the 3,000 hit milestone, and even the first televised baseball game in history all took place on May 17th. Let’s have some fun and commemorate the moments and events that have taken place on this day in baseball history.
Tris Speaker was in the twilight of a hall-of-fame career when he entered his 19th season as a player and 6th as a manager. Despite a dislocated fibula, Speaker wrote his own name on the lineup card when his Cleveland Indians hosted the defending World Series Champions, the Washington Senators, on May 17, 1925. In his first at-bat, Tris grounded into a double play. It would be the first, last, and only time the Senators retired Speaker that day. In the bottom of the ninth, with the Indians trailing 2-0, Tris Speaker stepped into the batter’s box to face Senators pitcher Tom Zachary (who 2 years later would give up Babe Ruth’s record-breaking 60th home run of the season). Speaker singled for his 3,000th hit, and after playing center field all day with an injured leg, he took himself out of the game in favor of a pinch-runner. At the time, Tris Speaker was only the 6th player to reach 3,000 hits in a career. He would go on to play until 1928, retiring with the 2nd most career hits, trailing only Ty Cobb. Speaker would enter the hall of fame in 1937 as part of the second class enshrined.
Baseball on television is an integral part of our fandom in 2020. It’s hard to imagine a world without the pastime on our TV screens. On May 17, 1939, W2XBS, an experimental station in New York that would eventually become WNBC, aired the first televised baseball game on record. Princeton traveled to Columbia’s Baker Field and defeated Columbia’s boys 2-1. Bill Stern handled the play-by-play for the 10-inning thriller. Later that same year, on August 26th to be exact, W2XBS would air the first Major League game on television between the Cincinnati Reds and the Brooklyn Dodgers with Red Barber on the call.
1961 was a historical season for Roger Maris, the New York Yankees, and baseball overall. Maris and fellow Yankee outfielder Mickey Mantle chased Babe Ruth’s single-season home run mark, and much to the surprise of many, it was Maris who ended the year with 61 dingers, breaking the Bambino’s previous mark of 60. Roger got off to a slow start, hitting his first home run of the year in his team’s 11th game. It wasn’t until game number 29 on May 17th that Roger Maris hit his first home run of the 1961 season out of Yankee Stadium, his 4th of the season overall. Maris took Washington Senators lefty Pete Burnside yard in the 8th inning of a 8-7 loss.
Hammerin’ Hank Aaron is best known for breaking Babe Ruth’s career home run record in 1974, but 4 years earlier, the Braves slugger collected his 3,000th hit. Hank singled in the second game of a double-header against the Reds at Cincinnati's Crosley Field to amass 3,000 hits. Later in the same game, he would knock career home run number 570. Despite Hank Aaron’s heroics at the plate, the Braves would go on to lose both games of the double dip that day. Aaron would go on to hit 755 home runs and collect 3,771 base hits in his storied career.
In the late 70’s, May 17th meant the Chicago Cubs hitting a lot of home runs at the friendly confines of Wrigley Field. On this day in ‘77, the Cubbies beat the San Diego Padres 23-6 behind 7 home runs. Larry Biittner, Jerry Morales and Bobby Murcer went back-to-back-to-back in the 5th inning, victimizing Padres pitcher Butch Metzger. 2 years later, the Cubs would repeat their May 17th power surge in a 23-22 barnburner of a loss to the Phillies. The two teams combined for 11 home runs and 50 hits in the 10-inning scoreboard-breaker. It’s worth noting, I recently found this game on YouTube, and it is worth a few hours of your time. Dave Kingman knocked 3 out of the park for the Cubs, while Phillies legend Mike Schmidt homered twice.
Sunday baseball in May; nothing better, right? Imagine settling in to your seat at Yankee Stadium, grabbing a beer and a hot dog, and watching history unfold right in front of your eyes. On May 17, 1998, 49,820 fans in the Bronx shared in that very experience when Yankees pitcher David Wells pitched the 15th perfect game in major-league history, the 2nd by a New York Yankee. The previous Yankee perfect game was tossed by Don Larsen in the 1956 World Series. As fate would have it, Larsen and Wells both graduated from Point Loma High School in San Diego, California. You just can’t make this stuff up. In true Boomer fashion, David Wells has claimed in interviews since his historic outing that he pitched his perfect game terribly hungover from partying the night before.
The final stop on this journey through the history of baseball on May 17th is probably my favorite. On this date in 2009, the Tampa Bay Rays lost their designated hitter due to a pre-game lineup mistake, and pitcher Andy Sonnanstine was forced to find a bat and step into the batter’s box. Rays manager Joe Maddon listed both Ben Zobrist and Evan Longoria as playing third base, disallowing Longoria to play DH for the game. Sonnanstine stepped into the number 3 spot of the Tampa lineup and helped his own cause, hitting an RBI double in the fifth. The Rays outscored the Cleveland Indians 7-5, and Sonnanstine recorded the win.
Thanks for joining me on this neat adventure through baseball history. Got any memories from the ballpark on May 17th? Leave a comment or follow me on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook! Special shoutout to the Associated Press, didthetribewinlastnight.com, and baseballhalloffame.org for providing much of the information in this article.
When I was a kid, baseball cards were seen as an investment hobby. If you could just get your hands on that Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card, you’d be set for life, financially speaking. Beckett price guides were like bibles for baseball card collectors. Since then, the truth came out about what the cardboard treasures are REALLY worth. While some collectors still seek the high dollar cards, it feels more like a “just for fun” venture since my return to collecting.
Enter Jasson Dominguez, a 17 year old outfielder from the Dominican Republic who is currently in the Yankees system. He’s nicknamed “The Martian” and has even been touted as “a teenage Mike Trout” in this mlb.com write-up. Dominguez is named after Jason Giambi, and has always dreamed of wearing pinstripes. By all accounts, he’s a “can’t miss” prospect.
So, what does Dominguez have to do with the price of eggs in China, or in this case, the price of baseball cards? Well, Jasson has reached a point in his professional career where he is being featured on baseball cards. Exciting, right? Maybe a little too exciting. In January, Topps released a photo of Jasson Dominguez signing cards. It was quickly confirmed that the cards he was signing would appear in the 2020 Bowman set. Bowman is famous for its yearly prospect cards, and this set is no exception. Well ahead of the 2020 Bowman release, the buzz got, in my opinion, out of hand.
Bowman hobby boxes, which guarantee collectors an autograph card, are priced upwards of $2,000, if you can find them. People are spending a lot of money to try to get their hands on Jasson Dominguez’s autograph card. I get it. The kid is exciting. He’s clearly got a ton of talent, and he’s in the Yankee organization, which just adds to his mystique. For me, it’s illogical for a couple reasons.
First things first, I don’t like to spend an arm and a leg on baseball cards. It’s a personal preference, but I like that card collecting can be a relatively inexpensive habit. I can’t stress enough, this is my own personal philosophy when it comes to baseball cards. I’ll never chastise someone for doing what they want and spending their hard-earned money however they wish. You want to drop a whole paycheck on a Mickey Mantle card? Be my guest. That’s a cool piece to have in a collection. I love seeing people’s joy when they get their hands on an old relic of the tobacco cards days or when they finally complete a set they’ve been piecing together for years. You may be asking, then, why I take issue with the ungodly price of 2020 Bowmans and the Jasson Dominguez autograph card. Allow me to explain.
There’s a possibility, albeit unlikely, Jasson Dominguez doesn’t become the next great major-leaguer. I’m not taking anything away from the kid. He clearly deserves the $5.1 million deal the Yankees have signed him to. He will probably one day take the field at Yankee Stadium to the adulation of fans in the Bronx and across the nation. Who knows? Dominguez could be the next chapter in the lore of the New York Yankees. He could also get injured. He could also cripple under the pressure of being the next big thing. Look, he could just flat out not make it. It’s feasible. I admit it’s not the most likely outcome. I’m just trying to look at this situation as rationally as possible. People are spending thousands of dollars for a chance to own an autograph card of a player that may one day be completely worthless. The card could just as likely be worth a Scrooge McDuck room full of gold coins. Point is, it’s a risk. And one plenty of people are willing to take.
In summation, I personally won’t be going after any 2020 Bowman cards any time soon. Which is a shame, but I get it. Supply and demand reigns in the market. It works that way with everything, not just baseball cards. I hope people get their money’s worth. I really do. I also hope that collectors that just want to crack open some packs of Bowman get that opportunity. That’s who really gets shafted here, those who collect Bowman cards or are seeking another specific player’s card in the set. C’est la vie, right? It will be interesting to see what comes of “The Martian” and the value of this new holy grail baseball card. At the end of the day, it’s pretty cool. It harkens back to my childhood when finding that elusive, valuable card felt like 100 Christmas mornings. Happy hunting, everyone!
Have an opinion on Jasson Dominguez or the price of 2020 Bowman? Leave a comment here or follow me on Twitter @baseballsmymuse, and let’s talk about it!