Around The Bases – Vol IV

PiazzaAnd so it has started. Our 2008 foray into inter-league play. In a couple of inter-state rivalries, the Mets swept two from the Yankees in the first Subway Series of the year while the Reds took three in a row in convincing fashion from the Indians. At the same time, the White Sox swept the Giants and the Red Sox swept the Brewers.

· This brings the Red Sox inter-league record at the Fens to an amazing 18-3 since the beginning of the ’06 season, and 31-8 overall in that same period. Detroit is next in the same period with a 30-9 record, followed by the Twins at 30-11.

· One of the more intriguing match-ups of the weekend involved the two RBI leaders in their respective leagues: The Rangers’ powerhouse outfielder Josh Hamilton (49) against the Astros’ superstar 1B Lance Berkeman (44), who has been playing the past three weeks like a man possessed. Neither disappointed. In the series opener, a 16-8 drubbing by the Rangers, Hamilton went 5-for-5 with 2 HR, a triple, and 5 RBI. A double would have given him the cycle. Both the 5 hits and 5 RBI were career highs. He also became only the 3rd person in Rangers history (48 years) to get 13 or more total bases in a single game, joining Juan Gonzalez (13) and Jose Canceso (14).

On Saturday, it was Berkeman’s turn as he went 2-for-3 with a HR of his own. That brought his HR total to a Major League-leading 16. It was also his 16th consecutive game with a hit. His batting average during that span: a ridiculous .548. His single in the 6th inning gave him 31 hits in 50 at bats, making him only the second player since 1956 to accomplish such a feat. The last one: Pete Rose in 1979.

On Sunday Berkeman got 2 more hits to raise his average to .399 and extend his hitting streak to 17 games. Hamilton pinch hit and went 0-for-one.

· I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the tremendous feat of one Jonathon Lester, lefty pitcher extraordinaire from the Boston Red Sox. By now I’m sure you are all aware of his no-hitter against the Kansas City Royals this past Monday night. Much has been made about the journey this young man has taken to reach the heights he has reached. Diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 2006 spring training, then battling his way through countless chemotherapy sessions, and finally beating the cancer.


After that, Lester essentially started his pro baseball career again. Battling his way through the Red Sox system a second time. Single-A to Double-A, to Triple-A, back up to The Show. Finally arriving toward the end of last season and reaching what he thought was the pinnacle: Pitching in Game 4, the winning pitcher of the winning game of the 2007 World Series. How could it possibly get any better than that? He showed us on Monday night.

· Announcing his retirement on Tuesday was certain future Hall of Fame catcher and 12-time All-Star Mike Piazza. After a tremendous 16-year career with the Dodgers (1992-98), Florida (1998), Mets (1998-05), San Diego (2006) and Oakland (2007), Piazza finished his career with a .308 average, 427 home runs (396 as a catcher) and 1,335 RBIs (1205 as a catcher).

Amazingly, Piazza almost didn’t even have a baseball career at all. He was selected in the 62nd round by the LA Dodgers, player # 1,390, as a favor to manager Tommy Lasorda, Piazza’s godfather and father’s close friend. But don’t think for a moment that he rested on that laurel. Piazza worked his ass off. He rode the Single-A bus like everyone else, and slept in the same crappy hotels. By all accounts, he was one of the hardest workers they had. And it paid off in a big way. In 1993 he was voted NL Rookie of the Year. Not bad for a 62nd rounder.

1997 was probably Piazza’s best all-around season. That year, his last full season with the Dodgers, he batted .362, hit 40 HR, and had 124 RBI. He also came in 2nd in MVP voting for the second time in his career (first time was in ’96). He hit 40 HR and 124 RBI again in ’99, his first full season with the Mets, but only reached .303 batting.

Of Mike Piazza’s 1,335 career RBIs, 1,205 came as a catcher. That ranks 3rd on the All-Time RBI list for Catchers. What two former New York Yankees Hall of Fame catchers are ahead of Piazza on the list?
(Please don’t check the internet, that’s just too easy).

Fill out the form below to submit your answer. Winner will be drawn at random from all correct entries. First prize is American Pie presents Beta House on DVD – courtesy of Universal Home Entertainment.

Of Julio Franco’s 173 home runs, only 2 were hit off of Hall of Fame Pitchers. Who were they?
Don Sutton – July 4, 1983
Phil Niekro – August 8, 1985

· Has anyone noticed that Atlanta Braves 3B Chipper Jones is having one of the best seasons of his career? Does this guy ever get old? For years, he’s been one of the most underrated players in the game, but that might change this season if he comes close to keeping the pace he’s been at so far. At the time of this writing, he’s batting .412 overall, which is impressive enough, but then consider that he’s batting .408 against right-handed pitchers and .418 against left-handed pitchers. That’s even more impressive. His 70 hits are 1st in the Majors. He’s tied for 5th in the Majors in HR (12) and 6th in the NL in RBI (35). Of the top ten players in batting in the Majors, Jones has the 2nd lowest strikeout percentage (9.6 %). Only Reds’ shortstop Jeff Keppinger’s percentage is lower (5.4%), and he’s on the DL for a while.

· At the other end of the spectrum, phans in Philadelphia are not very happy with 1B Ryan Howard right now. Despite his 12 HR (T-5th in NL), Howard is also leading the Major Leagues in strikeouts (69). But guess what? This is nothing new. He blew away the entire Majors in this category last season too (199). The next guy on the list, Marlins’ 2B Dan Uggla had 32 Ks less (167). Of course, Howard also finished the season with a higher batting average than Uggla (.268 to .245), a much higher OBP (.392 to .326), a higher slugging pct (.584 to .479) and OPS (.976 to .805), and almost 50 more RBI (136 to 88).

Ryan HowardHere is the problem this season. Compared to everyone in the top 10 in Ks with at least 150 at bats across the whole Major Leagues, Howard has the lowest batting average (.195), 2nd fewest hits (34) and OBP (.300), and 3rd lowest slugging pct (.404). Since the beginning of the ’06 season, Ryan Howard’s first full season and his MVP year, he has led the majors in Ks (436 overall). 2nd is Adam Dunn (392), followed by Grady Sizemore (338), Curtis Granderson (332), and Dan Uggla (332).

In past seasons, Howard has been such a great hitter that his strikeout problem has been easy to overlook. Of all five of the abovementioned players, Howard also leads them in RBI and HR, by a wide margin over the same time period. He also has a much higher OPS and his OBP is higher. He’s second in batting average. When you’re that good, it’s easy to overlook a few strikeouts.

· Much has been made this week about the non-use of instant replay in Major League Baseball. Last Sunday night, a homerun that was hit by NY Mets 1B Carlos Delgado was incorrectly ruled a foul when a quick shot from an instant replay booth/official would have shown otherwise.

Then it happened again the very next night when Cubs catcher Geovany Soto hit a ball high off the center field wall and it was ruled in play when it should have been ruled a HR. Fortunately, Soto was fast enough that he turned it into an inside-the-park HR anyway, but that’s not the point.

Then on Wednesday night, NY Yankees shortstop Alex Rodriguez hit a ball that hit the stairwell next to the outfield fence and bounced back on the field. That was ruled a ground-rule double when replay would have shown that to be a HR as well.

It is clearly time to let 21st century technology into the game and help the umpires make the right call. There is not a single argument against it that holds any water any more. Let’s look at some of them:

o It will make the games longer; Uh, not longer than the quorum of umpires standing in the middle of the field for 10 minutes discussing a play.

o Once we start with reviewing HR, where do we stop? It will create a slippery slope: Hey, did you ever hear the phrase “That’s not reviewable!!” The NFL does it all the time. Only very specific plays are reviewable and it’s been that way from the beginning.

o Umpires will feel like Big Brother is looking over their shoulder: How about, this will HELP the umpires make the right call instead of having them read about the wrong call they made for days.

o It will cost too much money to put the cameras in the right places to catch everything they need to catch: Are you kidding me? These guys are making more money than they know what to do with. This is a one time outlay of money with great benefits for everyone that will improve the entire game.

I am happy to report that I saw in a Jayson Stark column today on that MLB is actually considering using instant replay as early as next season in Arizona Fall League games. Stark reported that if that works out without any glitches, then they will consider trying it out in the World Baseball Classic in March. If that goes well, then they will consider trying it in Spring Training. If all that works out well, we could see it in regular season games as early as next season, but only on HR calls.