What a great week in baseball! We had the privilege to witness the 18th perfect game in major league history; two great players entering the Baseball Hall of Fame; and the trade deadline gets closer by the minute. We cover all of this and more in this week’s edition of Around the Bases.
Mark Buehrle Reaches Perfection: Prior to last Thursday’s Chicago White Sox – Tampa Rays game, we’ve only seen 17 other perfect games since baseball started. The last one was thrown by Randy Johnson in May, 2004 against the Atlanta Braves.
Aside from being just a damn special achievement, there were a couple of things that make this one even more special than some of the others, if that’s even possible. For example, the Rays weren’t just any old team out there. Of the 18 teams on the losing side of a perfecto, they were the only ones who were current league or division champions, unless you count the Brooklyn Dodgers, who were actually IN the World Series when New York Yankees pitcher Don Larson threw his perfecto against them.
Going into Thursday’s game, the Rays ranked third in the majors in runs scored. According to Elias Sports Bureau, the only other pitcher to throw a perfect game against a team ranked in the top-five in the majors in runs scored entering the game was Catfish Hunter against the Twins in 1968.
This was Mark Buehrle’s 2nd no-hitter. He threw his first one on April 18, 2007 against the Texas Rangers. He joins Cy Young, Sandy Koufax, Randy Johnson, Jim Bunning and Addie Joss in having both a perfect game and another no-hitter.
Just to toss a couple of coincidences in there: both Buehrle’s no-hitter and his perfect game were completed in a very economical 2 hours, 3 minutes. In both games he faced the minimum 27 batters (in the Texas game Sammy Sosa reached base on an error, but was thrown out later in the inning), and most amazingly, not only was Eric Cooper was the home plate umpire for Buehrle’s perfect game on Thursday at U.S. Cellular Field, but he was also calling balls and strikes for his no-hitter against Texas in ’07.
Jim Rice and Rickey Henderson
On Sunday, Major League Baseball immortalized two more great players by inducting them into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. And while both were extraordinary in their own right, and both most certainly deserve to be there, they couldn’t be any more different.
Rickey Henderson is the all time leader in runs (2295), stolen bases (1406), and lead off home runs (81), and is largely considered to be the greatest leadoff hitter of all time. In 1982, he stole 130 bases, beating Lou Brock’s record by 12. It’s still a record today. In fact, the closest anyone has come was in ’07 when the Mets’ Jose Reyes stole 78 bases.
Henderson, throughout his career was loud, brash, colorful, and, in his own words, “the greatest”. He occasionally spoke about himself in the third person, although we now have found out that was blown a bit out of proportion, and it was mostly to psyche himself out when he came to bat. His Hall of Fame acceptance speech was a pleasant surprise. We were expecting the loud Rickey, the “Me” Rickey.
What we got instead was a respectful, thankful Rickey. He was on target and he was poignant. He was grateful to have had the life and career that he was blessed with. He told the 50 Hall of Famers assembled, and the rest of the crowd, “When you think of me, I would like you to remember that kid from the inner city who played that game with all his heart, and never took the game for granted,”
But his final words on the dais were the ones that we will remember the most, even more than his playful chiding of Reggie Jackson. He said, “My journey as a player is complete,” Henderson said. “I am now in the class of the greatest players of all time, and at this moment I am…very humbled.”
Jim Rice spent his career doing the best job he possibly could, and in the process became one of the fiercest hitters of his generation. From 1974-89, Rice batted .298 with 382 home runs and 1,451 RBIs.. He drove in 100 or more runs eight times, batted over .300 seven times, and had over 200 hits four times. And he’s the only player in major league history with at least 35 homers and 200 hits in three consecutive seasons (1977-79).
So why did it take him 15 years to get into the Hall of Fame? Good question. Mostly, because when it came time to talk to the media after the game, he didn’t have a lot to say. When they would ask him why teammates weren’t batting, or didn’t run out a grounder, he would point to them and say, they’re right there, go ask them. He was often considered surly and uncommunicative. And it hurt him.
For 14 years, he didn’t show it, not at all. He showed stoicism and ambivalence. But, when he gave his acceptance speech on Sunday, there was no doubt that he was proud to be there. That he wanted to be there. That it mattered to him that he was finally there.
His final words on stage summed it up perfectly, “It’s hard to comprehend. I am in awe to be in this elite company and humbled to be accepting this honor. I cannot think of anywhere I’d rather be than to be right here, right now, with you and you,” he said, pointing at the 50 Hall of Famers on stage behind him and then at the fans. “Thank you.”
The Return of Pedro
Sometime this week, Pedro Martinez will make his first start since going a dismal 5-6 in a shortened 2008 season with the New York Mets. Many thought at that point that his career was over. In fact, many hoped that it was over.
People want to remember Pedro as the dominant hurler that saved the Red Sox in the 1999 playoffs against Cleveland. The guy who went 23-4 with a 2.07 ERA and 313 strikeouts that season. That, my friends, is dominance. And you sure wouldn’t know it to look at him. He looked like he weighed a buck sixty soaking wet. But he threw like he weighed 225. And it was always a show.
Unless there is some miracle and he goes undefeated in his ten or twelve appearances that he’ll make with the Phillies the rest of this season, Pedro will suffer his 100th loss. That would be a shame. It would have been fun as a trivia question, if nothing else: Of the six people who have less than 100 losses in baseball history, who has the highest won/loss percentage in history?
So, let’s assume for a moment that he will have a loss. New Trivia Question: NOT INCLUDING PEDRO, in the past 100 years, of the 4 players who have 150 wins or more, and less than 100 losses, who has the highest winning percentage?
You Say Halladay, I Say Holliday
While Toronto pitching ace Roy Halladay, probably the best pitcher in baseball today, sits in Toronto and awaits his fate, hitter Matt Holliday was traded last week from the Oakland A’s to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Holliday was traded on Friday and immediately made an impact, going 4-for-5 with a double and an RBI. Not a bad way to start with your new team.
Holliday came to Oakland during this last off-season after five very, very good seasons with the Colorado Rockies. In those five years, he batted .319 with 128 HR and 483 RBI. He played in three All-Star Games and came in 2nd to Jimmy Rollins in 2007 NL MVP voting.
In 93 games with the A’s, Holliday hit 11 HR with 54 RBI and batted .286. A bit of a drop off, but even still, with his history he was considered to be the best bat in what has been a very quiet trade season.
The other guy, Toronto Blue Jays’ pitcher Roy Halladay, is considered to be so good that any team who is lucky enough to land him is not only an instant favorite for this season’s league pennant, but next season’s as well, as whoever gets him will have him under contract through the end of 2010.
Halladay has pitched his entire 12 year career in Toronto, and he has been awesome there. The six-time All-Star (including starting pitcher for AL this season) won the Cy Young Award in 2003, and finished in the top five in voting four other times. He led the league in wins in ’03 with 22, and currently is tied for the league lead with 11.
The issue at hand, however, is that Toronto wants whatever team is interested to pony up their top prospects. And rightfully so. Right now it appears that the team that is closest in the running is the Philadelphia Phillies. But, to land him they would have to give up their top pitching prospect Kyle Drabek, and their top hitting prospect, Dominic Brown, plus Phillies pitcher J.A. Happ, who is 7-0 right now. That’s a lot to lose, even for a shot at the ring this year and next.
Throw into the mix that fact that Halladay really doesn’t want to go to a National League team. He doesn’t like to bat, and he is very comfortable in the AL. There are other teams out there, behind the blue curtain, which are negotiating. Some have speculated that the Red Sox are in discussions, but one can only imagine what the Blue Jays would be asking from a divisional rival if they’re asking so much from a team in another league.
And there is always the very good chance that Roy Halladay will be going nowhere. That no trade will be made and that he will spending the rest of this season and next in Toronto. If that happens, he has already informed General Manager JP Ricciardi that he will likely test the free agency market after the 2010 season.
There is a new report from ESPN.com that the Phillies may be shifting their interests to Cleveland Indians’ pitcher Cliff Lee.