The Baseball Report Volume V Issue 2
April 17, 2001
From The Editor,
As always, the staff of The Baseball Report works hard to bring you the most interesting, fun, and interactive coverage of Major League Baseball. In every issue we have a standard AL and NL beat report, as well as some unique columns like Hollis T. Russell's "View From The Cheap Seats," Emily Liner's "Down On The Farm" report, and Michael Frankel's "Playing The Short Hop" column.
Additionally, TBR maintains a website at www.thebaseballreport.com. The site features some "Special to the Web" articles from all of your favorite TBR writers, as well as some new interactive options for your entertainment. The site contains an archive of Volume IV, in case any of you would like to look back on our words of wisdom from last year.
Finally, the site features some special contests, as you can pick your World Series winner, create your own trades and have them evaluated by The Baseball Report and more!
Check it out at www.thebaseballreport.com. Any feedback would be appreciated.
As always, the staff of The Baseball Report encourages and welcomes
feedback, so if you have an opinion or a comment on the issue, drop me a
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Now, onto the issue...
The View From The Cheap Seats by Hollis T. Russell
Chemistry 101 – A Tribute to Wilver Dornel Stargell
Fans hear about it all the time, "Chemistry in the Clubhouse." Professional athletes in any team sport talk about it all the time. Managers and coaches at all levels know how important it is to their success. Sports writers and broadcast media around the world dwell on it all too often. If this chemistry business is so important, there must be a way to unravel the mystery of how it works, write software programs and launch a DOT.com with an Initial Public Offering (IPO) in the billions. After all, the biotech sector has the technology available to clone human beings; chemistry in the clubhouse should be no hill for a climber.
Unfortunately, it is not that simple. The recipe deals with good coaching and strong leadership by respected members of the team. This leadership must be evident to everybody in the organization, on the field and off the field. One of best examples of leadership yielding chemistry in the history of team sports was a man who played 21 seasons in the uniform of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Willie Stargell.
Born Wilver Dornel Stargell in Earlboro, Oklahoma on March Sixth, 1940, his first name combining the first syllables of his parents' given names, William and Vernell. They divorced when he was six and he went to live with his aunt in Florida. A few years later he moved to Alameda, California to rejoin his mother. As money was tight in postwar America for a single mother, Willie worked a variety of odd jobs while attending school. Baseball was always his first love.
Upon graduation from high school, he attended Santa Rosa Junior College for one year. The Pirates signed him to a contract and sent him to their rookie club in Roswell, New Mexico. Willie moved steadily up through the ranks of the minors and at the end of the 1962 season, he was called up to the big club for a cup of coffee. In 1963, his official rookie year, he played in 108 games and hit .243 while adjusting to life in Major League Baseball.
Stargell’s career took off in 1964 and his reputation for hitting towering home runs began. That year was the first of 13 consecutive seasons in which he hit at least 20 home runs. He was named to the 1964 National League All Star team for what was his first of his seven appearances.
As great a player as Willie was becoming, he was only the second best outfielder on the Pirates. Roberto Clemente, arguably the finest right fielder in the history of the game, was the undisputed leader on the team until his tragic death on New Year’s Eve, 1972.
After Clemente died while attempting to deliver emergency supplies to earthquake torn Nicaragua, Stargell slowly emerged as the dominating force of the Pirates. A menacing figure at the plate, he would slowly twirl his bat round and round with his wrists waiting for the pitch. Then he would lean into it from his left-handed stance and pound it out of the park.
In his career, he hit 475 home runs. Some of them were legendary. He hit two balls out of Dodger Stadium, one of only two players to do so. He hit one into the upper level of Olympic Stadium in Montreal that was measured at 535 feet. He hit four homers into the upper deck of Three Rivers Stadium and seven over the roof at old Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, a feat only accomplished 18 times in 45 years. More than one expert has said that if he had played his entire career at Three Rivers, his home run total would have been well over 500.
In addition to his 475 homers which ties him with Stan Musial at 18th all time, Stargell drove in 1,540 runs with 2,232 hits for a career batting average of .282. Sluggers strike out a lot and he was no exception, he stands second on the career list behind Reggie Jackson.
Playing left field for the first half of his career and first base after a series of knee injuries slowed him, Willie won the National League home run title in 1971 and 1973. He helped the Pirates win World Championships in 1971 and 1979. Willie played in six League Championship series.
"Pops," as he was affectionately known by his teammates, almost retired after the 1977 season when he was plagued with injuries. He made a decision to give it one more try in 1978 and was rewarded by being voted Comeback Player of the Year when he hit 28 home runs, drove in 97 runs, all while making a late season charge for the playoffs. It was not enough. The Phillies took the title in the last week of the season but "Pops" knew 1979 would be a different story.
In spring training the next year, Willie began handing out cloth gold stars to teammates who made great plays. Be it a good at bat, a fielding gem, or a well pitched game, the gold stars were awarded in a post-game ceremony that brought the entire team together as one. To recognize their unity, "Pops" instigated a tradition of playing the song by Sister Sledge, "We Are Family" in the clubhouse before every game. On the field he hit 32 homers leading the "Family" to the National League West crown.
In the NL Championship series against the Big Red Machine, Stargell led the Pirates to a three game sweep by breaking up game one with a homer in the 11th inning and homering again in game three to seal the victory and move on to the World Series.
In the series against Baltimore, which went to seven games, Willie put on a hitting exposition that will not soon be forgotten. He batted .400 on 12 hits including three homers and four doubles while driving in seven runs. Those seven extra-base hits set a World Series record. Willie shared the NL’s MVP award with Keith Hernandez that year. Stargell was also voted MVP in the World Series.
For all the personal statistics and awards he amassed during his career, Willie is best remembered as a human being who led his team to hundreds of victories. He provided the leadership that was necessary to bond his teammates together. Infielder Phil Garner said, "To keep factions from developing, you have to have someone that the blacks respect and the whites respect and the guy that puts it all together for us is Stargell." Willie always took the younger players under his wing and showed them the way. He never let stardom change his personality.
Chuck Tanner, the Pittsburgh manager said "You can tell about people, and with Willie, you always knew he was sincere. He enjoyed the game and was thrilled to play it. He never lost that and it’s helped all of us keep our youth."
Call it chemistry in the clubhouse when everybody is on the same page or call it worldwide respect for a great leader, Willie Stargell knew how bring people together.
"One of the reasons we’ve gotten along here is because I never felt that I should ever be a judge of someone. Everybody is somebody no matter what their nationality or religion. You have to work together. I could never go to bed at night thinking I misused someone. Before we put titles on anyone, we have to remember we’re people."
Hollis T. Russell takes "The View From The Cheap Seats" for The Baseball Report.
For more on Hollis, check out www.thebaseballreport.com
A Stroll Through The American League by Michael Frankel
So Day 15 of the 2001 season arrives with surprises galore.
The Minnesota Twins have the best record in Major League Baseball with nine wins and two losses. The same Twins did not have a single player who hit more than 15 home runs last season. The Twins, at 6-0, are off to their best home start in 30 years, better than the World Series Champions of 1987 and 1991. Sure, they will not keep up the .818 winning percentage pace, and these 11 games may have simply been a trip to heaven for Twins fans, but the Twins could also emerge into last year's Chicago White Sox.
Speaking of the White Sox, 4-7? The Cleveland Indians are 5-6. The Detroit Tigers are 4-7. The Kansas City Royals are 3-9. Sure, it's only two weeks into the season, but wow.
In all fairness, the Royals did face some tough luck. Their first 12 games were six against the New York Yankees and six against the Toronto Blue Jays. All this with Mark Quinn hitting .404. Jason Grimsley has yet to give up a run in over nine innings pitched. That mean he shut down Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, David Justice, Carlos Delgado, Raul Mondesi, and the rest of the two offensive teams. He was a great pickup.
The Yankees went on to roll over the Royals, beating them in all six games. Against other teams though, the Yankees are a lackluster two and five, three of the five coming in a weekend set against the Boston Red Sox. Sure, it is still way to early to start worrying, but there has to be some concern in the Bronx right now over the sub par defense and seemingly unenthused offense.
The Yankees of course, lie in the middle of the AL East as the Toronto Blue Jays, behind what has been some of the best starting pitching in baseball, lead the division. The Red Sox, only one and two when Pedro Martinez starts, are getting exactly the kind of pitching they will need from Hideo Nomo, Frank Castillo, and Paxton Crawford in order to contend.
The AL West though, is by far the most out of predicted order division. The Seattle Mariners, with nine wins and just three losses lead the division by two and half games over the seven and six Texas Rangers, a Ranger team that is just starting to get its deadly offense going.
Of course, perhaps the biggest surprise in all of baseball are the two and ten Oakland Athletics. The A's are just one and eight at home thus far. For A's fans, it could not get worse than Sunday's 10-8 loss to the Mariners. In a game when the previously eulogized offense came back from the dead, the A's pitching yielded ten runs to the divisional rival Mariners team.
Sure, their pitching caused the loss, but Oakland will need to start generating offense much more consistently to win. A quick look at their lineup: Johnny Damon .191 Average, Miguel Tejada .233 Average, Jason Giambi 2 HR, Olmaedo Saenz .189 Average, Eric Chavez .244 Average. Rest assured though, this A's team will start hitting, and soon.
While a mere two weeks have gone by in the baseball season, the analyzing never starts to early. For rotisserie fans, surprises can be chaos. For baseball fans, they can be sheer joy. In any event, with less than 15 games gone by, it is way too early to start panicking...even for Yankees fans.
Michael Frankel is filling in for Kevin Burke in this issues' American League Beat.
Michael regularly writes "Playin' The Short Hop" for The Baseball Report.
For more on Michael, check out www.thebaseballreport.com
A Look At The National League by Eric D. Larson
The first week of the 2001 season is over, but the surprises have just
If the playoffs began tomorrow, the Expos, Phillies, Giants, and Astros would enjoy postseason play. In reality, with less than 5% of the season completed, it is certainly not time to start engraving trophies. Montreal’s sudden burst, winning six of their first seven games, is still a remarkable feat. The Expos are laughing in the faces of all their critics, especially the ones who follow history. They are off to their best opening record since 1974.
Offensive leaders following the end of Week One contain some well-known names, as well as some new contenders. Neifi Perez (Rockies) and Placido Polanco (Cardinals) are tied atop the ranks with the best batting average, .550. The home run leaders have Luis Gonzalez (Diamondbacks) and Mark Grudzielanek (Dodgers) sharing #1, each with 5. Larry Walker (Rockies) leads the league in RBI with 12.
At the conclusion of the 2000 season, New York and the Mets left the Braves with a bad taste in their mouth. Monday’s home opener in Shea Stadium continued the assault on Atlanta’s taste buds. After raising their National League championship banner at the start of the game, New York went on to a 9-4 victory, behind the arm of Kevin Appier -- pitching at home in Shea Stadium for the first time. Kevin Millwood collected the loss.
“Everything went according to plan,” said Mets reliever John Franco after the game.
During the Mets’ current era of moderate success, Atlanta’s dominant hitting and crafty pitching has kept them out of the number one spot in the eastern division. And, conclusively, in regular season head-to-head match-ups with the dynasty team of the 90’s, New York has played miserable baseball. Perhaps the shift of control is finally in the works.
The bad news for Mets fans this week lies in the injury of outfielder Benny Agbayani, who broke his wrist in a game with Montreal. While going five for 13, with one homer in the first week, Agbayani appeared ready for regular contributions to a promising season. Now, he will miss two to four weeks.
Neifi Perez sustained a thumb injury against San Diego on Saturday and should be inactive for a couple weeks. With his impressive hitting so far, Colorado cannot be ecstatic to see Perez disrupt his red-hot, opening-week streak.
Summing up the injury report, Ken Griffey Jr. is a little less than a week away from a full return to the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds’ team physician, Dr. Tim Kremchek, sounded confident but cautious. “Now that the hype of opening day is over, we're going to make very, very sure he can play every day,” said Kremchek. “But like anything with a hamstring, you're not really sure.”
Sammy Sosa started heating up on Monday. While visiting the Expos, he hit two home runs. It was a losing effort for the Cubs. Chicago sank back into familiar territory by going below .500. 2001 will be another disappointing season if the Cubs are relying solely on Sosa’s power.
The four teams with the worst record after Week 1: Arizona, Cincinnati, Florida, and Atlanta. The Braves and D-Backs are hoping to find their usually strong footing. The Reds, aside from waiting for Junior, can only hope a remodeled field will bring a facelift to last year’s disappointing team performance.
Eric D. Larson covers the National League Beat for The Baseball Report.
For more on Eric, check out www.thebaseballreport.com
Down On The Farm by Emily Liner
From the Gulf Coast to Omaha, the Kansas City Royals have always maintained a deep farm system. Former major leaguers like Bo Jackson, George Brett, Brian McRae and Mark Gubicza, as well as current players such as Johnny Damon, Jeremy Giambi, Kevin Appier and Michael Tucker, just to name a few, all grew up with the Royals' minor league affiliates.
Last year Royals' outfielder/designated hitter Mark Quinn made a huge impression. In 135 games, he batted .294 with 20 home runs, 78 RBIs, a .342 on-base percentage, and a .488 slugging percentage. He was honored by the Ted Williams Museum as the AL Rookie of the Year. He came in third for the Baseball Writers' Association of America's AL Rookie of the Year award.
The Royals still have terrific players developing in their farm system, especially pitchers. Here is a sneak peek at Kansas City's up-and-comers.
Dee Brown drew a lot of attention in the past few years. The swift power-hitting outfielder was chosen as Kansas City's best farmhand in 1998 and 2000 by Baseball America. He was second this year and in 1999. His offensive numbers sunk tremendously in triple-A last year after solid seasons in lower leagues, and he struck out much more often. However, he may get the chance to start in left field in Kauffman Stadium now that Damon is in Oakland. He is on Kansas City's roster as a reserve outfielder this year.
Brown's worst trait is his negative attitude. Many managers dislike it. Brown was even suspended after a dispute with his manager in Omaha, John Mizerock, this season.
One manager said about Brown, "The only question on him is if someone can get him to play hard all the time. He doesn't play hard, and he's moody."
Chris George was selected by BA as the Royals' top prospect this year. Pacific Coast League managers also ranked him fifth out of twenty of the league's best players. He was ranked fifteenth in the entire minor leagues by Baseball Prospectus. He is often compared to Tom Glavine because both are left-handed finesse pitchers. He usually has good command and a smooth delivery, changes speeds well, is hard to run on and rarely gives up home runs. His fastball's velocity has improved, sometimes reaching 96 mph.
The 21-year-old southpaw pitched in the 2000 Futures Game in Atlanta over All Star Weekend and brought home a gold medal from the Olympics in Sydney last September. He struggled a bit last year when he reached triple-A, but it will not hold him back much. He will start in Omaha, but he should get called up as the season progresses.
Jimmy Gobble is sometimes referred to as a slightly younger version of George. The young pitcher is a 19-year-old left-hander with George's same build and similar velocity. While George has better command, Gobble has better stuff. Once he gets some control over his pitches, especially his curveball, he will progress quickly to the majors. His season will begin in high A ball.
Chad Durbin, a right-hander, is quietly making a splash. After a brief stint in the bigs last season, the pitcher spent the rest of the season in Omaha to refine his mechanics. He has a great changeup, a solid curveball, and a fine fastball that is clocked in the low 90s. Managers in the Pacific Coast League ranked him nineteenth in the league. He will go back to triple-A to start the season.
Right-handed pitcher Jeff Austin was the fourth overall pick in 1998 after being named BA's College Player of the Year. He also played in last season's Futures Game. This year Austin is the Royals' fifth best prospect on BA's list. He reached triple-A after only 30 pro starts. His hard curve is his best pitch. He pitches in the high 80s and low 90s usually. He has good command; he just needs to learn how to use it.
Mike MacDougal, also a righty, was heralded by BA as having "the best stuff in the organization, including the major leagues." He is third on its Royals' Top Ten list. His pitches have so much movement that they are hard for him to control. He has fantastic velocity, sometimes reaching up to 99 mph. His fastball, slider and changeup are all very good, but he has some trouble throwing for strikes all of the time. He has only given up eight homers in 203 pro innings. He will go back to double-A to begin this season.
Other pitchers to watch in the Royals' farm are lefty Mike Stodolka and right-handers Kyle Snyder (injured, but still good), Chris Fussell, Shawn Sonnier, Ryan Bukvich, Brian Sanches and Corey Thurman. Some position players to keep an eye on are first baseman Ken Harvey, outfielder Alexis Gomez, shortstop Mark Ellis, and catcher Mike Tonis. However, do not be startled if some of these guys end up in a city other than Kansas City. Small market teams like the Royals usually have to trade away their top players because they are unable to afford them. Just as Damon was traded this winter, some of these players may be traded, too. Small market farm systems do not get enough credit for the super talent they groom. Just ask the Kansas City Royals.
Emily Liner reports from "Down On The Farm" for The Baseball Report.
For more on Emily Liner, check out www.thebaseballreport.com
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Last Issue: Many baseball fields have a sign on the wall reading: "No Pepper Games." What exactly is a pepper game, and why are pepper games not allowed?
Answer(s): Supposing you see a sign on the wall in back of homeplate or elsewhere that says "No Pepper." This has nothing to do with spices - "pepper" is an infield warm-up exercise that, played often enough in the same spot destroys the grass.
This Issue's Question: What is a "fungo" bat?
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copyright 2001 The Baseball Report
Michael Frankel Editor-in-Chief
Eric D. Larson Assistant Editor
Hollis T. Russell Senior Columnist
Emily Liner Senior Writer
Kevin Burke Senior Writer
Jeremy Weisser Webpage Manager
Susan Levi Director of Human Resources