Wingo Was A Star

Most catchers aren’t known for their speed or baserunning skills. Ivey Wingo was an exception. At least once.

On July 30, 1913, third year St. Louis Cardinals catcher Ivey Wingo would steal three of his 18 bases that year, in the same inning. In the bottom of the second in what would become a 9-1 thumping of the Boston Braves at Robison Field in St. Louis, Wingo stole second, third and then home, becoming part of a pretty small list of players to do so.

Wingo in 1919

 Wingo would be sold to the Cincinnati Reds prior to the 1915 season, where he would remain until the end of his career 14 years later. The Gainesville, GA native would amass a strong .260 lifetime batting average while catching 1,327 games. The midpoint of his career in 1919 was another highlight, as Wingo split time behind the dish with Bill Rariden, helping to win the infamous World Series that year over the Chicago White Sox. In a rather ironic situation, Wingo’s teammate on the ’19 Reds, Greasy Neale, would himself steal all three bases in the same inning during a game at the Polo Grounds in New York against the Giants.

You don’t often see small ball aggression to that degree anymore.

 

Sources: http://www.baseball-almanac.com/feats/stealing_second_third_home.shtml

http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/CIN/1919.shtml

http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/w/wingoiv01.shtml

Photo Credit: http://www.gcps-foundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Ivey-Wingo.jpg

All In: A Gutsy Trade for a Maligned Closer

The blockbuster trade between the Cubs and Yankees which landed controversial closer Aroldis Chapman in Chicago in exchange for a hefty load of quality prospects has created quite a stir to say the least.

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I won’t get into the details, or offer any opinions on Chapman’s offseason situation which has created the moral and ethical disdain with which he is largely viewed, but rather try and interpret this trade objectively. First of all, this is a gutsy, “go for it” move by the Cubs, and it makes them better in the here and now. An elite, extremely talented reliever like Chapman not only fills a glaring need, it also solidifies the bullpen as a whole by slotting guys down. Furthermore, it prevents Chapman from ending up on another team’s, possibly a playoff competitor’s, roster. Would you rather face a guy like him with a game on the line, or have him pitching for you?

In exchange, the Cubs had to part with their top prospect Gleyber Torres, highly regarded minor league outfielders Billy McKinney and Rashad Crawford, and big league swingman pitcher Adam Warren. This may sound like a lot to give up for a rental, but here we see one of the main benefits of the Cubs’ efforts to stockpile their farm system with capable, talented players: Trade chips. The Yankees made out extremely well in this deal, getting Warren back who was very effective for them both in starting and relief roles last year, and a slew of young talent which will be ready for the big club in the very near future as they reload. On the Cubs’ end, both Torres and McKinney were more or less blocked on the big league roster for the foreseeable future. That’s not to say they were expendable per se, just that their upward path was a little less clear with the young core in place on the big club. Warren, for his part, simply did not work out as the Cubs had hoped. In short, this is a win-win trade for both teams from a baseball perspective. Even if the Cubs overpaid for Chapman, well, so what? They overpaid for Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist too. But in today’s game with the incredibly high dollar figures attached to player value, it’s less about overpaying and more about fit. To that extent, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have not missed on too many puzzle pieces to this point.

Not all fans are happy with this trade of course, almost exclusively due to the domestic violence accusation Chapman received last winter. Such a situation and the various amounts of circumstantial evidence paints a bleak picture and is counterintuitive to the type of positive character stipulations that the Cubs organization has sought to uphold in recent years. But if Cubs fans who are understandably upset from that perspective can temper their cognitive dissonance and realize that this move made the team better, on the field that is, then all parties should be satisfied. At least to some degree.

This trade is aggressive, it serves a need, and it shows that this is really it – the Cubs are all in and are legitimately going for it right now. If it works, it’s brilliant. If not, it’s bad. But the gamble ensures the rest of the 2016 season should be interesting ’til the living end.

 

 

Cooperstown’s Inaugural Class Still the Best

With the well-deserved hoopla surrounding the inductions of new hall of fame ballplayers Ken Griffey, Jr. and Mike Piazza this weekend in Cooperstown, aficionados of hardball history are reminded of the very first Hall of Fame class, in 1936.

And it’s still the greatest one, ever.

The first group to be enshrined in the Hall consisted of legends Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Walter Johnson and Ty Cobb.

Not much needs to be said about this group other than no Hall of Fame class ever has, nor ever will be, more powerful than that one, folks.

Source(s): http://www.baseballhall.org

Photo credit(s): http://aarontallent.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Hall-of-Fame-First-Class.jpg

Happy Birthday Shoeless Joe!

“He was the finest natural hitter in the history of the game.”

-Ty Cobb

The legendary Josepf Jefferson “Shoeless Joe” Jackson was born on this day in 1887 (although some sources cite 1888, adding to the mystique of the man), in Pickens County, South Carolina.

The Babe and Shoeless Joe, chatting it up in 1919.

One of the best and most graceful players to ever step on the diamond, often thought of as the greatest natural left-handed hitter of all time, the man from whom Babe Ruth copied his swing, played 13 seasons in the Majors. Coming up with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1908 before being bought by Cleveland in 1910 and finally finishing his illustrious career with the Chicago White Sox where he won the World Series in 1917 but was banned from the game in 1921 for his role in throwing the infamous 1919 World Series.

His lifetime .356 batting average remains the 3rd highest in history, and he still holds Indians single-season records for batting average (.408), and hits (233), both in 1911, and triples (26) in 1912. He’s also the Indians all time leader in batting average (.374). For his part with the White Sox, he’s their all time leader in batting average (.340) and holds their single season record for triples (21) in 1916. Rather impressive for only playing parts of six seasons with each team.

Shoeless Joe with the Indians, 1912

Jackson would’ve been a lock for the Hall of Fame in it’s inaugural class in 1936 (joining legends Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Walter Johnson and Christy Matthewson), if not for his banishment and subsequent transformation from star to tragic hero. Although his play on the field in the ’19 Series (he hit .375, including the series’ only HR and committed no errors) did not indicate he was playing to lose, he was aware of the fix and accepted $5,000 for his involvement. That red thumb has been more than enough to keep Jackson out of baseball for the last 95 years and likely forever. Like his Sox teammate Buck Weaver, many believed from the very beginning, and still to this day, that he was wronged, and deserves to be reinstated.

“Jackson’s fall from grace is one of the real tragedies of baseball. I always thought he was more sinned against than sinning.”

-Connie Mack

Joe in 1917.

Sources:

 http://www.baseball-almanac.com/quotes/quojcks.shtml

http://www.baseball-reference.com

Photo credits:

http://www.thesportsfanjournal.com/sports/baseball/manfred-digs-shoeless-joe-jackson-deeper-grave/

http://quotesfor.org/great-shoeless-joe-jackson-quotes/

http://www.sportingnews.com/mlb/news/shoeless-joe-jackson-baseball-hall-of-fame-reinstatement-rob-manfred-black-sox/1oj4kwwym8irzlwbzstoha7w

 

Checking In At the Break

Well, here we are at the end of the All-Star break, with regular season play resuming tomorrow. With this pause in the daily action, let’s take a look at how things stack up now vs. where I predicted them at the end of Spring Training.  Some prognostications were spot on, while others turned out to be polar opposite. You just never know what is going to happen in a given baseball game, much less a whole season.

American League East 

  1. Baltimore: I dropped the ball here. Picked them fifth, but they are in first. Their offense has been as good as expected, and some surprising bullpen work has helped a lot.
  2. Boston: Picked them second, and here they sit. Solid team. Division title still possible.
  3. Toronto: Picked them third, they are in third. See Boston. Tight race here.
  4. New York: Thought they’d be much better. Picked them first, but they had a disastrous start that has been hard to recover from.
  5. Tampa Bay: Picked fourth, they will finish last. Bad start and little consistency.

American League Central (completely opposite of what I predicted! Knew this division would be a crapshoot.)

  1. Cleveland: Picked fifth, they sit in first. Great arms and potent offense.
  2. Detroit: Picked fourth, but this resilient bunch is squarely in the WC Race.
  3. Chicago: Picked third, and that’s where they are. Red hot start through April and May, but very streaky since. Still solidly in WC contention.
  4. Kansas City: Picked second, but injuries have decimated this group. Still, they sit above .500 and are in the WC hunt themselves.
  5. Minnesota: Picked first. What a disaster. Total 180 from 2015.

American League West

  1. Texas: Picked them first and that’s where they are. Very solid club.
  2. Houston: Awful April, bounced back strong since. Picked second.
  3. Seattle: Good start, dangerous team. WC still possible? Picked fourth.
  4. Oakland. Picked fifth, but they’ll finish better. Mediocre overall.
  5. Los Angeles: Colossal trainwreck despite talent. Worse yet, they still have to pay Albert Pujols for five more years, and Josh Hamilton another year to play elsewhere.

National League East

  1. Washington: The Baker Effect has worked and it looks like they’re headed for a division title. Picked second.
  2. New York: Picked first, but some key injuries have hindered them. Still in WC race.
  3. Miami: Picked third, they are in third. Solid team in the WC race and headed for a strong finish.
  4. Philadelphia: Picked fourth. Real good start, improvement across the board but the Phils are still a year or two away from contending.
  5. Atlanta: Picked fifth. They’re bad.

National League Central

  1. Chicago: Picked second. Historical start, but some injuries plus a rough stretch in the last few weeks before the break brought the northsiders back to earth. Still a sizeable lead in the division.
  2. St. Louis: Picked first. Squarely in the WC race, but overall not as strong as they were in 2015.
  3. Pittsburgh: Picked third. Solid overall club, another WC contender.
  4. Milwaukee: Picked fourth. Below average team, will avoid the cellar.
  5. Cincinnati: Picked fifth. They waived the white flag over the winter.

National League West

  1. San Francisco: Picked first. Even better than expected, impressive having the best record in baseball at the break considering the run the Cubs had been on.
  2. Los Angeles: Still in the hunt for the WC, strong team, but having Kershaw on the DL doesn’t help. Picked second.
  3. Colorado: Picked fifth. Potent offense is giving this club a shot at a .500 season.
  4. San Diego: Picked fourth. They are a fourth place team, not sure what else to say.
  5. Arizona: Picked third. Was expecting more from this club. Injuries have not helped at all.

 

There you have it, folks. Once again, baseball proves to be the craziest sport to predict. The second half of the season is set to get underway and who knows what’ll happen…

24 in 24 Has Been a Rough Ride

Beginning back on June 17, the Cubs entered a brutal stretch of 24 games in 24 days, with the bulk of those on the road. With six games remaining in that block, it’s been a far from enjoyable marathon.

The 24-game batch got off to a roaring start with a three-game sweep of Pittsburgh. But then St. Louis rolled into town on June 20, sweeping the Cubs in three, and triggering the first four-game losing streak for the Northsiders, capped off by a loss at Miami. After dropping two out of three to the Marlins, the Cubs rebounded with a road sweep of the hapless Reds, only to then be decimated in four straight by the Mets. The Reds came into Wrigley and extracted a little revenge, grabbing two out of three, bringing us up to the current date, a day after the Atlanta Braves steal a win at Wrigley in a makeup game from April.

In all, the Cubs have managed just a 5-13 record in their last 18 games, including two separate four-game losing streaks. What is happening here?

In short, they look tired. It’s no excuse, but over the last few weeks, certain things are very noticeable. First and foremost, the starting pitching, which has been the bread and butter all season, is not nearly as sharp. One through five in the rotation have become prone to ineffectiveness, high pitch counts, walks, and giving up home runs. A lot of home runs in fact. In various times during this stretch the Cardinals, Marlins, Reds and Mets have all bashed Cubs pitchers to 7+ runs in a game. Much of the defense hasn’t looked as sleek-footed either, adding to the struggles. Part of this conundrum can be traced to who’s behind the plate. While rookie phenom Willson Contreras has performed very well in his limited time, it’s a still a small sample size to this point. Miguel Montero has struggled mightily all season both in the field and behind the plate, and with a long stint on the DL one may wonder if he’s been really hurt all season. That leaves 39-year-old David Ross, who has been highly touted this year, and for good reason. The simple fact is the best version of this Cubs team, at least defensively, is when Ross is on the field. The snag there is you just can’t play Ross daily, and now he’s on the 7-day DL for concussion protocol. With a history of concussions in his career, there’s no telling how another bell-ringing could affect ‘ol Gramps.

Offensively there has been a lot of inconsistency as well. Whether that’s partially due to injuries (Dexter Fowler’s absence has been extremely impactful) or virtually a new lineup every day,  it’s hard to tell. There have been some bright spots: Rookies Albert Almora Jr, and Willson Contreras have begun their MLB careers with distinction, and Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant continue to slug well.

The good news: The Cubs still hold an 8 game lead in the NL Central, and are 19 games over .500 for the season. As we’re seeing, it’s great they got off to such a roaring start and built that cushion, because things change faster than people think in the game of baseball. More good news: All the above is correctable. Players will get healthy, pitching and defense can get sharper, and the bats can find consistency. It’s not a question of if.

There’s a whole half of baseball left to be played. Besides, I’m sure most Cubs fans would rather they struggle in June-July than September-October, right?