10 highly unlikely batting champions

Some may argue OBP or even OPS, but batting average is the true test of the best hitter.

Here are baseballs 10 most unlikely batting champs:

1. Norm Cash, Tigers, 1961, .361 – Cash never came within 75 points of his magical season, and finished with a career .271 BA. His 41 homers and 132 RBIs that year were overshadowed by the great Maris-Mantle home run chase.

2. Snuffy Stirnweiss, Yankees, 1945, .309 – A second baseman with a .268 lifetime average, Stirnweiss won the AL batting title in the final year of World War II while many stars were still in the service.

3. Michael Cuddyer, Rockies, 2014, .331 – Cuddyer never hit higher than .284 until his breakout season last year, 53 points above his lifetime .278 average.

4. George Stone, Browns, 1906, .358 – Stone played just seven seasons, six with the Browns, yet managed to win an AL batting title. Ty Cobb would go on to win 11 of the next 13.

5. Debs Garms, Pirates, 1940, .355 – A singles hitter, Garms had a career year with Pittsburgh. He batted .293 lifetime with just 17 home runs.

6. Ferris Fain, A’s, 1951, .344; 1952, .327 – Fain, a journeyman first baseman who played nine years with four AL teams, won back-to-back batting titles for Philadelphia. He wound up a .290 career hitter.

7. Bubbles Hargrave, Reds, 1926, .353 – Bubbles, whose real name was Eugene, broke a run of six straight batting titles by the great Rogers Hornsby, who hit .400 three times in four years before Hargrave stole his crown.

8. Derrek Lee, Cubs, 2005, .335 – Lee had a career year in 2005 when he led the NL in batting, hits, doubles and slugging percentage. But lifetime he hit just .281.

9. Alex Johnson, Angels, 1970, .329 – Johnson played for eight teams during a 13-year career and hit .288 lifetime, yet edged out Carl Yastrzemski to win a batting title.

10. Carl Yastrzemski, Red Sox, 1968, .301 – Yaz is a Hall of Famer who won three batting titles. But he managed to win one of them with the lowest average for a batting champion in baseball history.


Dan Brouthers — baseball’s first great slugger

IMG_0908Scoping out the village of Wappingers Falls the other day when I stumbled upon this plaque in the center of town, right near the waterfalls in front of a bicycle shop. Turns out Dan Brouthers, a native of Dutchess County, was quite a ballplayer.

Brouthers was born in Sylvan Lake, NY, in 1858. As a teen-ager he played for the semi-pro Actives in Wappingers Falls before making his professional debut  in 1879 with the Troy Trojans.

A big man by the standards of the time (6-2, 207), he  was known as the first great slugger in baseball history. “Big Dan” held the career record for home runs from 1887 to 1889 and hit 106 home runs, fourth highest total of any 19th Century player.

A left-hand hitting first baseman, he had a career slugging percentage of .519, which remained a major league record until Ty Cobb moved ahead in 1922. When Brouthers retired, he ranked second with 205 triples and third in RBIs (1,296) and hits (2,296).

Brouthers played for a variety of teams throughout a 19-year career that spanned four decades, including the Buffalo Bisons, Detroit Wolverines, Brooklyn Grooms and Boston Beaneaters, all of the National League.

He earned five batting titles, and his lifetime average of .342 ranks ninth on the all-time list, tied with another great slugger, guy named Babe Ruth.

John McGraw, the long-time manager of the New York Giants, once said: “Brouthers really was a great hitter, one of the most powerful batters of all time. ‘Big Dan’ in his prime, against the present-day pitching and the modern lively ball, would have hit as many home runs as anybody. I don’t think I ever saw a longer hitter.”

Brouthers retired in 1896, but returned eight years later in 1904 to play two games for the Giants. He is one of 29 players in MLB history whose career spanned four decades.

At the age of 46, he played for Poughkeepsie and led the Hudson River League in batting with a .373 average. He spent nearly 20 years working with the Giants, and was in charge of the Polo Grounds press gate.

Brouthers died in 1932, and is buried at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Wappingers Falls. Dan Brouthers was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee in 1945. The Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) ranks him as the ninth greatest player of the 19th Century.

Related blog: Be sure to read about another great Dutchess County baseball player, Hall of Famer Eddie Collins of Millerton.


Off the pitch, USA waffles the Belgians

Manneken-PisIf size matters, the USA will waffle the Belgians in their World Cup knockout round match. Here’s how we stack up against Belgium.

 

POPULATION

USA — 318M

Belgium – 11M, roughly akin to Ohio

ADVANTAGE – USA, big

 

SIZE

USA — 3.79M square miles, world’s third largest country

Belgium – 11.8K square miles, roughly the size of Maryland, our 42nd largest state

ADVANTAGE – USA, big

 

FAMOUS PEOPLE

USA – George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Thomas Edison

Belgium – Adolpe Sax (inventor of the saxophone), Peter Paul Reubens (baroque painter), Leorge Lemaitre (astronomer who invented the Big Bang theory)

ADVANTAGE — USA (although sax and Big Bang are big deals)

 

CULINARY INVENTIONS

USA – BBQ pork and beef, crab cakes, potato chips, chocolate chip cookies.

BELGIUM — Belgian waffles, Brussels sprouts

ADVANTAGE — USA

 

GOVERNMENT

USA – Federal republic

Belgium – Federal monarchy

ADVANTAGE —  Belgium, a king tops a president, King Philippe gets the nod

 

GDP (gross domestic product)

USA – $16.799 trillion

Belgium – $434.503 billion

ADVANTAGE – USA, big

 

MOTTO

USA – “In God we trust”

Belgium – “Strength through unity”

ADVANTAGE — Tie

 

ATHLETES

USA – Babe Ruth, Muhammad Ali, Joe Montana, Michael Jordan

Belgium – Eddy Merckx (five times winner of the Tour de France), Justine Hennin and Kim Clijsters (women’s tennis)

ADVANTAGE – Seriously

 

ACTRESSES

USA – Marilyn Monroe, Meryl Streep, Katherine Hepburn, Lauren Bacall

Belgium – Audrey Hepburn

ADVANTAGE – USA

 

ACTORS

USA – Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson, Clint Eastwood, Tom Hanks

Belgium – Jean-Claude Van Damme

ADVANTAGE – USA

 

FAMOUS MONUMENTS

USA – Statue of Liberty, Washington Monument, Mount Rushmore

Belgium – Manneken Pis

ADVANTAGE – USA

 

LANGUAGES

USA – English, Spanish

Belgium – Flemish, French

ADVANTAGE — Tie

 

NICKNAME

USA – Land of the Free

BELGIUM – Low Countries (with the Netherlands and Luxembourg)

ADVANTAGE – USA


World Cup: A tie is a loss, a loss is a win

Strange when a tie feels like a loss…..and a loss feels like a win. But those are the emotions Team USA fans are feeling after the Red, White and Blue advanced out of the “Group of Death” – despite a 1-0 loss to Germany.

Sure, Americans were down after Portugal scored in the waning seconds of extra time to forge a 2-2 draw with the US on Sunday. And for awhile there today it appeared as though Ghana, and not the USA, might advance along with Germany in Group G.

Imagine the uproar if that had happened. The US beat Ghana 2-1 in an earlier match, and yet Ghana could have moved ahead on goal differential. What kind of tiebreaker system is FIFA using when head-to-head is not the first criteria,

Some other random thoughts about soccer and the World Cup.

The clock – It’s nice to see games start on time and end in less than two hours. But timekeeping is so imprecise that with extra time you’re never quite sure when the final whistle will blow. And how about a little more clarity on goals then, rather than just saying the score was in the 54th minute…or whatever.

Fakers – It seems as though an awful lot of players take dives and embellish injuries every time they go down – or is that just me?

There’s no biting in soccer – Well actually there is. Uruguay’s star striker Luis Suarez (Chewy Luis), taking a page out of Mike Tyson’s book, bite out of the shoulder of Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini. The result – a four-month suspension and a fine of $100,000 Swiss francs. That oughta teach him.

Vests – Why do subs wear those ridiculous vestments?

Like ice hockey – Soccer and hockey are cousins. With very few goals being scored in either sport, the thrill is in watching the scoring chance. If you’re waiting for home runs, touchdowns or three-pointers, you’re in the wrong sport.

Home pitch advantage – Uruguay (1930), Italy (1934), England (1966), West Germany (1974), Argentina (1978) and France (2006) have all won the World Cup as host team.

Five-time champs  – Brazil has won the most World Cup – five – but none at home.

If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium – Team USA will face Belgium next Tuesday in the knock-out round. Heck, the Americans win on GNP alone. Suzanne Pleshette will pick the winner.


It’s getting crowded in Monument Park

This weekend, the Yankees will honor Tino Martinez by dedicating a plaque in his honor in Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park. Later this summer, Paul O’Neill will get his plaque.

No disrespect to Constantino, shown at right, and the Warrior, who were key components of the Yankee teams that won four World Series in five years between 1996 and 2000. But there are plenty of other Yankees who are long overdue this honor.

What about Yankee Hall of Famers? Goose Gossage will be getting a plaque this weekend as well. But the Yankees have never recognized old timers like Jack Chesbro and Wee Willie Keeler, pitchers Waite Hoyt, Herb Pennock and Catfish Hunter, and hitters like Tony Lazzeri, Earl Coombs, Johnny Mize and Dave Winfield, to name a few. All are enshrined in Cooperstown, yet none have made the Yankees Monument Park Hall of Fame.

Tommy Henrich and Charlie Keller are certainly worthy of consideration. Each man was on more World Series winners than Martinez or O’Neill. So were Joe Collins, Charlie Silvera, Hank Bauer, Gene Woodling, Gil McDougald, Vic Raschi, Eddie Lopat and Frank Crosetti. Yet you won’t find any of them on the hallowed walls of Monument Park.

More recent Yankees like Bobby Murcer, Willie Randolph and Graig Nettles never made the big wall in the Bronx. Nor did four-time champions Bernie Williams and David Cone.

MVP Joe Gordon (1942) and Cy Young Award winners Bob Turley (1958) and Sparky Lyle (1977) have never had plaques bestowed upon them either. (As for Roger Clemens and Alez Rodriguez, let’s not go there.)

The Yankees will retire Joe Torre’s #6 on August 23, with Derek Jeter’s #2 to follow inevitably, meaning no Yankee will ever wear a single digit number again.

Martinez and O’Neill were great Yankees who wore the pinstripes with pride and produced champions. But they’re two guys on a long, crowded list of great Yankees.


California Chrome looks to break Belmont jinx

The guttural roar that cascaded down from the Belmont Park grandstand was deafening as Affirmed, on the inside, nosed out Alydar to win horse racing’s last Triple Crown.

Back in June of 1978, a young sportswriter and some friends ventured down to Belmont Park. Little did we know we were embarking on a journey to see horse racing history.

That afternoon Affirmed won the Triple Crown, edging Alydar by a nose in what is often referred to as one of the greatest horse races ever. We pooled our money ($72 as I recall) and bet it all on Affirmed. If he had lost, we wouldn’t have had enough for the Whitestone Bridge toll.

Amazingly, 36 years later, Affirmed still stands tall as the last Triple Crown winner.

Since 1978, 12 horses have gone to the Belmont with a chance to win the Triple Crown. None of the denied dozen were able to seal the deal.

Sunday Silence (1989), Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998) and Smarty Jones (2004) all finished second in the grueling mile and a half race. Spectacular Bid (1979), Pleasant Colony (1981), Charismatic (1999) and Funny Cide (2003) finished third. Alysheba (1987) was fourth, War Emblem(2002) was eighth and Big Brown (2009 wound up ninth.

The last Triple Crown candidate, I’ll Have Another, was scratched and did not start the 2012 Belmont.

Will lucky number 13 California Chrome break the Triple Crown jinx?


Rangers-Kings — rare NY-LA title matchup

Tommy Lasorda and the Dodgers celebrate their 1981 World Series win over the Yankees.

No doubt NBA is loving this Stanley Cup Final. Rangers-Kings represents the nation’s two largest markets, New York and Los Angele. That’s gotta be good for ratings, a perennial problem for the NHL.

The last time the two biggest American cities met for a championship in any of the four major North American team sports was nearly 33 years ago, when the Dodgers beat the Yankees in six games to win the World Series.

The Rangers and the Kings have met twice in their playoff history, neither time for a Stanley Cup, back in the day when the NHL had preliminary round playoff matches, not conference matchups. The Rangers beat LA in two games in 1979 and advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals, where they lost to the Canadiens.

Two years later, in 1981, the Rangers beat the Kings 3-1, and eventually lost to the New York Islanders in the semifinals.

Other NY-LA championship matchups

BASEBALL: The Yankees have faced the Los Angeles Dodgers four times in the World Series and split those meetings. The Dodgers swept the Yankees in 1963 and won in 1981, and the Yankees won back-to-back World Series in 1977 and 1978. The Yankees and Angels have met several times in the American League playoffs, most recently in the 2009 ALCS.

BASKETBALL: The Knicks and the Lakers squared off three times in four NBA Finals between 1970 and 1973. New York won its’ only two titles in 1970 and 1973. The Lakers beat the Knicks in 1972, one of many championships for the Lakers but their first in Los Angeles (they started out as the Minneapolis Lakers.)

FOOTBALL: Los Angeles no longer has an NFL team. The Giants and Rams split two playoff meetings in the 1980s, though neither was a Super Bowl.


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