Minus the error, Bill Buckner is Harold Baines

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The moment it happened, the first line of his obituary was forever defined:

“Bill Buckner, made fateful error in 1986 World Series…. “

You know the story. One play, a hopper that got past Buckner and helped the Mets overcome the Red Sox, overshadowed a very good baseball career.

A play that never should have happened. Throughout the season, Red Sox manager John McNamara frequently sent in Dave Stapleton to sub for Buckner late in ballgames for defensive purposes. Buckner was a good first baseman in his prime, but was hobbled by ankle injuries later in his career.

That night, Game 6, Buckner allowed Mookie Wilson’s grounder to slip through his legs and the Mets won 6-5 in 11 innings. Two nights later, the Mets won the World Series and extended the Red Sox drought to 68 years.

Bill Buckner died this week at the age of 69 of Lewy body dementia. Although I’m not here to advocate the Hall of Fame candidacy of Buckner, his career and numbers are eerily similar to those of Harold Baines, who was elected to he HOF by the Veteran’s Committee earlier this year. In my book, Baines is not a Hall of Famer.

Buckner and Baines each played 22 seasons and had lifetime batting averages of .289. Billy Bucks is one of the few players in MLB history to play in four different decades.

Baines had 2,866 hits, Buckner 2,715. Baines had a big edge in the power categories (384 HRs to 174) and better slugging and OPS numbers.

But Buckner stole 183 bases as opposed to 34 for Baines. Buckner won a batting title (.324) with the Cubs in 1980.

Oh and get this. Buckner struck out just 445 times in in 9,397 at bats, and Baines 1441 in 9,908 ABs. The year Baines won the NL batting title, he fanned 18 times in 578 ABs.

Neither player ever won World Series. Buckner was on pennant winners with the Dodgers in 1974 and the Red Sox in 1986; Baines with the A’s in 1990.

One other big differential; Buckner played first base and outfield throughout his career,  Baines was primarily a designated hitter.

Take away that one error, and is the Veteran’s Committee looking at Buckner?


Injury-plagued Yankees weathering the storm

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Been following baseball for 60 years, but can’t ever recall an injury list longer than the Yankees this year. Lots of hobbled talent right now. Heck it takes three innings just to give the injury report.

At one point the Bombers had 13 men on the injured list, including 3 outfielders, two shortstops, a catcher, a first baseman, the staff ace and a top reliever. And others.

Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks, Luis Severino, Didi Gregorius, Dellin Betances, Miguel Andujar. It’s an All-Star list. Aaron Judge, shown above, the most indispensable Yankee of them all, is sidelined with an oblique injury and there’s no timetable for his return. With Judge is Yankee trainer Steve Donohoe, who is getting way too much air time these days.

Despite this staggering outbreak of injuries – at one point the Yankees had 176 home runs on the IL —  the team has maintained a competitive pace, 4 games above .500 and well ahead of the slow-starting Red Sox in the AL East.

Granted much of that has come against weak competition and a favorable schedule. But just last year the Yankees were criticized for not being able to beat the bottom feeders consistently. Beating lousy teams is a good thing.

Guys like starter Domingo German, outfielder Clint Frazier, utility man JD Lemahieu and Scranton callups like Tyler Wade, Gia Urshela and Mike Tauchman have helped keep the ship afloat during tough times.

The reinforcements are starting to arrive. Gary Sanchez came back last week and hit a monstrous grand slam in San Francisco which is still traveling. Frazier, third on the team with 17 RBI and hitting .324, and third baseman Andujar, out all season with a partially torn labrum, are supposedly ready to return to the lineup.

The schedule heats up immediately with AL best Minnesota, Seattle and AL East leader Tampa Bay up next. Good time for some of the cavalry to return.


The day Rocky Colavito got the ‘W’

colavito1968 will forever be remembered as the “Year of the Pitcher”. Denny McClain of the Tigers won 31 games, the last pitcher to win 30 in a single season. Bob Gibson of the Cardinals pitched to a record low 1.12 ERA; Cleveland’s Luis Tiant led the AL with a 1.60 ERA. San Francisco’s Juan Marichal was 26-9. On and on. Only one batter in the American League, Carl Yastrzemski, batted over ,300….just barely at .301.

And 50 years ago this month, slugger Rocky Colavito, called on in relief, recorded a victory in his final season with the Yankees. Yep, the Rock got the win.

Colavito, a superb outfielder with a strong right arm, hit .374 home runs in a 14-year career, including 42 to lead the AL in 1959.

On August 25, 1968, Colavito pitched 2.2 scoreless innings against Detroit, and wound up with a victory when the Yankees rallied from a 5-0 deficit to win 6-5. Colavito came on in relief in the fourth inning, and retired two batters to strand a couple of runners.

colavitocardThe Yankees got a run back in the fourth, and then struck with two outs in the sixth. Bill Robinson hit a three-run homer followed by a Bobby Cox solo blast that tied the score at 5-5. Colavito then walked and scored what proved to be the winning run on a Jake Gibbs single. Lindy McDaniel finished off the Tigers in the ninth to earn the save.

In the second game, Colavito homered against Mickey Lolich to spark another Yankee comeback and a 5-4 win for a doubleheader sweep.

The Tigers were good enough to win the World Series in 1968, but had a tough August weekend in the Bronx. In a Friday twi-night doubleheader (I was there), the Yankees won the opener 2-1, and then the two teams battled to a 3-3, 19 inning tie ended with curfew, with McDaniel pitching seven perfect innings in relief. On Saturday, the Yankees beat McClain 2-1 behind Mel Stottlemyre.

According to the rules of the time, the Friday game counted as a tie but had to be played again as part of the Sunday doubleheader where Colavito made history.

The Yankees played yet another doubleheader on Monday and shortstop Gene Michael pitched three innings in a 10-2 loss to California. The Stick gave up five runs to the Angels, but none of them were earned. On Tuesday the Yankees again split with the Angels. It was the Yanks fourth doubleheader in five days, including the 19-inning tie.

Rocky Colavito had an outstanding career. He hit four home runs in a game in Baltimore in 1959. Before the 1960 season, Colavito was traded to Detroit for Harvey Kuenn. For the only time in baseball history, a HR champ was traded for a batting champion. There was outcry in Cleveland following the deal.

Rocky Colavito also pitched three scoreless innings in a 1959 mound appearance with Cleveland. His lifetime ERA is 0.00. You can’t do better than that.

 


Matty and The Jinx–a rainy night in New York

IMG_2145When I go to games with my long-time friend and high school buddy Matty, bad things happen to our teams. Incredibly bad things. We affectionately refer to it as The Jinx.

The Jinx spans sports and the ages. We’ve seen the Giants crushed in the Super Bowl, the Yankees  blanked in both games of a doubleheader, the Knicks lose buzzer-beaters. And so much more. We’re afraid to speak on the phone when the Yankees or Giants are playing for fear of jinxing them.

But The Jinx may have reached a new high…or low depending upon your point of view…..on a rainy   Friday night in July in New York.

The evening started out in fine fashion when. Matty nabbed box seats, right behind home plate, for Yankees-Royals at the Stadium. But it rained the whole time we were there, the tarp was never taken off, and finally the game was postponed. Bummer.

So now Matt and I are on a crowded subway heading back downtown. We pull into the Fulton Street station, I reach into my pocket….and realize to my horror my cell phone is gone.

Matty quickly calls my number and to my amazement a guy named Zack answers. Sure I’ve got your phone he said, I found it sitting on a bench at the 149th Street Station in the Bronx.

Shortly after we’re turned around, going back uptown to meet Zack, who’s at 75th and Amsterdam. My man Zack answers the door with a Yankee cap (he too had been at the game), and handed over my iPhone. He refused a monetary reward but did accept the gift of a CC Sabathia bobblehead doll.

Zach if you’re reading this you are my hero. And while calculating the odds of recovering a phone left in a South Bronx subway, I will pass it along.

The story doesn’t end there. As soon as we left Zack’s place a monsoon hit Manhattan. No shelter from the storm. We got drenched.

Finally we find the subway and head back downtown to the Oculus Station at the World Trade Center to take the Path train under the river to Newark. We make our connections, and then rush to make  the Jersey transit train for the last leg of our journey back to Fanwood.

We’re just about 10 minutes into the 30-minute ride when the train comes to a stop at the Union Station Keane University stop. A half hour later we’re informed that a vehicle hit a bridge up ahead of us, and that we can’t move until the bridge passes inspection.

Well finally, about an hour and a half later, we’re cleared to go and make our way home.

The Jinx. You can’t make this stuff up.

Matty and the Jinx – the original top 10 list.


Forecast always cloudy when Sonny pitches

97058946GM Brian Cashman has made many shrewd moves the past several years in making the Yankees a contender once again. The acquisition of Sonny Gray isn’t one of them.

Cashman dealt three prospects – James Kaprielian, Jorge Mateo and Dustin Fowler —  to the Oakland A’s for Gray before the trade deadline last July. At the time, most thought the Yankees were getting a solid, young No. 2 starter.

Instead, Sonny has evoked nightmare visions of guys like Ed Whitson, Carl Pavano, Kei Igawa, Javier Vasquez and Kevin Brown, all of whom flopped in pinstripes.

Facing the Red Sox on the last day of June, Gray crumbled in the first inning. After retiring the first two batters, Gray loaded the bases and then surrendered a grand slam to Rafael Devers. He couldn’t get off the mound fast enough midway through the third inning, trailing 6-0 with boos cascading down from irate Yankee fans..

“That was embarrassing for me and for everybody in here,” Gray said in the home clubhouse after the 11-0 loss. “If I was out there, I probably would’ve booed me louder.”

Statistics tell the story, and it’s not good one. In fact, Gray’s performance as a Yankee has been historically bad. All Yankee pitchers are expected to pitch well at home….and show a propensity for beating the Red Sox. Gary has done neither.

Since coming to the Bronx, Gray has a 4-6 record and a 7.10 ERA, highest of any Yankee pitcher in history who has started at least eight games at Yankee Stadium.

This year, Sonny has an 8.25 ERA in eight home starts, the worst in Yankees history. Pavano was the previous leader in this dubious category with a 6.89 ERA.

Against Boston, the Yankees have lost all four of Gray’s starts in the past two seasons. His ERA against the Red Sox is 9.35, better only than Jose Contreras (16.43) and Andy Hawkins (14.44).

In eight career starts against the Red Sox overall, including his lone win while a member of the A’s, Gray is 1-6 with a 6.98 ERA.

“I mean, I haven’t beaten a lot of teams since I’ve been here. I’ve been bad against the Red Sox. I’ve been bad against a lot of teams,” Gray said. “So I don’t think you can say one particular team has my number. I’ve been bad against multiple teams.”

At least you got something right, Sonny.


20 years ago today, David Wells was perfect

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It was 20 years ago today that I witnessed a piece of baseball history. On a chilly Sunday afternoon, Beanie Baby day at Yankee Stadium, Yankees southpaw David Wells carved out a slice of baseball immortality by pitching a perfect game against the Minnesota Twins.

27 men up, 27 men down.

My sister Aimee came up with four tickets in the lower stands in right field, and my son Dan, then 12, nephew Sean, 7,and brother-in-law Jack saw a game for the ages.

That day, Wells threw the first perfect game for the Yankees in nearly 42 years, going back to Don Larsen’s masterpiece against the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1956 World Series. Amazingly, Wells and Larsen graduated from the same high school, Point Loma, near San Diego.

There were several interesting sidelights to that game. For one, I just missed catching a home run ball by Bernie Williams in the fifth inning. If you go back and look at the videotape, I’m the guy in the orange windbreaker who gets shoved out of the way on Bernie’s blast.

A father sitting in the row in front of us kept getting up to buy food for his kids. Then after seven  innings he announced he was leaving.  My brother-in-law and I were incredulous. We both asked him if he knew what was going. He realized a no-hitter was in progress, but responded that he wanted to  beat the traffic. Jack and I just shook our heads and laughed.

Lastly as we left the Stadium, I turned to Sean, who had just seen the second major league game in his life. I told him he could go to a game every day for the rest of his years and never see another perfect game.

Box Score


Giancarlo debut best since Maris in 1960

giancarloYou have to go back nearly 60 years to find a Yankee debut like the one Giancarlo Stanton had in his first game in pinstripes. On April 19, 1960,  the Yankees opened the season at Fenway Park with a 9-4 victory over the Red Sox.

That day, a guy named Roger Maris, an outfielder acquired from the Kansas City A’s in the off-season, batted lead-off for the Yankees that day and doubled.

Maris later hit a pair of of home runs and singled in another run. He finished with four hits, four RBIs and a 5-2-4-4 line.

The Rajah won the AL MVP in 1960, and lost the World Series in seven games to Bill Mazeroski and the Pirates. The following year Maris hit 61 home runs to break Babe Ruth’s record, won the MVP again, and helped the Yankees beat the Reds in five games in the World Series.

For the record, Stanton homered twice, doubled and drove in four runs to lead the Yankees to a 6-1 win over the Blue Jays in the opener. He finished 5-3-3-4 for the game.