The Baseball Hall of Fame unveiled the new writers’ poll on Monday, and sophisticated solely begins to explain it. This is the ultimate look for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling, and the first for David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez. Each has an extended historical past of boldface headlines, for causes on and off the area.
Eleven others are making their debut on the poll, and it’s a adorned group: three Most Valuable Player Award winners (Ryan Howard, Justin Morneau, Jimmy Rollins), two Cy Young Award winners (Tim Lincecum, Jake Peavy), two All-Star M.V.P.s (Carl Crawford, Prince Fielder), two closers with 300 saves (Joe Nathan, Jonathan Papelbon) and two others with a number of All-Star appearances and a World Series championship (A.J. Pierzynski, Mark Teixeira).
With apologies to Ortiz and Rodriguez — there’s no lack of written phrases about both man — right here’s our annual salute to the different newcomers up for election to Cooperstown.
Sometime in the spring of 1999, the Seattle Mariners labored out a child from Houston who had a scholarship to play quarterback at Nebraska. He additionally performed middle area and the draft was developing. “What’s his name?” I requested an onlooker, who advised me it was Carl Crawford.
Zipping round the Kingdome turf and lashing liners from the batting cage, he regarded fairly good to me. It was simple to think about Crawford becoming a member of or succeeding Ken Griffey Jr. in Seattle, however the Mariners didn’t see it that manner. They drafted two different gamers in the first spherical, spending greater than $3 million on their bonuses. Neither reached the majors.
Crawford was the first decide of the second spherical, when the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, then a reasonably aggressive second-year franchise, snagged him for $1.245 million. Crawford would wind up with extra wins above alternative (39.1) than anybody in his draft besides Albert Pujols. He led the American League in triples and stolen bases 4 instances every, and hit the first World Series dwelling run in Rays historical past.
Years later, I requested Crawford about that exercise. He stated he hadn’t carried out very nicely; he was drained from an extended flight. He ended up hitting .342 in his profession towards Seattle, his greatest common towards any A.L. group — and in 2018, two years after his final recreation, the Mariners traded for his distant cousin, J.P. Crawford. He is now their on a regular basis shortstop.
In 2016, when his profession ended as a result of of two spinal fusion surgical procedures, Fielder was solely 32. At a information convention in Arlington, Texas, he wore a neck brace as he sat beside his two sons: “I’ve been in a big league clubhouse since I was their age,” he stated.
Fielder was born in 1984 (that’s the reason he wore No. 84 for the Rangers), and his father, Cecil, reached the majors the subsequent yr. Prince was 14 in Cecil’s final season, spent largely with the Angels in 1998. I coated that group and bear in mind Prince taking batting apply, launching bombs over the proper area scoreboard in Anaheim. He would retreat to the dugout and sit there alone for some time, gazing at the area. He knew he would play there for actual sometime. Everybody did.
In 2007, Prince, simply 23 at the time, grew to become the youngest participant to hit 50 dwelling runs in the season when he did it for Milwaukee. He would end with 319 homers, the identical as Cecil. Sadly, they had been estranged for a few years. But by the time Prince joined the Rangers, in 2015, the fissure had apparently healed. “It’s pretty cool,” he advised USA Today then. “Real cool.”
In 2004, Howard performed 29 video games for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons. That identical yr, the pilot was shot for the American model of “The Office,” a sitcom a few paper firm in Scranton, Pa. As a nod to the native baseball group, a personality was named Ryan Howard.
The participant and the present continued on related trajectories. The Philadelphia Phillies promoted Howard to the majors. NBC picked up “The Office” for its prime-time lineup. For some time, Howard was the recreation’s premier slugger, the main leagues’ chief in homers (262) and runs batted in (796) from 2006 via 2011. “The Office” grew to become a powerhouse of its personal in these years, one of the funniest reveals on tv and a future streaming sensation.
But in 2011, Howard tore his Achilles’ tendon whereas grounding out to finish a playoff collection, and Steve Carell left “The Office.” The participant and the present had been by no means the identical, however they did come collectively for an episode in 2013, when Howard made a pitch to Jim and Darryl’s new sports activities advertising firm for a movie primarily based on his nickname.
“Half biopic, half superhero movie,” Howard says. “A mild-mannered professional baseball player, Ryan Howard, hits a home run into outer space. Ball comes back with stardust on it, which transfers him into: ‘The Big Piece.’”
Next time you step over a puddle of slush, assume of Tim Lincecum — or, extra particularly, this description of him by Roger Angell for The New Yorker in 2010: “Wait for that mound-eating stride of his: he’s a January commuter arching over six feet of slush. No, no — look at the tilt, the twist and torque, the flying arms, the balance lost and regained, the skinny bod, the high-school hair: he’s an X Games skateboarder headed for the Olympics. Nobody has ever pitched like this before.”
A pitcher’s stride sometimes measures about 80 or 85 % of his peak. Lincecum, who’s 5 ft 11 inches, had a seven and a half foot stride. He would twist his again to the plate, thrust his glove to the sky after which whirl his physique towards the hitter, his pitches exploding with startling energy.
In his four-year run as an All-Star, from 2008 via 2011 with the Giants, Lincecum led the majors in strikeouts (977) whereas successful two Cy Young Awards and the first of three championship rings. He was by no means elite after that, however starred in aid in the 2012 World Series and threw no-hitters in every of the subsequent two seasons.
That gave Lincecum a number of Cy Youngs, a number of World Series titles and a number of no-hitters. Only one different pitcher in baseball historical past could make that declare: Sandy Koufax.
When Derek Jeter bought as shut as he ever would to a Most Valuable Player Award, in 2006, he was runner-up to Morneau, the first baseman for the Minnesota Twins. When Josh Hamilton staged the most breathtaking home-run derby spherical ever, at Yankee Stadium in 2008, he was additionally runner-up to Morneau.
Two years later, Morneau was hitting .345 in early July when he slid into second base to interrupt up a double play in Toronto. His helmet collided with the proper knee of the Blue Jays’ John McDonald, and Morneau pulled himself from the recreation. It was his second concussion — he’d been hit in the head by a pitch in 2005 — however not his final; a diving play at first base ended his 2011 season in August.
“If anything good comes of it, it’s the fact that if parents see us big guys, professional athletes, missing good chunks of time, they’re going to take it seriously and not rush their high school kids back out there to play a football game,” Morneau advised me in 2012, two years earlier than he received a batting title for Colorado. He added later: “If parents can realize that and get past the fact that it’s not a sore hamstring, it’s not a sore elbow or something you can grind out and play through, there’s something to be said for that.”
Not each baseball stadium has a reputation as charmless as, say, Guaranteed Rate Field or LoanDepot Park. Consider the Long Island dwelling of the Stony Brook Seawolves: Joe Nathan Field.
Nathan was pitching for the Twins in 2011, on his strategy to 377 profession saves, when his alma mater opened the ballpark with assist from his $500,000 donation. The subsequent yr, the Seawolves marched to their first College World Series in Omaha.
When Nathan performed for Stony Brook, in the mid-Nineties, the program was Division III and he was a shortstop. Drafted by the Giants in 1995, he batted .232 and was advised to grow to be a pitcher. Instead, Nathan returned to Stony Brook to earn his enterprise administration diploma.
“I went in with my buddy to see what stockbrokers do,” he advised the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 2004. “I did it for like a week. I couldn’t do that. They are on the phone for like eight, 10 hours a day. And that’s not me.”
Suddenly, the mound appeared extra interesting. Nathan requested the Giants if he may return in 1997, and two years later he was in the majors. He stayed for 16 seasons.
The Red Sox introduced in Dave Henderson to throw the ceremonial first pitch earlier than Game 3 of their 2009 division collection with the Angels. Henderson, of course, had homered in Anaheim when the Red Sox had been all the way down to their final strike in the 1986 playoffs, sparking a well-known comeback. “That was bad luck,” the Angels’ Torii Hunter stated later, and was it ever.
Papelbon had thrown 26 ⅔ scoreless innings in his postseason profession when he stood on the mound at Fenway later that afternoon, needing one strike to increase the collection. He by no means bought it. In a ghastly sequence — single, stroll, double, intentional stroll, single — the Angels stormed again off Papelbon and received the collection. He by no means pitched in the postseason once more.
But he’ll at all times have the final nearer’s spotlight: hanging out a batter to win the World Series. Papelbon did it in 2007 in Colorado, blowing a fastball previous the Rockies’ Seth Smith. That will need to have been further candy for Papelbon, as a result of he went to Mississippi State and Smith went to Ole Miss.
He didn’t precisely protect the ultimate ball for posterity, although: that low season, he stated that his French bulldog, Boss, ate it. Maybe.
“If you believe it, you believe it; if you don’t, you don’t,” Papelbon later advised reporters, cryptically. “What can I say?”
More than 60,000 followers jammed into Qualcomm Stadium for a midday recreation underneath the San Diego sunshine on June 22, 2002. It was the greatest crowd in the majors that season, and the Yankees had been on the town. Jake Peavy, who had simply turned 21, was making his main league debut on nationwide tv. It didn’t begin nicely.
Alfonso Soriano led off with a double, and with one out, Jason Giambi doubled him dwelling. Then Peavy held the Yankees hitless till the seventh inning. “It was the thrill of my life when I walked off the field and got a standing ovation,” he stated.
There could be many extra thrills to come back. Peavy misplaced that first recreation for the Padres, 1-0, however shortly established himself as a star; 5 years later he received the National League Cy Young Award, main the league in wins (19), earned run common (2.54) and strikeouts (240) for the pitching triple crown.
Peavy by no means bought one other Cy Young vote however endured for 9 extra seasons, at all times making a powerful first impression. Traded at the deadline 3 times in six years, he went 3-0 for the White Sox in 2009, 4-1 for the Red Sox in 2013 and 6-4 for the Giants in 2014. He ended these final two seasons with a World Series parade — and even purchased a Boston Duck Boat for $75,000.
When he was 38 years previous, with Atlanta in 2015, Pierzynski did one thing no one else that age has ever executed — he caught 100 video games and batted .300.
“Never had any arm problems at all,” he stated the subsequent spring coaching, earlier than his final season in the majors. “Never had back problems, never had leg problems. I’m 39 years old now. I go to my kids’ school, and they’re like, ‘How do you squat?’ I don’t even think about it. It doesn’t hurt. It’s my job. It’s what I do.”
Pierzynski did that job 1,936 instances, logging extra video games behind the plate than Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, Mike Piazza and Ted Simmons. He by no means received a Gold Glove, however he was a profession .280 hitter with respectable pop who helped the 2005 Chicago White Sox win a title. He was brash and outspoken, so some people missed what he was all about.
“People focus on a lot of things about Pierzynski,” Simmons stated, earlier than Pierzynski’s final season. “Nobody focuses on the fact that he’s a pretty smart guy. That’s what impresses me most about him, because out here, there’s no place to hide. If you’re faking it, it’s just a matter of time — and not very long — before you get smoked out as an impostor.”
Not surprisingly, Pierzynski now pairs that deep information of the recreation with refreshing candor as one of baseball’s higher shade analysts for Fox Sports.
The Phillies introduced Rollins to the majors for good in 2001, and as quickly as he bought there, he led the N.L. in stolen bases with 46. He couldn’t wait to do it, it appeared, which made sense: Rollins is a local of Oakland who idolized Rickey Henderson.
“I used to steal bases with him in my living room,” Rollins stated. “I’d slide into the couch and everything.”
Rollins would end with 470 stolen bases, a complete Henderson reached when he was 25 years previous. But the recreation has modified loads since the prime of Henderson, who had a document 1,406 steals, and Rollins’s whole ranks fifth in the 2000s, trailing solely Juan Pierre, Jose Reyes, Ichiro Suzuki and Carl Crawford.
“These slide steps, these defensive shifts, guys not wanting to ‘give away outs’ — they’re stopping the running game,” Rollins stated earlier than the 2016 season, his final in the majors. “They figure if you’re not safe 80 percent of the time, it’s not worth the gamble. And it didn’t used to be that way.”
Rollins was way more than a speedster. He was an all-around offensive drive who set the franchise document for hits — and as an oracle, he was Philadelphia’s Joe Namath. Before the 2007 season, Rollins proclaimed that the Phillies, who had missed the playoffs for 13 consecutive years, had been the group to beat in the N.L. East. They went on to win the subsequent 5 division titles and a championship in 2008.
There are 39 switch-hitters in main league historical past who had 8,000 plate appearances. Only three have a greater on-base plus slugging proportion than Teixeira’s .869 — Mickey Mantle, Chipper Jones and Roger Connor, who performed in the 1800s. Of these three, solely Jones seemingly noticed a lot of the pitch that modified the recreation for switch-hitters.
“The cutter,” Teixeira stated in 2016, after I requested him to call the greatest change in pitching since his debut in 2003. “As a switch-hitter, the cutter has changed the game for me more than any other pitch, because when you have to cover both sides of the plate, it makes your job a lot harder.
“When guys would throw four-seamers in, you kind of know if it’s a ball or a strike and you can decide if you want to swing at it. If it’s a two-seamer, it’s going to come back over the plate, as a switch-hitter. So I’m always seeing the ball kind of going away from me. Sliders are down and in, so hey, lay off the ball down.
“But you can’t tell that a cutter’s going to be a cutter — and then it moves a foot in on your hands. I truly believe — because I’ve seen the best changeups, the best sliders, the best four-seamers, I’ve seen the best of all pitches — that a good cutter equalizes everything else.”
Teixeira stated one thing else in that dialog that has at all times caught with me. When a tall pitcher throws a curveball, he stated, it appears to be dropped from the prime of a ladder. That makes it particularly tough to attach, in comparison with one other sort of pitch.
“Now, give me a 100-mile-an-hour fastball, straight, in the zone, I’ll hit it every time,” Teixeira added, matter-of-factly. “I may not get a hit, but I’m going to hit it.”
I’m certain I simply nodded politely as he stated it. But inside I used to be pondering: huge league hitters, man. They’re just a bit totally different from the relaxation of us.