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Kreider’s Play is Just What the Sather Ordered

Written for Designated 4 Assignment 10/24/2014

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Before the season started we previewed the current New York Rangers squad. One of the biggest question marks for the season was, where will the scoring come from?  Two names came to the forefront as players that needed to step up in order for the Rangers to build on last season’s success as Eastern Conference champions. Veteran Rick Nash, a former two-time 40-goal scorer, was one of the players mentioned and the other was 23-year old Chris Kreider.

Nash has done his part so far – entering play on Wednesday night, he led the NHL with eight goals. The speedy, aggressive Kreider showed flashes of brilliance over the 89 games he played in his first year-plus in the league, but his 37 points in 66 games last season was a disappointment. He finished 10th in the Rookie of the Year voting, a “mere” 1,100 votes behind the Calder Trophy winner, Colorado’s Nathan McKinnon. Expectations for this season are high for Kreider and so far #20 has come through.

Tuesday night the Rangers met one of their arch rivals, the New Jersey Devils, for the first time this season. Down 3-1 on the road, the Rangers rallied to tie the game in the third period, with Nash getting the goal that knotted things at three apiece. Kevin Klein wristed the game winner past Devils’ goalie Corey Schneider at 2:04 into overtime, But it was the play of Kreider that made things happen. The left winger picked up the puck behind his own net and skated it out of the defensive zone. He made a give and go pass with Chris Mueller  as they crossed the red line and then charged towards the Devils’ net. He turned his back to Schneider and fed the puck on to Klein’s stick. The defenseman, trailing on the play, beat Schneider with a swift shot for the game winner.

It’s that type of play, a mixture of speed and strength that team President/GM Glen Sather was counting on when he selected Kreider with the 19th overall pick in the 2009 NHL entry draft. A product of  Masconomet Regional High School and Phillips Academy, the Massachusetts native played three seasons at Boston College and was a member of the 2010 NCAA squad that beat Wisconsin for the national championship. Kreider found the back of the opponent’s net 49 times in 114 regular season collegiate games and finished his college career with just under a point (112 total) per game average. He also amassed 129 penalty minutes as part of the physical part of his game.

Kreider added to his amateur resume with six goals in the 2010 World Junior championships won by the US. He added four more tallies when the US finished in third place a year later.  With Kreider ready to go pro and the Rangers lacking scoring as they entered the playoffs, the team added the then-20-year old to their postseason roster. Though he was on the ice for just 51 minutes in the opening seven game series with Ottawa, Kreider scored his first NHL goal – the game-winner – in a 3-2 victory in Game 6.

With five one-goal games and two overtime games in the first round, coach John Tortorella increased Kreider’s play in the quarterfinal match with the Washington Capitals. The Rangers once again emerged victorious in a closely played, seven games series. Kreider played over 93 minutes, but was limited to a goal and an assist and was -4 for the series. His goal was another game winner (He became the first rookie to score back-to-back game-winners in the postseason),  in a 3-1 Game 1 triumph, but Kreider’s contribution on offense in the series was minimal. He had just nine shots on goal in a series that saw six games decided by one goal.

If the first two series were considered tightly played, everyone knew the conference final against the New Jersey Devils was going to be even tighter. The Rangers led the best-of-seven series 2-1, but the Devils won three straight games to capture the series. Adam Henrique got the series game winner just 1:03 into overtime in Game 6. Again, Tortorella increased Kreider’s playing time in hopes of finding more scoring. Kreider, who had turned 21 during the Washington series, scored goals in each of the first three games, including a pair of power play goals. However, he and much of the rest of the squad couldn’t solve Martin Brodeur for the rest of the series.

Kreider had a less than stellar 2012-2013 season with 12 goals in 48 games for the Connecticut Whale of the AHL and just two goals in 23 games for the Rangers, though much of the latter can be attributed to his assignment to the fourth line. The Rangers won another seven games series with Washington to open the playoffs, but were dominated by the Boston Bruins in the conference semis and were eliminated in five games. With his ice time limited, Kreider managed just a goal and an assist, though the goal was an overtime winner in Game 4 that kept the Rangers from being swept.

A mundane 2013-2014 season was cut short by a hand injury that required surgery and caused Kreider to miss the first 10 games of the playoffs. Fans were beginning to wonder if Kreider was the real deal.  Upon his return from the injured list, he registered five goals and eight assists in 15 games as the Rangers returned to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in 20 years. The Rangers knocked off division rivals in the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins and then topped the Montreal Canadiens in a conference final in which Kreider left his mark.

Kreider’s impact in the series was both good and bad and may influence how referees handle him this season. Specifically, the BC product’s collision with Montreal goalie Carey Price which caused the netminder to miss the remainder of the series. (The Rangers and Canadiens meet on Saturday for the first since the series.) The Canadiens wanted Kreider suspended for the hit, but league officials did not agree.

There seems to be a carry over in confidence and maturity from last season’s playoffs for Kreider. Through seven games this season, Kreider has a pair of goals, four assists, and is a +5. He’s also amassed 23 penalties, which may or may not be connected in some way to his crash with Price. The most important thing is that Kreider has been in the mix around the net and not afraid to continue his speedy, physical style of play. The Rangers will most certainly benefit from it.

For Mets, Hips Don’t Lie

Written for On the Warning Track 7/30/15

Carlos Gomez won't be donning a Mets uniform again any time soon.

Several hours after agreeing to a deal with the Milwaukee Brewers, the New York Mets canceled a trade for Carlos Gomez due to concerns over Gomez’ hips.

The deal would have sent pitcher Zack Wheeler and infielder Wilmer Flores to Milwaukee for Gomez, who would have been returning to the organization that originally signed him. But the deal fell through after physicals. Gomez’ agent, Scott Boras, denied there were any physical issues with his player.

“Carlos Gomez is in first class physical condition,” Scott Boras told the Daily News. “He is going to play another 15 years, as far as I know. He has never seen a hip doctor. He has no hip issue. Wherever that rumor popped up from, it is a complete misrepresentation of the player’s condition.”

It was an emotional night for Flores, one that played out in front of the Citi Field crowd as well as a television audience. Flores received a standing ovation when he came to bat in the 7th inning and could be seen shedding tears. (You’d cry too if you were going from the Big Apple to Milwaukee.) Flores’ manager, Terry Collins, talked to the media after the game about how difficult life can be for a player, especially a younger one.

“You guys think these guys are stone-cold robots, but they’re not. They’re human beings with emotions. This kid is upset, he’s sad, he’s been a Met his whole life, and he probably wants to be a Met… I feel terrible for Wilmer. As you guys know, they’re isn’t a finer guy in the clubhouse than him.”

As for the Brewers, Gomez’ teammates were happy he was sticking around (for now). Martin Maldonado took to Twitter to express he and his teammates’ feeling about Gomez. ”

Gomez still a Brewers nice, good friend and teammate.

Baseball’s not broke, so fix it

Written for BronxPinstripes.com 4/14/16

Without a doubt, baseball is the greatest sport in the world. We all know that this is an opinion-based fact, but for a number of us, baseball is the be-all end-all among sports. It’s the only sport with no play clock or time clock. The ballparks are different dimensions. A home run in right field at Yankee Stadium is an out in other ballparks.

It’s a fantastic game, but that doesn’t mean that things shouldn’t change to make it even better. The game isn’t broken, but it could use some fixing.

Shorten the regular season

Have the regular season start later and end sooner. We all love baseball’s return in April, but not all of us love freezing our (insert body part here) off in the early weeks of the season. The same thing goes for the World Series when it is played outdoors in the northeast. A World Series should NOT be played in November. Play 150-155 regular season games and make the All-Star break shorter.

Get rid of the second Wild Card

Yes, it keeps fans interested longer, but a shorter season will keep the competitiveness for a playoff spot go later into the season.

Get rid of the trade deadline

Why not allow teams to make deals for the entire season? Dump the waiver deadline, but keep it that a player has to be on the roster on September 1 to be on the playoff roster.

Make the first round of the playoffs 7 games

To go hand-in-hand with the singular Wild Card winner, make the Division Series a best-of-7 rather than the current short, 5-game series. If you keep the two Wild Card winners, seven games will still work if you shorten the season.

Make the DH the standard

Stop right there if you are going to start the argument that the DH isn’t part of baseball tradition, the National League has more strategy, or you hate it just for purist’s sake. The game of baseball has already railed against tradition. Over the years, we’ve seen the game move indoors, go from grass to artificial turf, the mound lowered, made higher, and lowered again. The game has seen performance-enhancing drugs turn the game on its head, you can’t smash a catcher to bits anymore, the Neighborhood Play is gone, and plays are regularly reviewed via instant replay.

Everyone loves to see a good old-fashioned pitcher’s duel, but watching a pitcher bat is a yawnfest. Watching a pitcher sit with the bat on his shoulder for a full at-bat or take a weak hack at a pitch is dull. So is watching him strikeout, or watching him bunting or strikeout bunting with two strikes. There’s an imbalance when an AL team has to play in an NL park. AL pitchers take batting practice more often due to interleague play, but not to the extent that their NL counterparts do. Who would you rather see hit: Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, and David Ortiz, or Noah Syndergaard, Clayton Kershaw and Gerrit Cole?

What’s so thrilling about the double-switch or batting the pitcher eighth in the order. But the number one reason to institute the DH across all of Major League baseball is the pitcher’s health and well-being. There’s being in shape and then there’s being in a pitcher’s shape (no offense intended, Bartolo Colon). There have been far too many back, hamstring, and ankle injuries, not to mention more serious injuries. How’s that Lisfranc ligament feeling these days, Chien-Ming Wang?

If your team is paying a pitcher $20MM a year for four to six years, do you really want to see your team’s investment go up in smoke due to a torn hamstring or ACL?

And Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine could tell you that chicks probably still love the long ball.

Enhance the interference rule

You don’t have to look any further than the Yankees’ home opener to see that the rule for running to first base needs to change. In case you missed it, Carlos Correa hit a tapper to the right side of the mound and took off for first base. Dellin Betances, who can look uncoordinated on this type of play, ran over and picked up the ball. Meanwhile, Correa never ran in the basepath, officially identified as the area between the double lines that stretch from home plate to first base. Betances attempted to shot put the ball to first baseman Mark Teixeira and missed by a mile. Correa was called safe and manager Joe Girardi bolted like a thoroughbred from the Yankees dugout.

An argument with home plate umpire Dana Demuth ensued before Demuth finally relented and conferred with the other umpires. The call stood and the Yankees lost. Afterward, Demuth’s explanation shows that the rule needs to be rewritten:

“My explanation on the call was in my judgment he didn’t impede or hinder the first baseman from fielding the ball. The pitcher launched it, threw it off to right field. That runner does not have to be in a 45-foot baseline. Joe [Girardi] thinks he does. That’s what he protested on.”

Betances tried to make a clear throw to Teixeira, but his throwing lane was obstructed. Had he drilled Correa in the back, then Demuth would have called interference. Either call interference when a runner’s out of the baseline or get rid of the rule.

Reinstitute the neighborhood rule

Somehow the braintrusts on the MLB rules committee thought that by changing the interference rule, especially at second base, the Neighborhood Play could be removed because there was less chance of injury. But you are changing the way professional baseball players have been turning double plays since high school or even little league. It’s ridiculous to call a runner safe because the middle infielder missed second base by a half-inch while trying to turn a double play. Put the neighborhood play back in the rules, but make the neighborhood smaller.

Expand replay even further if necessary

There was a time when many fans, myself included, didn’t want instant replay. But after years of obvious mistakes, it was clear that instant replay was needed and not just for disputed home runs.  It was also clear that some umpires needed replay more than others. Had replay been around years earlier, Derek Jeter’s home run in the 1996 ALCS might have been nullified by interference and Jeffrey Maier might have been Bartman before Bartman. Joe Mauer’s double that was ruled a foul ball in the 2009 Division Series, vs. the Yankees, could have been a turning point in the Minnesota Twins’ favor.

Basically, except for balls and strikes, anything should be reviewable. Also, there should be more than two managerial challenges allowed per game.

Stop letting money control the game

Okay, even I have to laugh at this one. It.will.never.happen. But if it did: start playoff and World Series games earlier. Cut ticket prices unless you want to continue to have a ton of empty seats. And while you are at it, make parking more affordable outside the ballparks and make food more affordable inside the ballparks.

Finally, stop playing interleague games in September, when playoff spots are on the line. An AL team shouldn’t have their season ruined because they had to bat a pitcher instead of a DH in a National League park.

So get to it, Rob Manfred and company!

Q and A with Marty Appel

Written for LoHud Journal 1/17/09

I recently had the opportunity to do a guest post for Peter Abraham and the LoHud Journal. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity last year as well. At that time I did a piece on the new Stadium vs. current/old Stadium. This time around it’s a Q & A with former Yankees PR director, Marty Appel.

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If you were a fan of the Yankees in the 1970s, the name Marty Appel is synonymous with Yankees baseball. He was the Yankees head of PR from 1973-1977…that’s right, the early George Steinbrenner years. He went on to work for Major League Baseball, became an accomplished author, and is very involved in today’s sports scene as head of the Marty Appel Public Relations agency.

He graciously consented to answering some questions recently in an email interview. We talked about the Yankees past and present, Major League Baseball, and his career. Here’s what Marty had to say.

Q: You were born in Brooklyn. Were you a Dodgers fan growing up? Who were your sports idols as a kid?

A: My first awareness of baseball was the 1955 World Series. Mantle was my first favorite player, but I later joined the Bobby Richardson Fan Club (as listed in SPORT Magazine) because everyone liked the Mick and I sort of wanted “my own guy”. Bobby and I are friends to this day and we speak to each year the day after the World Series to do a (non-alcoholic) toast to his RBI record lasting another series.

Q: You majored in political science in college. How did you end up getting involved in sports?

A: I was also editor of the campus newspaper, so there was this journalism thing going on with me. I wrote a letter to the Yankees PR director, Bob Fishel, in 1967 and he hired me to answer Mantle’s fan mail because it was not getting answered and they needed someone to tackle it. Otherwise, lots of unhappy fans. What a break that was for me.

Q: What was it like taking care of Mickey Mantle’s fan mail? Did you interact much with him? Personally, I would have been starstruck.

A: I was starstruck, and really, still think about the fact that Mickey Mantle knew who I was. Unimaginable. But he liked me – he would give me all of his gift certificates when he’d do radio interviews. $10 off Thom McAn shoes. Imagine him not wanting that! We were good friends until he died, but the “awe” factor never fully went away. He was the Mick!

Q: You began your time as the Yankees’ publicist at the same time George Steinbrenner was taking over ownership of the ball club. What was your initial impression of him? How would you characterize your relationship with him during your time as PR Director?

A: I did spend 5 years with the Yankees when CBS still owned the team. It was a break for me that Mr. Steinbrenner came along. I think the top people for CBS would always have seen me as the “fan mail kid”, even though I had become assistant PR Director. When Bob Fishel left, Mr. Steinbrenner gave me the top job – the youngest ever in baseball – and I’ll be forever grateful to him. Not every day was sweetness and roses, there was a lot of pressure to work for him, but it made us all better. Or tougher. He wanted the whole front office to excel and thought that would represent the play on the field too. I earned that World Series ring, let me tell you.

Q: You ghost wrote a biography for/with Thurman Munson. How cooperative was he in the process?

A: He was cooperative to a point – talking about his career. Personal stuff was more difficult for him. He hadn’t had a perfect childhood. Now, (glad you asked), I’ve completed a full length biography which has everything about his youth, and of course, all the information about that awful accident. Doubleday is publishing it in July, near the 30th anniversary of his death.

Q: Bobby Murcer was my idol growing up and I was deeply touched by his death last year. What are some of your memories of him?

A: Bobby was as regular a guy as you could find in a baseball clubhouse. Let’s face it, even the nicest of players is still, in an understated way, “I’m a player and you’re not” and today, “I’m a millionaire and you’re not.” Bobby was always one of the regular people. His emails during his illness were not to celebrities, but just ordinary friends he made along the way. It was just awful that he died so young.

Q: What is your favorite memory of Yankee Stadium? Were you able to get any souvenirs of the place at the end of last season (don’t worry I won’t tell)?

A: I got my scoopful of dirt, but to me the real souvenirs were the ones from 1973 before the remodeling. I had 7 seats – I have 2 now – and some cool things from the clubhouse. We didn’t think much of souvenirs back then. I was editor of the Yankees Yearbook each year and I took home one for myself. That’s it. I have one of each, even with name on page one. And I think those are worth about $100 each now.

Q: You won an Emmy Award as executive producer of Yankees’ broadcasts for WPIX. What does the executive producer of a Yankees broadcast do?

A: It involves contracts with the announcers, hiring a director, coordinating technical preparations with the engineering department, interfacing with the team on their needs, sometimes accommodating sponsor needs, hiring production facilities on the road, maintaining a budget, planning special material like pre-game features, helping to develop opening animation, etc. Technically, I was Phil Rizzuto’s boss, but who’s kidding who – he ran everything and still left after 6 innings no matter how many times I told him not to!

Q: Which Yankees were your favorite to deal with? If you’re comfortable saying, who were 1 or 2 of your least favorite to deal with?

A: There really wasn’t anyone I didn’t like to deal with, and I’m not just being kind. Ballplayers are generally terrific people. Hey, Alex Johnson had a horrible media reputation when we got him and I really liked AJ! Munson could be rough with the press, but we were close friends. I loved Catfish Hunter, he was special because of the circumstances under which we got him. I loved Steve Hamilton, who could have solved all of baseball’s labor problems if they’d let him. Ron Blomberg and Roy White were at my wedding. Guys who just passed through briefly like Tippy Martinez and Fran Healy remain friends. But to pick one? I’d have to say all of those from my childhood who I spent a lot of time with were the most special – Mick, Whitey, Yogi, Bobby.

Q: What do you think of the Yankees’ recent spending spree? Is it good or bad for the game?

A: Hey, I’m still a Yankee fan. It may not be great for the game, but it’s been 8 years since a world championship. Gotta shake things up. Go for it. After 8 years, we’re due, doesn’t matter if it’s good for the game. Although the truth is, when the Yankees are strong, baseball is strong.

Q: How did you become involved with the Israel Baseball League? Do you think that the league will ever produce a major league-ready prospect?

A: I was asked to handle the PR through my company, Marty Appel Public Relations. I brought in Blomberg and Art Shamsky as managers. But the league was underfunded and didn’t get to a second season. There will be new attempts at it I think – a lot of good people would like to see it happen. As for major league prospects, the league was not made up entirely of Israeli players. It was an international league, and there were a lot of Dominican players, a few of whom were signed to pro contracts in the US.

Q: I appreciate your taking the time to answer my questions, Marty. One final topic: If there’s one thing that you could change about the game today, what would it be?

A: Oh, definitely the pace of the game. It continues to have too many slow moments. Did you see Larsen’s perfect game on the MLB Network? The batters never left the batter’s box between pitches. I’d love to see a return to those days, to 2:20 games. Oh and a ban on people sitting behind home plate waving to the cameras while they talk on their cellphones. Those people need to be ejected.

Drew: Thanks Marty, that was great!

Marty: It was fun, good questions.

Written for BronxPinstripes.com August 4, 2016.

The past week felt like the “Bizarro Yankees” world. (Thank you, Superman and Seinfeld.) For the first time in the Steinbrenner era, the Yankees were big-time sellers at the MLB trade deadline. Carlos Beltran, Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, and Ivan Nova were all sent to new homes.

In contrast, the 1996 Yankees were big-time buyers on their way to their first championship in nearly 20 years. One of the players the team brought in was a former Yankees third baseman Charlie Hayes.

One of the lasting memories of that magical season was the final out of the World Series. Mark Lemke’s foul pop nestled neatly in Hayes’ glove and he squeezed it tightly for the third and final out in the 9th inning. To help commemorate the 20th anniversary of the championship team, I spoke with Charlie Hayes about the 1996 squad, his sons, and what the future holds.

BP: There are a lot of Yankees fans that don’t realize you were with the team in 1992 and then you were lost in the expansion draft. At the time Colorado drafted you, were you upset about leaving New York or did you think it was a great opportunity to be an original member of the Rockies?

CH: I wouldn’t say upset but I was surprised. Buck Showalter had told me that I had a good year considering that we didn’t win. It was an honor to be selected to play in Colorado. Plus, it gave me confidence to be a better player and work harder, because in this game you can do good but still get traded.

BP: When you went to bed on August 29, 1996, your Pittsburgh Pirates were in last place in the NL Central. When you turned in the next night, you were on the New York Yankees and held a four-game lead in the AL East. What was that like going from worst to first and suddenly being part of a pennant race? How did you feel about going back to play in New York?

CH: The people there (Pittsburgh) taught me what blue collar was. “The Grind with no excuses”.  Jim Leyland was awesome. He let you go play.

That night I went to sleep thinking about how and what I needed to do to help the team more going forward. I graded myself after each game to be a positive each night rather than a negative. Later to find out that I had been traded to the Yankees. My mind was going fast. First, thinking “why?” They had Mr. (Wade) Boggs. Plus I loved Pittsburgh. Then I thought about what an opportunity it was to get to be in a pennant race. We all want to win a ring.

BP: Your play was pivotal down the stretch in 1996 – 13 RBI in 20 games. Did the team’s attitude change at all in the clubhouse once the double-digit lead in the AL East was down to 2.5 games in mid-September?

CH: We had a good group of guys in that clubhouse – everyone liked each other and all made sacrifices to do whatever it took. 25 strong. As Mr. (Mariano) Duncan said, “We play today. We win today…Das It.”

BP: You had never been in the postseason in the first eight years of your career. On September 25, 1996 the Yankees clinched the division. What was that like for you?

CH: I was excited. Finally getting to see what playoff ball was all about. I liked it.

BP:  The Yankees beat the Rangers and the Orioles to reach the World Series for the first time in 15 years. Then you dropped the first two games at home to Atlanta. Joe Torre is famously quoted as telling George Steinbrenner, “…But we’ll go to Atlanta, we’ll win three there, and I’ll come back and win it for you on Saturday night.” But what was the clubhouse like? Was it still positive? Did any players fire the team up with a speech?

CH: Like I said, we were a TEAM, 25 strong. The Braves jumped on us, but we knew we hadn’t played YANKEE ball. Going to Atlanta I think was a good place for us. Less responsibilities. No speeches.

BP: The Yankees were up 3-1 in the 7th inning of Game 6 when you entered the game for defensive purposes. How far ahead of time did you know you were going to enter the game, and how did you prepare to come in off the bench?

CH: My routine never changed. Every inning that you are not playing you do something to stay ready for when an opportunity may come up.

BP: Every kid who has ever played baseball dreams of getting the game-winning hit or making a spectacular play to end the game. The Yankees were up 3-2 in the 9th with closer John Wetteland on the mound. One run had already scored and the Braves had two men on and two men out.

Mark Lemke hit a pop up in foul territory for what could have been the final out. You and Joe Girardi gave chase, but the ball ticked off the end of your glove, and you and the ball fell into the Braves’ dugout. When you got back to your position were you still focusing on how close you had been to ending the game or were you immediately focused on the next pitch?

CH: The next pitch.

BP: Lemke gave you another shot with another foul pop. This time you had plenty of room and you squeezed your glove around the baseball for the final out. Pandemonium in the Bronx. In that moment, did you even think of anything or were you just overwhelmed by sheer joy?

CH: Happy for first time…last TEAM standing. Ring! Underdogs did it.

BP: Twenty years later, there are more Hayes men trying to make it in the Major Leagues. Your son, Tyree, played in the Rays’ and Reds’ organizations and your son Ke’Bryan was a first-round draft pick of the Pirates last year. How easy or difficult is it to watch your sons try to make it to The Show?

CH: As a parent you always want your kids to be successful, so it’s nerve-wracking just watching. But they know I’m there if they have questions. I, for the most part, stay out of the way and keep my mouth closed. They know what it takes.

Rutherford

BP: The Yankees’ 2016 first-round draft pick, Blake Rutherford, played with your son Ke’Bryan on the 2014 18U National Team. What can you tell us about him?

CH: Very good player, even better person. Great family.

BP: You’ve given a lot back to the game since you retired. You and your son, Charlie Jr., run the Big League Baseball Academy in Texas. Do you have the desire to manage or coach in the Major or minor leagues at some point?

CH: I hope to get back into ball at that level soon. If it happens that would be great, but I’m enjoying what I’m doing and would be content with that.

Bronx Pinstripes would like to thank Charlie Hayes for taking some time out to reflect on the past, and talk about the present and future. Be sure to take a look at our daily series, “Relive 96“, and tune in or listen to Yankees baseball on August 13, when the Yankees celebrate the 20th anniversary of the great 1996 squad.

Posada faces tough Hall challenge

 

Written for BronxPinstripes.com 11/10/16

There are only 17 catchers in the Baseball Hall of Fame (HoF). Two potential additions are on the ballot for the first time this year. The New York Yankees’ Jorge Posada and the Texas Rangers’ Ivan Rodriguez, who played briefly for the Yankees in 2008. Rodriguez, nicknamed “Pudge” after Hall of Fame catcher Carlton Fisk, is a shoo-in to be elected to the HoF. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he made it on the first ballot. Posada, on the other hand, has a tough road ahead. That being said, he was one of the best hitting catchers among his peers.

The Posada-to-the-Hall debate has been talked about by Yankees fans since long before Posada retired following the 2011 season. Those that say he belongs in the Hall point to his offense. Those that are against it, talk about the defensive struggles he had at times. And, of course, there is the comparison to other catchers that are in the Hall or look like they will be one day. But, there’s more to it than just that.

Among the pool of other first-year HoF nominees, are Manny Ramirez and Vladimir Guerrero.  Ramirez has two strikes against him for PED use and has no shot at the moment to be voted in. Guerrero has offensive numbers that are worthy and before his legs and feet slowed him down, he was an excellent defensive outfielder. He’s not likely to gain entry on his first attempt due to the number of deserving players that have been on the ballot prior to this year.

Among those holdovers with the best chance of gaining the 75% required vote are Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and Trevor Hoffman. Bagwell finished with 71.6% of the vote last year and should gain entrance into the Hall this year. Raines, in his 10th year on the ballot, should already be in the Hall. He received 69.8% of the votes from the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA). Under the current guidelines, this is the last year Raines can be on the ballot. After that, it would take the Veteran’s Committee vote (also 75% needed) for him to gain entry. (The Veterans Committee votes on all players that have dropped off of the ballot, as well as executives, managers, broadcasters, etc.)

Hoffman, the San Diego Padres long-time closer, is in his third year on the ballot after having received 67.3% of the vote last year. While the media and fans like to point out his failings in some big spots, Hoffman is the only closer besides Mariano Rivera to reach 600 career saves. He deserves to be in Cooperstown.

The Catchers

The last catcher elected to the HoF was Mike Piazza, who was inducted just this year. Prior to that, Gary Carter (2003) and Carlton Fisk (2000) were the only catchers inducted since Johnny Bench went into the Hall in 1989. While it’s difficult to compare catchers from different eras due to schedules, quality of equipment, travel, modes of travel, day and night games, removal of doubleheaders, etc., we’ll give it a shot.

We can still take a look how Posada stacks up against the players of the modern and near-modern eras. First, we’ll whittle down the list by removing Josh Gibson and Biz Mackey, both of whom played in the Negro Leagues, and whose statistics are unavailable.

Deacon White played more games at third base by far so we’ll take him out. Buck Ewing (1897), Roger Bresnahan (1915) and Ray Schalk (1929) were done playing before the 1930’s so we’ll remove them, too.

That leaves the 11 inductees –  Bench, Piazza, Carter, Fisk, Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Ernie Lombardi, Mickey Cochrane, Rick Ferrell, Bill Dickey, and Gabby Hartnett – to compare Posada to, as well as Rodriguez and Ted Simmons, who is no longer on the regular ballot.

Defense

First, some defensive numbers. Below is the % of Base Runners caught stealing/league average. Posada threw out runners at a 28% pace, the second-lowest percentage, with only Piazza’s 23% below it. However, to put it in perspective, the league average during Posada’s career was just 30%. When you take that into consideration, 28% is not bad. When compared to the league average, the numbers for Campanella, Hartnett, and Rodriguez are simply off the charts.

1 Campanella 57 42
2 Hartnett 56 44
3 Berra 49 45
4 Lombardi 48 45
5 Dickey 47 41
6 Rodriguez 46 31
7 Ferrell 44 41
8 Bench 43 35
9 Cochrane 39 42
10 Carter 35 32

Posada’s overall ability to handle his pitchers and call a game was called into question at times. There were rumors that some pitchers didn’t want him behind home plate, but no teammate or former teammate came out publicly and said so. Posada had run-ins with Orlando Hernandez, but he did make El Duque a better pitcher and kept him focused.

Mike Mussina reportedly had an issue, but in the Yes Network-produced Yankeeography on Posada, Mussina was complimentary of Posada’s ability to be on the same page with him. Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci pointed out in a column that Posada helped Mussina out in Spring Training in 2006. Posada homered off Mussina after he found Mussina was tipping off his changeup. “Moose” adjusted and was successful with the pitch.

Offense

Except where indicated, the numbers that follow are the player’s complete offensive totals, not just their statistics for the games in which they caught. Again, Rodriguez is a no-brainer.  His numbers are impressive, including the most career total bases and hits. Rodriguez also was a member of 14 All-Star teams, won 13 Gold Glove Awards, and was the AL MVP in 1999 when he hit .332, 35 HR, drove in 113 runs and stole 25 bases.

Simmons appeared on the ballot just once, in 1994. Because he only received 3.7%, he dropped off future ballots (5% is required to remain on the ballot for the next year).  Simmons was a switch-hitter and was one of the best pure hitters of his day. He hit 248 home runs, drove in 1,389 runs, laced 2,472 hits, scored 1,074 runs and had career splits of .285/.348/.437 in parts of 21 seasons. He was also an eight-time All-Star.

Posada was a five-time All-Star and though he didn’t win any defensive awards or an MVP (he finished 3rd in 2003 – 30 HR 101 RBI – and 7th in 2006 – hit .338), he does have five World Series rings. He was a major part of four of those World Series wins. Rodriguez earned a ring when the Florida Marlins beat the Yankees in 2003. Simmons reached his only World Series in 1982, but lost in seven games to the team he played most of his career with, the St. Louis Cardinals.

Home Runs

1 Piazza 427
2 Bench 389
3 Fisk 376
4 Berra 358
5 Carter 324
6 Rodriguez 311
7 Posada 275
8 Simmons 248
9 Campanella 242
10 Dickey 202


RBI

1 Berra 1430
2 Simmons 1389
3 Bench 1376
4 Piazza 1335
5 Rodriguez 1332
6 Fisk 1330
7 Carter 1225
8 Dickey 1209
9 Posada 1065
10 Lombardi 990


Hits

1 Rodriguez 2844
2 Simmons 2472
3 Fisk 2356
4 Berra 2150
5 Piazza 2127
6 Carter 2092
7 Bench 2048
8 Dickey 1969
9 Hartnett 1912
10 Lombardi 1792

Posada finished his career with 1,664 hits, which puts him behind this group and Rick Ferrell.


Base on Balls

1 Posada 936
2 Ferrell 931
3 Bench 891
4 Cochrane 857
5 Simmons 855
6 Fisk 849
7 Carter 848
8 Piazza 759
9 Berra 704
10 Hartnett 703


Runs Scored

1 Rodriguez 1354
2 Fisk 1276
3 Berra 1175
4 Bench 1091
5 Simmons 1074
6 Piazza 1048
7 Cochrane 1041
8 Carter 1025
9 Dickey 930
10 Posada 900


Total Bases

1 Rodriguez 4451
2 Fisk 3999
3 Simmons 3793
4 Piazza 3768
5 Bench 3644
6 Berra 3643
7 Carter 3497
8 Dickey 3062
9 Posada 2888
10 Lombardi 2693


Wins Against Replacement (WAR)

Obviously, the WAR metric wasn’t around until recent years, but sites like Baseball-Reference.com have tracked the pre-War era. The list below is the season average WAR for each player. Posada sits in the 10th spot. Simmons just missed out at 2.39. His average minus his first two seasons – in which he only appeared in seven games – was 2.64. Applying the same logic to Posada’s numbers increases his WAR to 2.85.

1 Bench 4.4
2 Cochrane 4.0
3 Piazza 3.7
4 Carter 3.7
5 Campanella 3.4
6 Berra 3.3
7 Dickey 3.3
8 Rodriguez 3.3
9 Fisk 2.9
10 Posada 2.5


Games Caught

1 Rodriguez 2427
2 Fisk 2226
3 Carter 2056
4 Ferrell 1806
5 Hartnett 1793
6 Simmons 1771
7 Bench 1742
8 Dickey 1708
9 Berra 1699
10 Piazza 1630

Posada missed out on the Top-10 but caught 1,544 games, which is 11th all-time among this group.

Intangibles

BBWAA voters also need to take into account the things that don’t show up in the numbers, like leadership in the clubhouse and on the field. Yankees fan will always remember how Posada stood up for his teammates when the Boston Red Sox Pedro Martinez went “head hunting” during the 2003 ALCS. His managers, teammates, and opponents realize Posada’s worth to the Yankees’ success during his playing days.

“We have a clubhouse of a lot of prominent people. Jorge Posada takes a backseat to no one.” – Joe Torre

“He understands what it takes to win and what it takes to play for the Yankees.” – Mike Mussina

“He’s a guy who has asserted himself as a superstar, both offensively and behind the plate.” – Tim Hudson (Oakland A’s)

Another possible obstacle to Posada’s path to Cooperstown are the players he played with. Derek Jeter and Rivera will be on the ballot in the coming years and are automatics for the Hall. There are also those who believe that some players wouldn’t be as great or noteworthy on other teams. That is something that has been about Jeter.

The feeling here is that Posada’s chances are about 50/50, with perception playing a big factor. Will the members of the BBWAA talk to Posada’s teammates, managers and coaches, and opponents or will they go based solely on what they have seen/heard through the years? Posada’s best shot to gain entrance to the HoF may likely come from the Veteran’s Committee somewhere down the line. Before that comes to pass, Simmons needs to be inducted first.