Shohei & the Angels: a Bad Marriage?
ALSO: BAD BOYS OF STEROIDS ERA GET NEW CRACK AT COOPERSTOWN
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Prediction: Free-agent shortstop Dansby Swanson will sign with the Dodgers so that he can be teammates with Freddie Freeman again . . .
L.A. will need a whole new left side of the infield after cutting ties with former postseason stud Justin Turner, winner of this year’s Roberto Clemente Award . . .
The Atlanta Braves have won more consecutive division titles (5) than any team in the majors leagues but reaching their record of 14 straight is still a long way off . . .
In 10 starts with the Braves, Jake Odorizzi went 2-3 with a 5.24 ERA over 46 1/3 innings — stats that sparked his trade to Texas one day after he exercised his ridiculous $12.5 million player option . . .
The Mets finished just below average in home runs (171), but led the NL in hits (1,422) and batting average (.259), with Jeff McNeil (5.7 bWAR, .326 AVG) winning his first batting crown . . .
Baseball history was made on June 15 when two immaculate innings were thrown on the same day — in the same game by the same team [Luis Garcia and Phil Maton were the eighth and ninth pitchers in Astros history to do it and the first since 2019] . . .
Maton missed the post-season after breaking the fifth metacarpal in his right (throwing) hand after punching his locker in the last game of the season . . .
After setting an MLB record for consecutive quality starters, Houston lefty Framber Valdez posted a 1.44 post-season ERA. The Astros won all four of his playoff starts.
Shohei Ohtani and the Tragedy of the Angels
By David Blumberg
Shohei Ohtani has performed feats never before seen in MLB history. He is not only an elite power-hitter, but also one of the league’s best pitchers. The enormity of what he has accomplished and what he may yet achieve is so great it’s almost too much to comprehend.
The team he plays for, however, finds a way to achieve the opposite each season. Ohtani debuted with the Angels in 2018 and in that time the most games they’ve won is 80. Even having both Ohtani and three-time MVP winner Mike Trout on the same roster has not been enough. The Angels have systematically failed at every step in the process of building a competent organization.
It’s no wonder then that Ohtani has had only negative things to say about the 2022 season, even as he once again dazzled the baseball world.
Ohtani arrived in Japan in October and was quoted by the Associated Press’s Koji Ueda saying, “I have to say that August and September in particular felt longer to me than last year. We were not able to play as many good games as we would like — including 14 consecutive losses. So I have a rather negative impression of this season.”
There has been rampant speculation about the possibility of an Angels trade of Ohtani since this past summer, but nothing has come of it. According to reports it’s unlikely to happen this offseason. Perry Minasian may be under great pressure to win this season, as his job is likely on the line. Not to mention that owner Arte Moreno is looking to sell the Angels, which complicates this situation further.
This is a tragic situation for the Angels and their fans. Gifted with two of the greatest baseball players I’ve ever seen play the sport, the Angels have not played a single postseason game with Trout and Ohtani on the same roster.
Instead, the Angels bafflingly traded Raisel Iglesias and Brandon Marsh at the trade deadline in 2022. In doing so, they practically acknowledged to the rest of baseball that they were surrendering and that they just didn’t know how to fix their club.
It seems almost certain that Ohtani will be on another team by 2024, and he’ll have no shortage of suitors given he is probably the most singularly talented baseball player on the planet, if not the best athlete, period.
The saddest part of that is that I’m openly rooting for it to happen because I have no hope of seeing Ohtani play postseason baseball with the Angels. I just don’t think that’s on the horizon.
I will continue to watch Ohtani and marvel at his brilliance, but there will be just a tiny sadness in me each time. That’s the tragedy of Ohtani and the even greater tragedy of the Angels.
David Blumberg is a long-suffering Cubs fan. You can find his baseball opinions on Twitter and other musings on Medium at DGBlog. Follow him on Twitter @DGBlumberg.
Suspects Still, Barry + Roger Tandem Takes Aim At Cooperstown Berth Again
By Dan Schlossberg
We haven’t heard the last of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.
United in disgrace for allegedly cheating their way through their twilight years, Bonds and Clemens never mustered the 75 per cent of the vote needed for election to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Then they fell off the writers’ ballot, their 10-year stay exhausted.
But wait! Here comes the Veterans Committee, charging out of the swirling dust like the Lone Ranger rescuing Tonto.
Now called the Contemporary Baseball Players Era Committee – more than a mouthful to be sure – it’s one of three revamped Veterans Committees deciding the fate of players overlooked or snubbed by the Baseball Writers Association of America in their annual elections.
Bonds, Clemens, are the half-dozen others on the newly-minted ballot will learn their fate at the Baseball Winter Meetings in San Diego next month. If any of them muster 12 votes from the 16-member panel, they’ll become the first installment of the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2023.
The committee’s very first ballot is shrouded in controversy.
Beyond Bonds, who won seven MVPs, and Clemens, with seven Cy Youngs, are Curt Schilling, a star pitcher who posted inflammatory political rhetoric on social media and then asked voters to ignore his name, and Rafael Palmeiro, who used a Congressional hearing to angrily deny involvement in performance-enhancing substances (PEDs), also known as steroids.
Notable by their absence are Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, sluggers who staged a successful but suspicious two-man assault on the single-season home run record of Roger Maris in 1998.
Assault is a good word to describe Albert Belle, a battering ram on and off the field during an all-too-short career curtailed by injury. In 12 seasons, he made five All-Star teams, won three RBI crowns, and alienated teammates, opponents, fans, and media members with his temperamental tantrums.
The Hall of Fame’s prerequisite for good character should kill his chances.
That leaves three “good guys” surprisingly shunned for a decade by the voting writers.
Tops on that list is Dale Murphy, who reached the majors as a catcher in 1976 and once caught a one-hitter thrown by Phil Niekro, a knuckleball artist who won a spot in Cooperstown with 318 wins.
Murphy was the National League’s version of Cal Ripken, Jr. He didn’t drink, smoke, or swear and was the epitome of politeness, never refusing a request for an autograph or an interview. A devout Mormon, he moved from catcher to first base to center field, eventually winning five Gold Gloves during his long tenure with the Braves. A durable slugger who played all 162 games four years in a row, he also won two home run titles, had a 30/30 season, and brought home consecutive MVP trophies – all without benefit of drugs. He’s the only National Leaguer with back-to-back MVPs not in Cooperstown.
Fred McGriff should also wear an Atlanta hat on his Hall of Fame plaque. After the Braves got him in a midseason swap with San Diego during the 1993 campaign, both he and the team caught fire (as did the press box on the night he arrived), making up a 10-game deficit in a tooth-and-nail battle with San Francisco that ended on the last day. The Braves finished with 104 wins, the Giants won 103, and Major League Baseball imposed the wild-card system as a result.
A year later, McGriff was the All-Star Game MVP. Then he led the 1995 Braves to their first Atlanta world championship. He finished with 493 home runs – Lou Gehrig’s total – but would have had many more if not for the numerous work stoppages instigated by Marvin Miller (who shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame).
Another first baseman on the ballot is Don Mattingly, who played 14 seasons and managed for 12. He won an MVP, a batting crown, and a Manager of the Year award but Mattingly is most remembered for his quiet leadership and superb defense (nine Gold Gloves). A lifetime .307 hitter, he’s the only man on the ballot who spent his whole career with one team, though Murphy came close.
For voters, it will be hard to overlook the statistics of the suspected cheaters. Bonds and Clemens were contemporaries who played a combined 46 years and rewrote the record books in the process. The former broke the single-season and career home run records, hitting 762 home runs but as many as 50 only once: when he hit 73 in 2001.
Clemens won 354 games, second to Greg Maddux among living pitchers, thanks to five 20-win campaigns. He fanned 20 men in nine innings twice, winning an MVP and two World Series rings. He also led his league in earned run average seven times.
Another Boston bellwether, Schilling pitched 20 years, winning 216 regular-season games while going 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA in postseason play. He was co-MVP (with Randy Johnson) of the 2001 World Series.
Palmeiro, who also lasted 20 years, is the only eligible Cooperstown candidate not inducted despite 3,000 hits and 500 homers. The four-time All-Star won three Gold Gloves and hit at least 30 home runs in 10 different seasons.
The ballot was compiled by 11 writer/historians including Jack O’Connell, secretary-treasurer of the Baseball Writers Association of America [BBWAA]. Eligible players who made their primary contributions after 1980 were considered for inclusion. That’s why Pete Rose is missing.
Next year, the other half of the Contemporary Era committee will consider managers, executives, and umpires. Then the Classic Baseball Era committee will vote for the Class of 2025 before the cycle begins again with the Contemporary Baseball Player Committee choosing electees for the Class of 2026.
Results from this year’s election will be announced Dec. 4 at 8 p.m. EST on MLB Network.
HTP weekend editor Dan Schlossberg, a national baseball writer for forbes.com, lists Dale Murphy and Fred McGriff among his Top Ten Omissions from Cooperstown. Also on that list are Lew Burdette, Lou Whitaker, Luis Tiant, Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Charlie Finley, George Steinbrenner, and Leo Mazzone, with honorable mention to Rusty Staub, Joe Niekro, and Wes Ferrell. Dan’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I don’t think he needed a World Series win to validate who he is. There’s no question he’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer.”
— Former Houston pitching coach Brent Strom on free-agent Justin Verlander
Verlander had 15 post-season wins before notching his first in the World Series . . .
The Pillsbury Doughboy — oops, Daniel Vogelbach — will return to the Mets after the team picked up the club option in his contract . . .
A day after Edwin Diaz signed a record five-year, $102 million deal to stay with the Mets, starters Jacob deGrom and Taijuan Walker exercised the opt-out clauses in their contracts . . .
Houston outfielder Chas McCormick was an ardent Phillies fan growing up . . .
Houston’s Jeremy Pena, the first rookie shortstop to win a Gold Glove, played college ball at the University of Maine — an odd spot for a native of the Dominican Republic.
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HERE’S THE PITCH is published daily except Sundays and holidays. Brian Harl [email@example.com] handles Monday and Tuesday editions, Elizabeth Muratore [firstname.lastname@example.org] does Wednesday and Thursday, and Dan Schlossberg [email@example.com] edits the weekend editions on Friday and Saturday. Readers are encouraged to contribute comments, articles, and letters to the editor. HTP reserves the right to edit for brevity, clarity, and good taste.