Willie Mays Marks 91st Birthday Today
ALSO: BRAVES TO BECOME JUGGERNAUT WHEN WALKING WOUNDED RETURN
IBWAA members love to write about baseball. So much so, we've decided to create our own newsletter about it! Subscribe to Here's the Pitch to expand your love of baseball, discover new voices, and support independent writing. Original content six days a week, straight to your inbox and straight from the hearts of baseball fans.
Did you know…
Astros Manager Dusty Baker has became the 12th manager to reach 2,000 career wins! Baker, a former outfielder whose managerial career started with the 1993 Giants, has been Houston pilot since 2020 and has led the club to two ALCS berths and a World Series appearance. Baker’s .586 postseason winning percentage as Astros manager is the best in franchise history. The 10 eligible managers with 2,000 wins are in the Hall of Fame.
The Oakland Athletics reported a low attendance for Monday night’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays at RingCentral Coliseum, with only 2,488 people attending out of a possible capacity of 63,132.
Congrats to Clayton Kershaw, who broke Don Sutton's 43-year-old record for the most strikeouts by a Dodgers pitcher April 30 against the Detroit Tigers at Dodger Stadium when he fanned Detroit's Spencer Torkelson in the fourth inning for his 2,697th career K . . .
Speaking of lefties from Los Angeles, Max Fried could be the first Braves Cy Young winner since Tom Glavine in 1998 . . .
Atlanta has not won 100 games since 2003 . . .
Aaron Boone, whose contract expires this fall, says he wants to stay with the Yankees but won’t negotiate during the season . . .
The San Francisco Giants made history by promoting former Sacramento State softball star Alyssa Nakken as a major league assistant coach.
Happy Birthday To The Say-Hey Kid
By Dan Schlossberg
Today is not only my birthday but also the birthday of Willie Mays, the oldest living Hall of Famer. He has reached the ripe old age of 91.
Born in Westfield, Alabama in 1931, Mays played in the Negro Leagues, made a minor-league stop in Minneapolis, and then took the baseball world by storm after a slow start.
Determined to impress New York Giants manager Leo Durocher, the muscular centerfielder went 0-for-12 and went crying to the field boss. Durocher reassured him and Mays hung in there, finally pounding his first hit against a tough opponent: future Hall of Famer Warren Spahn.
Spahn later said that he had not surrendered that hit, he and his fellow pitchers wouldn’t have had to worry about Willie for so many years.
To be sure, Mays lasted a long time. He was an All-Star 24 times, a Gold Glove winner 12 times, and an MVP twice. He led the National League in home runs and stolen bases four times each.
Most impressively, perhaps, he had the NL’s best WAR (Wins Against Replacement) in nine different seasons. Nine!
Although his home run total was deflated by the whirling winds of his home park in San Francisco – not to mention the horseshoe shape of the Polo Grounds in New York – Mays managed to hit 660, including four in one game against Lew Burdette and the Milwaukee Braves in 1961.
He finished first in slugging and OPS (on-base plus slugging) five times each and total bases three times.
Geez, the guy was good – by far the best member of the musical Willie, Mickey, and The Duke.
A terror in the All-Star Game, Willie was the opposite in the World Series. In fact, he hit only one home run while appearing in the Fall Classic three times. His resume also lacks an RBI crown.
But he had a pair of 30/30 seasons – an extremely rare feat – plus a Rookie of the Year award, two All-Star Game MVP trophies, and a batting title.
Mays had all the skills to win a Triple Crown but never did, despite two 50-homer seasons – a level arch-rival Hank Aaron never reached.
He was as versatile as Aaron too, filling in at first base, third base, and even shortstop as well as the two outfield positions flanking his normal station in center.
The Say-Hey Kid had a .301 lifetime batting average, just below Hank Aaron’s but ahead of Mickey Mantle’s, but never earned more than $165,000 in a season. He started and ended in New York, playing for the Giants and Mets, respectively.
Known for flamboyant outfield play that featured basket catches, Mays also had a powerful throwing arm. The video of his World Series catch and throw against Cleveland’s Vic Wertz at the Polo Grounds in 1954 is still making the rounds.
Many people consider him the greatest player of all time (though the ghosts of Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron might argue).
The lone Mays mystery that remains is why 23 writers left him off their Hall of Fame ballots in 1979.
Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ is the author or co-author of 40 baseball books, including The New Baseball Bible. He covers the game for forbes.com, Latino Sports, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Sports Collectors Digest, and others. E.mail him at email@example.com.
When Injured Braves Return, Team Will Be Tough
By Dan Schlossberg
Every team has injuries. Some of them are severe, keeping players sidelined for a season or more.
Contenders that cope best with unexpected losses can survive to the finish line.
The 2021 Atlanta Braves proved that. They lost their best pitcher, Mike Soroka, with a torn Achilles that cost him the whole year; starting catcher Travis d’Arnaud with a thumb injury that kept him out three months; and their best player, Ronald Acuña Jr., with a shredded ACL that needed surgical repair.
Acuña, who missed all of April, is just easing back into the lineup as a combination DH and right-fielder, but Soroka is still sidelined, hoping to return to the rotation after the All-Star break. That’s also the timetable for Kirby Yates, a star closer signed to a two-year contract even though Atlanta knew he was still recovering from Tommy John surgery.
That same procedure also cost the team the services of set-up reliever Luke Jackson, now projected to return in the middle of next season.
Also on the injured list is hard-hitting Eddie Rosario, who won MVP honors in the 2021 NL Championship Series after hitting .560 with three home runs and two four-hit games against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The 30-year-old outfielder, re-signed by the Braves because his left-handed bat compensates for the free agent departure of Freddie Freeman, has a two-year, $18 million contract with a $9 million club option for a third year.
Rosario was hitting .068 this season and missing fly balls he had trouble seeing. Upon examination by a retinal specialist, the Braves learned that his right eye needed surgical repair. Timetable for his return is right around the trade deadline — or roughly the same time Rosario reached Atlanta in the first place.
He was acquired from Cleveland for rotund, over-the-hill pinch-hitter Pablo Sandoval, who hit four homers early and then went to sleep for the duration (apparently pandas hibernate). He drew his release the minute the trade was announced and is now playing in the Mexican League.
Last year, the Braves caught fire after general manager Alex Anthopoulos acquired four outfielders — Rosario, Adam Duvall, Joc Pederson, and Jorge Soler — to fill the Acuña gap.
This year, AA might not need to do so much. Acuña and Rosario, if healthy, will form a fine outfield around Duvall, who switched to center late last year even before winning a Gold Glove for his play in right field. If Soroka also returns, that would be the equivalent of the club adding an All-Star arm to its rotation.
In the year that Hank Aaron died, the 2021 Braves not only emblazoned his No. 44 into the outfield grass at Truist Park but won 44 games down the stretch. Then they went 11-6 in postseason play to post their first world championship in 26 years.
Soler is now in Miami and Pederson in San Francisco but neither would fit in Atlanta anymore. Marcell Ozuna, whose fractured fingers preceded his legal issues last year, will ancor the restored DH role and rescue him from publicizing his pop-gun throwing arm in left field.
Even with Mets owner Steve Cohen lavishing large chunks of his hedge-fund fortune on his team, the Braves look like a good bet to win the NL East for the fifth year in a row.
All they need is good health and better luck.
Here’s The Pitch weekend editor Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ loves to talk baseball. He’s a national baseball writer for forbes.com and author of 40 books. E.mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With his pre-lockout signing for 10 years and $325 million, Texas shortstop Corey Seager got more money and more years than fellow star shortstops Carlos Correa and Trevor Story . . .
The Atlanta Braves signed Delino DeShields to help with his speed and defense in center field but he’s still stuck in the minors . . .
The designated hitter idea was Pirates owner William Chase Temple in 1891, when his pitchers hit a combined .165 . . .
Carlos Carrasco of the Mets says he loves his “new elbow,” the product of October surgery to remove bone chips . . .
The Mets are banking $20 million – the cost of his two-year contract – on 33-year-old third baseman Eduardo Escobar . . .
The Mets hope to keep closer Edwin Diaz, whose contract expires this fall . . .
The late Ralph Terry went from goat to hero in Yankees World Series lore. He threw the pitch Bill Mazeroski hit the end the 1960 Fall Classic but then went 2-1 and 1.80 to win Series MVP honors against the Giants two years later.
Know Your Editors
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.