Baseball BeatJune 28, 2004
Book Review
By Rich Lederer

Fred Claire: My 30 Years in Dodger Blue

As someone who grew up as a Dodger fan and has fond remembrances going back to the team's days in the Los Angeles Coliseum, I found Fred Claire: My 30 Years in Dodger Blue to be extremely interesting, enjoyable, and informative.

From sportswriter to publicity director to executive vice president and general manager, Fred Claire was with the Dodgers for 30 years--a period in which the team won five National League pennants and two World Series championships. Along the way, Fred became the fifth Dodger in the organization's illustrious history to be named Executive of the Year by The Sporting News. The other four? Larry MacPhail (1939), Branch Rickey (1947), Walter O'Malley (1955), and Buzzie Bavasi (1959).

According to Maury Wills, "If you were looking for someone to write a book on Dodger Blue, you couldn't find a more qualified person than Fred Claire."

Claire and Steve Springer, a sportswriter with the Los Angeles Times for the past 20 years, have co-authored a book that is a must read for all Dodger fans. The 205-page book published by Sports Publishing LLC is one that I found difficult to put down as the authors provide an inside look at the ups and downs of Fred's career with the Dodgers.

Ironically, Fred Claire's connection with the Dodgers began in 1969 when he took over the Dodger beat for the Long Beach Press-Telegram after my Dad, who had covered the team since its arrival in Los Angeles in 1958, left to become Director of Public Relations and Promotions with the California Angels.

After just a half season, Claire was hired by the Dodgers as an assistant to Red Patterson, who had been a sportswriter himself back in New York before making the switch to publicity when he joined the Yankees in the 1940s. Fred was promoted to Vice President of Public Relations and Promotions in 1975 when Mr. Patterson was hired by Gene Autry as President of the Angels.

Chapter five, "Nightline Without a Lifeline", details the events on opening day in 1987 when Al Campanis was invited to be a guest on ABC's Nightline to discuss the 40th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier. Campanis, the Dodger General Manager for nearly two decades, was uniquely qualified to speak at length about Robinson as he had been Jackie's keystone partner and roommate in 1946 when the two played for the Montreal Royals, then the Dodgers Triple-A affiliate.

Campanis' inappropriate comments in response to Ted Koppel's question about the lack of blacks in significant positions of authority in baseball led to his dismissal two days later and Claire was immediately hired as the new Dodger GM.

The following chapter, "Out of a Nightmare, a Dream Job", brings us the following exchange between Claire and Peter O'Malley:

"Peter, you've asked me to take this position and I will take it under one very important condition. That is that I get full, total and complete responsibility for baseball operations. If you don't want this, and you want me to serve as part of a committee until you find a general manager, that is okay with me. But if I have the job, I want the responsibility. If I get run out of town, I want to be sure it's for the right reasons."

Peter looked at Claire and smiled.

"Fred, it's yours. I wouldn't touch that job with a 10-foot pole."

And with that, Claire took over the helm for the next 11 1/2 years until he was fired by Fox on Father's Day in 1998. Claire and Springer share the particulars of that fateful day at the outset of the book in the first chapter entitled "The End". As it turned out, the sale of the Dodgers by the O'Malley family to Fox that spring and the subsequent trade of Mike Piazza without Fred's knowledge was the beginning of the end for the man that Orel Hershiser in his foreward called "the complete professional".

In between his hiring in 1969 and his firing in 1998, Fred Claire experienced a lifetime of memories and he shares them with us in My 30 Years in Dodger Blue. From the O'Malleys to Rupert Murdoch; from Walter Alston to Tommy Lasorda; from Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell, and Ron Cey to the free agent signings of Kirk Gibson and Darryl Strawberry as well as the trade of Pedro Martinez for Delino DeShields, Claire and Springer take you every step of the way.

Like Fred Claire himself, this book is a class act. I devoured it from cover to cover on the first go-round, have read several chapters a second time, and am proud to have it in my baseball book collection.

WTNYJune 24, 2004
Not Just Another 9-5 Game
By Bryan Smith

When I go to Sox games, I feel like I have to repent or something, like its a sort of sin for a Cubs fan to enter the premise of U.S. Cellular Field. But the fact is that I love baseball, and I would watch the Independent League if given tickets. I was raised by a family of Sox fans, but broke to the North side before turning ten. I still root for the Sox 156 games a year, whether that makes me less of a Cubs fan, I dont think so.

I was offered tickets to go to last nights Sox-Indians game, and I jumped at the chance, seeing as though I like both teams. Ive liked Cleveland ever since meeting GM Mark Shapiro last year, and they are the type of underdog that I like rooting for. So, I went to the game with very little care on the final outcome, more a hope to see good baseball. The match-up was Cliff Lee, the former AL ERA leader, and Mark Buerhle, the Sox ace. The Sox were three games up on the Indians before the game, but both were sitting behind the division-leading Minnesota Twins.

Cliff Lee is an interesting story himself. After briefly holding the AL ERA lead, Lee has had a terrible month, watching his ERA sky over six. This is mainly due to the fact that the southpaw has given up six home runs in 23 innings in June, as opposed to only two in his first 59.2 innings. Watching Lee earlier in the season, I got a feel for his scouting report. Lee has three pitches, a fastball, slow curve, and slider. His fastball is thrown more than any other pitch, and he often uses it as his out pitch.

Here is something interesting:

1. .312 vs. .310
2. .281 vs. .305
3. .326 vs. .289
4. .320 vs. .299
5. .275 vs. .266
6. .318 vs. .267
7. .264 vs. .237
8. .262 vs. .412
9. .273 vs. .269

These are the averages of the nine batters that each team had in their lineup Wednesday, but suprisingly, the first column (the generally higher averages) are the Indians rather than the vaunted White Sox. The largest number is .412, but White Sox utility player Jamie Burke has only registered 17 at-bats this season. Cleveland is hitting very well, with the front foursome of Belliard, Vizquel, Lawton and Martinez all doing their part for the ALs second best offense.

The first inning went extraordinarily quick, as the two southpaws threw a combined nineteen pitches, and each had one strikeout and two flyouts. The White Sox scored first, when Burke (who destroys lefties) hit a single to bring in Carlos Lee. Chicago made Lee throw 27 second inning pitches, trying to make Eric Wedge go to the second worst bullpen in baseball.

This is where it gets weird. After Coco Crisp struck out to lead the inning, Ronnie Belliard hit the second pitch he saw over the fence to tie the game. Including Belliard, the Indians had sixteen out of their next seventeen batters put one of the first three pitches they saw into play. Buerhles stuff was terrible, and those seventeen batters scored five runs, including three home runs by Belliard, Casey Blake and Lou Merloni. Buerhle finished the sixth inning haven thrown only 68 pitches, despite allowing five runs on seven hits.

In this span, the White Sox managed to score one run, as the red-hot Aaron Rowand hit a solo shot in the fifth inning. Rowand has a .437/.524/.730 line in June, splitting time between center and right. Hes hitting lefties at a .400 clip, and will present a big problem when Magglio Ordonez comes back. While I dont think hes a good enough player to play everyday when Maggs leaves next year, he presents a nice way to break in the left-handed Jeremy Reed.

Paul Konerko led off the sixth inning hitting a home run on Lees 89th pitch, and Cliff would finish the inning with 103 pitches. While it looked like the Indians were absolutely destroying the Sox, Chicago was only two runs back, and had three innings against a bullpen with an ERA around 5.50. Buerhle helped the hope around the Cell grow when he had his best inning since the first in the seventh, retiring the 1-3 hitters in order, throwing only twelve pitches. Mark had thrown seven innings, but only stood at 80 pitches. Following the Arnie Munoz disaster in Montreal (a 3.2 inning start), Ozzie Guillen was not about to go to his bullpen.

Lee left the game after six innings giving up only three runs, another quality start, giving the ball to right-hander Rafael Betancourt. I was impressed with Betancourt, a small right-hander that attacked hitters with a fastball ranging from 91-93 mph. After retiring the first two hitters, the Big Hurt hit a towering flyball that looked to be a sure home run, until the wind brought it back onto the warning track. Matt Lawton and Coco Crisp were in confusion as the ball hit off Lawtons glove, allowing Thomas to get to second base on a two-base error. Carlos Lee then smoked a pitch down the left field line, and although it hit the yellow portion of the outfield wall, the ball stayed in play. Thomas was able to score before Matt Lawton was able to throw out Lee at second, making it a one-run game.

The eighth inning started very poorly for the home team, as Martinez, Blake and Hafner led off the inning with singles, ending Buerhles day before registering an out in the eighth. Guillen opted for his worst reliever, Mike Jackson, to enter the game with the bases loaded. Eric Wedge then substituted struggling first basemen Ben Broussard for Lou Merloni, who promptly crushed a grand slam into the right field seats. Guillens mistake was glaring, and it was the first time I had ever heard a White Sox fan asking for Billy Koch.

Though Konerko managed to lead off the eighth inning with his second home run of the day, the White Sox were not able to get back into the game. Betancourts one earned run in two innings would raise his ERA, but I thought the right-hander threw well. Hes allowed 39 hits in 33.2 innings this year, but his K/9 is under ten, and his K/BB is 38/6. David Riske, once the Indians closer, closed out the game in the ninth with one scoreless inning. Mind you that in his last twenty innings, Riske has given up only three runs, on eleven hits, seven walks and 21 strikeouts. Clevelands bullpen underachieved greatly in the first half, and if the lineup can continue their overachieiving for the rest of the season, Cleveland just might make a run at the AL Central.

I wanted to write this post to say that when you read your newspaper this morning, and scan over the 9-5 score from Chicago, just know it was one great game. Sure there were more exciting games on Wednesday, but Im quite happy I attended this one.

WTNYJune 21, 2004
Buying v. Selling
By Bryan Smith

This is the great question for some teams, whether it's time to throw the luggage off the boat, or to merely keep treading along. Fill the system with prospects for bad publicity?

I'll be writing a lot on potential deadline deals in the coming weeks, but I think the best place to start is with who will be doing the dealing. Peter White had a great profile on potential trade victim Freddy Garcia, who I still can't imagine becoming a Yankee. For now, let's deal with what teams will be doing what.

AL East
- Yankees: It doesn't take a genius to realize that the Yankees are always buyers, and with a wide 4.5 game gap on the Red Sox, they'll be prepping for the playoffs. Centerfield, second base, and one more in both the rotation and bullpen could be good acquisitions for the Bronx Bombers.

- Red Sox: Theo Epstein isn't going down without a fight. Boston is the favorite to win the Wild Card, but they are only a game up on the Rangers, and two in front of the Anaheim Angels. Boston needs starting pitching, but are surprisingly deep besides that.

- Devil Rays: Yes, the 11-game streak will be great for the public relations department. But this team has no chance of catching the Red Sox (6 back), and if they get an offer for players like Jose Cruz Jr. and Tino Martinez, they better bite the bullet.

- Blue Jays: They should have been better than this, but since injuries have decimated this team, look for J.P. Riccardi to start looking towards next year. The team has a month to decide where players like Carlos Delgado, Orlando Hudson and Frank Catalanotto fit on future plans.

- Orioles: There just isn't a lot to sell here. The team is either tied up in long-term contracts, or pretty young, so I think Baltimore might be silent at the trade deadline. Peter Angelos is still plotting where those relocation checks will go.

AL Central

- Twins: Very lucky they are a half game up right now, and Terry Ryan better take advantage. The team is ridiculously deep in hitters, but could use another starter. And while the bullpen has been good, another arm would be a very welcome addition.

- White Sox: Why aren't they in first place? Chicago needs a starter very bad at this point, and Ken Williams NEEDS to win a division this season. Landing another ace would be a good thing, but they are fine after that.

- Indians: With a different bullpen, this team might be in first place. As it stands, they are only 4.5 back, and very capable of winning the division. Mark Shapiro must add bullpen arms, and picking Curt Leskanic off the free agent market would be a nice start.

- Tigers: This is our first wait and see team. This division is extremely week, and if the Tigers get Devil Ray-like hot, they could find themselves very close. Seven games back isn't too far, but if they are still that far back in mid-July, sell, sell, sell.

- Royals: Just about as obvious as the Yankees. Allard Baird has not hid his intentions, so we know that just about every deal he gets offered is going to happen.

AL West

- Athletics: Better version of the Cleveland Indians. The A's would be in first by a mile if not for their bullpen, and that must change in the second half. Everyone is quick to want to add something to the lineup, but Beane's largest intention should be finding a closer.

- Rangers: I'm still in disbelief a bit that this is true. Texas? Who would have thunk it. Now, John Hart must see if he can get some pitching to go with that lineup, because if so, they have a very outside chance of the playoffs. Giving up any potential building blocks would be stupid, but a few small deals would be smart.

- Angels: I would say the Red Sox, White Sox, Indians and Angels are the only non-first place teams that have realistic hopes of the playoffs. We don't know if we've seen the real Angels quite yet, so I don't know quite what to advise. The only minor lineup hole is at the hot corner, and I don't think swinging some of their top prospects for a Carlos Beltran or pitcher would be worth it.

- Mariners: Bill Bavasi will be dumping, there is no question about it. I could see something major like Bret Boone to the Yanks happening, but for now, I'll just assume the trading block to include Freddy Garcia and Eddie Guardado.

Back with the NL a bit later...

WTNYJune 21, 2004
Rashomon Monday
By Bryan Smith

So, if you havent seen it on the homepage, today is what we will call Rashomon Monday at All-Baseball. Last night, our ever-strict boss Christian, MADE us watch the Yankees-Dodgers game, and devote todays entry to it. Slave labor? Quite possibly.

Its no secret to readers of this site that Im one of the many Cub fans at A-B, so really this game meant nothing to me. But, since I havent been following baseball closely for too long, much of my fandom has been spent watching the Yankees play October after October. Because of that, Ive grown a deep hatred for the Yankees, and root against them every time they play the field. Its not working well.

If I was maybe thirty years older the Dodgers might have earned my same hatred, but as of now they dont bother me too much. I picked them to win the division each of the last three years (before 2004), and for some reason, they always let me down.

Being a huge fan of prospect watching, another reason these two teams have never gained a ton of my notice is that both systems are typically bare. The Dodgers has gotten much better of late, with Edwin Jackson and Greg Miller (now injured) both making my top 50 before the season. James Loney, Chuck Tiffany, Mike Megrew, Koyie Hill. There are a lot on the way, but there arent a lot currently on the Major League roster to reflect success. As for the Yankees, the best weve seen of late is Brad Halsey, who beat the Dodgers on Saturday night in his Major League debut. Its always hard to refer to someone as a Yankees prospect, because once they reach that status, they arent Yankees anymore.

But, these two teams are in first place, and with their history, the drama was sure to be there. While the Jose Contreras v. Jose Lima match-up doesnt seem too intriguing, Ive been a big Contreras fan since watching him dominate the White Sox last September. I think hes got a ton of potential, and was really excited to watch him pitch. During the game, ESPN showed the highlight of Contreras dominating the Orioles as a member of the Cuban National team, and Jose looked 100% more lean than he is today. Lima, if nothing else, is a very fun player to watch, showing emotions that are only overshadowed by Carlos Zambrano.

Reading the pitching lines today, you really wont get a great impression of how the pitchers played yesterday. This is especially true for Contreras, who was much better than his four runs and seven hits in six innings would suggest. Contreras gave up all four runs in the second inning, as well as five of the seven hits. In the other five innings, Contreras allowed two hits, zero runs, and stuck out four hitters. The second inning started off poorly, as Jose made his worst pitch of the day to Shawn Green, who pulled the ball just over the fence in right-center.

Next was Paul Lo Duca, who took a good outside pitch down the first base line for a double. The pitch and spot were perfect, but Paul showed a great piece of hitting, and went the other way for an extra-base hit. Then, Contreras made his second-worst pitch of the day to Adrian Beltre (akin to the Cubs Aramis Ramirez, IMO), who pulled a single between Jeter and A-Rod. It didnt score a run, another reason why Dave Studenmunds recent piece on Run Producers is so important. Instead of Beltre, it was Juan Encarnacion, who hit a deep fly ball to Kenny Lofton, who earned the RBI. Then, Contreras started to get very unlucky, as in two of the next three at-bats, both Alex Cora and Dave Roberts had bloops fall in between Jeter and Lofton. Roberts hit allowed both Beltre and Cora to score, and just like that, the Yankees were down 4-0.

The extent of Jose Limas bad pitching came in the next two at-bats, when he gave up back-to-back home runs to Hideki Matsui and Miguel Cairo. The first was a high and away fastball that Matsui took the other way, far over the fence in left-center. Hideki is a very good hitter, and the pitch wasnt even that bad, though Limas fastball simply lacks any luster. This was also apparent in the Cairo at-bat, as Miguel was able to turn on a fastball and knock it inches over the fence in left. After those at-bats, Lima calmed down and pitched four innings, allowing three hits and one run.

I say run hesitantly, as I dont think Lima deserved to have the run put to his name. To start off the seventh inning, Lima gave up a hit to Jason Giambi, to put him at 84 pitches overall. But for some reason, Jim Tracy decided it was time to pull the plug, and brought in Darren Dreifort to face Gary Sheffield. Even before the at-bat, I thought Tracy was over-managing, and should let Lima finish the inning, if at least not the next two batters. Dreifort immediately allowed a single to Gary Sheffield, and then managed to induce Jorge Posada into a double play. With Giambi on third, Tracy came off the bench again, bringing in southpaw Tom Martin to face Hideki Matsui. The Japanese outfielder made Tracy regret the move, as he tripled, obviously bringing in Giambi and narrowing the game to 4-3. Guillermo Mota then came in, and got pinch-hitter Ruben Sierra to fly out to left field. While a run may have scored regardless, charging the run to Jose Lima seems cheap to me.

To this second, I still dont quite understand the Dave Roberts at-bat against Paul Quantrill in the bottom half of the inning. With two outs, Roberts hit the ball to left field, where Hideki Matsui made a bad error, allowing Roberts to round the bases. This mistake would prove fatal, and more than made up for the triple Matsui had hit only minutes earlier. At this point Dodger Stadium was a madhouse, and the few Yankee fans were drained out by the 55,000 in Dodger blue. Jose Lima is a little like Zambrano, Beltre a bit like Ramirez, and Dodger Stadium is definitely similar to Wrigley Field.

Eric Gagne came in with two outs and a man on second to face Alex Rodriguez, in what turned to be an epic at-bat. The face-off reminded me of A-Rod vs. Schilling from last years All-Star Game, when Schilling promised to blow heat past the MVP, and did so. Gagne threw Rodriguez his best fastball, and dared the third basemen to catch up to it, but he couldnt. You definitely got an impression of Gagnes dominance, and at that point, I was ready to hang his plaque in upstate New York..

Jason Giambi helped make things interesting in the ninth, by leading the inning off with a home run. The now-81 long save streak is going to end at some point, and if not for Matsuis error, it may have been today. Giambi has been playing great of late, and I think he is an integral part of their hopes for a division title. The second epic battle came with two outs against Matsui, who had already taken two pitchers for extra-base hits earlier in the game. After getting up early in the count, Hideki fought back to make it a full count, before Gagne got Jeff Kellogg to pull the plug on the game.

Overall, it was a fun experience. Ive watched almost every Cubs game in the last week, so I think today was good for me to get a different view of baseball. Its hard for me to not watch a game and think of the Cubs, which leads me to relating things like Jose Lima, Adrian Beltre and Dodger Stadium to things Im used to. I never imagined I would be impressed by Lima, but I might actually agree with the team about not pulling the plug on Jose in the rotation quite yet.

I want to thank Christian for this idea, I think it was a great one. While the Reds, Cubs and Giants games might have been a bit more interesting, it was a cool game to watch.

Baseball BeatJune 21, 2004
A Special Weekend
By Rich Lederer

I was unable to participate fully in All-Baseball's Rashomon Project on Sunday because I missed the first half of the Yankees-Dodgers game celebrating Father's Day dinner with my wife and two children. Family comes first in the Lederer household. Despite the fact that we have been known to eat, drink, sleep, and breathe baseball, this wonderful game always takes a backseat when it's time to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and special occasions.

Although my Dad (George) passed away in 1978, this weekend was all about him. His birthday was on Saturday and Father's Day was, of course, on Sunday. Back-to-back special days. My Dad would have turned 76 years old on June 19. It's hard to believe that he has been gone for 26 years.

My son is 25 and my daughter is 22. Unfortunately, they never knew their grandfather. What a shame. In the meantime, my Dad lives on inside of my two brothers, my sister, and me, as well as his seven grandchildren. I called my Mom on Saturday to acknowledge his birthday, and we reminisced for a while.

I think of my Dad much more often than just on his birthday and on Father's Day. More than anything, I miss having an adult relationship with him. You see, I was only 23 when he died.

In May of 1939, my Dad and his parents escaped Nazi Germany when he was 11 years old. None of them could speak a word of English. They moved from New York to Long Beach in October. My Dad was placed in the second grade for three weeks but was in the fifth grade by the end of the first term. My Dad decided that he wanted to become a sportswriter when he was in the sixth grade, and he never changed his mind. A first-generation immigrant with no knowledge of English when he arrived in the states became a student and master of the language.

My Dad was the sports editor of his high school and junior college newspapers before going to work for the Long Beach Independent--later to merge with the Press-Telegram. When the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in 1958, he was given the baseball beat at the tender age of 29.

We have a precious photo of him walking in front of the Independent, Press-Telegram on Sixth and Pine in downtown Long Beach in February 1958 carrying his suitcase and briefcase. The black and white photo had the following caption in the newspaper the next morning, "George Lederer, Independent, Press-Telegram staff reporter, left home office Thursday morning bound for L.A. International Airport and plane that carried him and contingent of Dodgers to the club's spring training site in Vero Beach, Fla. Lederer will give I-PT readers complete coverage of the Dodgers."

The first spring training must have been intimidating. The New York writers, furious at being displaced, showed up and sneered at this upstart reporter from a small town who had never even seen a major league baseball game. My Dad didn't spend a lot of time in his room--an old navy barrack--because he was busy covering an impressive cast of veteran Dodgers, including Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese, Gil Hodges, and Carl Furillo. He reported on each of the team's 36 exhibition games that spring (from the opener with the Philadelphia Phillies in Miami on March 8 to the final spring training game against the Chicago Cubs in Las Vegas on April 13) and was on hand for the season opener on April 15--the first game in the history of the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers. (The Giants, behind Ruben Gomez, shut out the Dodgers, 8-0, in Seals Stadium.)

From 1958-1968, my Dad missed only two Dodger games--and for good reason. The Dodgers were on an east coast swing in September 1961 (and going nowhere) so he left the team after they drubbed the Phillies, 10-0, on a Thursday and headed to New York to catch Roger Maris' pursuit of Babe Ruth's single-season home run record that weekend against the Boston Red Sox. Lo and behold, my Dad was in the press box in "The House That Ruth Built" when Maris hit HR #61 into the right-field stands against Tracy Stallard.

During these 11 years, my Dad was there every step of the way as the Dodgers won the World Series in 1959, 1963, and 1965. On April 11, 1962, he caught the first foul ball hit into the press box at Dodger Stadium. The caption below the Associated Press wirephoto showing my Dad holding up the souvenir baseball reads, "A 'first' in new Dodger Stadium went to Press-Telegram baseball writer George Lederer, who caught first foul ball hit into press box. He caught it on the fly--barehanded--Wednesday night."

One of the highlights of my Dad's career covering the Dodgers was being the official scorekeeper when Sandy Koufax threw his perfect game against the Cubs in September 1965. We still have the official scoresheet as well as the lineup card made out by Walter Alston that hung in the Dodgers' dugout that evening. He was also the official statistician for several years, and he kept copius records and notes in 5" x 8" spiral notebooks. His stat books and scrapbooks with all of his articles remain prized possessions of the family.

My Dad was the Chairman of the Southern California Chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America in 1962. He was also named to the BBWAA Board of Directors in 1968 along with Dick Young (New York Daily News), Bob Hunter (Los Angeles Herald-Examiner), Jack Lang (Long Island Press), Lou Hatter (Baltimore Sun), Allen Lewis (Philadelphia Inquirer) and Watson Spoelstra (Detroit News). Ross Newhan (1961-1967) and Fred Claire (1968) handled the Angels beat for the Long Beach paper during the years my Dad covered the Dodgers.

After the 1968 season, my Dad joined the California Angels as Director of Public Relations and Promotions. Dick Walsh, a long-time Dodger executive, became the General Manager and hired my Dad in one of his first moves. He also worked under Harry Dalton and Buzzie Bavasi during his ten-year career with the Angels--one that was prematurely shortened due to his death at age 50. It was a lean period for the franchise but one in which Nolan Ryan came into prominence, throwing four no-hitters and leading the league in strikeouts six times, including a major league record 383 in 1973 (breaking Koufax's record of 382 set in 1965).

The Koufax and Ryan eras. Boy, those were the years. Eight no-hitters, three Cy Youngs, five ERA titles, five 20-win seasons, and ten times leading the league in strikeouts. Koufax and Ryan threw as hard as any pitcher during the 1960s and 1970s and both had outstanding curveballs. It was certainly a great time to be with the Dodgers and Angels.

I just wish I could have watched Sunday night's Yankees-Dodgers game on TV with my Dad. Maybe we could have collaborated on the All-Baseball Rashomon Project. I'm sure he could have given me a unique perspective on Eric Gagne, who just may have one of the best fastballs and change/splitters in the game today. Eighty-one straight saves. Wow! I wonder what he would say about that?

Happy Birthday, Dad. And Happy Father's Day, too. Thanks for everything. I love you.

Baseball BeatJune 07, 2004
Weaver-Prior Revisited
By Rich Lederer

How scary are these numbers?

             IP    H   R   ER   BB     K    W-L
Prior     138.2  100  32   26   18   202   15-1   
Weaver    136.1   76  29   25   19   201   15-1
             H/9    BB/9    K/9    K/BB     ERA
Prior        6.5     1.2   13.1    11.2    1.69
Weaver       5.0     1.3   13.3    10.6    1.65

Mark Prior signed a five-year contract with the Chicago Cubs for $10.5 million in August 2001, which included a $4 million signing bonus and the following annual salaries:

2002: $  250,000
2003: $  650,000
2004: $1,600,000
2005: $2,000,000
2006: $2,000,000

What is the over-under on Weaver? Six, eight, ten or twelve million?

Will Arte Moreno let money get in the way of signing the most accomplished player in the draft? Although I don't think he will get more than what Prior received, I believe the College Player of the Year could still end up getting the biggest contract of all the draftees despite being taken 12th. In any event, the Weaver family has to be elated. Jeff in Los Angeles and Jered in Anaheim.

What is the over-under on Weaver's arrival in the major leagues?

If Long Beach State makes it to the College World Series, Weaver may start four more times before the playoffs are over. At eight innings an outing, that would give him almost 170 for the year. As such, I think there is a good chance that he will either be shut down for the remainder of 2004 once his college obligations are over or he will be given some time off before his pro career begins (most likely at the Double-A level).

ETA: June 2005.

WTNYJune 07, 2004
Mock Draft, take 2
By Bryan Smith

I've spent the last few hours reading nearly every major newspaper in the country, and I have decided on a set top 13, it goes as follows...

1. Padres- Matt Bush
2. Tigers- Justin Verlander
3. Mets- Phillip Humber
4. Devil Rays- Jeff Niemann
5. Brewers- Mark Rogers
6. Indians- Jeremy Sowers
7. Reds- Homer Bailey
8. Orioles- Stephen Drew
9. Rockies- Chris Nelson
10. Rangers- Wade Townsend
11. Pirates- Neil Walker
12. Angels- Phillip Hughes
13. Expos- Thomas Diamond

And to me, this is where things get a bit hazy. But I'll continue...

14. Royals- Josh Fields
15. Diamondbacks- David Purcey
16. Blue Jays- Zach Jackson

Now, I believe Jered Weaver will go either at 17 or 19, and it's very hard to say. But, I'll try anyway....

17. Dodgers- Jered Weaver
18. White Sox- Scott Elbert
19. Cardinals- B.J. Syzmanski
20. Twins- Glen Perkins
21. Phillies- Jay Rainville
22. Twins- Billy Butler
23. Yankees- Eric Hurley
24. Athletics- Danny Putnam
25. Twins- Justin Orenduff
26. Athletics- Huston Street
27. Marlins- Gio Gonzalez
28. Dodgers- Kurt Suzuki
29. Royals- Mike Ferris
30. Rangers- Greg Golson

That's the best I got...

WTNYJune 07, 2004
Draft Day
By Bryan Smith

I trust everything Baseball America says, and sometimes I think that may be one of my weaknesses as a writer. It's late, and the BA website has a report that the Padres have agreed to a pre-draft deal with high school shortstop Matt Bush. Whether this is true or not, I don't know, but I'll give 2 different mock top tens:

Mock Draft #1 (If Drew Goes #1)
1. Padres- Stephen Drew
2. Tigers- Justin Verlander
3. Mets- Phillip Humber
4. Devil Rays- Jeff Niemann
5. Brewers- Homer Bailey
6. Indians- Jeremy Sowers
7. Reds- Chris Nelson
8. Orioles- Jered Weaver
9. Rockies- Matt Bush
10. Rangers- Wade Townsend

Mock Draft #2 (If Bush goes #1)
1. Padres- Matt Bush
2. Tigers- Stephen Drew
3. Mets- Justin Verlander
4. Devil Rays- Jeff Niemann
5. Brewers- Phillip Humber
6. Indians- Jeremy Sowers
7. Reds- Chris Nelson
8. Orioles- Homer Bailey
9. Rockies- Jered Weaver
10. Rangers- Wade Townsend

Consensus Choices
- Tampa will select Jeff Niemann with the 2nd choice
- High school shortstop Chris Nelson will drop to #7
- Rice pitcher Wade Townsend will stay in Texas

After that, the next 5 choices are: Pirates, Angels, Expos, Royals, Diamondbacks, Blue Jays, Dodgers, White Sox, Cardinals, Twins.

Expect the Pirates to choose homestate catcher Neil Walker in the eleventh spot, for both emotional and economical reasons. Then, I expect the Angels to take a high school pitcher with the #12 selection in the draft. If Townsend, Sowers, or Weaver reach Arte Moreno he will bite, but if not, my guess is Orange County native Phillip Hughes. I would slot the Expos into drafting Thomas Diamond, as he doesn't quite have the price tag that high school pitchers do.

With three (Rogers, Elbert, Hurley) good high school pitchers available, expect the Royals to draft another high school pitcher in 2004, this time not as good as Mr. Greinke. Elbert lives in Missouri, so he's got my guess, though Rogers seems to be the consensus best player on the board selection. Arizona is said to what nothing to do with a high schooler, instead desiring a college pitcher, leaving them Orenduff, Purcey, or Zach Jackson to decide between. They should go with Orenduff, one of the worst college pitchers to be chosen in the first.

Toronto is the first of the very sabermetric teams to pick, and I don't doubt they'll pick one of the two Big 12 southpaws, either Purcey or Jackson. At this point I'll say Jackson, though that could change in a day. While much has been said in the Logan White v. Paul DePodesta debate, I say the former wins, and the Dodgers land the pick of the day, Maine right-hander Mark Rogers. Expect the White Sox to take another high school pitcher, and I'll say it will be Jacksonville pitcher Eric Hurley. The Cardinals will bite on raw but talented college slugger Josh Fields, leaving the Twins to finally decide their course of action.

I don't doubt the Twins will choose hometown pitcher Glen Perkins, but he's more likely to go at 22 than 20. At 20, they'll go high schooler, either Jay Rainville or Billy Butler, and I'm guessing it's the latter. The Phillies should the New Englander Rainville at 21, and after Perkins goes at 22, the Yankees will pick Ivy Leaguer B.J. Syzmanski in the 23rd slot. The A's draft will surely start with Danny Putnam at #24, and the Twins third selection should be Texas closer Huston Street, who can fly through the system and come cheap.

I like the A's taking Weaver's teammate Jason Vargas with the next pick, and the World Champions choosing hometown southpaw Gio Gonzalez with the twenty-seventh pick. Paul DePodesta will win battle #2, and the Dodgers will surprise all by taking Cal State Fullerton catcher Kurt Suzuki at twenty-eight. Kansas City and Texas will finish the first round, and once again, I have to agree with my Baseball America boys here, as I predict Mike Ferris and Greg Golson to finish off the first round.

So yes, I really do have David Purcey dropping out of the first round. I didn't realize it until I typed this all up, but I'm going to stick with it at this point. Dropping like hot cakes, the Royals will select him at 31, leaving J.P. Riccardi to choose East Coast college pitcher Chris Lambert with his second choice.

That's all I got, except predicting that Jeff Larish and Dustin Pedroia will get chosen in the supplemental round. Tune in tomorrow, and I'll be back with a report later in the week. Take care....

Baseball BeatJune 05, 2004
...And Down The Stretch They Come!
By Rich Lederer

Jered Weaver faces number one-ranked and fifth-national seeded Stanford this afternoon in the winner's bracket of the NCAA Regional in Palo Alto. Win or lose, it could be Weaver's last college outing. The game will be shown on CSTV (Channel 610 on DirecTV) at 3:00 p.m. PST. Next to the Belmont Stakes, this should prove to be one of the best and most exciting sporting events of the day.

Prior to the end of the regular season, I asked the two-time, first-team All-American pitcher about his team's chances in the playoffs.

"Everybody's goal is to get to Omaha and we tried the last two years. We always got stomped by Stanford, and I wouldn't mind going back there again and seeing what happens."

Today is the day when we will indeed see "what happens". Long Beach State (37-19) squeaked out a victory over St. John's (36-22), 4-3, in the bottom of the ninth inning on a one-out walk and consecutive singles to break the tie yesterday afternoon. In the nightcap, Stanford (45-12) roughed up UNLV (37-23), 10-4, behind Danny Putnam's home run and five RBI.

Weaver (14-1, 1.68 ERA) will be matched against left-hander Mark Romanczuk (11-2, 4.03), his roommate last summer on the U.S. National team.

Team USA Totals:

                IP   H   R  ER  BB  SO  ERA   W-L
Weaver          48  21   2   2  11  36  0.38  4-1
Romanczuk       36  25   4   3   8  34  0.75  5-0

Weaver, who was named Collegiate Baseball's Player of the Year on Friday, will have his hands full versus one of the best-hitting teams in the country. Stanford is hitting .327/.413/.525 with 91 home runs in 57 games. Putnam, who also played on Team USA, and Jed Lowrie, the Pac-10 Player of the Year, have belted 16 HR each.

The winner of this double-elimination regional will face the winner of the Notre Dame regional, which features UC Irvine, Arizona and Kent State, next week in the Super Regionals. The Beach is looking to advance to its fifth College World Series, having made it to Omaha in 1989, 1991, 1993, 1998.

I asked Weaver if he was pleased with his season thus far. "I was hoping to have a winning season, but what's happening right now is unbelievable. Who could expect this? I've been having a great season so far and hopefully I can keep it going and help our team get to Omaha. As long as I can keep our team in ballgames, I can help lead us to victories--and that's what's most important."

The level-headed Weaver is expected to go high in the major league baseball draft on June 7, but he has stated that his number one goal is Omaha and the College World Series.

"The draft is great and this is what I have been waiting for, but I just have to take it one step at a time. We still have a goal to get to Omaha, and that's my first goal right now. Whatever happens after that, happens."

Speaking of the draft, I asked the pitcher who currently adorns the cover of Baseball America, how he would compare himself to Justin Verlander, another Team USA teammate and one of the most highly touted college pitchers. Weaver told me, "Verlander, I think, throws harder. I think I have better location and 'pitchibility'. It's just a matter of developing for both of us."

I mentioned to Weaver that he has also been talked about in the same breath with Jeff Niemann, Wade Townsend, and Philip Humber of Rice and wondered aloud how the four junior pitchers compared to one another. Jered responded with an honest answer. "I don't know much about them."

Baseball America speculated that Weaver could drift down in the upcoming draft, possibly to the Colorado Rockies in the number nine slot due to his desire for Mark Prior-type money. I sure hope Weaver doesn't end up pitching at Mile High Stadium because he is ill suited for that ballpark.

Weaver agrees that he is a flyball type pitcher and told me that, "we'll see what happens down the road" when I asked him if he was interested in developing a sinker, splitter, or cutter in order to induce more ground balls.

I would also think that the risk of injury is that much higher for a Colorado starter. I asked Weaver if he concurred with a Kansas City Royals scout I talked to who thought Weaver had developed to the point that the risk of injury to him at the age of 21 was actually less than an 18-20 year-old. "I had never really heard of that. I don't really think about it honestly."

Weaver has good but not great stuff relative to major leaguers although he has outstanding command of his pitches. The man who wears number 36 on the back of his uniform throws a low-90s fastball along with a curve and changeup as well as an occasional slider. Jered has impressed me against left-handed hitters owing to his unique ability to throw hard and inside combined with a change that fades away from lefties. "Yes, those are my pitches" when asked to confirm his repertoire. "I throw both a two-seam and a four-seam fastball."

Weaver has improved since his high school days and has graduated from being a Sunday pitcher for the 49ers his freshman year to a Saturday pitcher his sophomore year to being the "go to" Friday night guy his junior year.

How many baseball scholarship offers did you have and what made you choose Long Beach State?

"I was offered a scholarship by all the California schools. I chose Long Beach State because of the schooling and the baseball program. I have had a lot of fun, and I would not have had it any other way. It was the best decision of my life. I have had great coaches, and I've reallly learned a lot.

"When I came to Long Beach State, it was a tremendous learning opportunity for me. I started lifting weights and started an intensive throwing program. I worked on my lower body but not much on the upper body. My velocity as a freshman was 86-89 mph. Now it is consistently 90-94 mph.

The no-hitter that Weaver threw in Alaska in the summer of 2002 in front of his Dad has been one of the highlights of his young career. I asked him how many no-nos he's thrown and what impact that particular game had on his confidence. "That was my only no-hitter. Whenever you do something like that, it gives you confidence in your next start."

I asked Weaver, who was named Pitcher of the Summer last year for his performance on Team USA, to compare the level of competition in the Pan Am Games vs. Division I college baseball. "In the Pan American Games, there is a lot more talent. You're facing grown men. They are stronger and it's good competition. It's a good comparison between guys swinging wood bats and college guys swinging aluminum."

Although I know that Jered idolizes his older brother Jeff, I still questioned him as to which pitchers, if any, he has patterned himself after. His answer was quick and short. "My brother Jeff."

Jered was kind enough to give me some one and two word answers to several questions that I thought might reveal some more information about him.

Q: The nickname your teammates call you.
A: Weave.

Q: Your favorite major league team.
A: Dodgers.

Q: Your favorite major league player.
A: Jeff Weaver.

Q: Your favorite sport besides baseball.
A: Basketball.

Q: Your major.
A: Criminal justice.

Q: Your favorite class.
A: Science.

Q: Your favorite baseball movie.
A: Bull Durham.

Q: Your favorite non-baseball movie.
A: Braveheart.

Thanks, Jered. It has been a pleasure covering you this season. Good luck in the playoffs and in the draft.

Update: Long Beach State beat Stanford, 7-4, Saturday. Weaver pitched eight innings, giving up just two runs (one earned) and getting his 15th victory of the season. The 49ers are now in the championship game(s) on Sunday.

WTNYJune 03, 2004
The Story of Three Pitchers
By Bryan Smith

Today, as my title implies, I want to talk about three different pitchers. The first was my top ranked pitcher in my preseason prospect ranking, the second was who should have been my top ranked my top pitcher, and the third is my top sleeper prospect before the season. All three are having very different seasons, but have had a nice last couple of days.

In my prospect ranking before the season, I wrote this about my #3 overall prospect:


While Miller ended the season wonderfully in AA, Jackson did fantastic in the Major Leagues. Jackson reminds me of Giant Jerome Williams, and it looks like the two will duke it out for years to come. Both have mid-90s fastballs and very good curveballs, are basically the same size, and are said to have very fluid motions. If you live in Los Angeles and arent excited, change.
*- After a spectacular September, Jackson might earn a spot with the Dodgers. If not, hell go to AAA and be up by midseason. Dodger Stadium plus Jackson spells out Rookie of the Year.

But, Jackson did not earn that spot with the Dodgers, thanks in large part to his 9.28 ERA in 21.1 Spring innings. Los Angeles sent their top prospect to AAA Las Vegas, historically one of the most drastic offensive stadiums in the minors. Jackson has struggled mightily in Sin City, throwing 52.2 innings of 5.13 ERA ball, with a K/BB of only 38/24. Jackson's record was 5-2 though, likely confusing someone he was worthy of a call-up.

Actually, Jackson was recalled because the Dodger rotation had few other options. Hideo Nomo is hurt in many different ways, and Wilson Alvarez requested a move to the bullpen. Jose Lima is well, Jose Lima, and Paul DePodesta is smart enough to know not to bank every fifth day on his right arm. So, with a homestand against the Milwaukee Brewers, the Dodgers found it harmless enough to give Jackson a start.

Let's tune into the ESPN box score play-by-play for Jackson's first Major League experience of the 2004 season, Mr. Scott Podsednik:

Edwin Jackson pitches to Scott Podsednik
Pitch 1: ball 1
Pitch 2: strike 1 (looking)
Pitch 3: ball 2
Pitch 4: strike 2 (foul)
Pitch 5: ball 3
Pitch 6: foul
Pitch 7: in play
S Podsednik homered to right.

Well, I can almost guarantee that someone was being cursed at in the luxury suites of Dodger Stadium, blamed for that stupid decision to call up the kid. Then, Jackson gives up a single to Craig Counsell of all people! But, Edwin calms down, and allows only one hit and three walks in the next five innings, all scoreless frames. And with the Dodgers scoring five runs, you can bet on the L.A. bullpen giving Mr. Jackson his first 2004 victory.

You can bet that things weren't so lucky for player #2. Rather than pitching for a first place team on the Pacific, our second hurler was dealing for a last place team in Missouri. I've written about Zack Greinke, and particularly his connections with Bret Saberhagen, many times before here, so I'll try and be brief. By some freak error, I ranked Greinke all the way down at #9 before the season, and for consistency's sake, here's what I wrote:


In his first full year against professional hitting, Zack Greinke has made a name for himself. The Royal right-hander absolutely dominated Carolina League opponents, following a winter spent in the Puerto Rican League. Greinke dropped on my list due to a weak K/9 rate, but he balances that with great control. He understands changing speeds better than any other prospect, and mixes in an above-average curve. With three Major League pitches, Kansas City fans are praying for the second coming of Saberhagen.
*- Upon promotion to AA, Greinke was hardly dominating. He'll head back to Wichita at year's beginning, but don't bet against him arriving about the same time that Jimmy Gobble did last year.

My guess of Gobble's arrival date, August 3, was a little off, as the Royals have turned to Greinke now. In his first, well publicized start, Baird and Pena put him against the harmless Oakland A's in the spacious Coliseum. Greinke went five innings, allowing five hits, a walk, and two runs, both of which were the result of a Erubiel Durazo home run. As Rob Neyer predicted, the Royals bullpen threw away a would-be-win, and the Royals lost 5-4 in the eleventh.

For his second trial, the situation was a little more difficult for the young right-hander. Greinke's first start at home, against the rival Minnesota Twins, was on a Friday in front of more than 30,000 people at Kauffman Stadium. The pressure was on, as the Twins were throwing veteran Brad Radke on the mound. Greinke responded with a great start, allowing only one run in seven innings, which took him only 100 pitches. The run, a Michael Cuddyer home run in the fifth, would tie the game at 1-1, the same score when Greinke left after seven innings. Kansas City would scrap a run across in the ninth, giving former starter Jeremy Affeldt, and not the deserving Greinke, the win.

Now tune to yesterday, as Greinke would make his debut against the lowly Detroit Tigers. Zack pitched fantastic, allowing only two runs (a 2-run blast by Brandon Inge in the second) on six hits and two walks in seven innings. He was Greg Maddux-like efficient again, throwing only 99 pitches during the start. Unfortunately for Greinke, he was pinned against Tiger right-hander Jason Johnson, who held the Royals scoreless. So, after three starts, Greinke is yet to give up three runs in a game, and yet to notch his first Major League victory. It's a little early for Greinke to be appearing on the Baseball Prospectus unluckiest pitchers list, but he's got my vote.

And finally, we move to player #3, the Rockies southpaw Jeff Francis. Thus far, I'm most happy with my placement of him on my top 50 list, as I didn't see him that high anywhere else before the year. Pardon me for tooting my own horn, but here's what I wrote in February:


Heres my guarantee: you wont find another prospect ranking in the world that has Jeff Francis in the top fifty but right here. The reason behind that is an e-mail that I saved thanks to Kevin Goldsteins Baseball America Prospect Report. In Francis last fifteen starts, he went 10-1, 1.06, showing the type of prospect he really is. Francis has a big body and is very durable, but needs to refine his pitches before blasting off.
*- Im very high on Francis, and I expect the Canadian to dominate AA in 2004. With Tsao and Francis atop their rotation, the Rockies should boost that road record in coming years.

And domination it has been. On Tuesday, Francis struck out fourteen batters in eight innings, and his one run allowed dropped the ERA to 2.12 for the season. As Kevin Goldstein of the BAPR wrote, Francis now leads the Texas League in innings pitched, wins, ERA, and strikeouts. A pitching triple crown? Maybe I should have put him in my top 25!

Anyways, that's what I have to offer today. While I can't give direct links (computer issues), check out Batters Box and Baseball Prospectus for some cool draft coverage in the last couple days. And watch the Hardball Times, as Craig Burley keeps rolling out his college statistics mat, my vote for discovery of the year by an on-line sabermatrician, although no such award exists. If the Padres pick Stephen Drew first overall, expect the Tigers to select Jered Weaver, Jeff Niemann to cover the New York tabloids, Homer Bailey get Tampa's selection, and Phillip Humber to drop to the Brewers. More on the draft next week, and keep watching for what I've now dubbed as the "inevitable B.J. Upton June call-up."

Baseball BeatJune 01, 2004
Prince Albert
By Rich Lederer

"It's not what you did last year. It's what youre going to do this year. That's more important."

--Albert Pujols

Barry Bonds. Roger Clemens. Alex Rodriguez. Randy Johnson. Mike Piazza. Greg Maddux. Sammy Sosa. Pedro Martinez. Ken Griffey Jr.

Baseball's royalty. The kings, bishops, dukes, earls, knights, and lords of the game. At the risk of being early, I believe it's time to add Albert Pujols to the House of Bud. Prince Albert.

Jose Alberto Pujols is the only player in baseball history to hit .300 with 30 homers, 100 runs, and 100 RBI in each of his first three seasons, and he is on pace this year to make it four in a row. That's right, no one--not Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, nor Bonds--has ever begun their career with such heady stats.

Although Albert is not thought of first and foremost as a home run hitter, his 114 four baggers in 2001-2003 tied Ralph Kiner's major league record for most homers by a player in his first three years. Furthermore, with six dingers in his last ten games, Pujols is now leading the majors in home runs this season with 15.

Season Totals:

 G   AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS 
49  188  45  57  15   0  15   35  33  14   2 .303 .404 .622 1.027

Projected Totals:

  G  AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS
162 622 149 188  50   0  50  116 109  46   7 .303 .404 .622 1.027

Check out Albert's projected walks and strikeouts. 109 BB and 46 SO is phenomenal. In fact, no player has ever hit 50 HR in a single season while drawing 100 walks and striking out fewer than 50 times. But forget the walks. Pujols would become the second player ever to hit 50 or more home runs while striking out less than 50 times in a season. The only other player to achieve such a combination is Johnny Mize, who hit 51 HR while K'ing just 42 times in 1947 for the New York Giants. Based on his current projections, Pujols could also join Mize as the only players among those with 50 or more homers to go yard more often than striking out.

Speaking of walks and strikeouts, Prince Albert has increased his BB and decreased his SO totals every year of his career and is once again on pace to shatter his high for base on balls and his low for whiffs this year. He has accomplished this streak while reducing the number of pitches per plate appearance each season--a testament to the fact that the Cardinals slugger is as aggressive as ever early in the count but disciplined enough to take a walk when the opposing pitcher tries to work him outside the strike zone.

How good is Albert Pujols? Well, would you believe it if I told you his seasonal lows thus far in his career have been as follows?

Runs      112
Hits      185
2B        40
HR        34
RBI       124
BB        69
BA        .314
OBP       .394
SLG       .561
OPS+      155

There have been baseball players who could hit for a higher average, slug more home runs, or draw more walks. But very few who could do all three and at such a young age. The Pujols concoction is one part DiMaggio, one part Williams, and one part Musial.

According to Baseball-Reference.com, The Yankee Clipper has been the most comparable hitter at the ages of 21, 22, and 23, and he had the most similar career totals through the age of 23.

               H     R    HR   RBI    AVG    OBP    SLG
DiMaggio     615   412   107   432   .331   .384   .610
Pujols       591   367   114   381   .334   .412   .613

Teddy Ballgame was the only player other than Pujols to hit .300 with an OBP of .400 and a SLG of .600 through age 23.

                 AVG      OBP      SLG    
Williams        .356     .481     .642   
Pujols          .334     .412     .613

Relative to the league averages, Stan the Man and Pujols arguably had numbers that were the most alike in terms of batting average, isolated power, walks, and strikeouts through age 23. (The numbers below are expressed as ratios to the league averages.)

                 AVG      ISO       BB       SO     
Musial           130      193      152       57
Pujols           125      170      132       75
For those who don't believe that Pujols turned 24 in January and, therefore, are inclined to discount his accomplishments to date, I suggest they pay attention to the following tables (the first is comprised of players with career .300+ BA, .400+ OBP, and .600+ SLG and the second is a list of the top ten career Adjusted OPS+, both of which are irrespective of age):
                      AVG      OBA      SLG    
Ruth                 .342     .474     .690   
Williams             .344     .482     .634   
Gehrig               .340     .447     .632   
Helton               .337     .425     .616   
Foxx                 .325     .428     .609   
Pujols               .334     .412     .613   
Greenberg            .313     .412     .605

That's pretty exclusive company. Unlike Todd Helton, Pujols has never had the luxury of playing in an extreme hitters' ballpark. The others--Ruth, Williams, Gehrig, Foxx, and Hank Greenberg--are simply the pantheon of baseball sluggers.

ADJUSTED OPS+
 
1 Ruth          207  
2 Williams      190  
3 Bonds         179  
  Gehrig        179  
5 Hornsby       175  
6 Mantle        172  
7 Brouthers     170  
  Jackson       170 
9 Cobb          167 
  Pujols        167

Pujols once again finds himself among the creme de la creme. The best hitters of all time adjusted for era and ballpark effects.

The young slugger attributes the questions surrounding his age to stereotypes about Dominican players but says he is not bothered by the criticism. It's possible that Pujols was older than the reported age of 16 when his family moved from Santo Domingo to New York City in 1996. Let's say he was really 18. If so, that would make him 26 today (rather than 24). But I think there is as much reason to believe Pujols' stated age as not.

In any event, the family relocated to Independence, Missouri where Albert made a name for himself as a star shortstop on his high school baseball team. Pujols played baseball at Maple Woods Community College in Kansas City before he was drafted in the 13th round and signed by the St. Louis Cardinals for $60,000 at the end of the summer in 1999. He played one season in the minors in 2000 (with all but three games at the Single-A level) and then made a monumental jump to the big leagues after an impressive showing in the Arizona Fall League and Grapefruit League.

The 6'3", 225-pound slugger was named the National League Rookie of the Year in 2001. Pujols set the N.L. rookie records for RBI (130), extra-base hits (88), and total bases (360). Albert followed up his freshman campaign with similarly outstanding seasons in 2002 and 2003. Last year, Pujols joined Rogers Hornsby as the only players in Cardinals history to record 40 homers and 200 hits in the same season.

Unfortunately, Pujols has had the misfortune of playing in the shadow of Bonds during a period in which the latter has pieced together perhaps the best three-year stretch in baseball history. If not for Bonds, Pujols would have won the MVP Award in each of the past two seasons.

In early 2004, Pujols and the Cardinals agreed on a seven-year, $100 million contract--the largest ever bestowed upon a ballplayer of his age. But if there was ever an athlete who was "money in the bank", it's the Prince of St. Louis.

Pujols is as reliable and dependable as they come. He has played at least 157 games in each of his first three seasons and has yet to miss a game this year. Tony LaRussa, who called Pujols "the best player I've ever had" two years ago, has written Pujols' name in the lineup at first base and in the number three slot in the order every game so far in 2004.

Pujols is the type of player who shows up for work with his lunch box every day from April to September, including weekends and holidays. He goes out there daily and does what he is paid to do as quietly, consistently, and efficiently as anyone in the game. Albert reminds me of Tim Duncan and Jerry Rice in his workmanlike preparation and attitude. Fittingly, he performs off Broadway in the heartland of America.

Not surprisingly, the Cardinals are getting their money's worth this year. The tall, muscular right-handed hitter is not only leading the majors in home runs but he is also leading in runs scored (45), ranks seventh in BB (33), eighth in OPS (1.027), and ninth in SLG (.622). The man can flat out rake. Pujols is ripping lefties to the tune of a .438 BA and a 1.338 OPS, and he is hitting .315/1.147 on the road.

Through the Memorial Day weekend, the third baseman-outfielder turned first baseman has put up the following career totals in just 3 1/3 seasons:

  G   AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS
524 1955 411 646 152   7 129  414 252 241  10 .330 .411 .613 1.024

His seasonal averages (per 162 games) are as follows:

  G   AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS 
162  604 127 200  47   2  40  128  78  75   3 .330 .411 .613 1.024

If Pujols can maintain his current level of performance for the next 8-10 years, he will go down in baseball history alongside Aaron, DiMaggio, Foxx, Hornsby, Mays, Robinson, and Honus Wagner as one of the greatest right-handed hitters of all time. His numbers have been that princely.

WTNYJune 01, 2004
One More Day
By Bryan Smith

That's how long you'll have to wait for your regularly scheduled Wait 'Til Next Year broadcast. I witnessed the Cubs beat the Astros today, and Greg Maddux start of old left me with the highest Cubs feeling I've had in weeks. Well, maybe that other announcement had something to do with it too.

Thanks for all the response on my draft piece over at the Hardball Times, I really appreciate any thoughts or criticism. This week I should also have a piece up there on the 1998 draft, looking at the success rate of players and such.

While I won't be making an extended entry until tomorrow, here are a few draft thoughts:

- I really hope the Padres aren't considering anyone but Jered Weaver. Sure, he got racked by Miami this week, but how many teams have lit up Jeff Niemann or Justin Verlander?

- That being said, I don't understand spending a top five pick on either of those two players. The Tigers would be smart to choose Stephen Drew, letting the 6-9 Niemann fill the tabloid pages of New York magazines for a couple of days.

- Peter Gammons likes Jeremy Sowers more than anyone else in the draft this year, and I can't really agree with him. Sowers is the left-handed version of Jeremy Guthrie, currently taking that Eastern League course over again.

- Want a late first round steal? Why not gamble on Jeff Larish, and bet money that his ugly first half is not indicative of the bat he really has. He's been coming on strong of late, and I think him and Dustin Pedroia will make good picks in the 25-35 slots.

That's all for now...