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Welcome back to Clubhouse Leaders!

You might have noticed that I’ve moved away from the usual quarterly format. I’d love to say that this is because there’s some sort of value added by shifting attention away from seemingly arbitrary milestones to something a little more exciting – in this case, the season’s final month, where big moves can ultimately be made – but the truth is that I’ve just late putting this together.

No matter – we can still talk about who looks to be in the best shape as we enter the last stretch where MLB players can make their cases, statistical and otherwise, to take home the game’s most significant individual hardware.

There’s not the same level of change from midseason to this point as there was from the season’s onset to the All-Star break – all six leaders changed – but there are a couple of shifts. Still, many of these players had already made it very clear that they were the favorites for these awards and not a lot has happened to disabuse them (or us) of that notion.

On to Clubhouse Leaders!

Published in Sports

“If you cut Rickey Henderson in half, you’d have two Hall of Famers.” – Bill James

Where have all the characters gone?

In today’s professional sports realm, the massive amounts of money involved have led to something of a homogenization in terms of the individual. With such huge amounts of cash on the line, it behooves pro athletes to operate on a level of strategic blandness; most players land in a place of platitudes and cliches, all intended to say as little as possible about the people themselves.

But it wasn’t always that way.

There was a time when pro sports were littered with colorful characters, iconic and iconoclastic players whose compelling performances on the field were counterpointed by eccentricities off it. In sports, legends are born not just of greatness in the box score, but of the stories that surround them.

And Rickey Henderson, no matter your definition, is a legend.

“Rickey: The Life and Legend of an American Original” (Mariner Books, $29.99) is a new biography of the legend by sportswriter Howard Bryant. It is a deep and definitive look at one of the greatest to ever play the game of baseball. Henderson is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, the all-time leader for stolen bases both in a season (130 in 1982) and in a career (1,406), as well as for most runs scored in a career (2,295). He is the only man in MLB history with more than 3,000 hits and more than 2,000 walks. The numbers he put up over his 25 years in the big leagues are staggering.

But the craziest part of all is that those numbers only tell part of the story.

Published in Sports
Wednesday, 01 June 2022 10:13

‘Facing Nolan’ throws some serious heat

Baseball is a game that is utterly enamored of its own history. No American professional sport is as self-referential as baseball, with an obsession of finding ways to compare the stars of the present with the legends of the past.

But what about those legends for whom there simply is no comparison?

Take Nolan Ryan. If you tried to make him up, no one would believe you. The owner of what many would still argue is the fastest fastball of all time; he was the longtime Guinness record holder, with a recorded fastball velocity of 100.6 miles per hour (though extrapolated to the more accurate measurement tech of today, some estimates have him as fast as 108 at his peak).

Ryan holds all-time career records for strikeouts and walks and no-hitters and 48 others, good and bad. His win-loss record in the majors was 324-292. He pitched for 27 seasons and performed at a high level right up until a career-ending arm injury at age 46 cut things short a couple of starts short of the planned end.

This guy wasn’t a pitcher, he was a goddamned folk hero.

And that energy very much carries through “Facing Nolan,” the new documentary about the pitcher by Bradley Jackson. This is that rare sports doc where we don’t get the “fallen hero/redemption” arc … and we don’t need it. Instead, Jackson simply walks us through a baseball career the likes of which we will absolutely never see again.

Published in Sports

We’re back! Welcome, loyal readers, to the first Clubhouse Leaders of the 2022 MLB season!

As per usual, we will be checking in regularly on the major league baseball season in an effort to determine who is in the driver’s seat with regard to the year’s major individual awards. And ALSO per usual, we fully anticipate that at least some of the contenders we mention this week will have fallen by the wayside come season’s end, just as we expect that one or two players come out of nowhere to seize the top spot going forward.

Every team has crossed the 40-game threshhold, meaning that we are ready to evaluate their award-worthiness at the one-quarter mark. Again, one strong stretch does not an award-winner make – we’ll have to wait and see how things play out going forward.

But for now? Let’s take some swings.

This is Clubhouse Leaders.

(All statistics current through May 22.)

Published in Sports
Wednesday, 27 April 2022 09:29

Miguel Cabrera joins 3,000 hit club

One of the most exclusive clubs in Major League Baseball history has added a new member.

Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera became the 33rd player in MLB history to reach at least 3,000 hits, accomplishing the feat with a first-inning single against Colorado Rockies pitcher Antonio Sentzatela in a game in Detroit on April 23. He’s the first Venezuelan player to reach the milestone and just the seventh Latino.

And hey, if you’re into exclusivity, well, here’s an even smaller club that Cabrera enters with this hit. He becomes just the seventh player in history to achieve the 3,000 hit/500 home run career combo, joining a handful of guys whose names might ring familiar – Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Eddie Murray, Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols. Pujols is the only other member of the 3,000-hit club still active.

Published in Sports
Monday, 04 April 2022 15:29

Play ball! A 2022 MLB season preview

Believe it or not, Opening Day is almost upon us.

In just a few days, Major League Baseball will hit the field for the start of the 2022 season. Sure, it’s a little later than it might have been, thanks to the still-inexplicable lockout that resulted in an offseason packed with uncertainty only to land on a meet-in-the-middle compromise that probably should have been reached back in December, but whatever. We’re getting baseball!

The bat will still crack. The glove will still pop. Blazing fastballs and towering home runs will be abundant. Familiar faces will display their usual excellence and unknowns will display unexpected transcendence. And for the more data-driven – the numbers will continue to tell you the truth. The joy of that part of baseball is that there will ALWAYS be more numbers.

We all love it for different reasons.

So we’ll see if the Atlanta Braves can become the first back-to-back World Series winners in a generation. We’ll see what two-way talent Shohei Ohtani does to follow up on an MVP year. Can Bryce Harper win his second MVP in a row and third overall? What about Cy Young winners Robbie Ray and Corbin Burnes? We’ll find out which young phenoms are the real deal and which are fool’s gold, which long-timers are out of gas or still have a little left in the tank.

And so, in my ongoing futile quest to look ahead at what is to come, here is one man’s opinion on how the upcoming season might play out. One thing is for certain: there will be some surprises. There always are. Baseball is back, folks – better late than never.

Play ball!

(Division winners = x; Wild Card = y)

Published in Cover Story
Wednesday, 30 March 2022 12:24

Possible MLB milestones for 2022

Baseball is a game that has always held its own history in high regard. And one of the best ways to keep track of that history has been through statistical milestones, numbers that have come to act as a sort of distillation of greatness. Round numbers that represent on-field brilliance in an easy-to-understand way.

Granted, changes in the game are in turn changing these milestones. The way the game is played and the meaning of the numbers being tallied isn’t what it once was; the sabermetric revolution has altered how we look at these statistics. Still, there’s something undeniably special about those iconic career marks. While their relevance may fade someday, we’re not there yet.

All that said, we have a handful of players who are looking at potentially reaching some significant statistical thresholds during the 2022 season.

Let’s have a look at some of the big ones looming this year.

Published in Sports

Few American athletic endeavors are as aware of their own history as baseball. No professional sport is as devoted to the past as baseball, a pastime that spans a century-and-a-half at this point; this is a game that draws direct connections between the players of today and the stars of yesteryear.

Of course, this means that there is a wealth of writing about the game past. Biographies and memoirs, books laden with legends and statistics. As a lover of the game, I dig them all, but I’ve always had a particular affinity for oral histories, the books where the players of bygone times offer up the stories from their mind’s eye. Memories of how the game once was from the men who once played it.

Peter Golenbock’s new book “Whispers of the Gods: Tales from Baseball’s Golden Age, Told by the Men Who Played It” (Rowman & Littlefield, $24.95) compiles a wide assortment of these memories as dictated by the men who were there. Players remembering their time on the field during the tumultuous and triumphant stretch from the 1940s to the ‘60s – acknowledged by many to be the titular Golden Age of the sport.

Published in Sports

Achieving excellence in the athletic arena is incredibly difficult. And with each rung one advances on the ladder, that difficulty increases exponentially. So to be recognized as the best at what you do at the athletic pinnacle is impressive indeed.

Now, a single outstanding season is not enough to place you among the immortals. Indeed, the history of every professional sport is littered with singularly transcendent stat lines by people who would never again reach those heights.

Take MLB’s Cy Young Award. To be named the Cy Young winner is to be placed among the very best to ever take the mound. For some, the award is a box checked on the way to Cooperstown. And yet … there are also many Cy Young winners whose careers prove that elite season to be the outlier rather than the norm.

In Doug Wedge’s “Pinnacle on the Mound: Cy Young Winners Talk Baseball” (Rowman & Littlefield, $32), we get a closer look at some of the men who won baseball’s preeminent pitching award. There are conversations with 10 Cy Young winners whose historic seasons span over half-a-century, devoted to shining a light on the particularities that allowed these hurlers to be, for one season at least, the very best in the game.

Published in Sports
Tuesday, 23 November 2021 14:40

Who’s heading to the Hall in 2022?

It’s time to talk Cooperstown.

The 2021 ballot has landed, with the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) preparing to cast their votes for the players who will join the immortals of the game with plaques hanging in Cooperstown. The electees from this ballot – plus any added to the roll by the Early Baseball Era and/or the Golden Days Era committees – will have their day in the sun at the Baseball Hall of Fame in July of 2022.

For the first time in recent memory, the writers did not elect anyone; no player received the requisite 75% of the vote. The closest was Curt Schilling, who was less than 4% away. However, this was after a prolific stretch in which the BBWAA voted in 22 players in seven years. Now, with a less crowded ballot, we get to see what happens next, for holdovers and newcomers alike.

Published in Sports
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