Archive for March, 2009

Bus Leagues Book Club: The Ten Commandments of Baseball

10com_coverFull disclosure first: this book was sent to me by one of my best friends from college, Randy Thorne. He was one of the group of four that accompanied me to many a Royals game in the muggy heat of Kansas City, the guy who would never consent to leave before the last out was recorded, even when we were getting stomped, and a good friend to this day. His uncle wrote this book.

That being said, you’ll just have to take my word for it when I say that I enjoyed J.D. Thorne’s The 10 Commandments of Baseball: An Affectionate Look at Joe McCarthy’s Principles for Success in Baseball (and Life) on its own merits, and not because of a tenuous personal connection to an author I’ve never met.

As the subtitle suggests, this friendly little volume takes the wisdom of Yankees Hall of Fame manager Joe McCarthy and relates his pithy nuggets of sage advice to everyday life. What makes this book particularly appropriate for readers of Bus Leagues is that it’s not all about how super-talented major leaguers used their natural abilities to succeed. While those stories are certainly there, each chapter also delves into the lives of people who applied McCarthy’s commandments to their collegiate, minor league, and even little league efforts. The clear message is that anyone can learn to make the most of what they have and succeed, at any level and in any situation.

The author grew up in Chicago’s suburbs and played collegiately at the University of Wisconsin. His connection to teammates who went on to play professionally, as well as to his baseball-loving midwestern family, provides plenty of fodder for stories that illustrate each commandment.

I’m not giving anything away by showing you the commandments here. McCarthy’s explication of the fundamentals was a well-known document long before this book was written. This is what they say:

  1. Nobody ever became a ballplayer by walking after a ball.
  2. You will never become a .300 hitter unless you take the bat off your shoulder.
  3. An outfielder who throws back of a runner is locking the barn after the horse is stolen.
  4. Keep your head up and you may not have to keep it down.
  5. When you start to slide, slide. He who changes his mind may have to change a good leg for a bad one.
  6. Do not alibi on bad hops. Anybody can field the good ones.
  7. Always run them out. You can never tell.
  8. Do not quit.
  9. Do not find too much fault with the umpires. You cannot expect them to be as perfect as you are.
  10. A pitcher who hasn’t control, hasn’t anything.

As sports fans know, encoded in game-specific instructions one can often find the seeds of an outlook on how to handle other aspects of daily life. Some, like #8 “Do not quit” are obvious. Others require a little prospecting.

Mr. Thorne sets up a nice flow for each chapter, introducing each commandment and then illustrating it with an example from one or two major-league stars, followed by a more personally accessible demonstration of the principle from his own experience. Then each chapter ends with a brief homily of sorts, in which the author explains what lessons he learned from those examples. This approach works well. We hear about legends of baseball who recognized that they needed more than just talent to succeed, and then we see how people whose talent might more closely approximate our own apply the same principles to become better ballplayers, and more effective people in general.

The book is an easy summer read – it clocks in at just about 170 pages, with plenty of photographs. My copy also came with a baseball commandments bookmark, for easy reference in times of doubt. It is handsomely bound and will look good on my bookshelf as it waits to be consulted again. I can definitely imagine pulling it back out as my own six-year-old son progresses through a lifetime of organized sports and everyday struggles. Sometimes advice just sounds better coming from Joe McCarthy instead of boring old dad, right?

Put this book on your nightstand. It takes a couple of days to read for a career’s worth of insight.

The 10 Commandments of Baseball: An Affectionate Look at Joe McCarthy’s Principles for Success in Baseball (and Life)
$20 paperback
Sporting Chance Press

Minor League Opening Nights

The opening dates for both affiliated and independent minor leagues are listed below.  Rest assured that April 9 and May 28, the season openers for New Hampshire’s two professional teams, are already circled on my calendar.

March 31
Mexican League

April 8
Eastern League

April 9
California League
Carolina League
Florida State League
International League
Midwest League
Pacific Coast League
South Atlantic League
Southern League
Texas League

April 23
Atlantic League

May 12
Venezuelan Summer League

May 14
American Association
Continental Baseball League

May 15
Northern League

May 20
Frontier Baseball League

May 28
Canadian-American Association

June 19
New York-Penn League

June 20
Northwest League

June 23
Appalachian League
Pioneer League

Arizona League
Dominican Summer League
Golden Baseball League
Gulf Coast League

From The Playgrounds To The Pros In Three Months Or Less

Major League Baseball’s 2009 season is set to begin in less than a week, yet one of the biggest stories of the spring has been the future of San Diego State righthander Stephen Strasburg, widely considered one of the greatest pitching prospects in major league history. Were there no draft system in place (a possibility that undoubtedly fills the dreams of his agent, Scott Boras, every night), his courtship would likely resemble that of former Indians phenom Herb Score, who was pursued by almost every major league team out of high school before signing with Cleveland.

In Strasburg’s case, it is a foregone conclusion that he will be selected in the first round of the June draft; if he falls, it will only be because teams are unwilling to engage Boras in contract negotiations that are sure to extend above and beyond anything we’ve ever seen regarding an amateur player (with that said, there is no way Strasburg falls farther than third. Even if Washington and Seattle get silly and convince themselves that he’s not worth the hassle and huge money, the hometown Padres won’t let him slip away).

Regardless of where he ends up, Strasburg appears likely to at least make a cameo appearance in the majors before the end of the season. (He could end up with a clause in his contract guaranteeing a September call-up, as Andrew Miller did in 2006.) If he does, he will become the 38th first-round selection since the advent of the draft in 1965 to play in the major leagues in the same year he is drafted. This happened most often in the 1970s (17 times), fell largely out of practice in the 1980s and 1990s (11 times total), and has made a slight comeback in the 2000s (8 times). Ironically, the team with the first pick in this draft, Washington, is responsible for three of the most recent examples: Chad Cordero (when the franchise was still located in Montreal), Ryan Zimmerman, and Ross Detwiler.

No team, however, has ever pushed it’s first round draft picks into the limelight like the San Diego Padres of the 1970s. Starting with Jay Franklin in 1971, six of the team’s seven first-round selections appeared in the majors the same year in which they were drafted. It worked out exactly once, in 1973, when a big kid from the University of Minnesota named Dave Winfield had the first 141 at-bats of a Hall of Fame career. None of the other five distinguished themselves, though. Dave Roberts is best-known for not being THAT Dave Roberts, Bill Almon was the last player drafted out of Brown University, and Bob Owchinko has a cool name. And Brian Greer and Jay Franklin drank their proverbial cups of coffee before sliding from the limelight.

Only six of the 37 players (see the full list below) were drafted out of high school: Joe Coleman, Jay Franklin, David Clyde, Brian Greer, Tim Conroy, and Mike Morgan. Three of those – Clyde, Conroy, and Morgan – made their debuts in June, almost literally walking off the high school field and onto the major league diamond. And they were impressive at times. Morgan threw a complete game in his first outing; Clyde struck out eight, walked seven, and allowed just one hit in his debut.

It’ll be fun to look back in a few years, the more the better, and see where Strasburg falls in relation to these names. Will he be Kevin Brown, and 200-game winner who with a few more breaks and a few less injuries could have been a Hall of Famer? Or will he be Jim Gideon, the 21-year-old righthander from Taylor, Texas who started a game for the Rangers on September 14, 1975, pitched 5 2/3 innings, and never appeared in the majors again? Or will the team that drafts him keep him safely in the minors until 2010 or 2011 in a quest to protect that golden right arm? Only time will tell.

Conor Gillaspie, San Francisco Giants

Drafted: 2008, 37th, Wichita State
2008: 8 G, 5 AB, .200/.429/.200
Career: 8 G, 5 AB, .200/.429/.200

Ross Detwiler, Washington Nationals

Drafted: 2007, 6th, Missouri State
2007: 1 G, 1 IP, 1 SO, 0.00 ERA
Career: 1 G, 1 IP, 1 SO, 0.00 ERA

Andrew Miller, Detroit Tigers

Drafted: 2006, 6th, University of North Carolina
2006: 0-1, 8 G, 10.3 IP, 6 SO, 10 BB, 6.10 ERA
Career: 11-16, 50 G, 33 GS, 181.7 IP, 151 SO, 105 BB, 5.80 ERA

Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals
Drafted: 2005, 4th, University of Virginia
2005: 20 G, 0 HR, 6 RBI, .397/.419/.569
Career: 445 G, 58 HR, 258 RBI, .282/.341/.462

Craig Hansen, Boston Red Sox
Drafted: 2005, 26th, St. John’s
2005: 4 G, 3 IP, 3 SO, 6.00 ERA
Career: 4-9, 90 G, 87.3 IP, 6.39 ERA

Joey Devine, Atlanta Braves
Drafted: 2005, 27th, North Carolina State
2005: 0-1, 5 G, 5 IP, 12.60 ERA
Career: 7-2, 67 G, 65.3 IP, 2.48 ERA

Rickie Weeks, Milwaukee Brewers
Drafted: 2003, 2nd, Southern University and A&M College
2003: 7 G, 0 HR, 0 RBI, .167/.286/.250
Career: 445 G, 51 HR, 158 RBI, .245/.352/.406

Ryan Wagner, Cincinnati Reds
Drafted: 2003, 14th, University of Houston
2003: 2-0, 17 G, 21.7 IP, 1.66 ERA
Career: 11-9, 148 G, 165.3 IP, 4.79 ERA

Chad Cordero, Montreal Expos
Drafted: 2003, 20th, Cal State-Fullerton
2003: 1-0, 1 SV, 12 G, 11 IP, 1.64 ERA
Career: 20-14, 128 SV, 305 G, 320.7 IP, 2.78 ERA

J.D. Drew, St. Louis Cardinals
Drafted: 1998, 5th, Florida State
1998: 14 G, 5 HR, 13 RBI, .417/.463/.972
Career: 1209 G, 192 HR, 637 RBI, .284/.392/.502

Ariel Prieto, Oakland Athletics
Drafted: 1995, 5th, Cuba
1995: 2-6, 14 G, 9 GS, 58 IP, 4.97 ERA
Career: 15-24, 70 G, 60 GS, 352.3 IP, 4.85 ERA

Brian Anderson, California Angels
Drafted: 1993, 3rd, Wright State
1993: 4 G, 1 GS, 11.3 IP, 3.97 ERA
Career: 82-83, 291 G, 245 GS, 1547 IP, 4.74 ERA

Jeff Granger, Kansas City Royals
Drafted: 1993, 5th, Texas A&M
1993: 1 G, 1 IP, 27.00 ERA
Career: 0-1, 27 G, 2 GS, 31.7 IP, 9.09 ERA

Alex Fernandez, Chicago White Sox
Drafted: 1990, 4th, University of Miami
1990: 5-5, 13 GS, 87.7 IP, 3.80 ERA
Career: 107-87, 263 G, 261 GS, 1760.3 IP, 3.74 ERA

Lance Dickson, Chicago Cubs

Drafted: 1990, 23rd, University of Arizona
1990: 0-3, 3 GS, 13.7 IP, 7.24 ERA
Career: 0-3, 3 GS, 13.7 IP, 7.24 ERA

Ben McDonald, Baltimore Orioles
Drafted: 1989, 1st, Louisiana State University
1989: 1-0, 6 G, 7.3 IP, 8.59 ERA
Career: 78-70, 211 G, 198 GS, 1291.3 IP, 3.91 ERA

Gregg Olson, Baltimore Orioles

Drafted: 1988, 4th, Auburn University
1988: 1-1, 10 G, 11 IP, 3.27 ERA
Career: 40-39, 217 SV, 622 G, 672 IP, 3.46 ERA

Jack McDowell, Chicago White Sox

Drafted: 1987, 5th, Stanford University
1987: 3-0, 4 GS, 28 IP, 1.93 ERA
Career: 127-87, 277 G, 275 GS, 1889 IP, 3.85 ERA

Greg Swindell, Cleveland Indians
Drafted: 1986: 2nd, University of Texas
1986: 5-2, 9 GS, 61.7 IP, 4.23 ERA
Career: 123-122, 664 G, 269 GS, 2233.3 IP, 3.86 ERA

Kevin Brown, Texas Rangers

Drafted: 1986: 4th, Georgia Tech
1986: 1-0, 1 GS, 5 IP, 3.60 ERA
Career: 211-144, 486 G, 476 GS, 3256.3 IP, 3.28 ERA

Jerry Don Gleaton, Texas Rangers

Drafted: 1979, 17th, University of Texas
1979: 0-1, 5 G, 2 GS, 9.7 IP, 6.52 ERA
Career: 15-23, 307 G, 16 GS, 447.3 IP, 4.25 ERA

Bob Horner, Atlanta Braves

Drafted: 1978, 1st, Arizona State
1978: 89 G, 23 HR, 63 RBI, .266/.313/.539, NL Rookie of the Year
Career: 1020 G, 218 HR, 685 RBI, .277/.340/.499

Mike Morgan, Oakland Athletics
Drafted: 1978, 4th, Valley HS (Las Vegas, NV)
1978: 0-3, 3 GS, 12.3 IP, 7.30 ERA
Career: 141-186, 597 G, 411 GS, 2772.3 IP, 4.23 ERA

Tim Conroy, Oakland Athletics

Drafted: 1978, 20th, Gateway Senior HS (Monroeville, PA)
1978: 2 GS, 4.7 IP, 7.71 ERA
Career: 18-32, 135 G, 71 GS, 466.7 IP, 4.71 ERA

Brian Greer, San Diego Padres

Drafted: 1977, 8th, Sonora HS (Brea, CA)
1977: 1 G, 1 AB, 1 SO
Career: 5 G, 4 AB, 2 SO

Bob Owchinko, San Diego Padres
Drafted: 1976, 5th, Eastern Michigan University
1976: 0-2, 2 GS, 4.3 IP, 16.62 ERA
Career: 37-60, 275 G, 104 GS, 890.7 IP, 4.28 ERA

Danny Goodwin, California Angels

Drafted: 1975, 1st, Southern University and A&M College
1975: 4 G, 10 AB, .100/.100/.100
Career: 252 G, 13 HR, 81 RBI, .236/.301/.373

Rick Cerone, Cleveland Indians

Drafted: 1975, 7th, Seton Hall
1975: 7 G, 12 AB, .250/.308/.333
Career: 1329 G, 59 HR, 436 RBI, .245/.301/.343

Chris Knapp, Chicago White Sox

Drafted: 1975, 11th, Central Michigan University
1975: 2 G, 2 IP, 4.50 ERA
Career: 36-32, 122 G, 99 GS, 604.3 IP, 4.99 ERA

Jim Gideon, Texas Rangers

Drafted: 1975, 17th, University of Texas
1975: 1 GS, 5.7 IP, 7.94 ERA
Career: 1 GS, 5.7 IP, 7.94 ERA

Bill Almon, San Diego Padres

Drafted: 1974, 1st, Brown University
1974: 16 G, 38 AB, 3 RBI, .316/.350/.342
Career: 1236 G, 36 HR, 296 RBI, .254/.305/.343

David Clyde, Texas Rangers

Drafted: 1973, 1st, Westchester HS (Houston, TX)
1973: 4-8, 18 GS, 93.3 IP, 5.01 ERA
Career: 18-33, 84 G, 73 GS, 416.3 IP, 4.63 ERA

Dave Winfield, San Diego Padres

Drafted: 1973, 4th, University of Minnesota
1973: 56 G, 3 HR, 12 RBI, .277/.331/.383
Career: 2973 G, 3110 H, 465 HR, 1833 RBI, .283/.353/.475

Eddie Bane, Minnesota Twins

Drafted: 1973, 11th, Arizona State
1973: 0-5, 23 G, 6 GS, 60.3 IP, 4.92 ERA
Career: 7-13, 44 G, 25 GS, 168 IP, 4.66 ERA

Dave Roberts, San Diego Padres

Drafted: 1972, 1st, University of Oregon
1972: 100 G, 5 HR, 33 RBI, .244/.275/.321
Career: 709 G, 49 HR, 208 RBI, .239/.286/.357

Jay Franklin, San Diego Padres

Drafted: 1971, 2nd, James Madison HS (Vienna, VA)
1971: 0-1, 3 G, 1 GS, 5.7 IP, 6.35 ERA
Career: 0-1, 3 G, 1 GS, 5.7 IP, 6.35 ERA

Steve Dunning, Cleveland Indians

Drafted: 1970, 2nd, Stanford
1970: 4-9, 19 G, 17 GS, 94.3 IP, 4.96 ERA
Career: 23-41, 136 G, 84 GS, 613.7 IP, 4.56 ERA

Joe Coleman, Washington Senators

Drafted: 1965, 3rd, Natick HS (Braintree, MA)
1965: 2-0, 2 GS, 18 IP, 1.50 ERA
Career: 142-135, 484 G, 340 GS, 2569.3 IP, 3.70 ERA

I’m an Observant Fellow, Obviously…


You may remember that Brian and I finished the season last year with a meet-up at the Baseball Hall of Fame. Brian had his former boss Tim Wiles take me on an insider’s tour of the archives, and I wrote two articles about the fascinating experience. A short one ran on ESPN: the Magazine’s website, and I sold a much longer one to Baseball America, which was a real thrill for me.

The only problem was, I had no idea when they were going to run it. For a couple of months, I drove down to Barnes and Noble every two weeks to sneak a peek at the new issue, and never saw it, so I started to forget about it, since I’d been paid on acceptance.

This morning, I got curious about it again, so I googled it. Apparently, they ran it online in October. Yeah, I was right on top of that. Still, a major thrill to see my name in there, and I thank Brian and Tim for making it happen. If you have time to read it, here the ol’ thing is.

[Baseball America]

Jay Bruce Wants To Be “The Deal”

Diamond Hoggers passed along the following video tonight, in which unofficial Bus Leagues patron saint Jay Bruce is notified both of our existence and the nickname we bestowed upon him early last season. Pretty cool, this is.

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more about "Jay Bruce Wants To Be "The Deal"", posted with vodpod

Mark and Rocco

This offseason, the top two players on Baseball America’s  Top 100 Prospects list in 2003 signed contracts that will place them squarely in the middle of basball’s greatest rivalry.

The first player, Mark Teixeira, agreed to an eight-year, $180 million deal with the Yankees.  His agent, Scott Boras, negotiated a full no-trade clause and an annual salary of more than $20 million until 2016.

The second player, Rocco Baldelli, became a member of the Red Sox after agreeing to a one-year deal with a base salary of $500,000.  Various roster and performance bonuses could gross him as much as $7 million.

Obviously there were many extenuating circumstances that led to each player receiving the contract he did – Teixeira was fortunate enough to be the premiere free agent available at a time when the Yankees were looking to make a big splash, and Baldelli’s health issues in recent years severely limited his value – but I still found it fascinating that within six years, two young men who were once considered the biggest up-and-comers in their profession achieved such different results.

Life After Baseball

So hey, remember yesterday when I went on a mini-rant about the way old ballplayers have a tendency to fade gently into anonymity without anyone really noticing, and as an example I used the fact that I knew the whereabouts of perhaps one or two of the guys from my time in baseball?

Mr. Moynahan, “Irony” is waiting for you on Line Two.

As I was walking into a building with a client this afternoon, a Fed Ex deliveryman held the door on his way out.  I looked at him the way most people look at deliverymen, nothing more than a passing glance, until the part of my brain that handles visual memory decided to kick in.

“Hey, wait a minute…I know this guy.”  It was Glenn Murray, without a doubt the greatest player in Nashua Pride history.  He was the Atlantic League’s Most Valuable Player in 1999, led the team to a championship the following season, and became the first Atlantic League player to reach 100 career homeruns in 2003.  If the powers that be were ever to create a Hall of Fame for the Atlantic League, Murray would easily be a member of the inaugural class.

In the middle of performing the automatic and mindless task of holding a door for someone, Glenn realized that I was studying him fairly closely.  He took a closer look at me and recognition dawned.  I don’t know if he knew exactly where he knew me from, and there’s no doubt in my mind that he didn’t remember my name, but he seemed to know that he knew me.

We exchanged greetings, shook hands, and talked for a minute or two, all about him of course.  He coached for awhile after his playing days were done, but it didn’t really work out.  He’s been working for Fed Ex for a couple of months now, delivering packages and making more money than he ever did as a ballplayer.  I informed my client that he was looking at a living legend – he asked Glenn what he did, where he played, how long he played.

And then, it was done.  With a “Take it easy” and “Good seeing you,” we continued into the building and he continued out to his truck.  As I walked inside, I realized I should have obtained some contact information, that the life of an ex-ballplayer is something that fascinates me to no end and I would have liked to talk to him about it in greater detail.  What, if anything, did he miss?  Does he still talk to his former teammates?  When did he know that it was finally over?  Has he adjusted to the fact that it’s March and there is no spring training on the horizon?  Will he ever really adjust to that reality?

Knowing Glenn, he’ll continue to accept that his time in the game is done without dwelling on it.  But for me, a guy who watched him play every day for two seasons, watched him during late game at-bats in close games where you just knew a homerun was only moments away, watched him strike out on sliders low and away that simply looked too good to resist, watched him hobble around the bases on two bad knees, it was awfully hard to see him wearing the purple uniform shirt and carrying the clipboard of an average working Joe.

John Updike once said of Ted Williams, “Gods do not answer letters.”  In Nashua, New Hampshire, unfortunately, one delivers them.