Tag: Ty Cobb

Family Makes ‘Miraculous’ Find of Ty Cobb Cards in Paper Bag, Valued at $1M

“This is one of the greatest discoveries in the history of our hobby.”

That is how Professional Sports Authenticator president Joe Orlando described one family’s unbelievable find of seven Ty Cobb cards that are expected to be valued at more than $1 million, per the Associated Press (via Sports Illustrated).

To make the story even wilder, the century-old baseball cards were found in an old paper bag.

Cobb, of course, is one of the greatest hitters in baseball history. He spent the majority of his Hall of Fame career with the Detroit Tigers, setting the all-time hits record (4,189), which was ultimately broken by the Cincinnati Reds’ Pete Rose nearly 60 years later.

The family—which wishes to remain anonymous—discovered the Cobb cards in a paper bag at the house of a deceased great-grandfather. After stumbling upon the rare cards, the family took them to a dealer in South Carolina.

One Cobb card alone is highly valuable. Seven cards? That’s hard to fathom.

”I doubted they were authentic because finding seven of these cards at one place at one time seemed almost impossible,” said Rick Snyder (the South Carolina dealer) of MINT State Inc. However, according to the AP, the Cobb cards were examined and appear to be the real deal.

The cards have “Ty Cobb—King of the Smoking Tobacco World” written in green ink on the back:

How rare are Cobb cards? This discovery increased the number of cards known to be in existence by nearly 50 percent.


[Associated Press via Sports Illustrated, Joe Orlando]

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Playing Rough in Modern Baseball: Beanballs, Collisions and Charging the Mound

Playing Rough

Something you hear a lot about from fans is the lack of an “old-school” mentality in the modern game of baseball.

While many of the proponents of the so-called “old-school” are too young to know anything about it, there is some truth to the idea that the game was more hard-nosed in days gone by. Whether this is a good or bad thing is open to debate (that’s what we’re here for, after all). With injury concerns and millions of dollars at stake, with careers and long-term health on the line, we have seen less and less of the violent action that, in our sepia-toned memories, once punctuated the game with much greater frequency.

Collisions at Home Plate

Recently, the focal point of these debates has been collisions at home plate.

Talented young catcher Buster Posey broke his leg blocking the plate and missed all but a few weeks of the 2011 season after a Rookie-of-the-Year season in 2010. Perhaps more famously, in the 1970 All-Star game, Pete Rose ran over catcher Ray Fosse, causing Fosse to suffer a separated shoulder, which many fans attribute to the decline of Fosse’s career. In fairness, Fosse played 42 more games that season and hit .297, and the collision with Rose was just one of many injuries Fosse suffered through the years.

The question here is was it worth it?

Fosse has been quoted many times saying it’s “part of the game”, and Rose maintains he was just trying to win. The problem here is that this was an exhibition game, with nothing on the line. In general, the catcher can possibly try for a sweep tag or even attempt to catch the runner further up the line. The runner isn’t always forced to hit the catcher; he can opt instead to slide around him or go for the plate with his hands.

While I don’t believe collisions are a thing of the past, I do think players on either side will be less likely to hit each other going forward because of the possibility of injury. Nobody will tell them explicitly not to do it, but the unwritten rules of baseball are legion.

My view: sometimes the team needs that run, or needs to prevent that run, more than anything. If it is going to give them the best chance at the result they want, then a collision is going to happen. These decisions are made in split seconds. So unless it’s unnecessarily aggressive, then it’s just part of the game.

Charging the Mound

Here’s something you rarely see, and likely with good reason.

While a pitcher can easily enrage a batter by hitting him or brushing him back one time too many, it’s probably not a great idea to rush at him from the batter’s box. If the batter is holding onto the bat and threatens the pitcher, he is looking at a suspension or even the possibility of criminal charges.

If the batter is a little bit smarter than that and drops the bat first, he just made the mistake of approaching a guy standing on raised ground who is, in all likelihood, quite a large man. Pitchers are big, often bigger than many sluggers. They have eight other guys on the field ready to back them up, including one wearing protective gear located right behind the batter.

Still, this is such a rarity that I only included it in this article so I could show the picture of Nolan Ryan beating up Robin Ventura. Ryan, already an old man and not long from retirement, famously got the upper hand when a young Robin Ventura came steaming towards the mount. Ryan was ready for him, and he grabbed Ventura in a headlock (a side headlock for you wrestling fans) and pounded his fist into his head until other players intervened. Do a Google Image Search for Robin Ventura, and you will see this in the first five pictures.

My view: if you’re stupid enough to do it, then go ahead. Fun for everybody!

Playing Dirty

There are countless examples or ‘dirty’ plays in every major sport that are nevertheless a part of the game. Then there are some things that just don’t jive well with most fans or players. I think the two most extreme examples of these types of behaviors are throwing at a batter and spiking the baseman.

Firstly, spiking the baseman.

You’re going from first to second on a sharp grounder off the bat of your teammate, and you see the second baseman running to cover the bag. The game is tied with one out in the seventh and the pitcher is tiring; you need to break up this double play. So you slide right at the second baseman, hoping to cause him to throw wide.

Breaking up the double play is always the right choice, but the line is drawn when you decide to stick your front foot up a bit and aim for the legs.

This is a dangerous and mean-spirited play and if obvious enough would result in an ejection. This wasn’t always the case, though.Ty Cobb, one of the greatest of his time – all-time leader in batting average, second all-time in hits, and all-time leader in being a psychotic bastard – was infamous for sharpening his spikes and aiming them at the defenders’ vulnerable legs. Cobb, being the demon in human form that he was, did this even on the most routine plays. While this was met with scorn and criticism even in his day, in Cobb’s mind every play was the most important one of the game.

Throwing at a batter; this is what prompted this whole article.

More specifically, Cole Hamels hitting Bryce Harper is what prompted this article.

Pitchers have hit batters for over a hundred years, and they’ll keep on doing it. While it’s dangerous and often a prelude to run-scoring retribution, I can’t say it doesn’t have its place in the game. It’s the situation it takes place in that makes all the difference.

Hall of Famer Don Drysdale was infamous for hitting batters, and quite hated for it, but it was a part of his strategy (which he put down to not wanting to waste four pitches on an intentional walk when he could throw one and plunk him).

On the flip side, you have the recent plunking of super-prospect and media magnet Bryce Harper by popular-only-in-Philadelphia Cole Hamels, who claims he hit Harper to “teach him a lesson”. While most pitchers will agree that sometimes throwing at a guy is acceptable, this is an example where it’s just a scummy thing to do.

Nowadays hitting a batter is taken pretty seriously by umpires, and hitting a guy who had never faced him before in the first inning of a scoreless game is a stupid move for a pitcher. Since it was both unprovoked and obviously on purpose, Hamels could have easily been ejected.

Where would that leave his team?

Now you’re asking another starter to pitch on the wrong day. Or you’re asking the bullpen, which hadn’t even begun to think about warming up, to patch together nine innings and screw up the next few games because all your relievers’ arms are tired.

For that matter, what lesson was Hamels teaching Harper, except one about Hamels’ obvious jealousy of Harper’s new-found fame?

Being a rookie isn’t a punishable offense, nor should it be (although Harper got the last laugh, stealing home on a pickoff attempt after Hamels put him on base by hitting him). One further point on Hamels and Harper; Bryce Harper is a National League pitcher, and one thing that is rarely tolerated in baseball is unprovoked throwing at a pitcher. Pitchers don’t throw at each other sometimes out of respect, but generally because it’s considered a high crime in the baseball world to do it. So when Cole Hamels was a rookie in Philly, who threw at him?

My view: Situational. Pitchers shouldn’t throw at a guy for nothing, or because they can’t get a guy out, or any other cowardly, selfish reason. However, there are times it’s justified. I cheered when Shaun Estes threw at Roger Clemens (although he didn’t hit him). I crossed my fingers during his every at-bat that Barry Bonds would take one in the head. Even though this isn’t something that should be common, in retaliation for an unjust plunking or as part of a rough game between rival teams, it has its place. That will never change.

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Ty Cobb Still Beats Barry Bonds with His Record Setting Performance

If you want to know why the hobgoblins of 1989’s Field of Dreams refused to allow Ty Cobb to play ball on their ghostly field, you have only to re-watch the classic 1994 movie Cobb, starring the inimitable Tommy Lee Jones.

Alas, one was the lovely, tear-jerking movie that men loved to bawl about. The other was an antidote to sugarcoated cotton candy about life and death that Field of Dreams provided.

Cobb set many records as a player. In the film written and directed by Ron Shelton and based on Al Stump’s famous biography of the baseball anti-hero, Cobb manages to set a yardstick of records that cannot be touched by “the children who play baseball nowadays,” as Cobb states in the movie.

If you are ready to throw Barry Bonds to Michael Vick’s dogs, you ought to consider Cobb. Why hasn’t Pete Rose invoked the name? He may be afraid of the demonic spirits that would attach themselves to his already bad luck streak.

Yes, folks, Ty Cobb managed to crack the original top-10 list of record-setters.  In the Ron Shelton movie version of his life, the star of the Detroit Tigers breaks every one of the Ten Commandments. And, that is no easy feat.

Here they are:

X.  Bearing false witness is lying under oath. Here he beat Barry Bonds by a mile. He allegedly lied about the Black Sox scandal, setting up the baseball commissioner with the threat of blowing the lid of baseball fixes if the league pursued the idea of prosecuting him. 

IX. Oh, he coveted lots of things, but usually found a way to achieve them. One he detested was Babe Ruth’s home runs. “I’d hit those things if I had to,” he reports in the film.

VIII.  He not only coveted many wives and girlfriends, but he managed to bed Lolita Davidovitch in one racy scene. Marriage was not a sacrament to Cobb.

VII. Not only did he beat his wife in this film, his litany of being unfaithful drove her to seek divorce finally for his adultery.

VI.  Let’s face it. Any man who sets the record for stealing bases, and especially home, surely squeaks by with breaking this rule.

V. Did Cobb kill a person, committing murder? According to Shelton’s screenplay, he pistol-whipped a man to death in a back alley.

IV. Honoring his parents was undermined by his contempt for his mother. It may have resulted in Cobb being the trigger man in the bizarre and unsolved murder of his father. Someone in the old family home used a shotgun to dispatch the man.

III. Cursing at God is such a common sin, that some may find it hard to condemn it, but when Cobb curses God for making him an old drug addict, this is a piece of work in the history of curses.

II.  Back in the early days of baseball, many cities and town felt playing baseball on Sunday was a sacrilege. Of course, Cobb had no problems with a professional game (especially with all that money involved).

I. Cobb probably had a few false gods up his uniform sleeve. He put baseball ahead of all else, and his records were most important of all. Yet, in the years subsequent to his playing ball, he made tons of money playing ball in the stock market.  In his mind, everything paled next to the almighty dollar.

Perhaps some of these sins were a stretch even for Cobb, but the fact is the allegations against him make the crimes of Bonds, Vick, Rose and hundreds of others, seem like minor ethical lapses of judgment.

Next time you are ready to cast a stone at the latest folly of a modern athlete, you may well want to pay homage to the “greatest ballplayer of them all: Ty Cobb.”

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Derek Jeter May Be Seeking a Seven-Year Deal in Order To Break Hits Record

With the 2010 season ending for the New York Yankees after Friday night’s Game 6 loss to the Texas Rangers in the ALCS, the focus has quickly shifted to the off season and what moves the Bombers will make in order to win a 28th World Series championship in 2011.

One of the pressing items on the Yankees’ to-do list this winter is to re-sign captain and soon-to-be free agent Derek Jeter.

It has been reported that Jeter may be seeking a seven-year contract that will keep him playing baseball until the age of 43, which may put him in a position to break Pete Rose’s all-time hits record.

In a recent article for ESPNNewYork.com, Ian O’Connor wrote:

“In statements he’s made in recent years to Yankee executive Gene Michael and to his own personal trainer, Jason Riley, Jeter has indicated he wants to play until he’s about 43. He has also indicated a willingness to change positions, if necessary, for his final few seasons.”

If Jeter, who turned 36 this past June, really does have aspirations to play until he is 43, then his next contract would have to be for seven years.  With 2,926 career hits, it is very likely that he is seeking to break Pete Rose’s all-time career hits record of 4,256.

This is a quest that is not impossible as Jeter and Rose have had very similar career numbers up until the age of 36.

From his first full season in 1963 until 1977, between the ages of 22 and 36, Pete Rose amassed 2,966 hits in 2,346 games played, which is an average of 198 hits per year over 156 games played.

From his first full season in 1996 until 2010, between the same ages of 22 and 36, Derek Jeter has amassed 2,914 hits in 2,280 games played which is an average of 194 hits per year over 152 games played (for age and season average comparison purposes, I have left out Jeter’s 1995 season in which he gathered 12 hits over 15 games as a 21-year-old).

The biggest challenge for Jeter will be matching Charlie Hustle’s performance over the later years in his career.

From 1978-1984, between the ages of 37 and 43 (which will be the comparison to Jeter’s next contract), Pete Rose racked up 1,131 hits in 1,025 games played which is an average of 162 hits per year over 146 games played.

It is important to note that Rose did not retire after the 1984 season as he tacked on 107 hits in 1985 as a 44-year-old and 52 hits in 1986 as a 45-year-old for a total of 159 hits after the age of 43.

For Jeter to get the 1,331 more hits needed to break Pete Rose’s record over this reportedly desired seven-year contract, he will need to average slightly over 190 hits per year.  This is not an easy task considering that Mr. November will be in the twilight of his career where there typically is a steady decline in production and the ever-present concern with injuries.

The seven-year contract may still be beneficial to Jeter, however as he will need to average just over 180 hits per year to pass Ty Cobb for second place on the all-time hits list and average a very conceivable 121 hits per season to pass Hank Aaron for third place, which is certainly nothing to scoff at.

As if the five World Series championships weren’t enough, grabbing the third place slot on the all-time hits list will surely cement Derek Jeter’s place as one of the greatest hitters in the history of Major League Baseball.

If Jeter is indeed looking for a seven-year deal and he gets it, he will begin his ascent up baseball’s all-time hits list.  If he does not finish his career at the top of this list, there is a strong possibility that he will be very close to it.

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Barry Bonds and the Steroid Era: Revisited With Fresh Eyes

Last night, after I put my son to bed I sat down on my couch with a beer and my dog and began watching The Tenth Inning, the sequel to Ken Burns’s Baseball.

A quick review is that the documentary is fantastic, and if you haven’t seen it yet, find out what channel you’re local PBS is on and check it out.

There was a lovely segment on my Red Sox finally winning the World Series (after 88 years) in 2004, but the segment that really caught my attention was on Barry Bonds‘  chase of Hammerin’ Hank Aaron’s career home run record.

We all now know about baseball’s dirty little secret, the Steroid Era, and we know who most of the culprits were.

But of course, during the early days of the witch hunt, there was really only one name in baseball synonymous with steroids, and that was Barry Bonds.

Like I’ve said, we now know it went much deeper than just Bonds, but it was Bonds who reached for the sun.

Bonds was very much like Icarus, and flew too close, so of course he got burned.

During this era of baseball (which some people like to label a dark time), I was very much on the fence of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs).

Being a former high school ball player, I knew just how difficult it was to hit a baseball.  No matter how big and strong you were, if you didn’t have the hand-eye coordination or the right swing, you weren’t going to hit the ball out of the infield.

Of course that argument falls on deaf ears when it comes to baseball purists. 

You know the type, whether they’re at the game or at home they’re keeping score on their own score card.  You can mention any obscure player or statistic, and they’ll tell you the history of it.

To these folk, PEDs are the ultimate sin.

These were the sports writers who were at Bonds’ locker after every game asking the same question, “Did you use steroids?”

And as soon as the Balco story broke, they were like bloodhounds after a fox in the English country side.

With each home run Bonds drew one more step closer to the immortal Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron, and everyone (except Giants fans) seem to hate him for it.

He would receive racist and threatening mail on a daily basis, as well as the most venomous slanders while playing the field at visiting stadiums.

He even commented on Dodger Stadium, claiming to love playing there, and that one must be really good for 56,000 people to shout “you suck.”

Barry laughed as he said all this, but you could see it in his eyes that he didn’t like any of it.

From his early days with the Pittsburgh Pirates, all the way to the end of his career in 2007 with the Giants, he was always a quiet player, that some labeled as surly and unfriendly with the media, and often he was.

But even when he would go on tangents and claim he didn’t care what people thought of him, you could hear in his voice that he did.  You could tell that he wanted to be liked much like his godfather Willie Mays, but didn’t know how to do it.

And once the Balco scandal broke, he had no chance of ever becoming that type of player.

The scrutiny of Bonds became so great that once he was approaching Hank Aaron’s record, Hammerin’ Hank said he wouldn’t attend the possible record-breaking games, and commissioner Bud Selig said he wasn’t sure if he’d be there—and he wasn’t.

Regardless of what baseball and its purist wanted, it was going to happen.

And unlike Mark McGwire’s and Sammy Sosa’s chase for Roger Maris’ single-season record, which is also now held by Bonds, there was almost no fanfare. 

Unless you lived in San Fransisco, you didn’t care.

Fathers weren’t waking their sons out of bed to witness history, and unlike other memorable sports moments, most people can’t tell you where they were when it happened.  I know I can’t.  Much like Arbor Day, it came and went and no one really noticed.

As I continued watching this account, three years removed, I couldn’t help but feel sympathy for Bonds.

Every question from every reporter seemed like an attack on the man.  Maybe he deserved it for using PEDs, but at the same time I can’t help but wonder if Bonds was just some middle infielder not chasing Ruth and Aaron would he be getting this treatment?

Or, if he were a more lovable player with the attitude of say a Cal Ripken Jr. or Ken Griffey Jr., even with the Balco scandal, would he still be getting such flack?

Honestly, I think no.

Bonds was the perfect personification of what people didn’t like about the steroid era of baseball.

Bonds kept to himself and would often become testy with reporters, especially after a loss, and he just made it easy to root against him.  I dare think had he not been such a talented baseball player, he could have made a great career as a heel in pro wrestling.

Now that we seem to be on the upswing from the steroid era (only Jose Bautista has hit more that 50 home runs this season) I look on that era with a fresh view.

Baseball, more so than any other American sport, is forever changing.

Since Babe Ruth has played there has been several increases in the number of games played per season, there are West Coast teams now, night games, black, Latino, and Japanese players are now in the game, there have been advances in the way players train, and advances in equipment.

Every single one of those things listed have enhanced the game, and have made it more entertaining to watch.

And isn’t that what baseball, and all sports for that matter, are?  Entertainment?

Until all of the grand juries and Congressional hearings, I didn’t hear Bud Selig complain about attendance or all the revenue made by all of the juiced home runs being hit.

In fact, the fans weren’t even complaining.

There are those of us out there who are entertained by a pitching duel, but the vast majority of people out there want to see the long ball.

They want to see players like McGwire and Bonds hit the ball impossibly high and far, they want to see guys hit 50-60 home runs a year and they might pretend they care about steroids, but they honestly don’t.

So what is it that I’m saying?

Are steroids good for baseball?

If you want to talk from a monetary and entertainment stand point, then probably.  The more excitement and the more home runs people see, the more the casual observer is likely to come out to the ballpark.

But if you want to keep the game pure (as if it ever was once money got involved), then probably not.

But then again was baseball ever really pure?

Even in the Golden Era, you had gambling scandals like the Black Sox, one of the all-time greatest hitters, Ty Cobb, was a foul-mouthed racist who purposely sharpened his spikes and cleated players.

You had a league that purposely kept black players out, and Saint Ruth was also a womanizing, beer-swilling buffoon, that was more like Kenny Powers, than the lovable big man we make him out to be in all those black and white reels.

So, the steroid era seems like a black-eye in baseball now, but like all other eras when we’re so many years removed from it, we’ll forget about all that bad stuff and romanticize about good stuff that happened.

Like the 2004 Red Sox’s unbelievable comeback over the Yankees, the amazing run by the Colorado Rookies to the 2007 World Series, the farewell of maybe baseball’s greatest player Ken Griffey Jr.

Those are the things that will be remembered 20 years down the road, not the scandals.

Take steroids for what they are.  You either care or you don’t, me I’ll admit I loved seeing all those balls fly out of the park, tradition or no tradition, it was fun to watch.

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Is Ryan Howard One of the Greatest Run Producers in Baseball History?

One of the reasons, if not the reason, I got into baseball writing was to challenge conventional wisdom. Challenging conventional wisdom is what we learned from Bill James and from Billy Beane, and it is the reason we tend to speak unfavorably of Joe Morgan.

Since moving to Philadelphia, one bit of local conventional wisdom I have been quick to challenge has been the notion that Ryan Howard is one of the greatest run producers of all time. This hasn’t made me incredibly popular amongst my local readers and fellow writers (Jamie Ambler?), but it is a notion to which I have never warmed.


Are You Saying Ryan Howard isn’t a Good RBI Guy?

There can be no doubt in that during the last five baseball seasons, Ryan Howard has established himself as one of the premier RBI men in Major League Baseball. Howard has led the National League in RBI in three of the last four seasons and the only reason he didn’t lead the league in 2007 was because Matt Holliday won the RBI crown in a season-ending tiebreaker game with San Diego.

(By the way, counting one-game playoffs to be regular season games: There’s a rule worth revisiting.)

How unique is Howard’s performance over this period? Consider the following:

Since the advent of the American League in 1901, only six players in Major League Baseball have led their league in RBI’s three years in a row: Ty Cobb (1907-1909), Babe Ruth (1919-1921), Rogers Hornsby (1920-1922), Joe Medwick (1936-1938), George Foster (1976-1978), and Cecil Fielder (1990-1992).

If not for the Colorado Rockies and San Diego Padres finishing the 2007 season tied for second place in the NL West, Howard would have become the first player since 1901 to lead his league four years in a row; consider also that Howard only played 144 games in 2007, and you have to say “wow.”


So How Can You Say He Isn’t a Great Run Producer?

Nevertheless, given the potency of the Philadelphia Phillies lineup over that period and the general discrediting of the RBI as an indicator of value, however, I have been quick to discredit any sort of significance that has been placed upon Howard and his RBI totals.

After all, from a statistical perspective, Howard is not the best hitter in the National League; indeed, he is not really even the best hitting first baseman in the NL, and he may not even be in the top five.

And so my theory went thus: If you were to plug Albert Pujols or Adrian Gonzalez into the Phillies‘ lineup, not only would they easily lead the NL in RBI, but they may even set the National League record for RBI in a season.

This is not an unsupportable conclusion to reach, for Howard’s RBI have not been a one man show.

In 2006, when Howard first led the NL in runs driven in, Chase Utley led the league in runs with 132, and Jimmy Rollins didn’t finish too far behind with 127.

In 2007, Howard did not lead the NL but finished with an astounding 136 ribs nonetheless, and that season, J-Roll led the NL in runs scored with 139 while Utley and Aaron Rowand each scored over 100 runs.

In 2008, when Howard once again led the NL, the Phils had three guys score 100 runs, and when he did it again in 2009, they had four guys score 100 runs.

Doesn’t it seem like Pujols, Gonzalez, or any other elite hitter would be able to easily pace the National League in this category if they had the luxury of hitting behind Rollins, Utley, and company?


Good Point. Maybe Ryan Howard Isn’t Actually a Great Run Producer.

But then a funny thing happened: the 2010 season came along and challenged everything we know to be true.

Remember when we used to think that the Phillies had an “American League-style” offense? Not any more we don’t. We have become a team that plays a ton of one-run nail-biters.

Remember when we used to think that the Phillies were the type of team that won games with an elite offense in spite of their pitching? In 2010, our pitching has become our strong suit, and it is our offense that makes us want to look away.

As an aside, this is no reason for panic and no knock on this team. In fact, I believe that an argument could be that the 2010 team, with a simply dominant front three of Halladay, Hamels, and Oswalt, is more well-equipped to win the playoffs than either the 2008 team or the 2009 team. But I digress.

Where was I? Right. The 2010 Phillies offense has been terrible.

And it isn’t really their fault; The 2010 Phillies have suffered injuries to every major offensive contributor other than Jayson Werth, who himself has had mysterious issues at the plate. If this team had been healthy, who knows what we would have looked like on offense.

Which brings me back to Ryan Howard, and my point.



Hitting behind scrubs and subs this season, with an incredibly inconsistent and unspectacular lineup, and himself having suffered injuries and hitting slumps, Howard has nevertheless collected 95 RBI this season.

Which, somehow, puts him fourth in the National League and only five RBI behind league leader Carlos Gonzalez of the Colorado Rockies. Somehow, in an injury-plagued and slump-marred season, Howard has only three fewer ribs than Pujols and four fewer than Joey Votto, both of whom are having significantly better overall seasons, and whom most watchers expect to be vying for the NL MVP.

Unlike previous seasons, you can’t discredit this one. You can’t point to Utley and Rollins and say that anyone would produce runs behind those guys. You can’t point to the Phillies offense and say it is designed to score runs. You can’t even really credit the Phils’ ballpark.

When all is said and done, the point is becoming undeniable: Ryan Howard is one of the greatest run producers of all time.

How conventional.

Asher B. Chancey lives in Philadelphia and is a co-founder of BaseballEvolution.com.

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Stealing Home: Or, Why Babe Ruth is a Better Thief Than Rickey Henderson

Baseball is an absurd game. And I think that’s why we love it.

I was reminded of this when I happened across The Sandlot as I was skimming through channels the other day. In an odd sort of bummer, I tuned in at the very end, just after the gang has finally defeated Hercules and Smalls and Benny have their meet and greet with James Earl Jones. Alas, I had missed out on all the fun stuff.

The good news is that I was in time for the money shot.

Now, a proper way to conclude the film would have involved Smalls being mercifully beaten by Dennis Leary for stealing his Babe Ruth ball – a warning to all kids who would dare to recreate Smalls’ tomfoolery. But no. Instead, we get a classically cathartic Hollywood ending. It turns out that Benny and Smalls have both found careers in baseball: Benny as a prolific pinch runner for the Dodgers, and Smalls as his ever-faithful broadcaster. The movie ends when Benny (“The Jet”) takes off from third and steals home just ahead of the tag, thus ending the game. The Dodgers win, and The Jet’s teammates carry him off the field amidst the commotion of a standing ovation. And then we see the grown-up Smalls grinning contentedly beneath the bill of his outrageous hat as he shares a thumbs up with his old friend.

Back in the day, I had to fight back the tears. But I’m older now, and all the nostalgia that was welling up inside my chest was not enough to keep me from scratching my beard. I got a real curious feeling. I understood why the filmmaker’s chose to have a straight steal of home serve as the climax for their film. It is, after all, the most exciting play in sports.

But a straight steal of home to win the game? Has that ever even happened before?

Click “Start Slideshow” to find out about that, and many other stealing home tidbits.

Begin Slideshow

The Detroit Tigers’ All-Time Starting Rotation

Imagine you are responsible to select an all-time starting rotation for the Detroit Tigers.  The pitchers you pick will form the Tigers all-time team and compete against the best of their competition.

Who would you select?  To whom would you give the ball to face off against Walter Johnson, Lefty Grove, Whitey Ford, Jim Palmer, and Roger Clemens?  Who would be your backup pitchers and relievers as well?

The guidelines are simple: You may select pitchers from any era since the inception of the team in 1901.  Starting pitchers must have reached 1,000 innings for the Tigers, and relievers must have appeared in 250 games to be eligible for your team.

The Early Years: 1901-1945

The Tigers were one of eight charter teams in the American League.  Detroit had baseball before the Tigers got their start.  The Detroit Wolverines were a part of the National League from 1881-1888.  They won the pennant in ’87, but were soon contracted for lack of attendance after the ’88 season.

In 1894, the Western League, a minor league with big ambitions, established a team in Detroit.  Owner George Vanderbeck built Bennett Park in 1895 for the new team.

When the league changed their name to the American League in 1900, the team wrote to and got permission to use the name of a local military light guard unit with a heroic reputation, called the Tigers.

By the time the American League declared itself a major league in 1901, the team had the Tigers as its official name.

That first decade witnessed early success for the new team.

In 1905 the Tigers acquired Ty Cobb, who joined a talented team including Sam Crawford, Hughie Jennings, and pitchers Bill Donovan and George Mullin. 

By 1907, they were the team to beat in the AL, winning the first of three consecutive pennants.  Their best pitchers were George Mullin, who won 20 games five times; Bill Donovan, who went 25-4 in 1907; and Ed Killian, who won 20 games twice in his short career.

This pitching staff allowed the team to hold their American League competition at bay, while the offense took care of business.  But when it came time for the Tigers to face their National League opponents, it was a different story.

The 1907 and 1908 World Series pitted the Tigers’ prolific offense against the Cubs dominant pitching.

The Cubs came out on top both times, featuring one of the most dominant pitching trios in baseball history in Mordecai Brown, Ed Reulbach, and Orvall Overall.  The Cubs trio shut down the Tigers offense both years and took home the titles.

The Tigers again brought their game in 1909, armed with new pitching stars Ed Willett and Ed Summers, who combined for 40 wins in the regular season, joining Mullin (29 wins) and mainstays Donovan and Killian.

The Tigers handled Lefty Leifield, Deacon Phillippe, and eventual Hall of Fame pitcher Vic Willis at various points in the series.  It was Pittsburgh control artist, rookie Babe Adams, who stole the show, winning three complete games, including a shutout in Game Seven.

So, Ty Cobb remained thwarted of baseball’s biggest prize, a World Series title.  In 1907 and 1908, it was the dominant pitching of the Cubs, and in 1909, it was Honus Wagner and a sensational rookie pitcher.

The Tigers never again appeared in a World Series during Cobb’s considerable career as a player and manager through 1928.  They twice finished second in 1915 and in 1923.

The next resurgence of Tigers greatness came in the mid- and late 1930s.

Going into 1934 the team made two moves: They brought in veteran (and future Hall of Fame) catcher Mickey Cochrane and future Hall of Fame outfielder Goose Goslin.  They teamed up with Hank Greenburg, Charlie Gehringer, and third baseman Marv Owen to make one of the greatest offensive juggernauts the sport has ever seen.

Fronting the team on the mound were developing stars Tommy Bridges and Schoolboy Rowe.  Over the next three years, the duo won 128 games and pitched 25 shutouts.  They are one of the great pitching duos is baseball history.

Schoolboy Rowe was a strapping, naturally gifted athlete.  He became a fan favorite for his good looks and devotion to his high school sweetheart, Edna.

Eddie Cantor picked up on Rowe’s quotation of, “How am I doing, Edna?” The phrase caught on through radio broadcasts and was chanted at games.  Rowe featured excellent command, leading the league in K/BB ratio in both ’34 and ’35.

Tommy Bridges stood 5’10” and weighed 155 pounds, dripping wet.  Despite his slight frame, he possessed some of the best stuff in the league, leading in strikeouts in both 1935 and ’36.  It was his drop-off-the-table curve that opponents held in wonder.

In 1935, the Tigers finally won their first World Series title.  They beat the Cubs in the Series. Bridges won two games.

Despite Rowe being given the attention and lead starting roles in the World Series, it was Bridges who beat Dizzy Dean in the ’34 Series, and came away with a career record of 4-1 in the Tigers’ three World Series battles, including a win in the 1940 series against the Reds.

Bridges remained a leading pitcher in the league until he left for the war after the ’43 season.

Just two seasons later, the Tigers were in a youth movement.  They featured young star hurlers Dizzy Trout, Hal Newhouser, and Virgil Trucks. 

What a difference two years makes.

In ’43, Newhouser went 8-17.  But the following year, he flipped the switch, and became the dominant pitcher in the American League, winning 80 games over the next three years while winning two MVP awards.  He led the Tigers to a pennant and World Series title in ’45. 

The Tigers showed little patience toward former hero Tommy Bridges waiting for him to come back to form after he returned from the war.  The team basically sent him packing, telling him he was washed up.  But Bridges had some gas left in his tank, pitching a perfect game in ’47 and winning the ERA title in the Pacific Coast league.

With a bit of patience, the Tigers might have had a second Hall of Fame pitcher to go along with Hal Newhouser, as Bridges’s career total wins ended at 194, just short of the 200 opening the door for HOF consideration.  Newhouser ended with 207 wins.

Giving support to the efforts of Newhouser was Tigers workhorse Dizzy Trout.

Not being able to enlist because of a hearing impairment, Trout was one of the top AL pitchers during the war, winning 27 games in 1944.  He was instrumental in the Tigers second World Series title in ’45.


The Early Years Rotation

1. Hal Newhouser, 1939-53: 200 W, 33 SHO, ERA-plus 130

2. Tommy Bridges, 1930-46: 194 W, 33 SHO, ERA-plus 126

3. Dizzy Trout, 1939-52: 161 W, 28 SHO, ERA-plus 125

4. George Mullin, 1902-13: 209 W, 34 SHO, ERA-plus 102

T5. Bill Donovan, 1903-18—140 W, 29 SHO, ERA-plus 109

T5. Schoolboy Rowe, 1933-42: 105 W, 16 SHO, ERA-plus 114

Spot Starters: Hooks Dauss (223 W, ERA-plus 102), Virgil Trucks (114 W, ERA-plus 114), Fred Hutchinson (95 W, ERA-plus 113)


The Modern Era: 1960s to present.

Toward the end of the 1940s, Newhouser’s arm was shot, and the Tigers drifted into mediocrity over the next decade until the 1960s.

As the ’60s began, the team was blessed with some fine position players like Al Kaline, Bill Freehan, ’61 batting champion Norm Cash, and later, Willie Horton.  The team also featured dependable starters Frank Lary and Jim Bunning.

Bunning’s career really took off after he left the Tigers and put up some great years for the Phillies.

But it was not until the next generation of pitching started to emerge that the Tigers surged to the top of the league standings, winning the pennant in ’68 after narrowly missing the year before.

It was flamboyant Denny McLain who stole the show in 1968, winning 31 games, the Cy Young Award, and the MVP Award.  Even during his peak, McLain burned the candle at both ends, playing organ in a musical group which appeared at night clubs.

If it was Denny McLain who got the Tigers to the World Series, it was blue collar, lunch pail-carrying Mickey Lolich who brought home the title in the World Series.  Lolich was fearless, shutting down a great St. Louis team with his darting fastball and poise on the mound. 

When Game Seven came around, it was Lolich against the great Bob Gibson, who had already set the single game strikeout record (17) against the Tigers in Game One.  In one of the greatest series ever played, Lolich brought home the MVP award by winning his third game.

It was the Tigers’ third World Series title.

Denny McLain soon self-destructed, getting involved in gambling and the wrong ilk. It wasn’t long before he was out of the game.  One could only wonder what could have been if McLain could have controlled his problems.

The Tigers remained a good team for several years, making the postseason in ’72 with a rag tag group of older veterans including their core, pinch-hitter Gates Brown, super sub Tony Taylor, and late-season acquisition Frank Howard.

Their playoff series against the eventual World Series champion A’s was one of the most hotly contested playoff series in history.  It took every bit of greatness available to the three-time World Champion A’s to turn back the Tigers in this playoff series.

Twice Mickey Lolich pitched nine innings of one-run ball without coming away with a win. 

In Game Four, down two games to one in a best-of-five series, the A’s scored twice in the top of the 10th inning after Lolich left the game.  The series was theirs until the Tigers clawed back to score three runs in the bottom of the inning to send it to a fifth game.

Most of these Tigers players knew this was their last chance at postseason success, and they didn’t go down without a fight.  Game Five came down to the last at bat for the Tigers, down 2-1 and facing a dominant Vida Blue sent in as a reliever.

However, this time there was no miracle come-from-behind win, and on to the World Series went Catfish Hunter, Vida Blue, Reggie Jackson, Rollie Fingers, and the rest of the legendary A’s. They went on to win three titles in a row.

Mickey Lolich won 25 and 22 games in ‘71 and ’72, but narrowly missed winning a Cy Young award.  He came as close as any pitcher has to 3,000 strikeouts (2,832) without passing the milestone.  His 41 shutouts, World Series heroics, and career resume give him a strong case for the HOF.

After the old guard retired, the Tigers needed to rebuild.

They brought in Sparky Anderson, manager of the team of the decade in the ’70s—the Big Red Machine—to lead them onward.  Beginning in 1980, the Tigers began to surge, winning two division titles in ’84 and ’87 and finishing second in ’83, ’88, and ’91.

The magical year for the Tigers proved to be 1984.  They broke out of the gate at a record pace, going 35-5 to open the season.  The team never looked back and won the World Series.

The formula again was the convergence of strong position players with strong pitching. 

Catcher Lance Parrish led an offense that included Allan Trammell, Lou Whittaker, Chet Lemon, Kirk Gibson, and Darrell Evans.  They featured plenty of power and some great infield defense.

Leading the pitching staff was workhorse and ace Jack Morris, accompanied by Dan Petry and Milt Wilcox.

However, any mention of the ’84 Tigers would be remiss if it didn’t give ample credit to “Captain Hook’s” go-to guys, Willie Hernandez and Aurelio Lopez.  They combined to pitch in 151 games and 278 innings, giving up only 205 hits while saving 46 games between them.  They were truly amazing.

Jack Morris was consistent and strong throughout the ’80s for the Tigers.  But it was after he travelled on to the Twins and Blue Jays that he won two more championship rings and dazzled a generation of fans with his 10-inning, shutout performance in Game Seven of the ’91 series.

The Tigers, after winning only 43 games in ’03, built their way back to being competitive.  In their first year with Jim Leyland as manager in ‘06, they made it to the World Series.

Poor weather hindered the play of the Series.  Several costly errors by the Tigers pitchers also spelled the team’s doom, as they lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in an anti-climactic Series.

The leader of the Tigers staff today is Justin Verlander.  Verlander won Rookie of the Year award in ’06, and has generally turned in strong performances on his way to a significant career.  Other young Tiger pitchers have shown promise but not the ability to sustain success to this point.


The Modern Rotation

1. Mickey Lolich, 1963-75: 207 W, 39 SHO, ERA-plus 105

2. Jack Morris, 1977-90: 200 W, 24 SHO, ERA-plus 108

3. Frank Lary, 1954-64: 123 W, 20 SHO, ERA-plus 116

4. Jim Bunning, 1955-63: 118 W, 16 SHO, ERA-plus 116

5. Denny McLain, 1963-70: 117 W, 26 SHO, ERA-plus 110

Spot Starters: Milt Wilcox (1977-85), Justin Verlander (2005-10)


The Relievers

There are four relievers to mention when looking to name an all-time Tigers team.

Todd Jones leads the Tigers in saves with 235, but has a rather pedestrian ERA-plus of 114 for a reliever.  Mike Henneman has 154 saves and a very respectable ERA-plus of 136.

Both of these closers have inflated WHIP marks of 1.456 and 1.305.  This relates to having runners on base.

The two I am selecting for the team are John Hiller, who pitched in 545 games, had 125 saves, and an ERA-plus of 134 with a 1.268 WHIP, and Willie Hernandez, who appeared in 358 games, had 120 saves, and had an ERA-plus of 135.

There is certainly room for interpretation here in the choice, but I feel confident with the latter two, Hiller and Hernandez.


The All-time Rotation and staff

1. Hal Newhouser

2. Tommy Bridges

3. Mickey Lolich

4. Jack Morris

5. Dizzy Trout

Spot Starters: George Mullin, Bill Donovan, Schoolboy Rowe, Denny McLain

Relievers: Willie Hernandez, John Hiller


In Conclusion

If you’re a fan of Virgil Trucks, Jim Bunning, or Frank Lary, they could certainly go in the spot starter group in place of those listed.  The team is deep at this level of pitching.

Throughout the team history, success has depended on the combination of strong position players and sturdy pitching.  When the two came together, the team surged to success.

With a couple of breaks here and there, this rotation could be touting four of its pitchers as members of the Hall of Fame.  Bridges and Lolich have strong cases, and Jack Morris is still up for election.

The Tigers have a full-flavor history.  The pitchers are no exception.  Each one of these starters has a great story behind them.

It is my wish that Tiger fans understand and embrace their team history and the formula for future success that is so clearly laid down in their history.

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