Wednesday, October 30, 2013

August 5- St. Louis Cardinals

This post is kind of an interesting follow up to my Baltimore Orioles post on Rafael Palmeiro’s Hall of Fame career from yesterday. By the time you’re done reading this you’ll understand what I mean.

I first came across this cap in Buffalo, New York during the New Era Fan Appreciation (CrewEra13) event back on June 24th. When the time came to go on our totally bitchin’ shopping spree I saw this sitting underneath an old school Kansas City Athletics cap and made no mention that I even noticed. Why? Because I had no idea what it was. Upon first glance I could tell it was a St. Louis Cardinals cap of some variety, but outside of that I couldn’t pinpoint a timeframe. This became especially frustrating because I couldn’t get my phone to work in order to look it up to see if it was worth scooping up. So, without any real knowledge behind it, I let it sip through my fingers. When we got to the marketing part of the tour and we were shown the bevy of Turn Back the Clock caps New Era had in store for the season, that’s when everything had come into the light. However, still knowing what I did then, I still let it go.

It was kind of a weird move on my part for a few reasons, most of which had to do with the fact that I rarely ever let a Turn Back the Clock cap go unpurchased. But the one real oddity of this trip/moment was that at the time I only owned four total Cardinals caps, all of which I have written about (January 25th, May 1st, May 19th and June 17th). There is still one more cap the team currently wears that I still need to purchase, but there really is no rush in scooping that one up. As far as their Cooperstown Collection and Turn Back the Clock caps are concerned; yes, I really should have been more aggressive about things. Thankfully, I lucked out. I found this one on Hat Club while they were running a sale and made sure to out it at the top of my checkout list… but not before I did a background check.

Like a lot of caps from the turn of the 20th century, the Cardinals “technically” only used this cap for two seasons; however, the years in which they used it (1903 and 1906) were not the specific year in which the Cardinals were celebrating. See, back on May 5th of this year the Cardinals were playing on the road against their National League Central rival the Milwaukee Brewers when the whole Turn Back the Clock motif was presented. The timeframe that was selected was 1913, which played more heavily as a tribute to the Brewers than it ever did to the Cardinals as explained here…

Back in 1902 the original American League Milwaukee Brewers moved to St. Louis where they were known as the St. Louis Browns until 1953. With the absence of Major League Baseball in town, Milwaukee entered a new team that adopted the Brewers name into the minor league American Association. That minor league franchise lasted 50 years as an affiliate of the Browns, Chicago White Sox and Cubs, Cleveland Indians and Boston Braves. Its first American Association championship came in 1913. And that's the reason 1913 is being celebrated today.

The Braves' association with Milwaukee led to the demise of the American Association Brewers in 1954 when the parent club moved from Boston to Milwaukee. That relationship, however, would only last a little more than a decade as the major league club moved to Atlanta in time for the 1966 season. The American Association Brewers were moved to Toledo where they became known as the Mud Hens. While Milwaukee doesn't have any Major League Baseball championships to celebrate, the 1913 Cardinals hadn't yet begun their National League best run of 11 World Series wins by that point in franchise history.

So in some crazy way, the Brewers were trolling the Cardinals if you really break down the where each team was on a success scale back in 1913. Clever! But, what does that have to do with this hat? Well, as I mentioned above the Cardinals only used variations of this cap twice back in 1903…

And 1906 (right)…

Both of them featured the same style “STL” logo on the front of the cap, but only the 1906 version comes the closest to the Turn Back the Clock cap of 2013. So what exactly were the Cardinals wearing back in 1913? These…

Like a lot of the Turn Back the Clock caps that I’ve written about already, the logo on the modern cap is a new edition. Most of the caps back in the old days really didn’t feature any kind of logo or anything too flashy, that’s what the uniform was for. Some teams brandished across the chest, but most stuck to sleeve patches and an occasional patch over the heart. The 2013 Cardinals Turn Back the Clock uniforms were spot on, but I can only speculate as to why New Era elected to go with a different cap other than the pinstripe model shown above. My theory, because it looks cooler.

The logo on the sleeves of the road uniform had a pretty good run as they were used from 1909 through the end of the 1917 season.

Now, due to the fact that this cap was technically only used for the one game on May 5th I suppose I should mark it up with something having to do with that game. Matt Holliday and Allen Craig had great offensive nights and starting pitcher Jaime Garcia pitched eight strong innings while only allowing one run on eight hits and one walk. But, in keeping with the theme of the uniforms and tribute, I decided to go with something a little more historic. Rather, something that very few people outside of historians have ever really bothered to take a look at. For this, I had to go back to the origin of this cap in 1903.

PD: Contrary to my last name, Christensen (it’s Danish), I have a lot of Irish blood running through my veins which I inherited from my mother’s side of the family. The first tattoo I ever got marked the occasion.

My heritage though, goes beyond the traditional stereotype of drinking whiskey, eating potatoes and continually living with mistakes of the past. I for one am proud of my heritage and conduct research regularly on the men and women whose footsteps I have followed. This is the story of arguably the greatest Irish-born baseball player/mind to ever take the field.

It’s not secret that Irish players have come and gone throughout the ranks of Major League Baseball, some of the earliest players of the games weren’t too far removed from the boat that they had stepped off of when they picked up a bat and glove. Throughout the 144-year history of the league there have been 47 players and two additional managers to take the field who were born in Ireland. The last of which was born in 1945, Joe Clearly. Prior to that, the last Ireland-born player was in 1916. Since the 1960s the concept of foreign-born players started very small and has quickly worked its way into a regular part of the game. Countries like Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela have farm systems and plenty of talent ready to burst onto the Major League scene; however, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone in the league today who was originally born in a 150-mile circumference of the country that gave birth to the game we’ve come to know and love.

Back in the late 1800s the United States had just gotten finished the last war on home soil and all walks of life were taking a shine to this new game that was spreading throughout the East Coast like a wildfire. Despite claims that the Irish were blackballed from most jobs and contributions to the “American Way,” history has proven time and time again that the motto “Irish Need Not Apply” is merely a work of fiction. With that in mind, some of the greatest players early in baseball history were from the Emerald Isles. One of the first 46 born before 1917 played 17 seasons from 1890-1907 and was a player/manager for 11 of those years. His name was Patsy Donovan.

 Born in Queenstown, County Cork, Donovan established himself as the most successful Irish-born major leaguer. He broke into organized baseball in 1886 with the Lawrence, Massachusetts team in the New England League. In 1888 and 1889, Donovan played outfield for the London Tecumsehs of the International Association at Tecumseh Park (today's Labatt Park) in London, Ontario, Canada, where, in his first season in 1888, he led the league in batting with a .359 batting average (according to the Donovan family Web site; however, the London Tecumsehs' official scorer C.J. Moorehead, in a 1903 copy of The London Advertiser, cited Donovan's 1888 batting average as .398), had 201 hits, scored 103 runs and stole 80 bases. His second season with the Tecumsehs was less successful due to a leg injury.

In 1890 he made his Major League debut in the National League with the Boston Beaneaters, and moved to the Brooklyn Bridegrooms in midseason; it would be the only time in his career that he played for a league champion. In 1891 he played in the American Association (AA) for the Louisville Colonels and Washington Statesmen; he then returned to the NL in 1892, first with the Senators (the former Statesmen, who had joined the NL in a league merger) before going to the Pittsburgh Pirates for most of the year. Donovan starred with the Pirates from 1893 through 1899, notching six consecutive seasons batting .300 and serving as player/manager in 1897 and 1899. The team was sold late in 1899, during a time when the league was contracting from twelve teams to eight; new owner Barney Dreyfuss brought in Fred Clarke to be manager, with Donovan being sent to the Cardinals. He played for St. Louis from 1900–1903, sharing the league lead in stolen bases (45) in his first season, also managing the team in his last three seasons with them. By the end of the 1903 season he ranked among the NL's top ten career leaders in hits and at bats, though he would drop from among the leaders before his playing career ended. His 64 career double plays in the NL ranked one behind Jimmy Ryan's league record. He then served as player/manager for the American League's Washington Senators in 1904, his last season as a regular.

In 1903, he broke Sam Thompson's major league record of 1401 games in right field; Willie Keeler passed him in 1906, before Donovan played his last several games and retired with a total of 1620. In 1906, he became manager of the Brooklyn Superbas, and made his last few playing appearances that year, along with one more game at the end of the 1907 season. In a 17-season playing career, Donovan had 2246 hits, 1318 runs, 16 home runs and 736 RBI in 1821 games, along with 207 doubles and 75 triples. Donovan collected 302 stolen bases from 1890 to 1897 and 216 more after the statistic was revised to its modern definition in 1898. He batted .300 lifetime and set a major league record for career games in right field, as well as retiring among the career leaders in total games (fifth, 1813), assists (ninth, 264) and double plays (fifth, 69) as an outfielder.

Donovan joined the Boston Red Sox as a scout in 1909, and managed the team in 1910 and 1911. As a major league manager, he compiled a 684-879 record (.438) in 11 seasons. He was also instrumental in bringing Babe Ruth to the Sox in 1914 through his acquaintance with one of the Xaverian Brothers who coached Ruth at a Baltimore orphans' home. Later he went to the International League, where he led Buffalo to pennants in 1915 and 1916, and also managed Jersey City in 1921–22 and 1925–26. He finished out his career coaching High School baseball at Phillips Academy in Andover, where he coached the future 41st President, George H.W. Bush. Crazy!

Donovan died at the age of 88 in Lawrence, Massachusetts on Christmas Day 1953, and is interred at St. Mary Cemetery in Lawrence. Despite his accomplishments throughout the history of the league, let alone the game, he is not in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Based on the time frame in which he played, his accomplishments should have gotten him in. He was a hell of a hitter, almost average by the standard of those days, but his is still one of the greatest defensive players to ever take the field. And yet, men who played less years and accomplished less than he did have found their way into the Hall by the Veteran’s Committee. None of it makes much sense. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

August 4- Baltimore Orioles

There’s a particular topic that I was bound to write about for one of my New Era Cap posts and it definitely appears that today is the day. The topic: performance enhancing drugs. For those of you who don’t know, I actually tackled this subject in a rather thorough manner back in July for one of the Web sites I write for, eDraft Sports. In it I detailed the history of steroids, the political links, where PEDs are today and pretty much why Major League Baseball turning a blind eye got us to where we are today. My overall opinion on the matter is that I frankly don’t care if anyone is taking anything to help their game, but I’ll go into more detail on that throughout this piece. Sadly though, most people do care, the most important of which are the baseball writers who have affiliation with the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA).

Since I was a kid, first honing my writing chops, I had always dreamed of being a member of this exclusive club of writers. Why? Because these are the folks that determine who is to be awarded the cache of season-based accomplishments (Cy Young, MVP, Rookie of the Year and Manager of the Year), but more important, this is the group who determines who gets into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. As an avid fan of the game some of the best conversations (arguments) I’ve had with other writers and fans is who should have gotten into the Hall of Fame, who is the best Hall of Famer, who should get in of the folks still eligible, etc. Of course in all of this mess the question of “should anyone for the 1990s on (steroid era) even be considered?” is always a favorite of mine when mixed with a fresh pizza and about a bakers dozen of beers… per person in the discussion. The best part of these moments always comes up about six to eight beers in when the discussion has somehow become a pissing contest and a bevy name-calling has entered the mix along with the occasional sack tap. In the end, no one really wins. All levels of emotion and opinion have been thrown onto the table and all parties involved have either strengthened their original viewpoint or, in some cases, had light shed on a perspective they may nit have though about before. While I don’t doubt that members of the BBWAA have found themselves in similar situations, in my personal dealings I have yet to walk away with the feeling of being above anyone and their stance. Based on what I have witnessed for quite a while on Twitter, I don’t feel that any member of the BBWAA (who use Twitter) can say the same thing.

I will be the first to admit that I’m not the greatest writer in the world, nor will I probably ever be. I am more than skilled in the art of being able to string words together to form sentences which inevitably form sentences displaying my views, opinions and sides of the story, but I’m certainly not the greatest at it. Do it I do it with a little more heart than others, perhaps. At the end of the day I can walk away after putting down the pen or closing my laptop and feel good about what I crafted because I am a man of convictions and I stand by my principles. Can my opinion be swayed or altered, of course, I am human. Free thought is one of many traits that separate us from other members of the animal kingdom, just as accountability and reason are as well. By now you’re all probably wondering what any of this has to do with this Baltimore Orioles cap on my head. Well, it has everything to do with it.

Back in December of 2011 my cap collection was respectable, but still significantly small. I think I was sitting on roughly 18 hats, which is a slight fraction of the roughly 330 I have in my possession today. Yah, two years goes by pretty fast. Anyway, I was visiting my best friend/high school girlfriend Laurin Mitchell in San Luis Obispo, California along with my good friend/college roommate Jared Clark in the days leading up to the 2012 Rose Bowl which featured the Wisconsin Badgers and the Oregon Ducks. We hadn’t seen Laurin since the middle of June when the three of us all took in an Oakland Athletics game at the Coliseum when they played the Kansas City Royals. During one of our days of drinking and touring around SLO we happened to walk past a sports store called The Sports Forum which inevitably peaked my interest as they quite possibly could have had a few caps that I wanted to add to my collection. What I didn’t know at the time was that every baseball item in their store was 40% off for the end of the season closeout special. The only reason I ended up finding out about the sale was because Jared and I went to Pismo Beach on our final day at the coast where one of the store’s other locations are. I of course broke the bank buying hats then, but the location in SLO had a lot more that I really wanted to get my hands on. The one hat that they did have, which happened to be 50% off was this Orioles cap as they were discontinuing it for the 2012 season. Just so you know, this particular cap was used from 2009-2011 for both home and road games, and no, I’m not mistaken when I say this. The Orioles had quite a few caps that featured an oriole that looks similar to this, but I assure you, they’re not the same. For this cap the oriole’s head is lower and the appearance of any kind of a neck is nearly non-existent. The placement of the feet is also another indicator as this logo features the curdled up toes. From 1989-2008 the Orioles went through three previous changes to the logo, all of which I will write about in the future just as soon as I can track any of them down. I have a few leads, but they are incredibly hard (expensive) to find. Getting back to the story, The Sports Forum in SLO happened to have one left in my size so of course I had no objection to paying $17.50 plus an 8.25% sales tax to purchase it. Boom! This cap, for some crazy reason, became one of my favorite caps to wear. I’ve always enjoyed the paring of black and orange, but my loyalty to the Athletics always steered me away from wearing a San Francisco Giants cap. Even though it’s one of the newer caps used by the Orioles, there’s something about the design of the logo that gives it an old-timey kind of feel that I wish was incorporated into more caps.

When I marked this cap, pretty much a few days after I purchased it, I already had firm intentions of what was to be showing, which ultimately leads me back to my rant at the beginning of this piece. 

3020/569: If these numbers are unfamiliar to you, don’t worry; it’s only the fourth time in Major League Baseball history they’ve been paired together. These are the hits (3020) and home runs (569) that Rafael Palmeiro tallied throughout his 20-years career. I’m sure by now everything is starting to make a little bit more sense. Rather than just dive in it’s probably best to start back at the beginning. Back before everything went straight to Hell.

Palmeiro was born in Havana, Cuba, but is not considered a defector due to the age in which he came over the United States, and the label is only used for those who leave willingly due to political-based reasons. His family moved to Miami, Florida where he was raised and graduated from Miami Jackson High School and was drafted by the New York Mets in the eighth round of the 1982 draft, but he didn’t sign. Instead, Palmieiro enrolled at Mississippi State University, where he played college baseball for the MSU Bulldogs in the Southeastern Conference. He is the only SEC player to have ever won the triple crown. On June 11, 1985, Palmeiro signed with the Chicago Cubs as the 22nd pick in the 1st round of the 1985 draft, the year after Seattle Mariners star Jamie Moyer.

Palmeiro debuted on September 8, 1986 in a game between the Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field as a left fielder. During his tenure with the Cubs, he normally played left field, though occasionally he would play other outfield positions or first base. Palmeiro was the runner up to National League batting champion Tony Gwynn in 1988 with a .307 batting average, only six points below Gwynn's. He also made his first of four All-Star Game appearances in his career. After the 1988 season, Paleiro was traded by the Cubs to the Texas Rangers along with Moyer and Drew Hall in exchange for Mitch Williams, Paul Kilgus, Steve Wilson, Curtis Wilkerson, Luis Benitez, and Pablo Delgado.

Upon moving to the American League, Palmieiro was primarily used as a first baseman or designated hitter. Palmeiro blossomed as a hitter while with the Rangers, leading the league in hits in 1990 and doubles in 1991, the same year in which he made his second All-Star Game appearance. Palmeiro would stay with the Rangers until the end of the 1993 season, his first of two stints with the team. During his time he finished in the top-20 three times for the AL MVP (1990, 1991 and 1993). He also had time to star in this priceless Coca-Cola advertisement. After he was granted free agency in 1993 he signed with the Orioles for his first of two stints in Baltimore. From 1994-1998 he proved to be one of the team’s most consistent power hitters. Prior to the 1995 season, he had hit more than 30 home runs only once (37 in 1993). Starting in 1995, Palmeiro began a streak of 38+ home run years that continued through the 2003 season. He hit 373 home runs during this nine-season span, while also driving in over 100 runs in each of these seasons. However, Palmeiro never led the league in home runs, and is history's most prolific home run hitter to have never won the home run crown. Palmeiro finished in the top-18 for the AL MVP every year he was with the Orioles, locking up his third All-Star Game appearance as well as two consecutive Gold Gloves at first base in 1997 and 1998. Despite the numbers he was banging out, he was once again allowed free agency and was signed by the Rangers.

In 1999 Palmeiro posted the best season of his career: he hit a career-high .324, career-high 47 home runs, career-high 148 RBI, career-high 1.050 on-base plus slugging percentage, won his third-straight Gold Glove, his second consecutive Silver Slugger Awards, fourth and final All-Star Game appearance and finished in fifth place for the AL MVP as his teammate Ivan Rodriguez took home the prize. Palmeiro’s averaged dipped a bit through the end of his time with the Rangers, but his home runs and RBI production hardly slowed down. On May 11, 2003, his final year with the Rangers, Palmeiro hit his 500th home run off David Elder in a game against the Cleveland Indians, becoming only the 19th player in MLB history to do so at the time. The feat came roughly a month after Sammy Sosa knocked his 500th home run of his career with the Cubs.

Granted free agency once again, Palmeiro signed again with the Orioles and posted decent numbers in 2004, .258/23/88. The most important thing to take from that season is that he was only 78 hits away from 3,000 for his career at the age of 40. Palmeiro had a rough 2005 season, but still got the job done. On July 15th my best friend Samuel Spencer sent me a text around 6:30 PM saying that he was at that night’s Mariners game in which they were facing off against the Orioles. The significance of this night is that Palmeiro was sitting on 2,999 hits and Joel Pińeiro was on the mound for the Mariners. For those who remember Pińeiro’s time with the Mariners in 2005, history was pretty much guaranteed to happen. After walking in his first at-bat and grounding out in his second, Palmeiro walked up to the plate for his third at-bat in the fifth inning. With third baseman Melvin Mora on second base, Palmeiro clubbed a screamer down the left field line, scoring Mora and logging the 3,000th hit of his career. I was watching the game from home on Fox Sports Northwest and Samuel made sure to take plenty of photos as the Safeco Field crowd gave him a standing ovation. With a quick swing of the bat Palmeiro joined Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Eddie Murray as the only players in MLB history to record 3,000 hits and 500 home runs for their career. No matter what the rest of Palmeiro’s career had in store for him, there was no doubt that he was a lock for the Hall of Fame. Well…

Back on March 17, 2005, Palmeiro appeared at a Congressional hearing about steroids in baseball and, while under oath, denied ever using steroids and stated, "Let me start by telling you this: I have never used steroids, period. I don't know how to say it any more clearly than that. Never." Here’s the full video in case you forgot. The main reason why Palmeiro was put in front of Congress in the first place was because former Rangers teammate José Canseco identified Palmiero as a fellow steroid user in his 2005 book, Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits & How Baseball Got Big, and claimed he personally injected Palmeiro with steroids. Needless to say, Palmeiro was a bit vehement about the situation and willingly denied any wrongdoing. 

After Palmeiro recorded his 3,000th hit things went back to normal... for two weeks later. On August 1, 2005, Palmeiro was suspended for ten days after testing positive for a steroid. The Washington Post reported that the steroid detected in Palmeiro's system was a "serious" one. According to The New York Times, Palmeiro tested positive for the potent anabolic steroid stanozolol. In a public statement, Palmeiro disclosed that an appeal of the suspension had already been denied. He released a statement saying, "I have never intentionally used steroids. Never. Ever. Period. Ultimately, although I never intentionally put a banned substance into my body, the independent arbitrator ruled that I had to be suspended under the terms of the program." According to Palmeiro, all of his previous tests over the two years including the 2003 sealed test were negative, and a test he took just three weeks after his positive test was also negative. While a representative from MLB couldn’t confirm or deny Palmeiro’s words, it’s a bit surprising that they didn’t, especially since they were “doing their damnedest” to clean the game up. The House Government Reform Committee would not seek perjury charges against Palmeiro, although they were not clearing him.

Palmeiro returned to Camden Yards following his 10-day suspension; that’s right, 10-day suspension on August 11, 2005, although he did not play in the lineup until August 14. Coincidentally, this was the date that had been planned as "Rafael Palmeiro Appreciation Day" in celebration of his 500-home run, 3,000-hit milestone. It was canceled after Palmeiro’s suspension. The Baltimore Sun reported that Palmeiro never offered an explanation for his positive test to the MLB arbitration panel, which ran contrary to his public statements. ESPN later reported that Palmeiro implicated Miguel Tejada to baseball's arbitration panel, suggesting a supplement provided to him by Tejada was responsible for his positive test. This supplement was supposedly vitamin B12, though it could have been tainted. Tejada and two unnamed teammates provided B12 samples to the panel, which did not contain stanozolol. However, the committee did say they found "substantial inconsistencies between Mr. Tejada's accounts and the accounts of players A and B." Tejada, who said he received shipments of B12 from the Dominican Republic, was later implicated for steroid use in the Mitchell Report.

Palmeiro continues to strongly deny ever having used steroids intentionally, telling The Baltimore Sun in June 2006, "Yes sir, that's what happened. It's not a story; it's the reality of what happened", and "I said what I said before Congress because I meant every word of it." Palmeiro passed a polygraph test in which he was not asked if he ever used steroids, but in which he did state that he unknowingly ingested them via a B12 injection. A 2005 New York Times article expressed one writer's belief that Palmeiro’s story could perhaps be the truth.

In December 2007, Palmeiro was included in the Mitchell Report in which it was alleged that he used performance-enhancing drugs during his career. The report did not provide any new evidence and only recapped allegations made by José Canseco, Palmeiro’s appearance before Congress, and his subsequent failed drug test. The report also details a conversation Larry Bigbie alleges he had with Palmeiro where he claims "Palmeiro asked him about his source of steroids and human growth hormone (the source was Kirk Radomski) and how the substances made him feel." Bigbie also stated that "Palmeiro denied in those conversations that he had ever used performance enhancing substances himself."

Palmeiro finished out the 2005 season, filed for free agency for the final time and was never signed again. The cloud of suspicion, the failed drug test and the fact that he was about to turn 41-years-old proved to be too much for teams to roll the dice to sign him. With his career now over he went back to his family in Texas and loved out the rest of his days, waiting the five-year window until he would become eligible for the Hall of Fame. Palmeiro played in 2,831 major league games, the most by any player who never played in the World Series. When 2011 came around, the first year of his Hall of Fame eligibility, his numbers signified a slam dunk for a first ballot entrance; however, the BBWAA felt the exact opposite. Needing at least 75% of the vote to get in, Palmeiro received a shocking 11.0% of the vote. In case you forgot, Palmeiro is one of four guys to get at least 3,000 hits and crush at least 500 home runs. The other three guys were already in the Hall of Fame. And yet, Palmeiro received a massive slap in the face. In 2012 his vote went up to 12.6% and then took a drop to 8.8% this last January. If the number dips below 5%, he will no longer be eligible.

Palmeiro played 19 seasons without any bit of speculation of being on PEDs. Hell, the man even starred in a series of commercials for Viagra; however, after achieving baseball immortality, Palmeiro’s star took an immediate tumble to Earth. The last two months of Palmeiro’s career was the only time in which he had been called a cheater. The last two months. Really think about that. A kid could have been born, graduated from high school and been in the middle of their second year of college before a problem arose. I fully understand that going before Congress, wagging his finger and ardently denying being on the juice really didn’t help his cause when he failed his drug test, but how can a group of people become some cynical after such a long period of time without any issue. Palmeiro had already locked his Hall of Fame career up and had never failed a drug test, nor did he ever fail another one after the incident occurred after he served one of the shortest suspensions in MLB history, just to show you how much of a non-issue the incident was to an unprepared MLB.

I realize that “rules are rules,” but one cannot be so dismissive as to completely wipe away the career of one of the greatest players in the history of the game after a small mistake near the end of it. Yes, the anabolic steroid (stanozolol) was banned under the MLB’s drug policy, bust it was also one that easy to snuff out. Palmeiro never struck me as a careless guy, not to mention, how is it that he can go 19 ½ years of taking an easily-detected substance without getting pinched especially after having taken multiple drug test in the past, all of which came up clean? Logic has been lost in crucifixion that has become Palmeiro’s career, a truly sad one at that.

I can only hope that some time down the road the BBWAA will come to their senses and have a 12 Angry Men-style discussion over this case. There are way too many holes to simply ignore. Palmeiro is a Hall of Famer in my eyes, the numbers and the talent surely proves that he is worthy. As for the players on PEDs as a whole, I really don’t care. The evolution of what a person can take has changed so dramatically over the years that until everything is banned, there is no sure-fire way of saying who is breaking the rules and who isn’t. As for my role in this and my dream of joining the BBWAA, if it happens, it happens. If it does, I can only hope that I can bring a fresh perspective to the discussion, and not just wave the privilege around like some cool kids club membership. I'm looking at you Jon Heyman!!!

Monday, October 21, 2013

August 3- Washington Nationals

When it comes to being a collector nothing really beats the feeling of a good score. The definition of “score” is not just any object; rather, it’s something that tugs at the heartstrings a bit. It’s something that will always display more value emotionally than monetarily. In my years of collecting New Era Caps I’ve had many scores. A few of them I’ve already written about (Tucson Padres, Jacksonville Expos and the Oakland Athletics) and quite a few of them I have been saving for special occasions. When it comes down to it, I could realistically argue that every single one of my caps has been a wonderful score. I think I’ve proved that over the last seven months with all of these posts, but the ones that have been discontinued, the ones that I’ve had to search high and low for and the ones that makes other collectors or even just fans of the team swoon are hands down my favorite of them all. As crazy as it may sound, especially for as new as the Washington Nationals are, this is one of those caps.

It hasn’t even been 10 years since the Montreal Expos packed up shop and relocated to Washington, D.C., but the Nationals have gone through six on-field caps and they are currently on their fourth batting practice cap. This really wouldn't be that big of a deal had it not been for the fact that the Expos only had two on-field caps in their 35-year existence, one of which I’ve already written about, and yet somehow I’ve already knocked out four of the Nationals caps (February 8, March 13th, April 17th and June 27th). Well, here’s number five. This is one that I had completely forgotten about until I randomly came across it on Ebay back in December of 2012. Like most days when I get bored I combed through every inch of Ebay using the most random of search criteria in the hopes that a lister would misspell a word or put in a lack of a description so that other hat enthusiasts would pass over rare gems and not drive the bidding price up. Not only did the lister of this “DC” cap spell Nationals “Natonals,” but they also started the bid at $4.99 with a $6.00 shipping cost. I threw in a bid of $11.27 a week before it expired and waited. When you wait for something special like this it feels like a month, especially when it comes down to the final minute of bidding. For all of you who are not savvy on Ebay, the last minute of an auction is a cyber-death match as all the other collectors come out of the woodwork and throw down bids at the only time that really matters. Somehow I escaped this process and made off with the cap for $10.99 including shipping. Hazah!!!

I know it doesn’t seem like much, but this cap has been extinct since the end of the 2008 season. It made its debut in 2006 and was paired with the alternate red “DC” jerseys the Nationals typically wore on Sundays. The cap itself was retired but the “DC” was tweaked with an added stars and stripes motif from 2009-2010. After that, the “DC” was fazed out of the Nationals uniform sets altogether. Pretty depressing when you think about it.

It bums me out way more than it should when hats vanish into legend like this cap. I realize that I sound a little overdramatic when I say that, but if you sincerely feel that way you have clearly missed the point of all of these posts. Every one of these caps tells a story about the players, the team and especially the fans who wear them. These aren’t just clothing accessories or sun shields; they’re relics of baseball history that can evoke a sense of camaraderie or rivalry in the minds of those who pass by. As much as much collecting New Era caps may seem like a “gotta catch ‘em all” game of Pokémon, the reality is that I care about preserving history in my own way. It’s nothing different than someone who collects coins, stamps or even vintage porn magazines; there’s a bond that forged ethereally and the thrill of the hunt or the telling of the stories will always keep us going… well, except for the porn magazine collection. I don’t know of many people who would have crowd pleasing stories about that. So with that I of course dropped some pretty recognizable numbers on this cap, both of which played key roles in the history/time frame of this cap. Enjoy!

#12- Soriano began his professional baseball career in Japan with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp, training at their Carp Academy for Dominican players. In 1997, he was promoted to the varsity team, and, wearing number 74, he appeared in nine games, batting .118 (2 for 17) with two walks. Soriano disliked the intense Japanese practice schedule (shocker), and the Carp denied him a salary increase from $45,000 to $180,000 per year. Like Hideo Nomo and Hideki Irabu, who had previously left Japan to play in the United States, Soriano hired Don Nomura to help his situation. After first attempting to void Soriano's Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) contract by unsuccessfully arguing that the player was legally a minor when he signed it, Nomura advised him, like Nomo, to retire from NPB and pursue a career in Major League Baseball. This prompted Carp executives to file an injunction against Soriano, and to send letters to MLB teams demanding that they cease all negotiations with him. After the Nomo case, NPB officials had amended the Working Agreement without consulting any MLB officials in an attempt to prevent the situation from recurring. Since MLB had not agreed to any changes to the agreement, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig declared that MLB would recognize Soriano as a free agent on July 13, 1998, and the Carp backed down.

I’m going to skip Soriano’s first run with the New York Yankees and time with the Texas Rangers and move right into the Nationals. On December 7, 2005, Soriano was traded to the Nationals in exchange for Brad Wilkerson, Terrmel Sledge, and minor league pitcher Armando Galarraga. On February 10, 2006, Soriano set a record for the highest salary ever awarded in arbitration, receiving $10 million, even though he lost his request of $12 million. The previous high had been set in 2001 by Andruw Jones of the Atlanta Braves when he earned $8.2 million. The Nationals offered Soriano a five-year, $50-million extension, but Soriano rejected the offer. Soriano and his agent Diego Bentz instead opted to open contract negotiations during the off-season, so that he would become a free agent.

On March 20, 2006, Nationals manager Frank Robinson inserted Soriano in the lineup as the left fielder. Soriano, who since 2001 had played exclusively at second base, refused to take the field, and the Nationals organization threatened him with disqualification, which would have meant forfeiture of his salary, and he would not have received credit for service time in fulfillment of the obligations of his contract. With his contract's service terms officially still unfulfilled, he would then have been ineligible for free agency at season's end. Two days later, Soriano relented and played in left field for the Nationals in their exhibition game against the St. Louis Cardinals. Robinson indicated that he considered Soriano's move to left field to be permanent and would not consider moving Soriano back to second base at any point during the season. In his comments following that game, Soriano indicated that he would accept his new position without further argument. As the season got underway, however, Soriano began to enjoy his new position, and by the All-Star break, he led the league in outfield assists and became one of the few players ever to start the All-Star game at two different positions. Soriano set a new career high in walks with 67 (previously 38). He also reached a career high in home runs with 46 (previously 39). On August 25, a week after reaching 30–30, he became the fastest man in baseball history to reach 200 home runs and 200 stolen bases, reaching the mark in 929 games (breaking the previous record of 1,053 games held by Eric Davis).

In September, he completed his 20th outfield assist, becoming the only player in baseball history with 40 home runs, 40 stolen bases, and 20 assists. On September 16, 2006, Soriano stole second base in the first inning to become the fourth player to join the 40–40 club, after José Canseco, Barry Bonds, and Alex Rodriguez. Six days later he became the first player to reach 40 home runs, 40 stolen bases and 40 doubles in one season.

Soriano only played one season with the Nationals, his best on a whole scale throughout his time playing in the National League. Soriano is a seven-time All-Star, all of which came consecutively from 2002-2008. He is also a four-time Silver Slugger winner and a two-time World Series Champion (1999 and 2000). Five times in his career Soriano has finished in the top-20 for the MVP award for either league with his best finish coming in third place in 2002 with the Yankees.

#11- If there was ever a face of the franchise for the Nationals; it’s hard to look beyond third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. Zimmerman grew up in Washington, North Carolina and played his college ball at the University of Virginia where he was an All-American and made First Team All-Athletic Cost Conference. He also started at third base for the 2004 USA Baseball National Team that won the gold medal in the FISU II World University Baseball Championship where he was also named the 2004 Dick Case (real name) Athlete of the Year by USA Baseball.

Zimmerman was drafted in the first round as the fourth overall pick by the Nationals in the 2005 Major League Baseball Draft. After being signed on the day he was drafted, he was sent to the Savannah Sand Gnats, the Nationals' minor league A-level affiliate and then quickly moved up to the Harrisburg Senators, the AA affiliate. Zimmerman was called up to the majors when rosters expanded in September 2005, and shared third base duties with Vinny Castilla, taking over the position on a more permanent basis between the time the Nationals were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention and the end of the season. In his first major league at bat at RFK Stadium he muscled a double to right center. Over the course of 20 games, he posted a .397 batting average, 10 doubles, and six RBI in 58 at-bats. He was the only member of the 2005 team to hit over .300 in at least 50 at-bats all while wearing #25. He remained with the Major League club to start the 2006 campaign, taking over third base duties from Castilla, who was traded to the San Diego Padres. Prior to 2006 Spring Training, Zimmerman changed his jersey number from #25 (2005) to #11, his former college number.

Zimmerman started his first full-season with a bang in 2006, hitting .287 with 20 home runs and 110 RBI. He probably would have won the Rookie of the Year Award that year had Hanley Ramirez not stolen 51 bases and scored 119 runs for the Florida Marlins. Nonetheless, Zimmerman pressed on with his career and has only taken a brief injury timeout in 2008 and 2011 where he still played in at least 101 games in each of those seasons and at least 142 games in the other six.

Zimmerman has only made one All-Star Game appearance (2009) in his nine-year career, the same year that he won his only Gold Glove Award thus far and his first of two Silver Slugger Awards. He’s a fan-favorite, a walk-off artist and a Lou Gehrig Memorial Award winner (2012). The man is Nationals baseball.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

August 2- Montreal Expos

It’s been a while since I’ve done a post on the Montreal Expos. Unfortunately, there is a good reason for that. In the 35-year history of Expos baseball the team only wore four caps: two of them served as the team’s every day game caps, one was their batting practice cap and the other is one they wore for a short period of time when they played their home games in San Juan, Puerto Rico when they were looking to relocate in 2003. The latter cap is one that I have been trying to track down for quite some time.

The funny thing about this photo is that my friend John Beare (@Interstate19) is the only person I know of to own this cap. Not to mention this photo (his) is the only one I have been able to find on the internet.

The reason I bring all of this up is because there are too many great stories about the Expos organization that really need to be told, even ones that may seem insignificant to the most casual of baseball fans. So, I decided to stray wayward from one of my rules, I decided to buy an Expos Cooperstown Collection cap from Lids that truly defies the concept of being a Cooperstown Collection cap. Back on February 16th I wrote about the true Cooperstown Expos cap, the one they wore from 1969-1991 which looks almost identical to this with the exception that blue panels stretching around on either side of the front white panels are red.

With this cap I had debated on writing about Dennis “El Presidente” Martinez, most of which revolved around to 100 wins he had as an Expo which put him in the rare club of one of nine players in Major League Baseball history to win at least 100 games in both the American League and the National League. The other hot topic of course is the fact he is the only person in Expos history to throw a perfect game. Yah, you could debate that the Washington Nationals are still technically the Expos, at which I would retort with, “Go to Montreal and state your case with any still-heartbroken fan and see where that gets you.” On a personal note, the crazy thing about the perfect game, which I recently found out about, is that my childhood friend Bryan Gildner’s brother Joel was at that game with his father at Dodger Stadium on July 28, 1991. Since Joel now lives in Austin, Texas and because I had already marked up this cap, I decided to postpone that story for a while, at least until another awesome custom Expos cap comes into my possession. Hopefully soon.

6/5/86: I came across this date accidentally and am forever grateful that I did. Like with a lot of my other posts which rely heavily upon a specific date in a team’s history I found this on one of the random “This Date in Baseball” Web sites that I sift through regularly. The story really starts back in the 1940s at the time when The United States of America and Canada had entered into World War II. Major League Baseball players were lining up at the local enlistment offices in droves, ready to do what they could to help out with the war effort. With most of the notable names overseas the owners did their best to capitalize on making money by still promoting baseball by any means necessary. By any means necessary this of course also meant that they didn’t hesitate to organize an all-female baseball league. It was called the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League and it lasted 12 years from 1943-1954. For five seasons one of the best players in the league’s history was a woman named Helen Callaghan Candaele St. Aubin from Vancouver, British Columbia who went by the shortened name Helen Callaghan.  

As a rookie with the Minneapolis Millerettes Callaghan hit .287 in 111 games, for second in the league. She also finished third in total bases, hits, runs and stolen bases (112), while tying for third in home runs. The Millerettes could not compete attendance-wise with the Minneapolis Millers, so the team moved in 1945, becoming the Fort Wayne Daisies. That year Callaghan had her best season, batting .299 to lead the AAGPBL. (The league average was .198 that year.) She tied for the league lead in homers (three), led in total bases (156), was second in steals (92), first in hits (122), second in runs (77) and first in doubles (17). Callaghan was often called the "Ted Williams of women's baseball". The league was not yet giving out Player of the Year or All-Star honors, but it is clear she was a candidate for both. Ft. Wayne finished second and advanced to the championship, but fell four games to one despite a .400 mark from the younger Callaghan. Callaghan slipped drastically in 1946, hitting just .213, even though league averages rose about 10 points. She still tied for third in steals with 114. After missing the 1947 season due to illness, she returned for part of 1948 after getting married and having her first child. However, that year she hit just .191 as a bench player. She finished her career with Kenosha in 1949 as Helen Candaele, bouncing back to a .251 mark, tied for seventh in the league. She was ninth in total bases (113), eighth in steals (65), sixth in doubles and tied for eighth in triples. In a five season career, Callaghan was a .257 hitter (355-for-1382) with seven home runs and 85 run batted in 388 games, including 354 stolen bases, 249 runs, 35 doubles, 15 triples and 221 walks while striking out 161 times. Her on-base percentage was approximately .359, while she slugged .319.

The now Candaele gave birth to five sons. Her son Kelly produced a short documentary back in 1987 for PBS entitled A League of Their Own, which covered the history of the AAGPBL. The documentary inspired director Penny Marshal to make a film with the same name in 1992. One of Candaele’s other sons, Casey, decided to follow in his mother’s footsteps and make it big in professional baseball. 

Casey was born on January 12, 1951 and was raised in Lompoc, California which is northeast of Santa Barbara. He attended the University of Arizona and was even a part of the 1980 College World Series team which also featured Craig Lefferts, Dwight Taylor and the tournaments Most Outstanding Player Terry Francona. Candaele went undrafted but the Expos offered to sign him as a free agent in August of 1982 which he happily signed. From 1983 through 1985 Candaele worked his way up the minor league chain starting with the Class-A West Palm Beach Expos to the AA Memphis Chicks in his first season, the AA Jacksonville Suns in 1984 until finally landing with the AAA Indianapolis in 1985. Candaele’s numbers were pretty decent during his ascent; however, due to the fact that he was a second baseman, shortstop and outfielder, the Expos didn’t have room for him on the roster as the likes of Vance Law, Hubie Brooks, Tim Raines and future Hall of Famer Andre Dawson stood in his path. The only way that Candaele was going to make it to the Majors was if someone got hurt or he had the best season of his career to motivate general management to call him up. Well…

When 1986 rolled around Candaele got off to a blazing start at the plate. He was hitting over .300 and showing strong discipline at the plate with very few strikeouts and a decent amount of walks. When June rolled around the front office couldn’t ignore his progress and made the call for him to pack up and head to the show. On June 5, 1986 Candaele was put in to pinch hit for Dan Schatzeder, thus making him the first and only mother/son combination to play at the top level professionally. Candaele promptly struck out to Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Charles Hudson, but it was still a pivotal moment in baseball history.

Candaele spent 30 games with the Expos that year before getting sent back down. He resurfaced the following season hitting .272 with 122 hits and 23 RBI while only striking out 28 times in 138 games. He finished in fourth place for the Rookie of the Year Award that season. Candaele played for seven more years at the Major League level; one more season with the Expos, five with Houston Astros and two with the Cleveland Indians despite his final season coming in 1997. He spent quite a bit of time in the minors. Nonetheless, Candaele will forever be etched into the baseball history books.

#44- Carl Morton was born in Kansas City, Missouri on January 18, 1944 and grew up in West Tulsa, where he played baseball on the same Webster High School team as future major-leaguer Rich Calmus. He went to college at the University of Tulsa before moving on to the University of Oklahoma where he continued his baseball dreams as an outfielder for the Sooners under head coach Jack Baer. In 1964 Morton was signed as a free agent by the Atlanta Braves who wanted to convert the outfielder into a pitcher. From 1965-1968 the Braves kept him in their minor league system where he showed signs of promise. His best season came in 1968 as a member of the AA Shreveport Braves where he went 13-5 with a 2.72 ERA and 130 strikeouts; however, the Braves didn’t have enough faith to hang onto him as the first leg of the 1968 Expansion Draft on October 14th. See, back in 1968 the Expansion Draft was broken up into two legs; the first was for the Expos and the San Diego Padres in which they could only pilfer through National League roster to build their teams. The second leg was held on October 15th between the Kansas City Royals and the Seattle Pilots in which the two could only raid American League teams. Fun fact about that draft is that only one future Hall of Famer was in the mix, Hoyt Wilhelm. Anyway, Morton was selected by the Expos with the 45th overall pick.

Without much of a farm system established, the Expos threw Morton out to the wolves on April 11, 1969 where he only lasted eight games before getting hurt. That year he went 0-3 with a 4.60 ERA and 16 strikeouts in five starts. With a taste of the Major Leagues out of the way, Morton was determined to do better the next season when he got back to 100%. Not only did he do that, Morton was phenomenal in 1970. In 37 stars, 43 games overall, Morton went 18-11 with a 3.60 ERA and 154 strikeouts. He unfortunately walked a league-high 154 batters, but it didn’t matter. Morton was voted as the NL Rookie of the Year and even finished ninth for the NL Cy Young and 27th for the NL MVP. While the rest of his career never quite matched the gusto of his 1970 season, Morton went on to play two more seasons for the Expos before getting traded to the Braves for Pat Jarvis before the 1973 season.

Morton played four decent years with the Braves, finishing with 15 or more wins in his first three years, but he only won four games in 1976. As a result of his falloff year the Braves traded him to the Texas Rangers along with Roger Moret for former-AL MVP Jeff Burroughs. Morton, sadly, never pitched in the Majors again, and only spent one last season in the minors before hanging it up for good at the age of 33.

With his playing career over Morton moved back to Tulsa. On the morning of April 12, 1983 Morton went out for a jog and when he arrived at the home of his parents he suffered a heart attack in their driveway and was pronounced dead shortly thereafter. He was 39-years-old. One of the more tragic realities that came from Morton’s death involved another death less than a year before his passing. On August 2, 1979 New York Yankees former AL MVP and beloved catcher Thurman Munson was killed in a plane crash. Back in 1970 Munson had also won the Rookie of the Year honors in the AL. It is the only time in baseball history that two Rookie of the Year winners from the same year would come to premature endings.

August 1- Minnesota Twins

One would think of all the hats in my collection this would have been one of the easier ones to track down. Nope! If my memory serves me correct it took me about three years of combing various Web sites, Ebay and Lids locations in order to find an authentic one. Now, over my ridiculously exhaustive search I did come across a few “Genuine Merchandise” versions (replicas), but this bad boy was a diamond in the rough that I somehow found at the Lids in Union Square in downtown Manhattan. Clearly all of the best caps are displayed there because I definitely picked up some gems every time I went there.

It was a bit of mystery to me as to why this cap would have been so hard to track down, but then again, I can be pretty picky at times. I for one have always preferred the Major League Baseball logo on the back of the hat, a token which was only added to caps starting in 1993. 

As in the case of this cap the logo wasn’t added until 2009 when the Minnesota Twins wore it as a home alternate cap. The Twins first used this for all of their home games from 1976-1986 where it and the all-navy “TC” cap that I wrote about on February 15th were replaced with the “M” logo cap that I wrote about on January 21st. The move proved to be one of those rare uniform changes that brings immediate success as the Twins hoisted their first World Series championship since 1924 when they were still the Washington Senators.

In my research I found a bit of a conflicting story about its first use. The vintage MLB clothing company Brand ’47 has the year 1973 marked on most of its franchise caps, as did a few other Web sites. The only problem with this is that in almost every photo I found, whether it was baseball cards, game photos or even the team photo, this cap wasn’t used. No, the first arrival of this cap via photo didn’t arrive until 1976 as I previously mentioned as shown in the photo below.

Now, I can see where in a black and white photo one might not be able to tell; however, it’s easy to notice how the shade of the cap matches with the “TWINS” emblem across the chest, which was red at the time and contradicts the navy blue shirts of the trainers and equipment managers. This trait becomes even clearly in the team photo from 2009.

Like I said, I looked deep into most photo archives and couldn’t find anything until I came across the Web site where they have all the team photos dating back to 1961, their first year as the Twins. Check the link if you don’t believe me as the team also wore the red caps from 1977-1982 and 1984-1986. I could be wrong about 1983, as it might also have to do with the lighting and it being in black and white, but it looks like a few guys are wearing red and other navy blue. Either way, red was the home color that year.

Keeping in the theme of the red cap I have elected to mark it up with numbers and a date from the original time from of when this cap was used. Nothing personal against the 2009 team who won their division on an extended day of the season (game 163) against the Detroit Tigers, but there’s just too much good stuff that happened within the other 11 years to pass up.

#14- To those familiar with the Twins legacy, this is an easy number to remember. But for those who only know about Hall of Fame legacies, this is a name you should learn. Ken Hrbek, a product of Bloomington, Minneapolis, was drafted in the 17th round of the 1978 draft. The interesting part about the timing is that, as a first baseman, he had some pretty big shoes to fill as Harmon Killebrew and Rod Carew were the only names were noting to have played the position in the team’s history. Carew was traded before the 1979 season, so Hrbek was one of two possible candidates being groomed for the position. Hrbek made his major league debut on August 24, 1981 at Yankee Stadium, hitting a game-winning home run in the 12th inning off New York reliever, and future Twin, George Frazier.

After his cup of coffee at the end of the '81 season, Hrbek would make the team out of spring training and come into his own in 1982, playing well for Twins manager Billy Gardner. That season Hrbek would etch his name into the Twins’ legacy as he finished the year with a .301 average, 23 home runs and 92 RBI. As great as his accomplishment were during his rookie season, he still only managed to finish in second place for the Rookie of the Year award one step ahead of Wade Boggs and one spot behind some washout named Cal Ripken, Jr. Not sure what happened to either of those guys. Hrbek also locked up a trip to the All-Star Game that year, the only appearance of his career.

1983 proved to be a stellar sophomore season for Hrbek, but it was in 1984 that he had the best of his career. In ’84 Hrbek finished the year with a career-high .311 average, 27 home runs, a career-high 174 hits and a career-high 107 RBI. Somehow Hrbek didn’t gain an invitation to the All-Star Game, not to mention he once again finished as the second fiddle when it came to the American League MVP vote. That year Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Willie Hernandez won the MVP as well as the Cy Young Awards outright. The Tigers ended up winning the World Series that year as well.

Hrbek started and finished his 14-year career right where he started, in his home state in front of the people who had cheered him on since his high school days. The most notable contribution Hrbek gave back to the Twins fins were the two World Series Championships they won in 1987 and 1991. One the first run Hrbek finished the season with a career-high 34 home runs, but his most memorable came during Game 6 when he hit a grand slam off of St. Louis Cardinals reliever Ken Dayley, which shifted the momentum in favor of Minnesota who would win the Series in seven games. In 1991 Hrbek’s bat isn’t what most remember from that World Series run, rather the now infamous first base clash he had with Atlanta Braves’ left fielder Ron Gant in Game 2. Here’s the play if you don’t remember. Hrbek was a hero in Minnesota and public enemy number one in Atlanta. The Twins would win the Series again in seven games thanks to great pitching from Jack Morris and clutch hitting from Kirby Puckett. Hrbek was one of seven Twins to be part of both World Series teams. The other six were Puckett, Randy Bush, Greg Gagne, Al Newman, Gene Larkin and Dan Gladden.

Frequently injured (though seldom seriously), Hrbek retired after the players strike in 1994, citing his nagging injury problems and desire to spend more time with his wife and daughter. Kent Hrbek's number 14 was retired by the Twins in 1995, becoming at the time only the fourth (along with Killebrew, Carew, and Tony Oliva) in franchise history. Hrbek was also inducted into the Minnesota Sports Hall of Fame in 1996. He was also one of few players then (which is even rarer today) who played out his entire career with only one team.

#28- It’s a rare quality for anyone to have a professional baseball career for more than seven years, but Bert Blyleven was able to hang onto a playing career for 22-strong. Born in the Netherlands, but raised in Garden Grove, California, his father moved the family to Melville, Saskatchewan, Canada when Blyleven was two years old, and then to Southern California when he was age 5. He became interested in baseball as a young boy watching Sandy Koufax pitch for the Los Angeles Dodgers and listening to Vin Scully and Jerry Doggett announce the Dodgers' radio broadcasts. Blyleven was quoted as saying, “My dad built me a mound in the backyard with a canvas backdrop over our horseshoe pits, and I would go back there and just throw and throw and throw until I developed it, and it became my curveball. And I could throw it over at any time, any count.” Blyleven starred on the Santiago High School baseball team, also running cross country to build up his stamina and leg strength. He was drafted straight out of high school by the Twins in the third round in 1969, where after only 21 minor league starts he found himself called up to the Majors at age 19 on June 2, 1970. In his first season, his sharp curveball helped him to ten victories and he was named AL Rookie Pitcher of the Year by The Sporting News.

For six-and-a-half years Blyleven was the ace the Twins needed; however, he was blamed by the fans for the team’s failures. Blyleven won at least 15 games every season from 1971-1975; unfortunately, he also lost at least 15 games every season from 1971-1974. What’s even more unusual is that Blyleven never posted an ERA above 3.00 from 1971 until the moment he was traded to the Texas Rangers in the middle of the 1976 season. In 1973 Blyleven went 20-17 with a 2.52 ERA, 258 strikeouts and nine shutouts. The wins, ERA, strikeouts and shutouts were all career bests, but they were only good enough to give Blyleven his first All-Star Game appearance, a seventh place finish for the AL Cy Young and a 26th place finish for the MVP. Yah, times were pretty crazy back in the 70s.

After Blyleven was traded to the Rangers in ’76. He pitched well with the Rangers, having a 2.76 ERA in his first season and throwing a no-hitter against the California Angels on September 22, 1977, just two weeks after being sidelined with a groin injury. His 2.74 career ERA with the Rangers remains the best in team history. He was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates the following year as part of a four-team trade which is way to long to list the ins and outs. In short, Blyleven won his first World Series ring with the Buccos in 1979 behind a 12-5 record and a 3.60 ERA in 37 games started. Once again, the 70s were crazy time. At the end of the 1980 season Blyleven was traded again to the Cleveland Indians where he would have a stellar third place finish for the Cy Young in 1984 and an equally as noble 1985 season where he was traded back to the Twins and still finished with his second, and final All-Star Game appearance and another third place Cy Young finish behind a league-leading 206 strikeouts, league-leading 24 complete games, league-leading five shutouts and a league-leading 293 2/3 innings pitched. If you’ll learn anything by the end of this post it’s that pitchers these days have it pretty easy.

Blyleven would play three more years with the Twins all the way until the end of the 1987 season where he would earn his second World Series ring. At the end of the 1988 season, his worst statistical season, he was granted free agency by the Twins and was almost immediately picked up by the Angels. In his first year in Anaheim Blyleven had a bounce-back season going 17-5 with a 2.73 ERA, a league-leading five shutouts and 131 strikeouts. Blyleven finished the season in 13th place for the AL MVP and fourth place for the Cy Young. Blyleven would play two more seasons with the Angels before hanging it up at the end of the 1992 season.

After his first year of eligibility in 1998, Blyleven was widely considered to be the best eligible pitcher not yet in the Baseball Hall of Fame. According to Matt Welch of Reason Magazine, "there had long been a strong case that the Dutch-born curveballista was the most deserving player on the outside of Cooperstown looking in." Still, it was not until his 14th year of eligibility in 2011 that he was elected, with 79.7% of the vote. He currently ranks 5th all-time in Strikeouts, 9th all-time in Shutouts, and 27th all-time in Wins. At the time of his election he was the only eligible member of the 3000 strikeout club, and the only person with 50 or more shutouts, not in the Hall of Fame.

Blyleven received only 17.55% of the vote for Hall of Fame admission in 1998 (first year of eligibility), and his vote total dropped to 14.1% the following year. No player who had debuted on the ballot since 1970 had a vote total that low and later won election to the Hall. However, columnist Jayson Stark stated that "no player has ever — and again, that word is 'ever' — had his Hall of Fame candidacy helped more by the sabermetrics boom than Blyleven." Specifically, according to Welch, "the president and chief investment officer of Lederer & Associates Investment Counsel in Long Beach, California, a guy by the name of Rich Lederer, began spending some of his off-hours writing analysis on the Interwebs about Blyleven's overlooked case." Blyleven was finally inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2011 after receiving 79.7% of the vote on his 14th attempt. "It’s been 14 years of praying and waiting,” he said. "I thank the baseball writers of America for; I’m going to say, finally getting it right." Blyleven was the first Dutch-born player inducted, and his Hall of Fame plaque depicts him with a Twins cap.

In 1996, Blyleven became a color commentator for the Twins. Blyleven's commentary is occasionally risqué for a baseball broadcast, but provides interesting and friendly conversation between him and play-by-play announcer Dick Bremer. One of his trademarks is circling fans with the telestrator on screen. Fans, both at home and at road games, carry signs to the games saying "Circle me Bert." This has led to a fundraising campaign with the Parkinson's Foundation and a sponsorship with the Minnesota Lottery.

8/1/86: This is one of the more fascinating days in Twins history for a number of reasons. The Twins were at home hosting my beloved Oakland Athletics as the Twins were holding their 25th Anniversary celebration. That’s one reason. Blyleven was on the mound with 2,992 strikeouts under his belt, facing one of the better power hitting teams of that 1980s. In front of a crowd of a little more than 14,000 people Blyleven struck out Mike Davis for his 3,000 career strikeout and still had time to drop seven more batters on his way to a career-high 15 strikeouts in one game. Not to mention, Blyleven also got the complete game. Now, what would a game be without a little bit of offense? In order of his five at-bats Puckett hit a triple in his first, flew out in his second, hit a ground rule double in his third, a single in his fourth and a home run in his final at-bat to become the seventh player in Twins history to hit for the cycle.

What’s even crazier about this date, August 1st, is that it also marks another unusual time in Minnesota history. In 2007 the I-35W Mississippi River Bridge in Minneapolis. Due to how many people were at the game the Twins elected to play the game that night against the Kansas City Royals, but postponed the game the following night. What I wouldn’t find out until six years later is that my girlfriend, Angie, was in Minneapolis, visiting friends from Wisconsin, and happened to still be in town for when the Twins played the Indians two days later.