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MLB History

In a very round about way (starting with the tragic news of the passing of Tony Phillips), I learned something today about a player from my favorite era of baseball–the days when I actually collected cards, played Strat-o-Matic, and didn’t worry so much about things like mortgages, paying taxes, or who the next President was going to be.

For some inexplicable reason, the Oakland A’s of the late 80’s were one of my favorite teams–never over my hometown Twins, but…well, the years between the two World Series victories, the Twins weren’t all that much to get excited about. One player who played a small, but somewhat significant, role for those A’s team was catcher Ron Hassey, who was basically the personal catcher of Bob Welch.

Turns out, Hassey has a little known fact for his career that makes him unique from all other players in the history of MLB–he is the only player to catch two perfect games.

His first came in 1981, catching a perfect game from Cleveland’s Len Barker, the highlight in a season that saw Cleveland finish in second to last place (despite being above .500–they finished 52-51 in the strike shortened season). Cleveland beat the Toronto Blue Jays 3-0.

His second perfect game came 10 years later, in 1991, while playing for the Montreal Expos. The starter in that game was Denny Martinez.

Also playing in that game (for the Los Angeles Dodgers) was Alfredo Griffin–the third perfect game he played in, all for the losing team. Griffin had played for the Blue Jays in 1981 against Barker, and Griffin and the Dodgers had also been beaten by Tom Browning in a perfect game in 1988. This stat was unique in MLB until 2012, when Tampa Bay Rays teammates Evan Longoria, Carlos Peña, B. J. Upton and Ben Zobrist were defeated in their third perfect game loss in 4 years.

It was 1979 … my uncle was taking me to my first Twins game. It was also the first time I truly found a favorite player. The bad thing for my uncle is that his name was Eddie Murray. Murray went 3-5 with three homers and drove in seven RBI that day.

In 1983, my uncle promised to take me to a bunch of games because the previous year I’d broken my leg and wasn’t able to play or go to a single game. We ended up going to one game and then, for the rest of the games, he just paid for me to go on the bus. Why? Because we went to see the Baltimore Orioles and I was able to see Eddie Murray again. He was coming off of a monster year in 82, and sure enough he jacked another. I was just in heaven. All I could talk about was Eddie Murray. My friends were into Mike Schmidt, George Brett, Robin Yount, and Kent Hrbek. For me, it was Eddie Murray, George Foster, and Lance Parrish – but mostly Eddie Murray.

In 1985 I begged to get to go to the All-Star game, but my uncle said there was no way we were paying $45 for tickets to a baseball game.

I was pretty young, so I expected to get to go to another All-Star Game at some point. Side note… the game is here in Minnesota in 2014, and the average price is $450 for a ticket. Ugh.

I did get to go to a couple of games in 85 though. I saw the Brewers, the Red Sox, and I was able to see the Orioles again. Ken Schrom was pitching yet again for the Twins and Murray hit a Grand Slam. Continue reading

When I first saw Evan Longoria play it was a defensive move at third base that reminded me a little of Carney Lansford, the old A’s and Red Sox 3rd baseman, and a little of Scott Rolen. He’s not quite that good defensively in my opinion, but he’s far above average, and, at 28, he’s still relatively young — just in the middle of his prime. His bat is much more like Eddie Matthews or Mike Schmidt at the hot corner however. Longoria has prodigious power required of any man that wears number 3 on his back.

Evan became a YouTube sensation after this video went viral a few years ago. For non-baseball fans that’s cool, but it was a commercial for Gillette as proved by Snopes. What makes him a favorite of mine goes deeper than just the numbers, or the glam video. For years Evan has been the most valuable player, when measured by salary, in all of baseball, thanks to his long-term, team friendly contract. His was the long-term contract that changed the way that all teams handle young players now. His dollar signs were far smaller than they are now, but his production per dollar set the new standard. Continue reading

I get asked if I ever get tired of savaging the things and players I don’t like in baseball the other day. The answer is no. It’s the perfect game, and I think we should all strive for perfection while never being satisfied with status quo. After my wife shook her head at me for my answer she asked me a question that made me smile. “Do you have any players you love like you did when you were a kid?”

The answer is actually yes. Three players that are currently playing are my “favorites.” I am going to dedicate a blog to each of them. If I’m too sappy please understand it’s the yin to my yang for the passion I feel for the game of baseball.

The three blogs will be on two-time former NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum of the Giants, Evan Longoria of the Tampa Bay Rays, and former AL MVP Justin Morneau of the Colorado Rockies which is where I am starting because he is by far and away my favorite player since Don Mattingly and Dwight Gooden.

I’m a baseball card collector (though I’ve taken a 10-year break while raising my children and having little disposable income to invest) and that is where I first found out about Justin Morneau. His Bowman rookie card boasted my second favorite prospect analysis I’ve ever read (behind a card on Alex Rodriguez). It stated something to the effect of: “think Larry Walker with less speed, but with a lot more power…” As a Twins fan who has now endured three sessions of absolutely pathetic baseball (two then), 1978-86, 1993-01, and the current stretch that started in 2011 and likely will last until Terry Ryan resigns. Continue reading

America has always been a strange dichotomy of mixed messages.

Our fascination, love, fear and disdain of sorts with Cubans has long permeated the American way of life. The Cuban mystique was started by Hollywood, mobsters, musicians and all of the above in Frank Sinatra and so many other influential Americans who spent much of their free time in haciendas and casinos in Havana enjoying the famous and now illegal Cuban cigars.

The Cuban Missile Crisis and the Bay of Pigs Invasion are parts of our American fabric. Baby Boomer fear mongering may have been born with it.

We see our hopes and fears and triumph with Elian Gonzalez and other refugees traveling through shark-filled, dangerous waters to get to the freedom that we here in the U.S.A. often take for granted. America’s Past Time is an excellent example of this dichotomy. We were taught to fear and hate him, but there are stories of Fidel Castro himself once being a pitching prospect looked at by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Continue reading

Ray, people will come Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only $20 per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.

Field of Dreams - Dyersville, Iowa

Field of Dreams - Dyersville, Iowa

More than a year after it was put on the market, the famous Field of Dreams set location from the 1989 movie was sold to an investment group call Go The Distance LLC.  They won’t be moving into the house–rather they plan to develop the 193-acre lot into a baseball/softball training and tournament complex, including a dome for indoor training.

The famous cornfields are visited by an estimated 65,000 visitors per year–including, in 2009, by the proprietors of this site. The field itself wasn’t actually all that impressive–but the ambiance was definitely impressive, and I could easily see charities and companies wanting to hold tournaments there.

Youth leagues, though, I’m not sold on yet–and having a training facility in a town of 4,000 in rural Iowa seems like a stretch.

I hope they can make something of it–but at the same time, even more importantly, I hope they don’t ruin the feel of the actual field that made the site famous in the first place.

The Florida Marlins got beat by Roy Halladay and the Philadelphia Phillies on Saturday night. Not just beat, either–Halladay threw the 20th perfect game in Major League Baseball history, and the second already this season.

Of course, since the game was in Florida, there were only just over 25,000 fans in attendance for the game–about 8,000 more than for an average Marlins home game.

So what to do with the other 13,000+ tickets that weren’t sold (and probably were never even printed)?

Well, if you’re the money grubbing Marlins, there’s only one logical solution–sell them. At face value.

That’s right, for between (based on published ticket prices) $12 and $300+, you to can claim that you were there to witness history.

Or turn around and try to resell the ticket on eBay–try to get a Halladay autograph, package it with a Halladay trading card, make a nice little plaque, and turn yourself a nice little profit.

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As an occasional collector of sports memorabilia, this seems…just dirty to me. As a fan, had I attended the game, I could see keeping that ticket stub, and making some sort of collectible. And I could see a truly passionate fan (of Halladay or the Phillies) buying some sort of memento. But in either case, having a ticket that was actually used would mean 100x more than having something printed after the fact.

What’s next, just print up an extra 50,000 tickets with May 29, 2010 on them, and sell them in the fan shop?  Maybe Commemorative Replica Tickets?

It would be slightly more palatable if the Marlins printed something extra on the ticket, indicating it was not used on game day–but the story makes no indication of that, and I doubt it would happen.

Which means, once again, the Marlins have found a way to sully MLB tradition, and the way the game should be conducted, in my eyes.

[Note: It’s possible this is a regular thing with many teams in MLB, and I’ve just not heard of it before–if that’s the case, just add it to the list of reasons for why I don’t think MLB will ever reclaim the #1 spot in my heart for sports, even if the NFL does manage to screw things up by having a lockout/strike in the coming year.]

On August 6, 1979, Bobby Murcer hit a three-run home run in the seventh inning and then singled home Bucky Dent and Willie Randolph in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the New York Yankees a come-from-behind win over the Baltimore Orioles.

A week before the game there appeared little to make this ABC Monday Night Baseball a special match up. The Orioles would go on to win 102 games and play in the World Series while the Yankees were playing out the stretch on a fourth place season.

Then, on August 2, Thurmon Munson was killed while practicing takeoffs and landings at the Akron Canton Airport.

Flags flew at half-mast at Yankee Stadium during the Thurmon Munson Tribute game, shown this afternoon on ESPN Classic, 30 years to the day after Munson died.

I’m not a Yankees fan by any stretch but it’s hard not to appreciate the team’s history. And a big part of that history during the 1970s was Munson.

Broadcasting legend Howard Cosell said late in that broadcast that “If integrity and decency and honor matter Thurmon Munson represented all of them.”

Cosell’s partner, Keith Jackson – always more concise than his words – described Munson simply as “a gamer.”

Munson’s number 15 was immediately retired by George Steinbrenner and his locker – transported to the Yankee museum in the new ballpark this year – was never used again.

But his teammates provided probably the greatest tribute a group of teammates could provide for a fallen team leader. They fought and clawed to win in dramatic fashion a game in which they fell behind 4-0.

The powerful Orioles bunch had won 62 of the last 63 games they had led heading into the ninth inning. But Murcer, one of Munson’s two closest friends on the team (with Lou Piniella, according to media reports) provided the winning hit.

It’s been 30 years to the day since Munson died. He is not in the Hall of Fame and at this point it’s likely he won’t end up there. But he’s got ballparks and sports bars named after him in Canton, Ohio and a legacy in New York proven by a series of stories the New York Post published five years ago.

He clearly left a mark.