Archive for January 31st, 2011

January 31 is a red letter day in baseball history. Not only is it the birthdate of three Hall Famers, but the three figures (Ernie Banks, Jackie Robinson and Nolan Ryan) are among the most legendary in the game.

Cooperstown Trifectas: Birthdates Shared by Three Hall of Famers

January 31 Nolan Ryan Jackie Robinson Ernie Banks
April 2 Luke Appling Hughie Jennings Don Sutton
April 6 Bert Blyleven Mickey Cochrane Ernie Lombardi
May 14 Tony Perez Ed Walsh Earle Combs
August 22 Paul Molitor Ned Hanlon Carl Yastrzemski
September 9 Waite Hoyt Frankie Frisch Frank Chance
October 3 Fred Clarke Dennis Eckersley Dave Winfield
December 25 Rickey Henderson Pud Galvin Nellie Fox

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Robinson would have been 92, and Ryan turns 64, but the focus of this post is Banks, who reaches the milestone of 80 years on his birthday today.  

Despite all of his exploits on the field, Banks is perhaps best known for a famous catch phrase. Always an eternal optimist with an unbridled passion for playing the game, Banks would often try to lift the spirits of his teammates with three famous words of encouragement: “Let’s play two”.

We got the setting – sunshine, fresh air, the team behind us. So let’s play two”Ernie Banks, excerpted from his Hall of Fame induction speech, August 8, 1977

As it turns out, Banks was sort of an expert on the subject, having played in 665 doubleheader games. In fact, over 25% of his career at bats were taken during a doubleheader, and almost incomprehensible figure by today’s standards. Unfortunately, although Banks may have enjoyed playing in doubleheaders, his performance in them didn’t deviate much from the norm. Apparently, not even Mr. Cub’s enthusiasm could overcome a reversion to the mean.

Ernie Banks Performance in Doubleheaders

1953 2 7 0 0 0 0.143 0.250 0.143 0.393
1954 60 229 7 34 29 0.306 0.343 0.467 0.810
1955 44 170 15 32 31 0.324 0.364 0.659 1.023
1956 57 213 11 24 36 0.291 0.366 0.535 0.901
1957 60 217 18 36 43 0.272 0.360 0.562 0.922
1958 40 157 7 24 28 0.287 0.349 0.497 0.845
1959 28 111 5 17 9 0.189 0.268 0.351 0.620
1960 38 142 7 23 19 0.254 0.341 0.479 0.820
1961 36 136 6 16 21 0.287 0.358 0.478 0.836
1962 36 138 10 26 22 0.304 0.342 0.609 0.951
1963 31 98 4 17 10 0.235 0.284 0.398 0.682
1964 37 135 7 22 15 0.311 0.354 0.556 0.910
1965 41 143 9 27 24 0.252 0.337 0.503 0.841
1966 35 126 1 14 7 0.198 0.226 0.270 0.495
1967 40 146 10 30 24 0.288 0.327 0.548 0.875
1968 33 119 8 30 18 0.311 0.357 0.571 0.928
1969 29 101 3 22 8 0.307 0.377 0.436 0.813
1970 12 32 2 5 3 0.281 0.303 0.500 0.803
1971 6 14 1 4 1 0.214 0.214 0.429 0.643
Total 665 2434 131 403 348 0.279 0.337 0.503 0.840
Career 2528 9421 512 1636 1305 0.274 0.330 0.500 0.830

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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One of the first lessons learned by a journalist is to never bury the lead. In his latest SweetSpot blog post about Bo Jackson, longtime ESPN.com analyst and godfather to a generation of baseball bloggers did just that (and so have I).

The real news in Neyer’s post was the announcement that he is leaving the worldwide leader. Although no details were given, the circumstances seem to suggest that it was ESPN who decided to sever the relationship. Then again, maybe Neyer’s departure, which coincides with the final day of Rob Iracane’s www.walkoffwalk, foreshadows a future collaboration between the two? Regardless of the reason for the split, Neyer’s voice isn’t likely to remain silent for long.

Once upon a time, Neyer’s writing was like a voice in the wilderness. At a time when the internet was viewed as a second class medium, he brought forth a fresh perspective and carved out a niche that would evolve into the myriad of blogs that exist all over the web today. Sports journalism had long been home to features, game stories, editorials and rumor mills, but Neyer became the first person to regularly engage in analytics. Long before OPS became a household word and sabermetrics began to make a foothold in the mainstream, Neyer was writing about these emerging concepts (often while thinking aloud).  Although not a statistician, his open mindedness allowed him to uncover not only a whole new way of thinking, but a whole new group of talented thinkers. All around the internet today are successful bloggers who essentially got their start because Neyer was willing to have an online dialogue about their new ideas and fresh perspective. He probably never thought of himself as a trailblazer, nor endeavored to be one, but his writing did lead the way for many.

As mentioned, Neyer is likely to resurface quickly. Therefore, there really is no need to eulogize his career. So, while we wait for Neyer’s future work, why not take a look back? Fortunately, besides blogs, one of the wonders of the internet is its ability to crack the code of time travel.  Thanks to the wayback machine, vintage Neyer (here and here) is still accessible, so sit back and enjoy the past, and then marvel at how far sports on the internet has come. 

A screenprint from a January 29, 1998 Neyer article on ESPNet.SportsZone.com.

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Yankees’ CF Curtis Granderson recently returned from a goodwill tour of New Zealand, where he not only experienced the unique culture of the island nation, but also served as an ambassador to the country’s fledgling baseball community. Naturally, Granderson’s activities were mostly ignored by the New York tabloids. Wallace Mathews of ESPNNewYork did briefly cover the trip in a blog post, but only to drum up controversy by linking to video of the centerfielder riding on the backseat of a motorcycle.

Granderson tries his hand at Rugby during a visit with the Aukland Blues (Getty Images).

Fortunately, in this age of social media, fans were able to tag along on Granderson’s trip by following his travels on youtube, twitter, Yankees.com and his charitable organization’s website (grandkidsfoundation.org). In addition to the aforementioned motorcycle tour, Granderson also embarked on other cultural adventures (including meeting Prime Minister John Key, whose son plays baseball), but mostly focused on the country’s athletic scene, including visits with professional basketball, cricket and rugby teams.

Baseball was the main reason for Granderson’s visit, which coincided with the IBAF under-16 championship trials for the Oceania region. In addition to presiding at numerous camps and clinics for young baseball players from New Zealand and other countries participating in the tournament, Granderson also served as a visiting dignitary promoting interest in a game that has slowly been making inroads on the island. The trip was the center fielder’s fourth as part of Major League Baseball’s International Ambassador program. His previous visits included Europe (England, the Netherlands and Italy), South Africa and China.

Not only is baseball’s popularity at on all-time high in the United States, but the level of interest and participation abroad has been exploding. The number of foreign born players in the majors is the most obvious evidence, but the growing number of countries eager to host MLB’s ambassador visits is even more encouraging. The popularity of the World Baseball Classic has been an offshoot of this global expansion, and perhaps also a driver, but for whatever reason, interest in baseball seems to be spreading beyond the traditional strongholds of Asia and the Americas.

Granderson’s dedication to the Ambassador program is laudable because a major leaguer’s offseason seems to grow shorter each year. From the Yankees perspective, the fact that his latest visit involved him wearing the interlocking NY logo is an added bonus. As the game of baseball expands its frontiers, it is in the Yankees’ best interest to have their brand on the forefront, and trips like Granderson’s help to do just that. After all, despite previously being unknown in the country, Granderson’s travels were widely covered by the New Zealand Herald, which compared his stature to Tiger Woods, David Beckham and Roger Federer, because of the power and presence of the Yankee name.

The Yankees, with their crossed over NY symbol and their pinstriped pyjamas, are the most recognisable sporting brand on the planet. Granderson, the starting centre fielder with an unrivalled skill set, is a star of the present and future.” – New Zealand Herald, January 28, 2011

Granderson’s goodwill trip was a success for the Yankees and Major League Baseball, but no one fared better than New Zealand baseball. Not only did the country’s amateur players receive tutelage and encouragement from a major league superstar, but its under-16 squad upset a heavily favored team from Guam to advance to the August world championship in Mexico. The next step for the country will be to have one of its own become a big leaguer. Toronto Blue Jays’ minor leaguer Scott Campbell, who hails from Aukland, is currently the best hope, but even if he doesn’t make it, sooner or later someone will. Trips like Granderson’s can only help in that regard.

Members of the New Zealand under-16 national team (Photo: New Zealand Herald).

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