Jason Kendall

Jason Kendall was a really, really good player


Jason Kendall’s offense turned into a punchline during the second half of his career, when he could occasionally go weeks at a time without collecting out an extra-base hit. Unfortunately, that obscures the fact that he was an excellent player, one of the best in the National League, for a time before a thumb injury sapped his power.

In his first five seasons, Kendall hit .314/.402/.456 with 45 homers, 265 RBI and 93 steals in 2,294 at-bats for the Pirates. That’s good for an .858 OPS, which is third all-time among players to catch at least 500 games in their first five seasons:

.947 – Mike Piazza (1992-96, Los Angeles Dodgers)
.880 – Roy Campanella (1948-52, Brooklyn)
.858 – Jason Kendall (1996-2000, Pittsburgh)
.858 – Mickey Cochrane (1925-29, Philadelphia A’s)
.853 – Brian McCann (2005-09, Atlanta)
.803 – Chief Meyers (1909-13, New York Giants)
.799 – Johnny Bench (1967-71, Cincinnati)
.773 – Rick Farrell (1929-33, St. Louis Browns)
.763 – Thurman Munson (1969-73, New York Yankees)
.761 – Russell Martin (2006-10, Los Angeles Dodgers)

Basically, Kendall was a more durable Joe Mauer initially. Mauer didn’t make the 500-game cutoff above (he would have been fifth if he had), but he basically had the same line as Kendall while playing 100 fewer games:

.314/.403/.456, 45 HR for Kendall
.317/.399/.457, 44 HR for Mauer

Of course, Kendall had just two more good offensive seasons in his career after age 26. He hit .325/.399/.416 and .319/.399/.390 in his last two years with the Pirates in 2003 and ’04. Following his trade to Oakland, he was a liability offensively the rest of his career, hitting .260/.333/.318 with eight homers in 3,021 at-bats.

Still, for as little as Kendall contributed offensively, his teams kept playing him because pitchers enjoyed working with him. There are few players in the game’s history who wanted to win as much as Kendall did. That his best years were largely wasted in Pittsburgh was a shame.

Kendall retired Tuesday fifth in major league history with 2,025 games caught. His overall .288/.366/.378 line is still plenty good for a catcher. Among those who played at least 80 percent of their games at catcher, only Ivan Rodriguez (2,844) and Carlton Fisk (2,356) finished with more hits than Kendall’s 2,195. He tops that list with 189 career steals, and he’s seventh with 1,030 runs scored despite largely playing for poor offenses. His .366 OBP ranks 10th among catchers with at least 3,000 plate appearances, and Kendall had about 1,000 more plate appearances than anyone else in the top 25.

It seems an odd thing to write about a guy who played 15 years, but Kendall had a possible Hall of Fame-career ruined by injuries. For five years, he was on that path, and while he took quite a detour afterwards, he continued to find work for another 10 years. Even now, it’s likely that he’d be some team’s backup catcher if his body was sound. He’d be hitting .240 and rarely getting a ball out of the infield, but some team would want his leadership and trademark competitive streak on the bench.

Mark McGwire to become the Padres bench coach

Los Angeles Dodgers batting coach Mark McGwire roams the field during practice for the National League baseball championship series Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013, in St. Louis. The Dodgers are scheduled to play the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 1 of the NLCS on Friday in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
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The other day Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune reported that the Padres were in discussions with former Dodgers hitting coach Mark McGwire about their bench coach job. Today Jon Heyman reports that the deal is done and will soon be announced.

McGwire has been the hitting coach for Los Angeles for the past three seasons. When his contract was not renewed following the end of 2015 he was rumored to be up for the Diamondbacks’ hitting coach job. He likely view staying in Southern California to be a plus, as he makes his home in Irvine, which is around 90 miles from Petco Park. That’s a long commute, but Mac can afford the gas, I guess.

How to talk to your family about the designated hitter at Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Dinner

While political topics are normally the subject of awkward conversation at the Thanksgiving dinner table, hardcore baseball fans know that it can be just as awkward to talk about the game with relatives.

They don’t know baseball as well as you do — not by a long shot — but for some reason everyone thinks they have the God-given right not only to offer their baseball opinions but to demand acknowledgement that those opinions are correct. Baseball may be dying, you guys, but it’s vestigial status as our National Pastime makes everyone think they’re an expert by simple virtue of being an American. It’s maddening.

I can’t tell you how to keep your family away from sensitive topics, but here are brief answers to some frequently asked questions about the state of the game, and how you can defuse combustible conversations:

Will the National League adopt the designated hitter?

Despite the fact that the DH has been around four 43 seasons, your relatives — even those far younger than 43 — will loudly proclaim it to be a new-fangled abomination as they pass the sweet potatoes. While the best way to avoid conflict here is to say something like “I think the differences between the leagues are special and should be preserved” and try to quickly move on to something else, we don’t progress as a civilization by indulging foolishness in the name of peace. Tell your relatives that pitchers batting is dumb and that the DH should be universal. And then tell them to get their own sweet potatoes. You’re trying to eat here for cryin’ out loud.

Where will the big free agents go? Don’t the Yankees spend all of their big money and buy championships anyway?

My god, your uncle/cousin/sister’s boyfriend who probably shouldn’t be piping up about ANYTHING right now given that none of you really like him and it’s not going to last anyway is out of touch when it comes to such things. Tell them that the Yankees haven’t won jack since the first year of Obama’s first term and that even when they were winning the World Series all the time they did so on the back of homegrown talent, savvily-developed. Indeed, they STOPPED winning championships once they went huge on free agency and jacked up payroll and, despite the fact that they still owe a lot of old guys money, they are back to developing talent again and are way less likely to spend stupid money in free agency than they used to be. Careful here, though: people have strong feelings about the Yankees regardless of their ignorance and will likely fight back on this point. Maybe it’s safer just to discuss Obama. Here’s an idea to that end: how — as your drunk uncle claims — can Obama simultaneously be the least effective president ever AND a total dictator? Maybe Obama is one of those two things, but my drunk uncle has never given me a satisfactory answer to how he can be both.

Why doesn’t baseball have a salary cap? The players make too much money.

The idea of a salary cap in baseball is dead. Deader than vaudeville. It blew up the game in 1994-95, and the owners blinked rather than try it again in 2002.  Since then the money has been flowing, competitive balance has been better than most people will admit, and the owners seem to have very little desire to fight that fight again.  It’s not going to happen. Yet, for some reason — likely the Football Industrial Complex’s propaganda machine — every sports dilettante thinks that baseball not only needs a salary cap but that it’s actually something that could happen, even though it isn’t.

Here some ju-jitsu is in order. Rather than bog things down with facts which show that there is no need for a salary cap, turn the question around on them and ask them when the billionaires who own baseball teams will accept a cap on how much they should earn for their “labor.” When they spout off about how owners built the business themselves and are entitled to whatever they can get, ask them which of the current owners, who form a veritable Who’s-Who of Paper Movers, Genetic Lottery Winners and Men Who Were Born on Third Base Yet Think They Hit a Triple, built a dang thing. Peter Angelos, maybe. Just don’t tell them that he’s a rich plaintiff’s lawyer who had the union’s back during the 1994-95 strike.

What’s wrong with young players today? Why don’t they act professionally and respect the game? 

By this time your uncle may be so drunk on the Beaujolais Nouveau that he may actually slip and say “Latin players” instead of “young players,” and that’s assuming he’s polite enough to use words like “Latin” to refer to people from the Caribbean, Central and South America. If so, skip the lecture about how arguments regarding baseball decorum and “playing the game the right way” are really just proxies for cultural anxiety and creeping xenophobia and go directly to the inevitable conversation about immigration, refugees and Donald Trump. It’ll save you time and make everyone angrier way, way faster. And this is a wonderful thing.

Or, at least it is for me. I’m hosting Thanksgiving this year and the quicker people get to open warfare the quicker I can kick everyone out, bringing some peace and quiet back to my house. Plus: more pie for me.


(with both thanks and apologies to Brendan Nyhan of the New York Times)

Jerry Dipoto refutes the notion that Robinson Cano is unhappy

Robinson Cano

Yesterday John Harper of the Daily News reported that, according to a friend of Robinson Cano‘s, Cano is unhappy in Seattle and would like to go back to New York. Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto responded to that report, saying that it’s totally false based on his conversations with Cano and his agent:

“[Cano’s agent] reached out to let me know that did not come from Robbie and that’s not at all reflective of how he felt,” said Dipoto, who replaced former GM Jack Zduriencik two months ago. “Shortly after the season ended, I sat down with Robinson in my office for two hours and we had a great talk and I think we left with a very clear understanding of who one another might be.

There are official lines and things one says to one’s friends. Then again, there are also friends who know things and “friends” who assume things thought by others and then talk to newspapers about it too. Where all of this falls on the truth/knowledge spectrum is something none of us can ever know.

What can be known for sure is that (a) Cano had a rough season from both a health and baseball perspective; (b) Cano is a professional who knows that there is zero upside to communicating displeasure with one’s current team to the press, either directly or through surrogates; and (c) when one is productive and one’s team is winning, one feels very differently about life than if one is not productive and not winning.

In short: there could very well be truth from both sides of this little happening.

Mariners looking to trade Mark Trumbo

Mark Trumbo

Seattle acquired Mark Trumbo from Arizona in June, but that was the Mariners’ old front office regime and new general manager Jerry Dipoto is remaking the roster. And he already traded away Trumbo once, back when he was the Angels’ general manager.

Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com reports that “several rival executives said they expect” the Mariners to trade Trumbo, who is due to make around $9 million in 2016 via arbitration before becoming a free agent next offseason.

Trumbo has huge power, but he swings at everything and is a negative defensively as a corner outfielder/first baseman. He’s a career .250 hitter with a lowly .299 on-base percentage and modest .758 OPS thanks to averaging 160 strikeouts and 40 walks per 160 games.

It’s hard to imagine any team giving up a quality prospect for the right to pay $9 million for one season of Trumbo, but if Dipoto simply wants to be rid of the low-OBP slugger it might not take much to make a deal happen.