Jose Abreu and amazing home run starts

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So to play off something that our own Aaron Gleeman wrote earlier here, there have been seven players in baseball history who have hit 15 home runs in their first 50 major league games. Chicago’s Jose Abreu will likely become the eighth — he has 14 home runs already in just 40 games.

The seven players so far are:

1. Wally Berger, 18
2. Wally Joyner, 17
3. Albert Pujols, 16
(tie) Mark McGwire, 16
(tie) Zeke Bonura, 16
6. Kevin Maas, 15
7. Ryan Braun, 15

It is fun to note that there are two guys named Wally on the top of the list … there have been five guys named Wally who have played in an All-Star Game; Berger and Joyner are two of them. The other three are Wally Moon, Wally Moses and Wally Westlake — all three  fantastic names. Wally Post cerainly should have been an All-Star in 1955 or 1956 but he was not. Wally Backman was a pretty good player. Wally Pipp was jobbed by history; he was a very good player who twice led the league in homers and once in triples but is remembered only as the guy Lou Gehrig replaced.

Anyway, of those seven who got off to such amazing home run starts, one is an all-time great (Albert Pujols), one was, for better or worse, the most prolific home run hitter in the game’s history (Mark McGwire) and one is a superstar who led the league in home runs in 2012 and now gets booed a lot (Ryan Braun).

The other four are  interesting.

Wally Berger was a very good player who has probably been overlooked by history. Here’s a great little piece of trivia that you can use wherever you might use great little piece of baseball trivia: Wally Berger is the only starter from the 1934 All-Star game who is NOT in the Hall of Fame. Here’s a list of those All-Stars with their Wins Above Replacement (WAR) and their Wins Above Average (WAA). I have a post coming up that talks about the difference.

Babe Ruth (163 WAR, 125.8 WAA)
Lou Gehrig (112.4 WAR, 78.5 WAA)
Jimmie Foxx (96.4 WAR, 62.9 WAA)
Charlie Gehringer (80.6 WAR, 45.4 WAA)
Frankie Frisch (70.4 WAR, 39.1 WAA)
Carl Hubbell (67.8 WAR, 38.7 WAA)
Joe Cronin (66.4 WAR, 35.9 WAA)
Al Simmons (68.7 WAR, 34.8 WAA)
Bill Terry (54.2 WAR, 31.8 WAA)
Bill Dickey (55.8 WAR, 31.6 WAA)
Gabby Hartnett (53.4 WAR, 29.6 WAA)
Joe Medwick (55.5 WAR, 28.1 WAA)
**Wally Berger (42.1 WAR, 23.5 WAA)**
Travis Jackson (44.0 WAR, 22.7 WAA)
Kiki Cuyler (46.7 WAR, 21.2 WAA)
Lefty Gomez (43.1 WAR, 19.7 WAA)
Heine Manush (45.8 WAR, 15.5 WAA)
Pie Traynor (36.2 WAR, 10.2 WAA)

Point is, if you were going to leave one starter from that game out of the Hall of Fame, it probably should not have been Berger. Bill James talked about three similar contemporary center fielders: Berger, Hack Wilson and Earl Averill. He thinks Berger was the best player. The other two, though, are in the Hall of Fame.

Berger is not in the Hall of Fame because his career ended abruptly. Up to age 30, he was a career .305 hitter with a .533 slugging percentage, he had led the league in home runs and he set a rookie home run record (38) that lasted for more than a half century until it was finally broken by another guy on this list, Mark McGwire. But Berger hurt his shoulder and was traded to the Giants in 1937, it was not a good fit, he only got three at-bats in the World Series and was shipped to Cincinnati less than a year later. He never played a full season after that, and he retired at 34 and joined the Navy.

Wally Joyner was a legitimate phenomenon — in 1986 he was called Wally World after the theme park in National Lampoon’s Vacation. Nobody had expected that kind of power from him. He seemed more a doubles kind of guy. He had hit 12 home runs as a 22-year old in Waterbury, and he 12 home runs as a 23-year-old in Edmonton. He hit his first home run off of Mark Langston … that was in his second career game. A week later, he hit one off Milt Wilcox. He had six home runs through his first 23 games, which was mildly surprising.

But then he got hot. He hit homers on back-to-back days at Milwaukee. Afteout a week later, he homered against Milwaukee again and the next day he had his first two-homer game, hitting both off of Boston’s Al Nipper. He homered again the next day and, after a homerless day, had ANOTHER two-homer game, this time in Detroit.

Man everybody was excited about Wally Joyner. Everybody talked about what a nice guy he was, what a magical story he was. Of course, he was not really a home run hitter, and so the home run thing could not last. It did not. Joyner hit 19 home runs in his first 61 games. He hit three in the 93 games that followed.

The next year, Wally World did hit what would be a career high 34 home runs … but that next year was 1987, when baseballs flew like lightning bugs, and once things settled down Joyner settled into the kind of player everyone kind of thought he would be — a pretty good average, double-digit homers kind of guy. He played all through the Selig Power Hour Decade but only once managed even 20 homers in a season in the 1990s and he never hit 25.

Zeke Bonura played for the Chicago White Sox in the 1930s — he was a very likeable character like Wally Joyner. His actual name was Henry, but they called him Zeke because a sportswriter once commented about him, “What a physique” and “physique” was just shortened to “Zeke.” He was 6-foot, about 210 pounds and was a a football player at Loyola in New Orleans. He hit two home runs in his second game and had back-to-back two-homer games in May. In all, he hit 27 homers as a rookie which was a White Sox record for about a half century, until Ron Kittle broke it.

Any time you can mention Ron Kittle, you should.

Bonura hit 21 homers in his second year, had 138 RBIs in his third and was a very good hitter until age 30, not quite as successful but similar to Wally Berger. He was among the first major leaguers to enlist for World War II and never played in the big leagues after 1940 — his career was short but his .307/.380/.487 lifetime slash numbers are awfully good.

Finally there’s Kevin Maas — if you are a Yankees fan over a certain age, you probably feel a certain lump in your throat when you hear the name Kevin Maas. He came up in June of 1990 with almost no fanfare at all. He had been a 22nd round pick, better known for his academics (he was an engineering major at Berkeley) than his baseball. He’d hit a few home runs in a mostly uninteresting four years in the minors. He came up in the middle of the worst Yankees season since they were named the New York Yankees.

And he mashed home runs. He hit his first on the fourth of July … it was that kind of story. He banged two home runs 10 days later againt the White Sox. In Texas, he hit homers on three consecutive days and a few days later he hit three more homers in a series against Detroit. He reached 10 home runs faster than any player in baseball history.

Maas had a beautiful swing, classic, left-handed, like The Natural. If he had come up in any other year, for any other team, it would have been a cool story. But in New York, in the middle of an otherwise lost season, Maas became this phenomenon. Yankees fans — and there are so many Yankees fans all over America — pinned so many hopes on him. “I’m not going to try to be the next Babe Ruth,” Maas pleaded but the next Babe Ruth was exactly how many people saw him, how many people HAD to see him. After hitting 21 homers in 79 games as a rookie and finishing second to Sandy Alomar in the Rookie of the Year award, he hit just .220 in his one full season in the big leagues in 1991 and then faded away.

What does this suggest about Abreu. Who knows? None of the previous home run heros were 27-year-old players who had already established themselves as superstars in Cuba. Abreu has shown in his first 40 games to be a free swinger who will strike out a lot and has massive power. McGwire might be the best comp on the board. I’m predicting 40 homers, approaching 45, if he stays healthy. But I predicted Kevin Maas would be a star too.

Miguel Sano fouls a ball off his shin, so a columnist slams him for his weight

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As Bill wrote last night, the Twins have placed third baseman Miguel Sano on the 10-day disabled list with a stress reaction in his left shin. He sustained the injury Friday after he fouled a ball off of his leg, attempted to play through it, and left the game on Saturday when the pain became too great.

That’s baseball, though, right? Sometimes you foul a ball off your foot or your shin or something. Stuff happens and you just gotta accept it. Unless, of course, you’re Jim Souhan, columnist for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, in which case you use it as a pretext for going after Sano for his weight:

Souhan acknowledges that Sano injured himself with the foul ball and says that he’s not fat-shaming him. He says he’s merely concerned about him and how well a man of his size can recover from injuries. Maybe that would wash for most columnists, but it doesn’t for Souhan, who has made it his business over the years to treat illness and injuries of sports figures as moral failings and evidence of poor character.

His most famous target has been Joe Mauer, who he has slammed as “fragile” for years, arguing that he was coddled for missing time and losing effectiveness to a concussion — a concussion! — which he compared to “a bruise.” Given that Souhan had a front row seat for a concussion all but destroying the career of Justin Morneau you’d think he’d have a bit more empathy about that, but apparently not. Then again, this is a guy who once wrote that the University of Minnesota football coach should be fired because he has epilepsy, so empathy is not his strong suit.

And so it is with Sano. A guy injured with a foul ball which, apparently, makes him deserving of a sermon about watching his weight. It’s a column I would bet Souhan has had written and saved for months, hoping he could use it in the event Sano went on the disabled list for some conditioning-related ailment or a pulled muscle or something, but which had to be pressed into service for this occasion.

It’s practically pathological. And it’s sad.

And That Happened: Sunday’s Scores and Highlights

Associated Press
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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Tigers 6, Dodgers 1: Justin Verlander dominated the Dodgers, allowing one run on two hits over eight innings, snapping their six-game winning streak. Audition for Verlander? He lives in L.A. in the offseason and would waive his 10-5 rights to play there, I imagine. Not that the Dodgers really need any help.

Royals 7, Indians 4:  Cheslor Cuthbert homered and drove in three runs for the Royals. Between him and Whit Merrifield, Kansas City has more guys with names that sound like they belong to prep school bad guys from a 1980s snobs vs. slobs movie than any team in baseball history. Add Cam Gallagher to that list. He drove in a run too. Afterwards they had a meeting to try to figure out just how they keep losing to the nerd fraternity/poor kid camp/random band of neighborhood misfits in whatever improbable sporting event they’re all competing in. Thing is, they’ll never figure it out AND the nerds/poor kids are gonna steal their girlfriends. Sad.

Angels 5, Orioles 4:  Kole Calhoun and Andrelton Simmons homered and Cameron Maybin drove in the go-ahead run with a pinch-hit single in the eighth. The Angels have won nine of 11. Orioles pitchers issued nine walks. Yep, the Angels walked nine times.

 

Braves 8, Reds 1: Atlanta rode a six-run fifth inning to victory and that inning was powered largely by a Tyler Flowers grand slam. Braves starter Sean Newcomb tossed five shutout innings, allowing five hits but also walking five guys which is sort of what he does. I don’t have a “five times” GIF.

Twins 12, Diamondbacks 5: The Twins scored nine runs in the first — yes, they scored NINE TIMES — thanks in part to an Eddie Rosario grand slam. Per baseball rules, a forfeited game is scored 9-0 in favor of the winning team. The Dbacks shoulda just thrown in the towel after the first inning and hopped their flight to New York a lot earlier. Really, playing out the rest of this one had to pale compared to 2-3 extra hours to do stuff in New York. In other news, Bartolo Colon won his third game in five starts for the Twins. It’s his first ever win over the Dbacks, which was the last team he had never beaten.

Marlins 6, Mets 4: Giancarlo Stanton hit a three-run homer, turning a 2-1 game into a 5-1 game. It was his 45th dinger of the year. Adam Conley backed him up by allowing one run over seven innings and striking out 11 before the Marlins bullpen got a bit roughed up, but they held on. The Mets have lost six of nine, which is not nice.

Rays 3, Mariners 0: Blake Snell tossed seven shutout innings, allowing only two hits. Kevin Kiermaier homered. He went 5-for-12 with a couple knocked in on his first weekend back following a two-month absence, so he definitely landed on his feet. Seattle took two of three from the Rays, however, and remains one and a half games back of the Angels and Twins for the second Wild Card. Tampa Bay is four back.

Red Sox 5, Yankees 1Jackie Bradley Jr. drove in three with an RBI triple and an RBI single and Rick Porcello and three relievers allowed only one run on three hits. Boston extends its lead over New York to five games after taking two of three from the Yankees.

Athletics 3, Astros 2: How are things going for the Astros lately? Like this, mostly:

That’s how two of the A’s three runs scored. The third: on a passed ball. Woof.

Cubs 6, Blue Jays 5: It was tied 3-3 heading into the 10th inning and then the Jays scored two. Most times that’d be enough to win an extra innings game — in fact, per ESPN, teams with multi-run leads in extra innings were 50-0 this season before yesterday — but the Cubs scored three, with one coming in on a wild pitch and two coming in on Alex Avila‘s walkoff single. Two of the Cubs base runners that frame reached on strikeout/wild pitch combinations too. Not an inning Roberto Osuna will remember fondly.

White Sox 3, Rangers 2: Miguel Gonzalez shut the Rangers out for six and two relievers made it eight shutout innings in all. Texas made it close in the ninth thanks to a two-run homer from Rougned Odor, but it was too little too late. Tyler Saladino doubled in two runs for Chicago in their three-run fourth inning, Omar Narvaez singled in the other one.

Brewers 8, Rockies 4Jesus Aguilar hit two homers, driving in three and scored three times. Keon Broxton knocked in a couple of runs with a single. Chase Anderson allowed one run and two hits in five innings in his first start since late June.

Phillies 5, Giants 2: Pedro Florimon doubled in a run early and hit two-run single late to give the Phillies the lead. Rhys Hoskins homered for some insurance in the ninth, his fifth in 11 games. If you’re really bad, having one young kid come up late in the year and look good is a pretty decent silver lining on that cloud. No word what the Giants are doing for silver linings these days.

Nationals 4, Padres 1: Gio Gonzalez allowed one run on five hits — all singles — and struck out eight in six and two-thirds. Daniel Murphy drove in two of the Nats four runs. The Nats took three of four from San Diego.

Pirates 6, Cardinals 3: Josh Bell homered and drove in four runs in the first ever Little League Classic, which took place on a converted Little League field in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, not far from the Little League World Series. Coolest part, aside from the fact that the players all hung out with Little Leaguers all day and the Little Leaguers getting front row seats at the game: after it was over, the major leaguers lined up on the field and did the “good game” high five line, just like you did when you were 12. The highlights, with the handshake at the end: