Rotisserie Duck

Sports Autographs PDF Print E-mail
Rotisserie Duck
Written by Don Drooker   
Friday, 20 June 2014 00:00

Earlier this week, the Old Duck had the opportunity to speak to about 75 local sports fans here in the Phoenix area about sports autograph collecting. Included in the audience was Special Assistant to the President of the Diamondbacks and Baseball Hall of Famer Roland Hemond. What follows is the text of my presentation.

Good morning and thanks for being here. Seems like a great turnout for June, which proves the point that no matter how health conscious our society becomes, donuts will continue to be a great motivator. As a starting point, let me ask how many of you have at least one sports autograph? (Note - almost everyone raised their hand). That response is certainly not surprising and, hopefully, you'll help turn this into an interactive session by sharing some stories about your autographs.

Sports autographs can be linked back to the early 20th century when Babe Ruth was more famous than the President of the United States. In fact, in 1930 the Babe was asked about his $80,000 salary and the fact that it was $5,000 more than the salary of President Hoover and the Bambino replied, "I know, but I had a better year."

Ruth became the first full-fledged sport icon and children would line up in droves just to see him and get him to sign a baseball they bought for 50 cents. Obviously, just like every other baseball fan, they didn't know what they held in their hands. To them, it was a piece of their hero. Generations later, it would become a high-priced piece of sports history. Today, a legitimate baseball with that autograph would be worth over $10,000.

In the post WWII era, autographs became even more popular and throughout the 50's, 60's and 70's, baseball was still king. The newer generation was going crazy for autographs from future Hall of Famers such as:

Mickey Mantle

Ted Williams

Hank Aaron

Roberto Clemente

Just like their parents before them, kids would wait all day for a glimpse of their favorite player and hope they would stop for five minutes to sign a baseball card or ball.

The 1980's is when the industry really got kick-started. The Topps monopoly on baseball card manufacturing ended in 1980 and multiple companies joined in the competition, like Donruss, Fleer, Leaf and Upper Deck. This explosion in the market created more interest and the concept of huge collectibles shows featuring autograph guests. Also during the 80's, the professional sports leagues began selling their authentic jerseys. It didn't take long for fans to realize that a player's autograph on the jersey would be the next big step in the business. Even more valuable would be a game-worn jersey.

And, of course, what would the 80's be without Michael Jordan? He came in at the perfect time for the sports autograph industry because he was a marketing powerhouse. Everywhere you looked, there was his face and there was his name. It was only a matter of time before people started grabbing everything of his that could be signed. Jordan's mainstream appeal paved the way for the autograph frenzy that has happened since.

Another important facet of autograph collecting came into play in the early 90's pioneered by the Upper Deck company. They had entered the baseball card market like a storm in 1989 with high-end production values never before seen by collectors. A few years later, they signed major sports celebrities to exclusive contracts and created "Upper Deck Authenticated." This division of the company created high-end collectibles signed by Michael Jordan, Ted Williams and others. In essence, they created the first patented autograph authentication process in the hobby. Every item had hologram technology, which created security and addressed the forgery issues that were rampant in the hobby during the 80's. If you walk into my house, there is a Ted Williams autographed Red Sox jersey in a frame that was produced and marketed by Upper Deck over 20 years ago. It has a hologram with a number that can be verified on the Upper Deck database to confirm authenticity. The retail price in the early 90's was $'s value is about $3,000.

As the Internet exploded in the mid-90's, authentication became much more important. People selling sports collectibles on sites like eBay found that buyers who were thousands of miles away were very hesitant to believe that an autographed item was real. Into that void stepped third party authentication firms that created historical records of player's autographs and offered (for a price) to authenticate the signature on any particular item. Even though there will always be a possible buyer for a raw autograph, the only way to get full value for an item is to have it authenticated. Let's look at three examples of how this process plays out.

1) A few years ago, I was referred to a lady who wanted to sell some sports items that belonged to her late husband. While the baseball cards didn't have much value, she also had a notebook filled with pages of team autographs from the late 30's. Each page represented a different team and included the Yankees, Pirates and many minor league franchises. I took on the project of marketing the notebook for her and started by contacting a sports memorabilia auction house. These types of companies deal with high-end collectibles and sell on the Internet using both website and hard copy catalogs. The auction house used their volume pricing to have the signatures authenticated and what we found was that even though over 90% of them were valid, some of the bigger stars didn't always sign their own signature. Rather than be bothered, they used clubhouse boys or other team personnel to sign their names. The main example on the '39 Yankees page was Joe DiMaggio. So, even though the notebook was sold for a decent price, the invalid autographs certainly diminished the price.

2) Another lady, right here in our community, had a few sports items that her husband had collected. One was a Johnny Unitas autographed photo that had the Upper Deck Hologram and was easy to sell on eBay for $125. She also had an autographed baseball with 20-25 signatures that appeared to be from the Dodgers team of the mid-50's. You could make out Robinson, Snider, Koufax as well many other stars and it looked just worn enough to seem legitimate. I explained to her that it would cost approximately $150 and shipping to submit the ball for authentication, but if it was real, the value would be at least ten times that much. Unfortunately, what we found was that all of the signatures on the ball were done by clubhouse boys or team reps back in the 50's. If it was a give-away item at Ebbets Field and hundreds were produced, it would have been logistically impossible for the players to sign that many, it essentially had no value.

3) My next-door neighbor rang my bell one day and indicated that a friend of his had a very old autographed photo of a famous ballplayer that had been handed down in his family and wanted to get my assistance in selling the item. I told him it would depend first on the player and second on how much the cost would be to authenticate the signature. It turned out to be a 60+ year-old, creased photo of Cubs Hall of Famer Hack Wilson. The cost of authentication was $75 and shipping costs and I explained to them that this was a crapshoot. They'd be out about $100 if it wasn't legitimate but the autographed photo would be worth at least five times that much if it was real. After all, Hack Wilson died in 1947, so there aren't many of his autographs in the marketplace. They decided to roll the dice and the signature was deemed genuine. It sold on eBay for $900.

For your own personal collection, authentication is not essential if the collectibles are for your own viewing and pleasure. Very few of the autographs in my collection are authenticated, because I don't plan to sell them.

The next big change in sports autographs happened about 15 years ago. Baseball card manufacturers had spent most of the 80's and 90's over-producing their products and as a consequence, turning off collectors. Even today, when I go to look at someone's card collection, the vast majority are from this era and have little or no value. To revamp their products, these companies arranged for both current and retired players to sign a certain number of cards and inserted them randomly in packs. This was an expensive proposition and obviously increased the retail cost of the products, but it was a huge success. Customers were willing to pay a higher price and take on the "gamble" of possibly getting a limited-edition autograph card. On this table, you'll see dozens of autographed cards (including Hall of Famers) that came directly from packs. The other attractive feature for collectors was that there was no concern about forgery or authenticity. Each of the companies were working under licensing agreements from MLB and had to submit continuing verification of the signatures.

The downside for the average collector was twofold...1) autographs in the marketplace became more available, meaning that the one you got from a player when you were a kid was less scarce and 2) if you had autographed cards that were considered "after-market", their value was diminished. Recently, I was approached by a collector that has dozens of autographed baseball cards that they've collected over the years. The collection includes Hall of Famers like Jim Palmer, Willie McCovey, Fergie Jenkins and others. The problem, of course, is that none of them are authenticated. The collector was hoping to sell them for $40 a card, but that is totally unrealistic in today's marketplace. First of all, the average authentication fee would be $20 and then the card would have to compete with the ones from card companies. Most of the cards in this case can be purchased on eBay for prices ranging from $10-$25 and they are guaranteed to be genuine. The only time I've ever purchased "raw" autographs was when they were included in a large collection. There was a box that included over 500 cards that were signed over the years at Spring Training facilities. There were some good players, many forgettable players as well as dozens of duplicates and it was challenging to figure out what to do with the cards. One of the authentication services was offering a special at the time for $10 per card, so I picked out about 20 of the best players and shipped them out, hoping they were genuine. When they all came back authentic, I sold the ten best on eBay and then listed the other ten along with the remainder as a bulk lot. Clearly, including the authenticated cards helped verify to potential buyers that all the signatures were valid and the lot sold for $300-$400. The math tells you that these cards sold for about 50 cents each.

OK, enough about the technical aspects of the hobby. Let's talk about the joy of having a piece of history. My first story is about the two baseballs that you see in this case. Needless to say, as a youngster growing up in Boston, Ted Williams was my hero. I had the privilege of watching him play hundreds of times in the 50's, either from a $1 seat in the bleachers or, occasionally, from my uncle's box seats behind the Red Sox dugout. My mom and I moved to California in late 1959 and due to the family circumstances, we didn't have the opportunity to bring any personal items like baseball cards, magazines or other memorabilia. As an adult, you cherish childhood memories but it's also certain that other moments just fade away. In the mid-1980's, my wife (whose memory has also now faded away) gave me a Ted Williams autographed baseball as a birthday gift. She found it (in pre-Internet days) from a reputable dealer and it probably cost less than $50 at the time. When I showed the ball to my dad, he said "That's nice, but you already have one of those." He reminded me that Teddy Ballgame had signed a ball for me during batting practice when I was about 12 years-old and he had saved it for all those years. We immediately got in the car and drove to his apartment and there it was in a box in the hall closet. I was thrilled, and somewhat embarrassed, but now I had two Ted Williams autographed baseballs. I decided to keep the original one with the faded, ballpoint-pen signature and make a project of the newer one with the dark black "Sharpie" signed autograph. So, over the next few years, I took that ball to sports collectible shows and added signatures of other members of the 500 Home Run Club. So, if you look at the ball closely, you'll also see the autographs of Frank Robinson, Eddie Mathews, Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks and Willie Mays.

Also in the mid-80's, I embarked on another project involving autographs. As a subscriber to Sports Illustrated magazine since the 1960's, I had saved most of the issues because of the beautiful photography...especially on the covers. A local sports-themed apparel store was having a grand opening with Dale Murphy signing autographs for free. I had a beautiful cover from his MVP season in 1983 and decided to take advantage of the offer. Then, I found out that my next-door neighbor was a cousin of Gary Carter, so he got another '83 cover signed for me. At that point, I started to visit the exploding category of sportscard shows in Southern California and added Hank Aaron's autograph on the SI cover showing his 715th HR from 1974. As with many "labor of love" projects, this one essentially developed a life of its own. Over the next 20 years, the collection expanded to almost 200 autographed covers. It completely overran my house and now fills every wall in my garage and a few boxes on the floor. This past Spring, 30 of the covers (each signed by a baseball Hall of Famer) were part of a Spring Training display at the art gallery in Peoria City Hall.

The collection isn't limited to baseball and even includes a number of non-sports figures. For example, there are six covers signed by the models on the annual swimsuit issue...including Christie Brinkley, Kathy Ireland, Cheryl Tiegs and Heidi Klum. I didn't bring any of those today because Steve checked with the community office and they weren't willing to provide a defibrillator for today's meeting. There's also Gerald Ford (who wrote an article about sports in America while he was VP), Bob Hope (a part-owner of the Indians) and Shirley MacLaine (running through the Notre Dame line to promote a 1964 movie). In all, about 100 Hall of Fame members are represented along with a few obscure athletes like Steve Blass, Rob Deer, Art Mahaffey, Todd Marinovich, Chris Speier, Ron Swobada and Garo Yepremian. As you can imagine, there's a story behind every signature, but let me share just a few.

First, let's talk about the "Yankee Clipper", Joe DiMaggio. As you have already heard, even after being in the Majors for just a few years, he felt it was below him to sign group items like his teammates. In the first few decades of his retirement, Joe made quite a nice living making personal appearances. As chronicled by Ben Bradlee Jr. in the recent Ted Williams biography, his demands were as follows - he had to be the final person introduced at the banquet (or similar event), he had to be referred to as "The greatest living ballplayer" and the fee was $10,000 plus two first-class airline tickets from San Francisco to the destination. Once the tickets arrived in the mail, rather than bringing a companion or associate to the event, DiMaggio would go to the airline counter at the airport and cash in the second ticket. Once the sports collectibles market started to boom in the 80's and 90's, "Joltin Joe" was one of the biggest draws and insisted on being the highest-priced autograph guest with a fee of $150 or more. In the course of a weekend show, due to his amazing popularity, he could easily sign 1,000 autographs. Think about that math for a moment! And, not once in those 1,000 signings would he acknowledge or talk to the fans. Surrounded by "handlers" and show promoters, it was as close to an assembly line as you would ever see in that environment. There has never been an athlete with the arrogance or ego of DiMaggio.

People often ask me about the nicest and rudest sports heroes I've encountered. Even though Ernie Banks was never on a SI cover (by himself), I did stand in line at a L.A. show to add his signature to the 500 HR ball. Once I got to the front and Ernie saw the ball and the other autographs on the surface, he couldn't stop asking me questions about the history of the ball and started reflecting on all the other players. After a few minutes, the show promoters started getting anxious, as there were at least 100 people in line behind me. "Mr. Cub" eventually realized he was making other fans wait and apologized to me because he couldn't continue the conversation. Once, at a show in Santa Monica, the main draw was Stan Musial and many of us were waiting outside the door for the 10:00 AM opening. "Stan the Man" walked into the lobby (with his pal Red Schoendienst) and said, "Are all you nice people waiting for me?" At that point, he reached into the pocket of his sports jacket, pulled out a harmonica and played "Take me out to the ballgame" while we all sang along. Other experiences that were very positive include Muhammad Ali, Bill Walton, Johnny Podres, Carmen Basilio, Frank Howard and Harmon Killebrew.

On the other side of the equation, you'd be surprised at some of the stars who acted like jerks. Interestingly, the two worst in my experience played on the same championship team. From the 1979 Pirates, both Willie Stargell and Dave Parker made you feel like they were really doing you a favor and turned the moment into a real negative. In the non-baseball category, the worst was basketball's Nate "Tiny" Archibald, who refused to personalize the signature even though there wasn't anyone else waiting for him to sign.

Of course, there are always moments when you're taken by surprise. Rick Barry, who certainly had a negative persona on the court, couldn't have been nicer and wrote all kinds of personalized notes on the cover. Warren Spahn looked up at me when it was my turn to get his autograph and said, "Would you mind if I went to take a piss?"

There are also a number of different categories in which the autographs have been acquired. In addition to sports collectibles shows where you pay a set fee, many of the signatures came at actual sports events. Spring Training games over the years yielded autographs from Rickey Henderson, Robin Yount, Ron Santo and Frank Robinson. There were also a group of signatures that came through a third party. Those include Pete Rose, Joe Torre, Barry Bonds, Wayne Gretzky and Tommy Mason. During my working days in Southern California, many of my business locations were used for filming due to their proximity to studios and PR firms. If any commercials or videos included a famous athlete, part of the deal was that they had to sign one of my SI's. That connection led to signatures from Evander Holyfield, Jim Palmer, Randy Johnson and others.

About 25% of the collection came through mailings that I did in the late 90's and early 2000's. The appropriate magazine cover was mailed to the athlete along with a self-addressed stamped envelope for the return. Also included was a $25 check for them to donate to their favorite charity. Occasionally, the cover and check would be returned because the athlete was under contract to Upper Deck or some other company. One athlete (Lance Alworth) returned the cover indicating the charitable donation would have to be three times the amount. Some stars (especially from the 50's) would include a note with the signed cover thanking you for remembering them. Only once, in 40-50 mailings, did someone actually cash the check but never return the cover...former heavyweight champion Larry Holmes.

On the side tables, you'll find a representation of the collection, including some we've talked about today.

Now. it's your turn. Please feel free to ask any questions and share one of your autograph stories. Thanks so much for taking the time to be with me today.

Last Updated on Friday, 20 June 2014 08:11
Say What? PDF Print E-mail
Rotisserie Duck
Written by Don Drooker   
Friday, 13 June 2014 00:00

There is little doubt that there are more golf jokes than in any other sport. After all, even the throw-away lines are funny because when you ask a golfer how he's been playing lately and he replies, "My game has improved dramatically since I had my ball retriever re-gripped", you can't help but laugh.

When it comes to quotes, however, baseball will always be at the pinnacle. Maybe it has to do with over 150 years of history or the fact that every American youth is exposed to the sport at an early age and understands the basics of the game. For us die-hard fans, we'd probably like to think that it's the result of the great characters who have captured our imagination over a lifetime. So, for today's visit, we'll look at some of the great quotes of the game and hope they bring a smile, cause an outright guffaw or put a quizzical look on your face.

> On hearing that Reggie Jackson was reported to have an IQ of 165, Yankee teammate Mickey Rivers snidely replied, "Out of what - a thousand?"

> "He's got power enough to hit home runs in any park, including Yellowstone." - Sparky Anderson on Willie Stargell

> "I gave (pitcher) Mike Cuellar more chances than I gave my first wife." - Earl Weaver

> "Hating the Yankees is as American as apple pie, unwed mothers and cheating on your income tax." - Mike Royko, Chicago newspaper columnist

> "Ninety feet between home plate and first base may be the closest man has ever come to perfection." - Red Smith, sportswriter

> "There are two theories on hitting the knuckleball. Unfortunately, neither of them work." - Charlie Lau, hitting coach

> "Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical." - Yogi Berra

> "For the parents of a Little Leaguer, a baseball game is simply a nervous breakdown divided into nine innings." - Earl Wilson, former pitcher

> "Good pitching will beat good hitting anytime, and vice versa." - Bob Veale, former pitcher

> "The designated hitter rule is like letting someone else take Wilt Chamberlain's free throws." - Rick Wise, former pitcher

> "Trying to sneak a pitch past Hank Aaron is like trying to sneak a sunrise past a rooster." - Curt Simmons, former pitcher

> "In a way, an umpire is like a woman. He makes quick decisions, never reverses them, and doesn't think you're safe when you're out." - Larry Goetz, former umpire

> "You never save a pitcher for tomorrow. Tomorrow it may rain." - Leo Durocher

> "A good cigar is like a beautiful chick with a great body who also knows the American League box scores." - Klinger (from M*A*S*H)

> "I never threw an illegal pitch. The trouble is, once in a while I toss one that ain't never been seen by this generation." - Satchel Paige

> "Baseball is like a poker game, nobody wants to quit when he's losing: nobody wants you to quit when you're ahead." - Jackie Robinson

> "The difference between the old ballplayer and the new ballplayer is the jersey. The old ballplayer cared about the name on the front. The new ballplayer cares about the name on the back." - Steve Garvey

> "Baseball must be a great game to survive the fools who run it." - Bill Terry

> "Baseball gives every American boy a chance to excel, not just to be as good as someone else but to be better than someone else. This is the nature of man and the name of the game." - Ted Williams

> "If a woman has to choose between catching a fly ball and saving an infant's life, she will choose to save the infant's life without even considering if there are men on base." - Dave Barry, humorist

> "You can't sweep a series if you don't win the first game, and it's tougher to win two out of three if you lose the first one." - Todd Helton

> "Willie Mays' glove is where triples go to die." - Jim Murray, newspaper columnist

> "The key to being a good manager is keeping the people who hate me away from those who are still undecided." - Casey Stengel

> "The way to make coaches think you're in shape in the spring is to get a tan." - Whitey Ford

> "I watch a lot of baseball on radio." - Gerald Ford

> "I never took the game home with me. I always left it in some bar." - Bob Lemon

> "All I remember about my wedding day in 1967 is that the Cubs lost a doubleheader." - George Will, author

> "A hot dog at the game beats roast beef at the Ritz." - Humphrey Bogart

> "He looks like a greyhound but he runs like a bus." - George Brett on teammate Jamie Quirk

> "If Mike Scioscia was in a race with a pregnant woman, he'd finish third." - Tommy Lasorda

> Asked what it feels like to be the shortest player in the major leagues, 5' 4" Freddie Patek replied, "A heckuva lot better than being the shortest player in the minor leagues."

> "Andre Dawson has a bruised knee and is listed as day-to-day...Aren't we all?" - Vin Scully

> "He once asked me if Beirut was named after that famous baseball player who hit home runs." - High School teacher

> Veteran pitcher Roger McDowell on taking a rookie under his wing - "I have to go to all the places he can't, to make sure he isn't there."

> In 1995, during the strike, a replacement pitcher who hadn't pitched professionally in nine years had a terrible outing. Pirates broadcaster Steve Blass said, "He should have been better, pitching on 3,195 days' rest."

> "Aw, c'mon, how could he lose a ball in the sun? He's from Mexico." - Harry Carey

Needless to say, we've just touched the surface of this glorious topic and there are scores of great quotes to come in future visits. For now, in honor of this Sunday, let's reflect on the wisdom of Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner, who once said during a Mets broadcast...

"On this special Father's Day, we'd like to wish all of you a very Happy Birthday."

Last Updated on Friday, 13 June 2014 02:25
The 60-Day WAR PDF Print E-mail
Rotisserie Duck
Written by Don Drooker   
Friday, 06 June 2014 00:00

For baseball fans and fantasy team owners, looking at the standings on May 30th reveals a telling statistic - the major league season is 1/3 over. Just about 54 games are in the books and it's time for an honest evaluation of your team. No more excuses of slumps, shifts, off-season injuries, smoke and mirror performances and the like. As with most real-life situations, it's all about what you've done for me lately and what you project to do moving forward.

Some very predictable things have already happened. Emilio Bonifacio is no longer hitting .400 (or even .300), Chris Colabello is in the Minors, Jose Valverde isn't closing anywhere and Ryan Zimmerman is injured. On the other end of the spectrum, how about the best of the best? Who are really the top MLB players so far for 2014? Not just the obvious stars, but also the underrated contributors that help teams win but may not get the headlines. Where do we find an objective, unbiased determination to create this list? The answer is...we go to WAR.

WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is a new-age metric developed by SABRmetricians to gauge the value of an individual player to his team. It creates a number that represents how many wins the player adds to his team's record above what a replacement player (Triple-A or Quad-A) would add. A one-season figure of 8 or better is MVP caliber, while 5 or better is All-Star level. Some "old-school" fans don't always buy into the stat, but the results tell you that it is very much on-target. The major league leader each of the last two years is Mike Trout and the lifetime leader is Babe Ruth. The all-time top five also includes Willie Mays, Ty Cobb and Hank Aaron. So, with the help of, let's see where we are for the first third of 2014.

As your humble essayist is from the school of thought that hitters should win the MVP and pitchers should win the Cy Young, we'll list the offensive players first and then the hurlers.

Position Players

1) Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies SS  4.7 WAR - Off to an incredible start, the question of durability always hangs in the air. His OPS (On-Base Pct. + Slugging Pct.) is from another planet at 1.174 and he's walked more than he has struck out. He's had four previous seasons with a WAR over 6, but none since 2011.

2) Josh Donaldson, Athletics 3B  4.2 WAR - A small-market team on the West Coast doesn't help a player build a reputation, but if you think this is a fluke, you haven't been paying attention. He finished 4th in the AL MVP voting last year and was one of only four major league players with a WAR of 8 or better.

3) Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins OF  3.8 WAR - This slugger seems to have finally avoided the nagging injuries that interrupted some of his earlier campaigns. At age 24, he's asserting himself into MVP discussions with a 1.034 OPS.

4) Mike Trout, Angels OF  3.2 WAR - He's "only" hitting .291 and had a mediocre May, so everyone wants to know what's wrong. Ask yourself this question - would you trade him straight-up for any other player?

5) Carlos Gomez, Brewers OF  2.9 WAR - In 2013, his 8.9 WAR tied Trout for the best in baseball. With power, speed and Gold Glove defense, he's established himself as a consistent force in the game.

6) A.J. Pollock, D'Backs OF  2.8 WAR - If you're surprised, maybe you should be hanging out with Arizona's management. Even after a solid rookie season in 2013 with a 3.4 WAR, they still benched him early in 2014 when he struggled. This is what happens to players like him and Donaldson, who weren't top prospects...they have a very short leash. He can bat lead-off, hit some homers, steal some bases and play a good centerfield. Despite his recent injury, a current OPS of .890 gives you a window into the potential.

7) Jose Bautista, Blue Jays OF  2.7 WAR - Finally healthy, this late-bloomer hits bunches of home runs but walks more than he strikes out. His .969 OPS tells the story of his value in Toronto.

8) Seth Smith, Padres OF  2.6 WAR - Two years ago, he was traded for Guillermo Moscoso and Josh Outman. In January, he was traded for Luke Gregerson. At age 31, he's never had a WAR number this high in any full season. Primarily a platoon player, San Diego has, for the moment, caught lightning in a bottle.

9) Yasiel Puig. Dodgers OF  2.6 WAR – Remember early in the season when those cynics were saying he might need some time at Triple-A? Maybe to improve on his .348 BA and 1.074 OPS? Get used to this name on the list.

10) Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers C  2.6 WAR - Another player that shouldn't take you by surprise. He's had WAR figures of 3.6 and 3.5 the last two years and this is his age-27 season. Good plate discipline and solid defensive metrics add to the skill set.


1T) Adam Wainwright, Cardinals 2.8 WAR - Veteran ace who knows how to pitch, this is merely a repeat of his 2013 WAR rating of 6.3.

1T) Dallas Keuchel, Astros 2.8 WAR - Pitches for a poor team in a market where even the local fans can't get the games on TV, so the fact that he's under the radar isn't surprising. 6-2 with a 2.55 ERA and 0.98 WHIP.

1T) Jeff Samardzija, Cubs 2.8 WAR - This may be the perfect case study for how baseball perceptions have changed. 25 years ago, a fan would look in the newspaper and see the Cubs coming to town starting a pitcher with a 1-4 record. Easy win, right? Not when the pitcher also has a 1.68 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP with a 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. You'll see just how valuable he is around the trade deadline.

4) Johnny Cueto, Reds 2.6 WAR - Healthy so far, he's posted a 1.83 ERA and 0.75 WHIP but only has a 4-4 record to show for it. In his first 11 starts, he's struck out 85 batters.

5T) Mark Buehrle, Blue Jays 2.5 WAR - What is he, like 50 years old? His average fastball is less than 85 MPH, but he's 9-1 with a 2.33 ERA.

5T) Yu Darvish, Rangers 2.5 WAR - Has missed a couple of starts with some physical issues, but brings the most amazing repertoire to the mound. The velocity of the seven pitches in his arsenal ranges from 94 MPH to 67 MPH and he has 71 K's in 61 IP.

7T) Julio Teheran, Braves 2.4 WAR - Last year's rookie season wasn't a fluke. 1.77 ERA and 0.94 WHIP in 11 starts shows you why.

7T) Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees 2.4 WAR - It's always easy to be skeptical about someone who has never played in the U.S. but these results are more than impressive. 7-1 with a 2.29 ERA and 0.98 WHIP makes it look like the New Yorkers made a good investment.

9T) Zack Greinke, Dodgers 2.2 WAR - Despite the big contract, this consistent performer doesn't seem to get much credit. The first third of the campaign produced a record of 8-1 with a 2.18 ERA and 1.12 WHIP. This isn't new territory for the 30-year-old, as he had the best WAR in all of baseball in 2009 (10.4) when he won the AL Cy Young Award.

9T) Tim Hudson, Giants 2.2 WAR - The NL version of Buehrle, he's come back from a leg injury to be at the top of his game in San Francisco with an ERA under 2.00 and a WHIP less than 1.00.

Other surprises in the top 20 include Juan Lagares, Jason Hammel, Mike Leake and Phil Hughes. The question is if they'll still be there at the end of July when another 1/3 of the season is history. 


Last Updated on Friday, 06 June 2014 02:49
Crash Davis & Mike Hessman PDF Print E-mail
Rotisserie Duck
Written by Don Drooker   
Friday, 30 May 2014 00:00

"Why's he always calling me Meat? I'm the one drivin' a Porsche."

"Don't think: you can only hurt the ballclub."

"This is a simple game. You throw the ball; you hit the ball; you catch the ball."

"Man that ball got outta here in a hurry. I mean anything travels that far oughta have a damn stewardess on it, don't you think?"

"Don't try to strike everybody out! Strikeouts are boring, and besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls, it's more democratic."

Every great movie has iconic lines that viewers remember. It doesn't matter if you laugh every time Leslie Nielsen says "Don't call me Shirley" or tear up whenever Humphrey Bogart reminds Ingrid Bergman that "We'll always have Paris", you'll never tire of the moment. "Bull Durham" is that kind of film for baseball fans and the samples shown here are just the tip of the iceberg...and PG rated for our audience.

Kevin Costner's portrayal of Minor League Catcher Crash Davis came to mind once again recently and it has to do with some trivia from the movie. Susan Sarandon's Annie Savoy could certainly be described as an expert on minor league players and she knew her stats too because she was aware that Crash had 227 lifetime home runs when he joined the Durham Bulls and was only 20 away from the record. In the film, he hits 19 homers before being let go by the Bulls and joins the Ashville Tourists to hit one more (#247) before calling it a career.

Switching from the fantasy of movie scripts to the reality of actual baseball, on May 20th, Mike Hessman of the Toledo Mud Hens became only the fourth player in the history of U.S. based professional minor leagues to hit 400 home runs. He's actually in a 3rd place tie with Merv Conners, who played in the minor leagues from 1936-1953. The top two are Buzz Arlett with 432 (1918-1937) and Nick Cullop with 420 (1920-1944).

In the movie, Crash recalls his "cup of coffee" in the Major Leagues by saying, "I was in the majors for 21 days once - the greatest 21 days of my life. You know, you never handle your luggage in the show, somebody else carries your bags? It was great. You hit white balls for batting practice, the ballparks are like cathedrals, the hotels all have room service and the women all have long legs and brains!" Coincidentally, the four actual home run leaders also got to "the show."

> Russell "Buzz" Arlett was a 6' 3" outfielder who made his debut with the Oakland Oaks of the PCL in 1918. For the first five years of his career, he was primarily a starting pitcher, winning over 100 games. Once the dead-ball era ended, his great power as a hitter got him switched to the outfield and from 1923-1930, he averaged 29 home runs and 139 RBI for the Oaks. To give you an idea of his prowess, in 1929 he hit 39 homers along with 70 doubles and 189 RBI. In his one and only big league season, he played for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1931 (at age 32) and hit .313 with 18 homers and 72 RBI in 121 games. In 1932, he joined the Baltimore Orioles of the International League and hit 141 home runs over the next three seasons.

> Henry Nicholas Cullop had the unenviable nickname of "Tomato Face" and broke into baseball at age 19 with the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association. Nick was another player who pitched extensively early in his career and chalked up 49 victories from 1920-1924. After hitting 40 homers in 1924 and another 30 the following year, he got some sporadic opportunities in the major leagues. In 1927, he managed 104 at-bats in the American League with the Senators and Indians. Then, limited chances in 1929 and 1930 before getting his only regular playing time with the Reds in 1931. He batted .263 with eight homers and 48 RBI and despite only 334 at-bats, led the NL in strikeouts with 86. Back to the Minors in 1932, he averaged over 25 home runs for the next 10 seasons. After his playing days were over, Cullop managed in the minor leagues for 17 seasons.

> Merv Conners was a corner infielder who made his professional debut with the Beckley Black Knights of the Middle Atlantic League in 1934. He showed power potential almost immediately by hitting 30 homers in 1935 at age 21. By 1937, he had made it to the Majors with the Chicago White Sox but got only 165 at-bats in two seasons while hitting eight homers. All through the late 30's and early 40's, he was a source of power at numerous destinations including Shreveport, Texarkana and Dallas-Ft.Worth. Even after serving in the military and missing the 1944 and 1945 campaigns, he came back to hit another 200+ home runs, including 47 for the Amarillo Gold Sox in 1952 (at age 38).

> Mike Hessman was drafted out of high school in the 15th round of the 1996 Draft by the Atlanta Braves. He started hitting home runs right away and working his way up through the Braves system, hammered 135 long-balls in his first six seasons. Playing parts of five seasons at the big league level with the Braves, Tigers and Mets, he's managed only 223 at-bats with a .188 BA. He does, however, have 14 major league home runs, meaning one home run for every 16 at-bats, which gives him a better home run ratio than Miguel Cabrera. At age 36, this slugger isn't ready to quit and his slugging percentage and OPS in the Triple-A International League this season are second only to Pirates prospect Gregory Polanco. With 18 seasons in the Minors and one in Japan, Mike is a baseball "lifer" and the top choice for the mythical "Crash Davis" trophy. Who knows, maybe he'll make it back to the "show." After all, he'll be arbitration eligible in 2016 and a free agent in 2019. It's also a good bet he signs autographs for fans.

Last Updated on Friday, 30 May 2014 01:54
Revising Your Bucket List PDF Print E-mail
Rotisserie Duck
Written by Don Drooker   
Friday, 23 May 2014 00:00

For those of you under the age of 50, the name George Plimpton might not be that familiar. If, however, you were coming of age in the 60's, the late author and editor was consistently in the limelight of pop culture and sports. Long before the idea of "Fantasy" sports, his books and articles were unique in that he invented a genre known as "participatory journalism." He used his connections and celebrity to take part as an amateur in professional sporting and entertainment events and then shared the experience with his readers in books and magazines. For old-school Rotisserie Baseball players, we even have him to thank for "The Curious Case of Sidd Finch", written for Sports Illustrated in 1985.

This past weekend, PBS aired a wonderful documentary on his life and it brought back so many memorable moments from his career. In the final segment, however, his son read a list of items from Plimpton's "Bucket List", including one about learning to throw a knuckleball. That exercise struck me as a little strange because if there was ever someone who spent their life living out a "Bucket List", it was George Plimpton. After all, he got in the boxing ring with Light-Heavyweight Champion Archie Moore, pitched to Willie Mays at the All-Star Game, played Quarterback in training camp for the Detroit Lions (creating the best-selling book "Paper Lion"), was in goal for the Boston Bruins in an exhibition game against the Flyers (stopping Reggie Leach on a penalty shot) and suited up for the Boston Celtics. As if sports weren't enough to fill his life, he was also close friends with most of the great writers of the era and was part of the inner circle of the Kennedy family. The one participatory event in his life that he never chronicled in print was the fact that he pried the gun from the hand of Sirhan Sirhan after Robert Kennedy was shot.

At a certain point in your life, creating a "Bucket List" will be a natural phenomenon. And, if you're a sports fan, many of the items will be self-explanatory. "Visit Augusta in early-April" might not mean much to some people, but it's a clear goal to many. With all that being said, unless you're Morgan Freeman and end up sharing a hospital room with multi-millionaire Jack Nicholson, you probably won't put a check-mark next to a significant number of items on your list. In thinking about Plimpton's list, maybe a better exercise is to review how many wonderful moments we've experienced up to now and not dwell so much on the ones not yet achieved. So, if you'll indulge me, I'd like to challenge each of you to make up a list of the items that already have that check-mark. And, to keep it light, utilize sports as your source for the project.

Being as I have the floor, the Old Duck will go first. Let's hope yours is even better.

> Watching Ted Williams hit a historic home run at Fenway Park ( #400 July 1956). Crossing home plate, he spit in the direction of the press box.

> Playing Pebble Beach on a beautiful Spring day with my best friend (May 2006).

> Bowling a perfect 300 game (1964, 1965, 1972, 1995).

> Receiving a Varsity letter in High School sports (Wheelchair Basketball, 1962). I was on crutches for a year due to hip surgery and attended a school for the physically handicapped.

> Traveling to Toronto and visiting the Hockey Hall of Fame (1994).

> Experience being "mooned" by rowdy fans at Yankee Stadium (1988). And I wasn't even wearing a Red Sox cap.

> Seeing a rookie named Bill Russell change the face of the NBA when he scored only two points but completely dominated the Knicks at Boston Garden in a 114-78 Celtic victory (January 1957).

> Collecting over 200 autographed Sports Illustrated covers and getting to meet some of the greatest athletes in the world during the process. Ernie Banks was the nicest and Dave Parker was the rudest (1985-2005).

> Walking across the Roberto Clemente Bridge on a spectacular Summer night to watch the Pirates play at PNC Park (2006).

> Making a Hole-In-One (178 yard 7-Wood, June 2006).

> Traveling to Kansas City and visiting the Negro League Museum (2006).

> Being in the crowd at the Forum in Los Angeles on the night Wayne Gretzky scored his 802nd goal to break Gordie Howe's record (March 1994).

> Witnessing George Brett's 3,000th hit at Angel Stadium in Anaheim (September 1992).

> Traveling to St. Augustine, Florida and visiting the World Golf Hall of Fame (2008).

> Watching Sandy Koufax pitch a shutout at Dodger Stadium (1965).

> Attending MLB games at over 25 different ballparks (1959-2014).

> Completing a 1956 Topps Baseball Card Set (1990).

> Traveling to Cooperstown and visiting the Baseball Hall of Fame (2006).

> Doing volunteer work at the Los Angeles Urban League and having the thrill of meeting, and talking with, Ray Charles (1972). I know it's not sports-related, but c' was Ray Charles!

> Attending the opening game of a World Series (1974).

> Meeting Bernie "Boom Boom" Geoffrion and telling him how much I hated the Montreal Canadiens when I was a kid growing up in Boston. He smiled and said, "We sure kicked their ass, didn't we?" (1986)

> Traveling to Springfield, Massachusetts and visiting the Basketball Hall of Fame (1998).

> Attending a Rose Bowl game (Wisconsin vs. UCLA 1999).

> Watching the Rams "Fearsome Foursome" scare the daylights out of QB's at the L.A. Coliseum (1966).

> Sitting in a luxury suite at Camden Yards on a night when Cal Ripken Jr. hit a home run (1993).

> Competing on the same lanes with bowling legends Dick Weber and Earl Anthony (1985).

> Going on the court at Staples Center prior to a Lakers game and shooting free-throws to help raise money for charity (2001).

> Being a participant in the first-pitch ceremony on the field at Dodger Stadium (2006)...I was the catcher. It was also "Old-Timers Day" and Maury Wills and Steve Garvey were not impressed with my skills.

> Witnessing Hall of Fame jockey Johnny Longden's last race as he brought home George Royal in a stretch duel at Santa Anita Park in the 1966 San Juan Capistrano Handicap. At age 59, that brought his win total to 6,032.

> Capturing a Fantasy Baseball Championship in competition with some of the best experts in the industry (2005, 2009, 2011, 2012). Honestly, just being in a league with these guys would have made the list.

> Being in Pauley Pavilion on the UCLA campus the night Lew Alcindor played his first collegiate basketball game (1965).

> Looking out over the rocky coastline along the Pacific while playing Poipu Bay Golf Club in Kauai (1996).

> Crossing the frozen tundra to tour the Packers Hall of Fame in Green Bay on a perfectly bleak Winter afternoon (1994).

> Attending the Olympic Games (1984).

> Spring Training road trips to Arizona with my baseball buddies, four games and eight teams in three days (1980's and 90's).

> Visiting the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame prior to a game at Great American Ball Park (2006).

> Taking in the unforgettable atmosphere of minor league baseball in places like San Antonio, Louisville, Buffalo, Jacksonville and Rancho Cucamonga.

> Getting to see both Bob Cousy and Magic Johnson pass the basketball (1958, 1985).

> Having lunch at Harry Carey's restaurant before an afternoon game at Wrigley Field (1991).

> Being a speaker on the same convention program with Billy Beane and talking with him about "Moneyball" (2005).

> Getting the opportunity to write about baseball and other topics that I love (2012-present).

> Becoming a member of the Dana-Farber Society, which raises money for "The Jimmy Fund." It is the official charity of the Red Sox and is dedicated to saving the lives of children with cancer (2011).

OK...your turn.

Last Updated on Friday, 23 May 2014 08:45
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