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The Inaugural Class of the Hall of Very Good

“It’s the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Very Good!” We’ve all heard this phrase, or some variation of it, when someone is being critical of a player’s Hall of Fame resume. Receiving the label “very good” has become like getting a consolation prize which is then thrown in an attic to collect dust. It is exactly what happens to the career resumes of guys who do not get in the Hall of Fame; they begin to collect dust. Every year there are debates and hot takes on the careers of guys who are up for the Hall of Fame, like Larry Walker or Mike Mussina, that keep the story of their career alive. The players who are no longer on the ballot and not in the Hall of Fame fade from public consciousness a little more each year. No more! I’m going to recognize these very good legends of the game by shedding the stigma of “very good” and induct a new class of players into the Hall of Very Good every so often. Does it have to be only once a year? Certainly not. Is there a limit on how many guys can gain entry? Definitely not. Do guys ever fall off the ballot? Absolutely not. It will be a place for players who are not in the Hall of Fame and are no longer on the writers’ ballot to be voted in, but had very good, and sometimes great, careers. In the process of writing this article, the election of Harold Baines and Lee Smith into the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Today’s Game Committee became public. This news started a conversation about the worthiness of their resumes. Many have said that they don’t belong in the Hall of Fame and picked apart all the negatives that should have kept them out. As someone who loves to talk about my favorite parts of the game and not all of its flaws, I much prefer to celebrate their achievements. Baines probably would have gotten to 3,000 hits if he hadn’t played through 3 strike shortened seasons. He finished with 2,866. Smith was the all time saves leader until Trevor Hoffman, and subsequently Mariano Rivera, passed him. While these guys are no longer eligible for the Hall of Very Good (it’ll be sad to see them go) there are still plenty of guys who will find their place inside. As you will notice, this first group will only be hitters. This is only part one of the inaugural class. Part 2 (release date TBD) will feature the pitchers that will take their place among the very good. I also included the team whose hat will be worn on their bust. I’m aware the MLB Hall of Fame doesn’t make busts, but busts are way cooler than images on plaques and I have full autonomy over the aesthetics of the Hall of Very Good.

Hall of Famers with a scandal

Pete Rose (Cincinnati Reds) Image result for pete rose We all know Rose’s resume: all-time leader in hits (4,256), games, plate appearances, at-bats, 2nd most doubles (746); 17 all-star games, 1963 Rookie of the Year, 1973 MVP, and 14 top-15 MVP finishes.  The betting scandal has become the major story that has overshadowed his accomplishments for many, but those of us (aka me) on the HoVG committee will not let that happen. A switch hitter who spent significant time at 5 different positions, Rose had over 3,000 hits just from the left side of the plate and helped lead his teams to 3 World Series titles and 6 NL Pennants. He played until he was 45 and had a career .303 batting average. This is a Hall of Fame resume and, frankly, doesn’t really fit into what the Hall of Very Good is at its core. However, Major League Baseball has prevented Rose from staying on the ballot so we get to open our doors to him. Mark McGwire (St. Louis Cardinals)
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McGwire is another guy who’s numbers are more than Hall of Fame worthy: 583 career Home Runs, .982 career OPS (163 OPS+), the highest AB per home run in Major League history. He won the 89 World Series and 3 AL Pennants with the A’s, set the rookie and single season home run record (both since broken) and had 12 seasons with at least 29. Big Mac’s exclusion from the Hall of Fame has been a result of his assumed steroid use in the 90s. This is something that needs to be mentioned in his career recap, but it also can’t go unsaid that he was an enormous factor in helping bring baseball fans back from the 1994 strike when he and Sammy Sosa chased 62 home runs in 1998. The bulk of McGwire’s career was spent in Oakland and there is certainly an argument to be made that he should be wearing an A’s hat, but his most important accomplishments and highest peak happened in St. Louis so it gets the edge for me. Shoeless Joe Jackson (Cleveland Naps/Indians) Image result for shoeless joe jackson The counting numbers alone do not look like much (1,772 hits, 202 stolen bases, only 54 home runs) but when you consider that he played his last game at 33 years old before being banned for life, that’s not surprising. The man who would one day be played by Ray Liotta in Field of Dreams batted .356/.423/.517 with a 170 OPS+ for his career including 168 triples and 62.2 WAR. Despite the swift and final “justice” handed down by Kenesaw Mountian Landis, Jackson’s involvement in the 1919 Black Sox scandal remains murky, at best. He hit .375 in the series, set a record, which would stand for 45 years, with 12 hits. and committed no errors. On top of that, a Chicago jury acquitted Jackson and his seven teammates of wrongdoing. A sad end to a superstar career that had years left in the tank. Shoeless Joe goes in with a Cleveland Naps/Indians hat on for his overall better play with the team and as a way to get away from the White Sox organization that’s so tied to the scandal for him. Rafael Palmeiro (Texas Rangers)
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Six players in Major League history have over 500 home runs and 3,000 hits. One of them is Rafael Palmeiro. His numbers were undoubtedly boosted by playing in a tremendous hitters era and at least some amount of performance enhancing drugs. He also had a 132 OPS+, 1,353 walks to 1,348 strikeouts, and one of the prettiest left-handed swings ever. The former Mississippi State star split his 20-year career between the Cubs, Rangers, and Orioles before infamously testing positive for steroids a few weeks after his 3,000th hit and effectively ending his career. He spent the 2018 season playing independent ball at age 53 and still hit. That swing ages well and will look great when it is featured on a constant video loop at the Hall of Very Good.

Disrespected Second Basemen

Lou Whitaker (Detroit Tigers) Image result for lou whitaker hittingThe Detroit Tigers selected 3 Hall of Famers in the 1976 draft: Alan Trammell, Morris, and Ozzie Smith (who did not sign). One year prior, they selected Whitaker in the 5th round. Along with Trammel, he formed the longest running double play duo in Major League history. He was not just a long time player though, he was a long time superstar. Sweet Lou finished his career with 75.1 bWAR, 2,369 hits, 420 doubles, and more walks than strikeouts (1,197 to 1,099). He won the 1978 AL Rookie of the Year and helped the 1984 Tigers win the World Series. After the induction of Trammell and Morris by the Veterans Committee in 2018, I would be surprised if Whitaker doesn’t eventually get in, but for now he has a comfortable spot in the Hall of Very Good.   Bobby Grich (California Angels)
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There is a large list of Hall of Famers whose OPS+ is below 125. Some of the names include Banks, Alomar, Ripken, Yount, Biggio, and Molitor. On a related note, Bobby Grich had a career OPS+ of 125. In the 70s and early 80s, the traditional numbers of batting average, home runs, and RBI ruled the day and Grich’s excellence in OBP and WAR went unseen. He did lead the American League in homers and slugging in the strike-shortened 1981 season with 22 and .543, respectively. Perhaps he would get a little more historical credit if it had been a full season and he hit around 35. I’m sure having under 2,000 career hits hurt his candidacy in the minds of many, but 71.1 bWAR is a significant number that exhibits how much better he was than the other second basemen of his era.

First Base Defense Matters

Keith Hernandez (New York Mets) Image result for keith hernandez Most people below the age of 35 know Keith Hernandez more for his entertaining-as-hell broadcasting and appearance on Seinfeld than his baseball playing career. He was much more than the guy who said “I’m Keith Hernandez” though. The best defensive first baseman of all time (11 Gold Gloves, 117 Defensive Runs Saved), he also provided immense value offensively to his teams. His 10 years in St. Louis to start his career included a batting title and MVP in 1979. He would go on to became a Mets legend when he led the team to a World Series in 1986 and stayed on as a broadcaster post-retirement. Hernandez’s .296/.384/.436 slashline is very good and even though he wasn’t much of a home run hitter for a first baseman, he had a 128 career OPS+ playing in a poor hitters era. My only request to Keith, is that his cat, Hadji, attend the Hall of Very Good ceremony when he’s inducted. John Olerud (Toronto Blue Jays) Image result for john olerud blue jays There was no way in hell I was going to get through this article without getting to one of my favorite underrated players of all time. Many people remember him for the helmet he wore on defense, but not nearly enough know the story behind the helmet (a brain aneurysm suffered during his legendary 2-way college baseball career at Washington State) or the story of his remarkable career as a player. I was first introduced to Olerud when he got to the Mets and I was 8 years old. If I’d been paying more attention to the early 90’s Blue Jays than my Berenstain Bears books, I would’ve seen him have an all-time underrated 1993 leading the league in doubles (54), batting average (.363) OBP (.473), and OPS (1.072). In his 8 Toronto years, he won two rings and finished with a 130 OPS+. His Mets career was only three years, but saw a 30 point jump in OBP and slugging, and he played with one of the best defensive infields of all time (joined by Robin VenturaEdgardo Alfonzo, and Rey Ordonez). After spending 5 very good years in Seattle on some incredible teams, he made stops on both sides of the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry to close his career. Olerud finished his career with a .398 OBP, 500 doubles, and 103 defensive runs saved with more walks than strikeouts. I am so happy to see him in the inaugural class of the Hall of Very Good because I am ALWAYS down to talk John Olerud with anyone that will listen.

Overshadowed Outfielders

Kenny Lofton (Cleveland Indians)
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Picking the hat was not difficult for a guy who had a funky career journey around the league. All in all he would play 10 years in Cleveland over 2 stints, and 1 season or less with 10 other teams. Despite a constant stream of other stars in Cleveland, the former Division I basketball player’s athletic talent could not go unnoticed. He led the AL in steals in each of his first five seasons, finishing his career with 622. As a leadoff man, he got on base at a .372 clip for his career and never struck out more than 84 times in a season. When the 90’s Indians get discussed you usually go through Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, Albert Belle, and maybe even Omar Vizquel before you start talking about Kenny Lofton, but there is no doubt the effect he had on the team getting on base, stealing bases, and playing elite defense (108 career DRS). Bernie Williams (New York Yankees) Image result for bernie williams The most recent Yankees dynasty had four members last much longer than the rest of the group. As a result, Jeter, Rivera, Posada, and Pettitte got the catchy nickname (Core Four) and all the glory as that era wound down a few years ago. Quietly, there was a switch hitting center fielder who has an argument for being the 3rd most important Yankee of that time. He played on 4 championship teams and has the second most career postseason hits, doubles, home runs, and the most RBIs. Williams was not simply a postseason star, he performed all year long. He was consistently sitting around 25 home runs, .300 average, and 30+ doubles from his first full season in 1993 until his abrupt ending after 2006 when it seemed like he might come back, but never did. Bernie won four Gold Gloves, a batting title, and went to five all star games over his 16 years in the league. He also plays a mean guitar. I hope to hear him playing something fun for the millions who will gather for the Hall of Very Good induction ceremony. As soon as we at the HoVG are able to find a bust artist and book an open field with a stage for millions of people where we can show videos and play music, we will inform you readers of the induction date. For now it remains unannounced. What I will guarantee is that the pitchers edition of the inaugural Hall of Very Good class will be coming before that wonderful celebration becomes possible. Follow me on twitter: @denack31 and check out Pop Flies and Grounders on iTunes for our latest podcast. We’re now on instagram (@pfg_podcast) and facebook. You can also find my articles on along with many other baseball guys like me. Follow @diamond_digest on twitter.

Willie McCovey – A Star Without a Moment

Willie McCovey, also known as Stretch or Big Mac, is a pretty commonly known star in the baseball community, and that is precisely the problem. The average fan has surely heard of him as an all-time great and a Hall of Famer, but never mentioned in the same circles as Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Ted Williams. I believe this is purely due to his lack of a career defining play or stat – Mays had the over the shoulder catch, Babe Ruth called his shot, Williams hit 400. McCovey’s moment may have been stolen away from him in the 1962 World Series when his scorching line drive was caught at second base by Bobby Richardson in the 9th inning of Game 7 with 2 outs and the Series winning run on second. With no such stat or moment to speak of, where does that leave Willie McCovey in the pantheon of baseball lore? Oh I don’t know, just a career that spanned across 4 decades (21 seasons), a career .889 OPS, 521 home runs, a RoY, an MVP, and a hall of fame plaque to wrap it all up. Simply put, Willie McCovey was an all time great hitter year in and year out, although some left to be desired defensively, but our listeners know that’s not what matters.

It is notable the McCovey was forced to sit out of games in the minor leagues due to stadiums and towns still under segregation, but none of this deterred Willie from reaching the big leagues. McCovey spent the first 15 years of his career playing for the giants, with stops in San Diego and Oakland for 2 years, before returning to the Giants for the final 4 years of career at age 39. In that triumphant return to the giants, he hit .280/.367/.500 with 28 home runs. Since his retirement, Willie has been honored with a statue at AT&T park (PFG loves statues), the naming of McCovey Cove in right field, and the retirement of his number 44 jersey. After his retirement in 1980, Willie remained a senior advisor with the giants for another 18 seasons and was a constant presence around the ballpark and in the clubhouse. We at PFG salute a baseball life, and one hell of a hitter.

Not too bad for a guy without a defining moment.

Rest In Peace #44

Kiz is infamous for wearing number 44 and will probably be able to found on twitter someday. Listen to him on Pop Flies and Grounders which can be found on this website, iTunes, and Spotify.

Featured Photo: Associated Press

The Adam Dunndies

For people of a certain age, there is almost no argument over what is the best and most rewatchable comedy series. The Office was appointment viewing as it was released and has become the best Netflix-and-chill comedy. Over the course of 9 seasons we were introduced to Schrute Farms, Threat Level Midnight, and the Scranton Strangler. I think the only thing I’ve watched more of at this point in my life is baseball and every listener or reader of mine knows that I have thoughts on everything in the game of baseball. The 2018 season had so many ups and downs, funny moments, and memorable storylines just like my favorite show of all time. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to combine the two by telling the story of the 2018 MLB season through quotes from The Office. These will be the Adam Dunndies and they will be given out, like The Office’s Dundies, at the local Chili’s, where we will be having a live awards show later tonight.

(Takes phone call)

Turns out I don’t have the budget to rent out Chili’s so I’ll just share all the winners here:


“It all happened so fast. So…Fast”

-Kevin Malone / The 2018 Chicago Cubs

On September 18, 160 games into the season, the Cubs had the best record in the National League. They would then lose 3 out of their last 4 games, scoring exactly 1 run in all 3 losses, and that was it. Before the inception of the second wild card, the Cubs would have been playing in a Division series with a chance to right the ship over a few games. Instead they lost Game 162 and the Wild Card Game at home and their season over just like Kevin Malone’s conversational collapse with the woman at the Lonely Hearts Party in season 5…so fast.

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“Yeah I have a lot of questions. How dare you?”

Kelly Kapoor / Mets fans when Jacob deGrom trade rumors surfaced

Jacob deGrom just put together one of the greatest seasons in baseball history. He was must-see TV when the New York Mets were basically unwatchable on days he wasn’t pitching. There have been only 5 seasons in Major League history where a pitcher has bested deGrom’s 217 Innings, 216 ERA+, and 269 strikeouts. And yet, because everything else seemed to go wrong for the Mets, deGrom only won 10 games. In July trade rumors started, the loudest of which involving the cross-town Yankees. Needless to say, Met fans were as unhappy as Kelly Kapoor when Ryan Howard (not this Ryan Howard) returned to Scranton from New York in season 4.


“This is the worst!”

Michael Scott / Clayton Kershaw watching his poor playoff reputation prove true again

By so many measures, Clayton Kershaw has been the best pitcher of his era. He is a Hall of Famer if he retires today with his MVP, 3 Cy Youngs, 5 ERA titles and career 2.39 ERA. His playoff performance has been much different though: 152 Innings, 4.39 ERA and 22 Home Runs allowed. The more the narrative of Kershaw underperforming in the playoffs comes up, the more mediocre stat lines he puts up. Now that he’s lost some velocity on his fastball it seems like the task of changing his postseason fortunes becomes even more difficult. Michael Scott was miserable at the thought of the branch closing in season 3 and Kershaw is miserable at the thought of another postseason pitch he throws ending up in the outfield seats.


“That’s what she said!”

Michael Scott (and others) / Rockies Reliever Brooks Pounders

This needs no explanation.


“Next thing you know, I’m in Moneyballs 2”

Andy Bernard / Oakland Athletics

The 2018 Oakland A’s did not have any serious buzz around them going into the season, not totally unlike the early 2000s original Moneyball A’s teams. They had a few exciting young pieces in Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, and Sean Manaea, but the rest of the roster was pretty underwhelming. On June 15th, they lost their 4th game in a row and were 11 games out of a playoff spot. They went 63-31 the rest of the way and powered their way into a playoff spot thanks to contributions from a myriad of those supposedly ‘underwhelming’ guys including Khris Davis, Jed Lowrie, and Blake Treinen. This season may catapult them into bigger and better things in the future, or it could go down in a heap like Andy’s acting career, but we certainly saw that Billy Beane’s methods of low-budget team building can still work.


“I steal things all the time”

Creed Bratton / Milwaukee Brewers

A team like the Brewers is never going to have the big money of a Boston, New York, or LA. As a result, they need to build their team very wisely and efficiently. They made a big splash last winter when they signed Lorenzo Cain to a 5 year 80 million dollar deal and traded their top prospect for Christian Yelich. These could have been seen as risky moves at the time, but proved to be brilliant. Cain finished 7th in the majors among position players with 6.9 bWAR and Yelich will most likely win the NL MVP. These great moves were not the only ones that built this team though. Jesus Aguilar was acquired off waivers from the Indians in 2017, all he did was finish 5th in the NL in Home Runs. Josh Hader was acquired as a throw-in in a 2015 trade with the Astros for Mike Fiers and Carlos Gomez. He had a historically great season as a reliever striking out 143 in 81.1 innings. Jhoulys Chacin was their ace, on his 6th team in 5 years. The list goes on and on. Creed was stealing chips on Casino Night and the Brewers were stealing players for a team that just missed the World Series.


“If there’s one thing I have learned through the whole experience, it’s that if you film anybody long enough, they’re going to do something stupid”

Kevin Malone / Manny Machado

As an Orioles fan, I have extremely conflicted feelings on Manny Machado. I have watched this guy grow up and defended him every step of the way for 8 years as he helped lift my team to places they hadn’t been in 15 years. He handled the first half of the 2018 season so well as it became more and more obvious he would not be with the O’s at the end of the season. He didn’t cause problems, kept his head down, and said all the right things. I saw all of his warts though. I knew he was immature. And when he made repeated head-scratching or downright dirty plays as the lights got brighter in October, it wasn’t totally surprising to me because I’d seen him get frustrated and act immature before. This time the whole country was watching though, and he looked worse than ever. With that being said, he will make a ton of money this offseason, and rightfully so, because he is a bonafide superstar who immediately improves any team he goes to tremendously.

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“And I knew exactly what to do. But in a much more real sense, I had no idea what to do”

Michael Scott / Joe West

1st Inning, Game 4 of the ALCS, runner on first. Jose Altuve lifted a flyball that landed in the hands of the Astros fans and the inning ended with no runs scored for the home team, who would go on to lose by 2 runs. All respect to Mookie Betts for his tremendous effort, which may have been a catch if not for the fans he contacted, but it seemed pretty clear to most people watching that the fans were not reaching onto the field of play. The right field umpire, Cowboy Joe West, felt differently however. The review was made more difficult by a security guard who blocked what appeared to be the best camera angle and the Red Sox ended up winning the series in 5, but this was certainly a major turning point. In this crucial point in the Astros season, West seemed to be just as competent as Michael Scott as he watched Stanley’s heart attack.

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“Who is Justice Beaver?”

Dwight Schrute / Indians starter Shane Bieber

Bieber must have heard a lot of jokes about his last name being the same as Justin Bieber for the last few years. He steered into the skid during Players’ Weekend when he had “Not Justin” stitched on his jersey. Good work Shane.

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“I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days, before you’ve actually left them.”

Andy Bernard / David Wright and Mets fans

As recently as 2013, it seemed like David Wright was well on his way to a Hall of Fame career. He was 30 years old with over 1500 career hits, an .888 OPS, and an average season of 34 doubles, 22 homers, and 18 steals with solid third base defense. He was the face of the Mets, a stand-up guy, and a leader. Then injuries derailed his career. From 2015-2017 he would play 38, 37, and 0 games, and was well on his way to another 0 in 2018 when he decided he would retire at the end of the year because his spinal stenosis was never going to improve. The Mets decided to have him play in the final home series of the season against the Marlins and it was an emotional scene. His actual performance in those 2 games was not important. Wright got to say his farewell to the game and city and the Mets fans got one more chance to show their appreciation for their captain.


“What are your weaknesses? I don’t have any, asshole.”

Kelly Kapoor / The Boston Red Sox

Was there any other way to close this out than with the deserving World Champion Boston Red Sox? This team had the best player in the American League in Mookie Betts. They had J.D. Martinez, who flirted with a Triple Crown, Chris Sale, who will finish top 6 in Cy Young voting for the 7th straight season, and Craig Kimbrel who’s “down year” included 42 saves and a 2.74 ERA. Their outfield defense was the best in baseball by a wide margin and their catching defense was among the best in the league. They picked up a gold glover and the World Series MVP during the season and won a franchise-record 108 regular season games. When the playoffs rolled around they were tasked with beating 2 100+ win teams in the AL and steamrolled them losing only twice in the process. In the World Series they beat Clayton Kershaw twice and the only loss they had required 18 innings and an error by the normally sure-handed Ian Kinsler. From beginning to end this was clearly the best team in baseball who, like Kelly Kapoor, knew they were flawless.

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That will do it for this year’s Adam Dunndies. You may not have gotten a drunken kiss from your secret crush (or maybe you did, I don’t know how people read my stuff), but you got a good idea of some of the fun, interesting, and important storylines in baseball in 2018. Those of you who feel snubbed, please take it up with Toby.


Follow me on Twitter @denack31. This article can also be found on

Featured Illustration: James Boyle, Cincinnati Magazine

There is no hidden secret to hitting…and that’s ok.

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I absolutely love the art of hitting a baseball, it is so perfect and imperfect at the same time.  There are times when everything clicks for no apparent reason and you feel like you are hitting a watermelon with a tennis racket.  On the other hand, in the depths of a slump you find yourself contemplating just how absurd this task really is.

While the rise of sabrmetrics has given us some incredible analytic tools, there are parts of hitting that just simply cannot be explained, like the rapid appearance or disappearance of power statistics.  And although these metrics have helped drive powerful insights, we now find ourselves stuck in a time where we feel there must be an explanation for any statistical anomaly.  For instance, Justin Turner and Jose Bautista both went from marginal major league utility players to superstars by adding a large leg kick and upper cuts to their swings; this must mean this is the correct approach.  Now we have youth academies teaching little leaguers to take exaggerated leg kicks, with the purpose of a hitting a few more home runs as a twelve year old.

I want to be clear, I am by no means suggesting that this approach is a new development in baseball, as trends have always followed techniques that successful players used.  All serious baseball players have seen one of the instructional books, including “The Science of Hitting” by Ted Williams, “Hitting is Simple” by Don Mattingly, “Hit to Win” by Rod Carew, and even “A Zen Way of Baseball” by famed Japanese slugger Sadaharu Oh.  Simply put, the baseball community loves to assume a that a player having success with new hitting mechanics or approach, means this is a new principle that applies to everyone.  When we assume correlation means causation, we ignore the fact that Turner and Bautista were both already MLB players that hit for contact, without high levels of strikeouts.  They both could take the calculated risk of raising their strikeouts to try and add power to their game.  I would argue that a little leaguer, and even a younger high school player, does not know themselves well enough as a hitter to make that type of judgement.

Ack and I are not professional players, but we were both college starters, and continue to play in a collegiate level summer league.  Both of us will tell you that we continue to learn more about ourselves as hitters every single game, year after year.  So please, for the love of everything that is great about hitting, stop forcing these ideas on kids.  Instead, I propose a return to the words that PFG guest Grandpa Byrne told me when I was younger, “look to make consistent, solid contact.”  If you can do that, it does not matter whether you choose a large stride or no stride at all, to rotate on the back foot or to push off, bat on the shoulder or hands above your head.  However, for now let’s just appreciate that there are some aspects of the game that still can’t fully be explained.


Ack’s Ode to Baseball

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If anyone has ever listened to an episode of PFG, or played with/against me, or met me in any fashion, they know I love baseball more than anything. In my mind, it is an absolutely perfect game. In doing podcasts, we tend to get so much into the nitty-gritty of current events that we don’t take a step back and talk about why we love the game of baseball so much. This is my ode to baseball.

I love that there is no clock. There is no point in a baseball game where time has run out enough to make a comeback impossible. 2 outs, 9th inning, down 5 runs, you can still make a miraculous comeback (and we’ve all seen them). TWICE in baseball history a team has been down 3-2 in World Series and down to their last strike in Game 6 about to lose the series, and came back to win it all (’86 Mets and 2011 Cardinals).

I love the pace of a baseball game. There is no sport better for watching a game and hearing the stories of a good announcing crew (or in Vin Scully’s case just one amazing storyteller). You have time between pitches as a spectator to discuss the play that just happened, the pitch upcoming, or a random fact about the guy at the plate. Watching a baseball game with friends doesn’t mean you have to be hyper-focused and sitting on egg shells like a hockey game where a goal could come at any moment. If you’re playing in the game, even better. You can talk to a fielder from the other team while you’re on base, or an umpire if you’re catching or the dude sitting next to you on the bench without missing a beat. Watching a baseball game is a choose your own adventure for how you want to spend the down time between pitches. (Someone tell Rob Manfred we’re happy with the pace of play, stop trying to mess with it.)

I love the mental battle going on every pitch between a pitcher and a hitter. Every pitch thrown has a purpose behind it. Every pitch that is thrown has a ripple effect that effects the next pitch. Are you throwing a certain pitch because the scouting report says the hitter struggles with it? Are you picking up on a tendency in the hitter’s swing, or stance, or location in the box? Does the situation call for a pitch in on a righty so he can’t hit a ball to the right side and move a runner over to third? All of these factors and more go into the reasoning for each and every pitch call. I live for this mind game, and reading of body language.

I love that nothing is a foregone conclusion. Related story: my wife was a college swimmer, and you can go into most swim meets or races and know exactly who will win. The best swimmer is just not going to lose to someone who is not as fast as them. Don’t get me wrong, I love watching swim meets, extremely exciting, but the idea of going into a game and knowing you have no chance would kill me. We’ve seen Stony Brook make it to the College World Series and an 83-78 Cardinals team win the World Series in 2006. You just never know with baseball.

I love the superstitions. Other athletes might have little things here and there that they do individually, but none of them have become a part of the fabric of the game like in baseball. Nomar’s fidgety batting glove adjustments, Edwin Encarnacion’s wing that he throws up running the bases on a home run, the Rangers’ claw, the Mets’ salt and pepper shaker, sock/stirrup height, rally dips, rally caps, and Rally Monkeys. Give me all the superstitions. Unlike Michael Scott, I’m more than just a little stitious.

I love the chatter. There aren’t many scenarios in life where you can comfortably call other men “kid” or “babe” and it not seem unusual at all. There’s a cadence and style of language spoken at a baseball game that is unmistakable. “Hum babe, we got 1 away, keep pumpin strikes, roll a pair for the guy” This is all generally nonsense in any other walk of life. At a baseball game, you just heard a story about how the game is going.

I love the pain. I could cut a knee on a slide, take a foul ball off the wrist, or get hit by a pitch in the shoulder. You can bet your ass i’m wearing that like a badge of honor after the game. Each bruise, or lace mark, or abrasion has a story that I’ll be more than willing to tell you about.

I love the spectacular plays. The beautiful thing about the web gem or Walk-Off Home Run is that no two are exactly the same. There are endless variations of diving plays, mammoth Home Runs, Home Run robberies, and plays at the plate. Dewayne Wise robbed a Home Run in the 9th inning to keep Mark Buehrle’s perfect game intact in 2009. Ryan Roberts hit a Walk-Off Grand Slam with 2 outs in the bottom of the 10th inning of a 2011 game the D-Backs trailed the Dodgers by 3 runs. David Wright made a diving, bare-handed, over the shoulder catch in an August 2005 Mets Padres game. No one who attended any of those three games could have had any inkling that they would see something they’d never forget on that night. Baseball just happens and it happens in spectacular fashion at unexpected times.

I love the nostalgia. I was standing with my fingers in the fence watching my older brothers play baseball since the moment I could stand. I had a soft Playskool glove and ball that I used to throw off the wall and dive across the living room catching for hours on end. The game has been a part of my life for longer than my memories can even recall. As a result, baseball can bring me back to many of my favorite moments in my life. Being at certain fields will remind me of seeing my older brothers play in big games. Seeing a guy sit back on a knuckle ball will trigger a memory of my dad teaching me to “wait, wait, wait, fast bat” on a slower pitcher. Talking about lineup construction will remind me of my brother Matt’s thoughts on splitting up your lefties, or having a guy who can bunt in the 2-hole. And metal bleachers and camping chairs will always bring me back to seeing my mom with her clip-on sunglasses on, yelling “two-for-you!” and intently watching my games.

I love the stats. Reading a box score for me is reading a story about what happened in that game. I could go back and look through the numbers for a random Pirates Cubs game in 1958 and find something fun and interesting (Ernie Banks was probably involved). I can go through a baseball reference page and find a wild season where a guy completely dominated the league in some specific way. I’ll spend hours just going from one team to another to another to another and finding something unique about all of them. One might have had a ridiculous K/BB ratio, the next might have destroyed the league in Defensive Runs Saved, and the third could have stolen bases at a remarkable percentage. Teams have identities and the stats give an objective answer telling you what that identity is.

At some point over the course of the last 20 years or so, baseball guys were divided between sabermetrics guys and old-school baseball guys. I have a take, anyone too far on either side of this dividing line sucks. The dude who wants to turn baseball into just one giant math problem ruin the fun of it. The dude who thinks that progressing and using stats like ERA+ or OPS is too nerdy for them is ignorant. I want to soak up, learn, and enjoy all aspects of baseball. Then put all of those parts into a blender and inject it into my veins. Baseball doesn’t need to be fixed or adjusted or changed. It needs to just continue to be the perfect combination of all those things I love and live for.

Lets go play two.


All-Star Week for Mets Fans

Warning: what you are about to read may cause extreme sadness.

I’ll keep this short and sweet, these all star festivities suck as a mets fan. I wish there was a more elegant way to put that, but after hours of thinking, I cannot come up with one. Perhaps under different circumstances I would be able to look at Conforto flourishing as a great sign of things to come, but not this year. This season was sold to Mets fans as “the year we’ve all been waiting for,” and it seemed as though the promised land was finally within reach. Yet, here we are at the mid way point in the season, and not one of the mets starters from the now infamous round table was in Miami this weekend (the case could be made that degrom deserved it). I’d like to take a brief moment to focus on who was there:

Daniel Murphy – .342/.393/.572

Justin Turner – .377/.473/.583

Michael Fulmer – 9-6 with a 3.19 era

While Fulmer was an understandable trade, it is painful to watch Murphy and Turner absolutely tear up the league. I certainly don’t root against these guys, but they both appear to have made it their mission to bury the Mets at every opportunity. Well, here’s to Fire Sale Season!

P.S. If the Mets can just get healthy and with that rotation, think about the potential for next year!


We all need to start appreciating Adrian Beltre before he’s gone

The whole idea behind Pop Flies and Grounders is basically appreciating hard-fought, well-played baseball while also enjoying the fun of all the details and idiosyncrasies of the game. I can’t think of a guy in my lifetime who exemplifies this more than Adrian Beltre.

At this point, it’s common knowledge that he hates getting his head touched. This will never not be hilarious to me because he flips out every time, no matter what the scenario.


It’s not just the head touching and home runs from his knee though. The dude just loves playing baseball and has no problem showing it on the field.


Baseball is supposed to be fun, isn’t that the point? Isn’t that the whole reason any of us ever started watching or playing the game? No one has more fun on a baseball field and no one is more gif-able than Beltre. It’s so enjoyable to watch, much like watching him mash baseballs and show off his defensive wizardry.

Beltre’s career has seen him wear so many labels. First he was the top prospect and came up at 19 for the 98 Dodgers (He split time at 3B with Bobby Bonilla, that’s how long ago it was). From 98-03 he played reasonably well, but never seemed to live up to what everyone expected. The Dodgers trusted the process and in 2004 finished only behind Bonds in the MVP sporting a 1.017 OPS and 48 HR: superstar. 2004 was also a contract year for Adrian, so he locks into a 5 year 64 million dollar deal with the Mariners. This is where his detractors wrote him off. By most offensive measures, he did not play up to that contract in Seattle. In those 5 years he had slashlines of .266/.317/.442 averaging 20 HR and under 80 RBI. What he didn’t do with the bat, he did with the glove, 78 DRS in those years and his first 2 gold gloves cannot be ignored. It seemed to some (who don’t understand how home parks affect stats) that he may have been on the last legs of his career at only 30 though before becoming “The resurgent Adrian Beltre” in his lone Red Sox season in 2010 – Top 10 MVP finish, .919 OPS, leads the league with 49 doubles. In 2011, he signs for 6 years and 96 million with the Rangers in a deal that was considered pretty risky at the time. It didn’t turn out that way. Since then, these are his yearly finishes in the MVP vote: 15th, 3rd, 7th, 15th, 7th, 7th. Now he is the veteran presence who is amazing for locker room chemistry, but also still puts up MVP level numbers well into his late 30s. Recap: top prospect, bust, MVP candidate, bust (secretly awesome defense), resurgent, MVP candidate again, and leader.

We’ve gotten to the point where almost everyone has accepted the fact that he’s a Hall of Famer, finally. It took way longer than it should have. He is the only player in history to have over 2,000 hits (he’ll finish over 3,000) 300 home runs (he may get 500) and 200 Defensive Runs Saved. Basically he’s an all time great and he’s being treated as if he is a guy who needs the 3,000 hit benchmark to get him over the Hall of Fame hump. There are only 3 third basemen with a higher career WAR: Wade Boggs (who he’ll pass in the coming weeks), Eddie Matthews (will pass by next year at the latest), and Mike Schmidt (long shot, but not impossible). I think it’s about time we stopped talking about Adrian Beltre on the Hall of Fame bubble and start talking about him as possibly the best third baseman of all time. He’s certainly the most fun.


I just needed two more


Machado: Why would the Yankees even want him?

The Pop Flies and Grounders brain trust has been discussing the idea of posting some blogs on the site for a while, and in true PFG fashion, waited at least 2 weeks before doing anything about it, but here we are.

No better way to start this foray into blogging than my favorite subject: the inevitability of my team (the O’s) losing its best player (Manny Machado) to my most hated rival (the Yankees). A foregone conclusion, right? Not so fast (h/t Lee Corso). There is one thing more important  to Yankee fans than any other: above winning, above spending silly amounts of money, even above their daily Derek Jeter worship. That is “the Yankee Way” and who EARNS their pinstripes. I’m sure no one outside of me, my brother, and the city of Baltimore caught last night’s Orioles game, but there were a couple developments in the game which should give Yankee fans some pause.

The first play came in the 5th inning on a foul pop-up near the Indians dugout where Machado picked up the ball late but was able to make a tough juggling catch right up against the railing. Just another day at the office for the best defensive third baseman since Brooks Robinson. The concern in this play for Yankee fans and management should be obvious though. Foul pop-up near the fence, close game, and he didn’t dive over the railing. We all know a true Yankee would take 2 extra steps after the catch and dive headlong over that railing. I just don’t know if Machado would ever be willing to unnecessarily risk injury by diving into the stands like that. Certainly not the Yankee Way.

Two innings later, already 3 for 3 on the night with 2 HRs, Machado sent an 0-2, Bryan Shaw pitch deep into right field for what appeared to be his 3rd homer of the game. It stayed in the park and eluded the clueless Lonnie Chisenhall in right field to go off the fence for a double. The trouble with this play could be seen in the replay though. Machado stood and watched once he hit it, then jogged a few steps, and only kicked it into gear when he realized it had gone off the fence. He was never going to make it to third base on the play, made it safely into second, and ended up scoring the eventual winning run on the next pitch anyway, but that’s not what matters here! He pimped it out of the box and the is DEFINITELY not the Yankee Way, why would they want that type of player.

The history of Yankees players is divided into 2 groups: those that earned their pinstripes (i.e. Jeter, Munson, and Mantle) and those that didn’t earn their pinstripes (i.e. Pavano, Vazquez, and Mel Hall). The most famous in the latter group is almost certainly Alex Rodriguez. He may have unselfishly changed positions, won 2 MVPs and hit 351 Yankee HRs, and pretty much single handedly won them a World Series, but any yankee fan can tell you he was never a true Yankee. Who did Manny Machado get compared to from the day he was drafted? Yankee fans, do you really want another Alex Rodriguez who will join the team in the middle of his prime, give you 12 great years, win you a World Series, but never earn his pinstripes. Of course not. Machado will have to just put his tail between his legs and go spend the rest of his sorry-ass Hall of Fame career with the Orioles.