January 8, 2004

Keystone Chasms

By Matthew Namee

Yesterday we looked at the greatest second base-shortstop combinations in baseball history. Today, we'll check out the other extreme - some of the worst keystone combos of all time. It's appropriate that we're discussing this here at Aaron's Baseball Blog, where your regular proprietor is frequently bewailing the wretchedness of the Twins' "Keystone Chasm" of Luis Rivas and Cristian Guzman.

Truth be told, Rivas and Guzman aren't that bad. Rivas has legitimately stunk it up as a regular second baseman, but Guzman has compiled at least 13 Win Shares each year the duo has been together (2001-2003). 13 Win Shares for a starting shortstop is nothing to brag about, but it's not horrible either. Guzman belongs in the same class of players as Travis Lee, Alex (S.) Gonzalez, Adam Kennedy, and Melvin Mora - not stars by any means, but all adequate players.

There have been dozens of awful keystone combos for a single season, but because they were so bad, most of them only lasted one year. I searched high and low, and came up with the following list of nominees for the title "Worst Multi-Year Keystone Chasm":

Bobby Young and Billy Hunter | Browns/Orioles | 1953-54

The Browns lost 100 games in 1953, and at least some of the blame has to go to their double-play combo of Young (.255/.309/.326) and Hunter (.219/.253/.259). With both players appearing in nearly every game that season, St. Louis got a mere 17 Win Shares combined from its keystone combo. Hunter's performance is especially impressive, as he didn't miss a game and compiled an OPS+ of 37.

After that 54-100 record in '53, the Browns were no more, packing up and moving to Baltimore. Now the Orioles, the franchise employed the very same double-play duo in '54 and got basically the same results - Young (.245/.329/.331) and Hunter (.243/.281/.304) combined for 14 Win Shares, and the new Orioles finished 54-100, just as they had as the Browns the year before.

Tito Fuentes and Hal Lanier | Giants | 1966-67

In '66, Lanier was the regular second baseman and Fuentes the shortstop. The next season, they traded roles (and were just as horrible). Fuentes and Lanier combined to bat .231/.260/.301 in their two seasons together.

The amazing thing is, despite their historically-bad keystone pair, the Giants managed to win over 90 games and finish in second place both seasons. If San Francisco had employed even a Grade D keystone combo (as opposed to the Grade F of Lanier and Fuentes), they probably would have won the pennant - the Giants' 93 wins were just two games fewer than the first-place Dodgers.

Duane Kuiper and Tom Veryzer | Indians | 1978-79, 1981

Doug Flynn and Frank Taveras | Mets | 1979-81

These two pairs are direct contemporaries, so I thought it might be interesting to compare their totals. In three seasons together, Kuiper and Veryzer compiled 43 Win Shares, while Flynn and Taveras had 44. Kuiper and Veryzer combined to bat .257/.299/.301 in 2,323 at bats; the totals for Flynn and Taveras are .253/.284/.317 in 2,803 at bats.

While these two keystone combos were equally bad, their teams were not. For the most part, Kuiper and Veryzer''s Indians hovered around .500, but the Mets of Flynn and Taveras lost 90+ games every year.

And that's it. To my surprise, I only found four multi-year keystone combos that were bad enough to merit consideration as the worst ever, and all of them came in a 30-year time span (I'm still not sure why that is). In the process of doing this study, however, I discovered a couple more interesting Keystone Combinations:

Best Keystone Combo for a 100-loss team:

Jerry Lumpe and Dick Howser | 1961 Kansas City A's

Howser was one of the top rookies in baseball this year, batting .280 with 92 walks and 108 runs scored, and earning a spot on the AL All-Star team. Lumpe wasn't too shabby himself, hitting .293, and the pair sported a solid Keystone Score (which I explained yesterday) of 19.

Worst Keystone Combo for a 100-win team:

Tommy Helms and Dave Concepcion/Woody Woodward | 1970 Reds

Though Dave Concepcion had a fine 19-year career, as a rookie in 1970 he was nothing special (.260/.324/.317 in 265 AB). Concepcion split time at shortstop with future GM Woody Woodward, who actually managed to hit a weak .223. The second baseman on this team, Tommy Helms, was worse than either of his partners - despite playing in 150 games, he collected just 7 Win Shares while posting a nasty .237/.262/.282 batting line. The Reds overcame this paltry performance from their middle infield to win 102 games and the NL pennant, and within a couple years, they would feature the best middle infield in the history of baseball.

So, Twins fans, don't despair - teams have won with keystone combos far worse than Luis Rivas and Crisitan Guzman.

Matthew Namee is the research assistant to baseball author Bill James, and lives in Lawrence, Kansas.

January 7, 2004

Baseball's Greatest Keystone Combinations

By Matthew Namee

Trammell and Whitaker. Evers and Tinker. Jackie and Pee Wee. Rivas and Guzman (okay, maybe not Rivas and Guzman). Of course, I'm referring to some of the greatest 2B-SS combinations in baseball history. More often than perhaps any other group of teammates, keystone combinations stick together in our memories. Who was Jeff Kent's double-play partner? Rich Aurilia, of course. How about Derek Jeter's? Why, Alfonso Soriano. Duh. Naturally, this is all leading to a question - which Keystone Combo was the greatest in baseball history?

To determine this, all sorts of things need to be taken into account: Peak value, career value, longevity. I did my best to combine all of these factors. To measure value, I've decided to use Win Shares, but with a twist. Rather than simply add up the single-season Win Share totals for each keystone combo, I decided to find their harmonic mean (the same thing as Power-Speed Number, but with 2B Win Shares in place of homers and SS Win Shares instead of steals). That way, both players have to be good for the duo to merit consideration...

Let's call it the Keystone Score. I used Keystone Scores as a guideline, but I've made some (gasp!) subjective judgements in coming up with this list. On with the countdown...

10) Jeff Kent and Rich Aurilia | Giants | 1998-2002

This duo is recent enough that you all know as much about them as I do. Kent won the MVP award in 2000, and the next year Aurilia had one of the greatest seasons in recent memory by a shortstop not named Alex. Their Keystone Score of 30 in 2001 is one of the top 10 in baseball history.

With Kent's move to Houston last year, the baton of Best Active Keystone Combo was passed to Mr. Clutch and Alfonso Soriano, with Jose Vidro and Orlando Cabrera (1999-2003) next in line if Soriano becomes an outfielder (or the Yankees wise up and move Mr. Clutch to third).

9) Larry Doyle and Art Fletcher | Giants | 1912-16, 1918-19

Of all the pairs on this list, Doyle-Fletcher surprised me the most, but they were really good for a long time. You might be wondering why they played 5 years together, took a year off, and then played a couple more. It's actually really interesting...

Late in the 1916 season, Doyle was traded to the Cubs, allowing the Giants to make newly-acquired Buck Herzog the regular second baseman. Doyle and Herzog both had disappointing years in 1917, and on January 4, 1918, Doyle was traded to the Boston Braves. Four days later, the Braves sent Doyle back to his old club, the Giants, for Buck Herzog, the man who had replaced him. Apparently to sweeten the deal (which is odd, since Herzog was older than Doyle and not as good), the Braves also gave the Giants a young pitcher named Jesse Barnes, who went on to win 25 games in 1919.

What all that means is that Larry Doyle and Art Fletcher were reunited as a double-play combination for a couple more years, playing well enough to push themselves into the top 10 on this list. Which I'm sure was their goal all along.

8) Eddie Collins and Jack Barry | Athletics | 1909-14

Collins and Barry made up half of what may have been the greatest infield of all time - Connie Mack's "$100,000 Infield." Along with his double-play combination, Mack's infield had Home Run Baker at third base and a couple good first basemen, Harry Davis and Stuffy McInnis. Eventually the $100,000 Infield got too expensive for Mr. Mack's taste, with the arrival of the Federal League in 1914 pushing up salaries.

After the last of four pennants as a group, the infield was broken up following the 1914 season. Barry was shipped to the Red Sox, where he found himself right in the middle of another dynasty. Collins went to the White Sox and led the team to the 1917 World Series. At least one of these two players was a member of eight of the 10 AL champions in the decade of the teens.

7) Buddy Myer and Joe Cronin | Senators | 1929-34

In 1933, Cronin was named player-manager of the Senators. That year, he earned 34 Win Shares and Myer picked up 23, and Washington won the American League pennant. The next year, Cronin met owner Clark Griffith's niece Mildred, they fell in love, and...well, they got married.

And with Griffith acting as a sort of foster-father to his niece, the union of Joe and Mildred must have at least made for some interesting dinner-time conversation in the Griffith household. Then, after a disappointing '34 season, Clark sent his newest family member packing to Boston, ending Myer and Cronin's stellar run.

6) Charlie Gehringer and Billy Rogell | Tigers | 1931-38

Gehringer was known as "The Mechanical Man," in part because he was good for a .320 average and 100 RBI every year, and in part because he was a quiet, somewhat boring player (if a .320-hitting second baseman could be considered boring). Rogell, on the other hand, was combative and not the least bit passive. Bill James relates a great story about Gehringer and Rogell in The New Historical Baseball Abstract, which does a nice job of illustrating their personalities:

"One time Gehringer and Rogell messed up covering second base on a hit and run play. Mickey Cochrane, managing the team from behind the plate, rushed out to second base and started to chew them out. Rogell, astonished, looked at Gehringer to see if he was going to say anything. Gehringer, of course, had nothing to say.

"'Goddamn you,' yelled Rogell. 'Don't you come charging out here telling me how to play shortstop. You go back and do the catching, and I'll play shortstop. If I'm not good enough, you can find someone else.' Cochrane went back to his own position."

The combo's best year together was in 1934 - the Tigers won the pennant and Gehringer and Rogell combined to drive in 227 runs (127 for Gehringer, 100 for Rogell).

5) Claude Ritchey and Honus Wagner | Pirates | 1901, 1903-06

Not only were Ritchey and Wagner double-play partners, they were roommates. The two played together at Steubenville of the Inter-State League, Warren of the Iron-Oil League, Louisville, and Pittsburgh. While Wagner was the greatest shortstop (and arguably the greatest player) the game has ever seen, Ritchey was pretty good himself - he had more Win Shares than any other second baseman in the National League during the years he and Wagner manned the Pirate keystone.

4) Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell | Tigers | 1978-94

If we were ranking keystone combos solely on career value, these guys would be at the top of the list. Whitaker and Trammell were the regular double-play combo for the Tigers for seventeen consecutive seasons. The second-longest string? Nine, by Davey Lopes and Bill Russell of the Dodgers, and Glenn Beckert and Don Kessinger of the Cubs.

It's hard to imagine two players being more linked in history than Whitaker and Trammell. The pair both made their major-league debuts on September 9, 1977. The following year, they teamed with Lance Parrish to form one of the greatest single-team rookie classes of their generation. Both were solid regulars until 1983, when both had their breakout years - Trammell hit .319, Whitaker .320.

The next season, they led the Tigers to 104 wins and a World Series victory, and remained stars into the early '90s. Their last great year together was 1993, when Trammell batted .329, and Whitaker hit .290 with a .412 on-base percentage. It may never happen, but I'd love to see these two go into the Hall of Fame together.

3) Johnny Evers and Joe Tinker | Cubs | 1903-10, 1912

Evers (pronounced EE-vers, not Eh-vers) was kind of nuts, and got on everyone's nerves. He and Tinker didn't even speak to each other for years, despite playing a few feet apart in the field. Everybody has heard of the Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance infield, but a lot of people don't realize that Franklin Adams' famous poem, written in 1910, was actually called "Baseball's Sad Lexicon":

These are the saddest possible words:

Tinker to Evers to Chance.
Trio of bear Cubs and fleeter than birds,
Tinker to Evers to Chance.
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
Making a Giant hit into a double,
Words that are weighty with nothing but trouble,
Tinker to Evers to Chance.

The words were "sad" because Adams was a New York newspaperman, and the Cubs always seemed to beat the Giants back then. Tinker and Evers aren't this high on the list because of poetry, though - they were good. From 1908-1910, both players averaged 26 Win Shares per season, with an outstanding peak Keystone Score of 30.

That old Cubs infield was pretty good for poetry, though. Years later, in 1947, Ogden Nash "tinkered" (okay, that was lame) with Adams' composition:

E is for Evers

His jaw in advance

Never afraid

To Tinker with Chance.

2) Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese | Dodgers | 1948-52

In terms of peak value, this pair is #1. In their five years together, neither Reese nor Robinson ever had a season with fewer than 20 Win Shares. In 1949, they put together the greatest season for a double-play combo in baseball history. Robinson won the batting title, earned 36 Win Shares, and took home the MVP Award. Reese collected 32 Win Shares of his own (an MVP-level total), led the league with 132 runs scored, and finished 5th in MVP voting.

Perhaps the most famous story about Robinson and Reese came in 1947, when Jackie was still a first baseman. In late April, the Dodgers went to Cincinnati to play the Reds. Reese was from Kentucky, just across the river from Cincy. I'll let Rex Barney, Brooklyn's starting pitcher that day, describe the event (from Bums, by Peter Golenbock):

"I was warming up on the mound, and I could hear the Cincinnati players screaming at Jackie... and then they started to get on Pee Wee. They were yelling at him, 'How can you play with this -----?' and all this stuff, and while Jackie was standing by first base, Pee Wee went over to him and put his arm around him as if to say, 'This is my boy. This is the guy. We're gonna win with him.' Well, it drove the Cincinnati players right through the ceiling, and you could have heard the gasp from the crowd as he did it. That's one reason Pee Wee was such an instrumental person contributing to Jackie's success, Pee Wee more than anyone else because Pee Wee was from the South. Pee Wee understood things a little better... They became very close friends, and they understood each other."

1) Joe Morgan and Dave Concepcion | Reds | 1972-79

Concepcion and Morgan didn't get along very well off the field, according to Morgan in his 1993 autobiography. On the diamond, though, they worked together fine. "I was able, largely because I knew Davey's moves as well as I did, to pick up a double-play grounder and flip it sideways toward the bag without having to pivot," Morgan said. "So far as I know, I was the first second baseman to do that."

The eight seasons that Morgan and Concepcion played together cover the core years of the Big Red Machine. With this keystone combo, the Reds won at least 90 games every season, including five division titles, three pennants, and two World Series. In six of those eight years, both Morgan and Concepcion made the All-Star team.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Aaron asked me to write something for this website while he's in Vegas, and say what you will about this article, but it's definitely "Gleeman-length."

I'm told there are some charts around here somewhere...

Highest Average Keystone Score		


Second Base Shortstop Team AVG
Robinson Reese BRO 27.4
Ritchey Wagner PIT 27.2
Collins Barry PHA 23.2
Morgan Concepcion CIN 23.1
Kent Aurilia SFG 22.4
Cronin Myer WAS 22.2
Gehringer Rogell DET 21.8
Lajoie Turner CLE 20.6
Doyle Fletcher NYG 20.6
Evers Tinker CHC 20.3
Highest Single-Season Keystone Score			


Year Second Base Shortstop Team Score
1949 Robinson Reese BRO 34
1908 Abbaticchio Wagner PIT 32
1906 Ritchey Wagner PIT 31
1909 Miller Wagner PIT 31
1906 Lajoie Turner CLE 30
1946 Doerr Pesky BOS 30
1927 Hornsby Jackson NYG 30
1908 Evers Tinker CHC 30
1974 Morgan Concepcion CIN 30
2001 Kent Aurilia SFG 30

There, you can see the top Keystone Scores of all time, as well as the best average scores for a combo that was together for at least five seasons.

Believe it or not, I've got more to say on the subject of Keystone Combinations, so I'll be back tomorrow. I'll be turning the tables, though, and discussing something close to a Twin fan's heart - the worst keystone combos in baseball history.

Matthew Namee is the research assistant to baseball author Bill James, and lives in Lawrence, Kansas.

the busblog writes aarons baseball blog

by tony pierce

tonypierce.com

im glad Harry Caray's the chicago watering hole and restaurant bought the infamous Steve Bartman foul ball that changed the fate of the cubs this october, and broke the spirits of cubs fans everywhere.

im not glad, however, that they plan on destroying the ball.

heres what they should do with that ball.

they should erect a permanent dunk tank next to the outside portion of the brick wall on waveland ave.

in the tank should reside the nemesis, mr bartman. wearing his stupid sweater with the turtleneck sticking out, listening to his stupid radio via headphones, and donning the classic blue cubs hat as if to symbolize all of the failings of my favorite team for nearly 100 years.

there will be a line. and once you get to the front of the line you pay ten bucks. they hand you the $100k ball that bartman nor moises alou ever caught, and you get a shot at dunking the enemy.

there will be cops all around the dunk tank and participants will be disuaded from pulling out their handguns although there wouldnt be a jury in illinois who would convict, but the money goes to getting the cubs some relief pitchers.

and maybe a-rod.

destroying anything so fascinating and dark is foolish and emotional. plus it would be like destroying history.

and a cash cow.

thirty to fourty thousand people go to wrigley each game. if 10,000 paid $10 to not only hold the foul ball, but have a chance at dunking one of the most worthy to be dunked men in history, then the cubs would raise $100,000 a game, which is approximately what rodriguez gets paid per game.

...

speaking of money, i hope Steinbrenner goes broke in his arms race against the red sox.

he had a stacked team last year and he couldnt beat the marlins whose payroll was a fraction of the bronx bombers. the a's have proven that beaneball is not only the future but also the present.

the cubs were a foul ball out away from beating the marlins and they didnt go out the year before and collect allstars like baseball cards, writing checks like paris hilton at a barneys half off sale.

every time the yankees lose a big game i laugh my cubfan ass off, and it saddens me that the red sox are trying to beat the boss at his own game. theyve got schilling, theyve got manny, theyve got nomah, they should just ride this one out and do what the yankees fail to do: let their team actually be a team.

....

speaking of nomar and a-rod and manny and the players union. the union needs to let a-rod give back the money to the rangers. the mlb players union is the strongest in the world. but sometimes you can be too strong for your own good.

it is in the best interest of baseball and in the best interest of a-rod and the boston redsox and in the best interest of major league baseball fans if a-rod can leave the rangers and join the team that he wants to join.

this is a-rod deciding on his own that he wants to give the money back, not the team trying to take it. a good union should want the choices and the power and the freedom to remain with its union members, and thats whats going on here.

if they try to cause problems with a-rod it might discourage players and teams from making $100 million contracts, and the union certainly doesnt want that.

therefore they should let a-rod go to fenway and hit 80 home runs and change baseball entirely instead of acting like the pouty little brat that theyve become.

tony pierce is a cub fan, he writes the busblog at tonypierce.com/blog/bloggy.htm and he hopes that aaron is enjoying the all you can eat seafood buffet at the rio in vegas.

January 5, 2004

How I Remember Josh Beckett

By Ryan Levy

Texas A&M & Baseball In No Particular Order

I speak to you as one of a very few. I am one of 30 high school kids who got a hit off of Josh Beckett during his senior year. After seeing Josh achieve success at a much higher level than District 21-5A in the state of Texas, I thought people might be interested in hearing what I remember about Josh from his high school days.

I graduated from Westfield High School, in Spring, TX in the year 2000; one year after Josh graduated Spring High School. Spring is just north of Houston, and technically my house was in Houston but if I spat to the north, it would land in Spring. We are the only two schools in the school district, thus we were bitter rivals. I played baseball on our varsity team my junior and senior years and personally played against Josh twice during my junior season.

Before I get to the games I saw Josh play and the games that I played against him, let me give you a quick background on the area of Texas we're from. Texas is known as a football hotbed, and we definitely are, but we are also one of the strongest baseball states in the nation. I played against lots of guys growing up that are still playing and a lot of guys who wish they were still playing (me included). Here's a rundown of guys around my age from my area of Texas and when they graduated high school that you may be familiar with:

  • Josh Beckett (Spring High '99) - Florida Marlins; World Series MVP
  • Adam Dunn (New Caney High '98) - Cincinnati Reds; National League All-Star
  • Carl Crawford (Davis High '99) - Tampa Bay Devil Rays
  • Chris George (Klein High '98) - Kansas City Royals
  • Josh Barfield (Westfield High/Klein High '01) - San Diego Padres #1 Prospect
  • Scott Kazmir (Cy Fair High '02) - 2002 New York Mets 1st Round Draft Pick
  • Clint Everts (Cy Fair High '02) - 2002 Montreal Expos 1st Round Draft Pick
  • David Murphy (Klein High '00) - 2003 Boston Red Sox 1st Round Draft Pick
  • Vincent Sinisi (Woodlands High '00) - 2003 Texas Rangers 2nd Round Draft Pick
  • Wardell Starling (Spring High/Elkins High '02) - 2002 Pittsburgh Pirates 4th Round Draft Pick
  • Brad Halsey (Westfield High '99) - 2002 New York Yankees 8th Round Draft Pick
  • Chris Kolkhorst (Cy Falls High '00) - 2003 College World Series hero with Rice
  • B.J. Symons (Cy Creek High '99) - Texas Tech QB; NCAA Single Season Record for Passing Yards
  • Aaron Karas (Spring High '00) - Baylor Starting QB
  • David Dyches (Westfield High '03) - Nebraska Kicker
  • There are more guys who are still in college playing football or baseball, but I think you see that there was a significant talent level in the Houston area during that time frame (the only three of those guys I didn't play a game with were Dunn, George, and Crawford). You can see that Josh wasn't just playing against Billy Bob from down the street, he was playing against very talented players (myself excluded).

    Ok, so now back to Beckett. Like I said earlier, I played two games against Josh (one he pitched in and one he played in the field) but I watched him pitch in four other games while he was in high school (plus one game for the Marlins - when he made his debut back here in Houston in '02). I'll go through the games in chronological order for you and throw all the statistics I could find atcha.

    The first time I saw Josh pitch was during his sophomore season on Friday May 16th, 1997. Spring High was matched up against Dobie High in the quarterfinals of the State Playoffs. The main reason I went to the game was because Dobie's head coach (David Pierce, now an assistant coach at Rice) was my batting coach when I was younger and I wanted to watch his team. Seeing Beckett wasn't too bad of a bonus.

    The game was held at Cougar Field on the University of Houston campus. Spring was 21-9 going into the game and Dobie was 21-6-1, with Nathan Mitchell (10-1) on the mound. Josh struck out 13 guys but he also gave up five hits and six walks. Something that Josh has improved since his high school days is his emotional stability on the mound. That is what got him in this game amidst his six walks.

    Mitchell pitched an excellent game to counter Josh's performance, giving up only four hits in route to his complete game 5-1 victory, advancing Dobie in the playoffs and sending Spring High home for the summer. Josh finished the season with a 9-3 record, striking out 150 batters while maintaining a 1.18 ERA. He threw three no-hitters, which is amazing. He also hit .414 with 32 RBIs, which isn't too bad either.

    The first time I remember Westfield playing against Spring was a home game for us during my sophomore year (Josh's junior season) when Spring was ranked #1 in the nation. I was still on J.V., so we played our game before the varsity teams did, but I was there for the varsity game. What I remember the most was the people. I couldn't believe how many people were coming to our complex. There was such a buzz floating around the stands, it was really quite amazing. There were scouts, school administrators, parents, and other casual fans that were there just to see Josh pitch. The place was packed, and the concessions stand was very happy about that. If all these new visitors were rooting for Westfield, then they were in for a treat!

    I remember sitting in the bleachers down the third base line before the game watching Spring go through warm-ups out in right field. I thought to myself, "Wow, these guys are the #1 team in the nation." I'll admit, I was a bit star-struck so it's a good thing I wasn't playing in the game.

    I also remember that we handed Spring their first district loss of the season, and if I'm not mistaken, it was on a steal of home plate by our center fielder in the seventh inning (in high school the games are all seven innings, which is also accounted for in calculating ERAs), giving us the 2-1 victory. I really don't remember any more details of the game and I couldn't find anything about it in the Houston Chronicle's archives either, which really surprises me.

    The next time we faced Beckett that year was Tuesday April 15th, at their place. It was pretty intense because district play was winding down (only five game left) and Spring was one game ahead of us, and two games ahead of Kingwood High.

    There were a lot of students at this game and we were heckling the heck out of Josh. There was one guy who had a sign that read: "Hey Beckett, your ERA is higher than your GPA". It was funny because Josh had an ERA of something like 0.39 at that time. That student was asked to leave, but he was pretty popular in the halls after that stunt.

    I remember that our lead-off hitter fouled the first pitch of the game right back off his own face. It looked pretty serious, but he was a stubborn fella and he got back into the box and hit a single over the second baseman's head. That was about all the excitement that the Westfield Mustangs could dig up. Our starter got roughed up badly, walking five of the first six batters he faced, and was lifted after the first inning losing 6-0.

    My current roommate's brother, Jeff, came into the game in the second inning and Beckett tee-ed off on him dropping the ball into the trees tops well beyond the left-center scoreboard, putting them up 14-0. It was the second longest HR I saw while I was in high school and we still like to give Jeff a hard time about it. Beckett came out of the game after three innings after giving up no runs, two hits and a walk while striking out seven. When it was all said and done, Spring ended up avenging their loss from earlier in the season, 14-4.

    On May 23rd, I traveled down to Cougar Field once again to watch a re-match of the previous season's State quarter finals with Spring (23-5-1) facing off again against Dobie (18-9). This time I went to see Beckett pitch.

    Once again, Dobie countered with Nathan Mitchell (7-2), and once again Mitchell's Dobie got the best of Spring High, 2-1. Josh struck out 11 batters and gave up two runs in the fifth inning which prompted his exit. Mitchell stole the show again, besting his performance from the previous year by giving up only two hits while striking out 10 batters. Spring only managed to get two balls out of the infield, and both of their hits were infield singles.

    Josh finished his junior season with a 13-2 record with both losses having scores of 2-1. He struck out 178 batters in 89 innings and allowed only 12 runs and 31 hits while posting an ERA of 0.39. He also hit .486 with nine HRs and 29 RBIs. Early in the season he struck out 18 batters in a 7-1 victory over the defending State Champs, Round Rock High. He finished his career with three different 18K games, and I remind you again that only seven innings are played in high school baseball (meaning there are only 21 outs if you're the visiting team and only 18 outs if you're the home team with a lead).

    Now we're at the point in time where I can step in and give my own personal in-the-dugout experiences and perspectives. It's Beckett's senior year and he's on top of the world. He's already been dubbed the best high school player in the nation, and the only real debate going on was whether he would be picked #1 by Tampa Bay or #2 by Florida in the June Amateur Draft.

    The first time we played Spring that season was on April 6, 1999 at Spring High School. We were 14-6 and Spring was 16-3. Going into the game, Beckett was 6-0 on the season with a 0.19 ERA and had allowed nine hits, four runs (one earned on a Vincent Sinisi solo HR during non-district play in Feburary), 14 walks, and he had struck out 81 in 37.1 IP.

    We were going to counter with David Frame, who prior to Tommy John surgery the summer before could get it up in the mid-90s. Well, there's a story here. The day before the game it rained, so we practiced in the gym and when practice was over coach asked us to wait in the locker-room over at the baseball complex. Well, only a couple of guys heard him say this and apparently didn't tell Frame. When coach finally got to the locker-room Frame had already left to go home. Needless to say, coach was not happy.

    I remember what happened next very vividly. He said, "Halsey, can you go tomorrow?" Brad responded with two words: "Yes sir." And coach walked out of the locker-room not telling us whatever it was that he originally wanted to meet with us about.

    We were all very excited at game time the next night because coach did a great job preparing us and filling our heads with the thought that we could, in fact, beat this kid. I don't think there was ever a game, other than my first varsity game, that I can remember having so much energy and adrenaline pumping through me.

    We had been taking batting practice all week with the pitcher standing about 15 feet away from us to help simulate the speed of Beckett's fastball. It was pretty crazy. I couldn't get over the number of people who were in the stands. When we played them the year before, there were a lot of people there but nothing like this night. There wasn't room in the bleachers for about 1/3 of the crowd, which included something like 50 scouts.

    My secondary goal for the evening, behind winning, was to not become a strikeout victim. I thought it would be rarer to earn the right to say I didn't strike out against Beckett than it would be to say that I was one of hundreds who did.

    I remember reading in the local paper that Josh said he looked at the guy on-deck and could sense fear and used that intimidation to his advantage. Well, I didn't want to be Josh's next chump, so I didn't have any problem staring right back at him. With all the adrenaline pumping through me I could have run through a brick wall.

    The night is somewhat of a blur to me now, but I do remember bits and chunks of it. I remember my first at-bat. I hit a surprisingly sharp ball to the shortstop that turned into a 6-4 fielder's choice. I also remember Spring getting out to a two-run lead in the first inning. Then I remember that our left-handed first baseman, Matt Pali (who is now in the minor leagues with the Angels), hit a shot over the left field fence to bring us back within one run.

    I remember that we had scouted Josh and his team so well that during my second at-bat their catcher, pre-season All-American Stephen Ghutzman (now in the minor leagues with the Rockies), was crying and yelling at the umpire saying that we were cheating. The umpire told him to just sit back down behind the plate. I fouled off a couple pitches and Ghutzman started crying even more. On the next pitch, I turned on it and got it into the air and took off running. The ball was hit to mid-shallow left-center field and Spring's CF dove for the ball and it rolled past him, and I didn't slow down until I hit second base with a stand up double.

    Coach had prepped me the previous day that if I got to second base I was to take a very big secondary lead (your lead after the pitcher starts his delivery to the plate). He had noticed that Ghutzman really liked to throw behind runners at second base.

    The first time Josh went to his stretch, he threw back to second base with a pick-off move, which scared the snot out of me. I thought maybe he somehow knew our plan. The next pitch, I did exactly what coach had told me, and Ghutzman did exactly what we hoped he would. As soon as he released the ball, I took off towards third base and was safe on a high relay throw by the second baseman. Coach was pumped, and I was just grinning.

    Unfortunately, I was not able to score, nor were any more of my teammates. Halsey gave up three more runs in the fourth and we lost the game 5-1.

    At some point during the game our third baseman, who set and broke the school record for HBP in each of his three years on varsity, took a fastball from Beckett off of his elbow and he just trotted down to first base without even flinching. It was pretty cool.

    In my third at-bat, I thought I was just the king of the world, but I missed my pitch and ended up hitting a weak ground ball to second base. I can still see that pitch, and man-oh-man I wish I had a second chance with it. I don't remember what the pitch was that I hit for the double, probably because my eyes were closed.

    I want to make sure that no one thinks that I was any sort of stud. I was a marginal speedy outfielder who could bunt and run, but I just happened to have a good game in the biggest game of my life. To prove this, I'll confess to you that I lost my starting spot my senior year to an underclassman.

    As for our starter, Brad Halsey, I think that was the game that put him on the scout's map. Besides the five runs, he pitched a very solid game. He is a lefty with a nasty move to first base. In high school, I hated facing him in B.P. because his slider just cut right at my knees (as a right-handed batter). He was drafted very late by the Yankees after he graduated, but he chose to go the junior college route before making the squad at Texas University the year they won the College World Series, and getting drafted by New York again in 2002. I just read in Baseball America about two months ago that Brad is currently the top pitching prospect in the Yankee's organization.

    When it was all said and done, Beckett had the win, and a regular season-low seven Ks to go with a regular season-high six hits.

    Before we got onto the bus to go home after the game, I popped the cap off of the fence post and took it home with me as a reminder of the greatest game of my life. It is still sitting on my desk. One day, I'd like to meet Josh and get him to sign it.

    The next day, our coach came into the locker-room and told us that he had just received a phone call from someone pretty special. It turns out that Tampa Bay Devil Rays GM Chuck LaMar and coach Larry Rothchild had flown in to Houston on an off day to see Josh pitch. They were two of the scouts in the stands that night. LaMar had called our coach to tell us that he had never seen a team compete with the heart that we did. It was a pretty amazing compliment, and it didn't really sink in to me who gave it to us until a few years later.

    A couple of weeks later, Josh matched up against the now famous, B.J. Symons for his eighth win to clinch a part of the district championship. He struck out 14, gave up one hit and hit a home run himself. His perfect game was broken up in the sixth inning by Paul Janish (Rice's catcher last season). I didn't get to see this game, but I saw the write up in the paper and I thought it was pretty interesting seeing where those three guys are now.

    As I mentioned earlier, we played against a Beckett-led district champion Spring High Lions (22-5) again but he did not pitch. We won that game 13-3 to improve to 20-9 on the season and clinch a district playoff game to advance to the state playoffs (we lost that game). I don't remember much about that game against Spring other than I executed a suicide squeeze bunt early in the game.

    Spring (and Josh) lost in the State semi-finals to the same Round Rock team that Josh had dominated the season prior. The game went into extra innings and I'll quote the Houston Chronicle for the events that occurred in the 9th inning:

    "After striking out Justin Lehmann to start the inning, Steven Johnson bounced back to the mound and Beckett, instead of throwing to first for the easy out, tried unsuccessfully to outrun Johnson to the bag. Beckett struck out Sawicki for the inning's second out but Guajardo, who had struck out in his three previous at-bats, made him pay for his mental error with a rocket over the scoreboard in left to put Round Rock ahead 3-1."

    That's a really bad way to end such an amazing high school career. This past World Series was pretty bazaar in that Beckett also chose to chase down Jorge Posada on his bouncer back to the mound. Fortunately, he got to Jorge in time to get the final out of the series.

    Josh finished his senior season 10-1 with a 0.46 ERA in 75.1 IP, allowing only 10 runs (5 ER), 30 hits, 28 walks, and an amazing 155 strikeouts. At the plate he hit .506 with 11 HRs, 39 RBIs, 28 BBs and just 8 Ks.

    He ended his career on the mound with a 32-6 record and 484 Ks. Simply amazing.

    You all know the story since then, now you know how it all began.

    Ryan Levy is a student at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. He writes the Texas A&M & Baseball In No Particular Order blog about, coincidentally enough, Texas A&M and Baseball.

    January 4, 2004

    On Being a Twins Fan

    By John Sickels

    ESPN.com Minor League Analyst

    First, I want to thank Aaron Gleeman for the opportunity to appear as a guest writer while he is away. For those of you who don't know me, my name is John Sickels. I write the Down on the Farm column for ESPN.com twice a week, covering minor league baseball prospects. I write a prospect book every year called The Baseball Prospect Book, which you can order at my website, JohnSickels.com. In January, I have another book coming out called Bob Feller: Ace of the Greatest Generation, an objective biography of Hall-of-Fame Great Bob Feller. You can get that through Amazon or your local book retailer.

    Anyhow, if you've read some of my stuff over the years, you may be aware that I'm a long-time Minnesota Twins fan. And that's at least partially why Aaron asked me to visit today. He says I can write about anything I want, so I think I'll ramble a bit about my history as a Twins fan, then take a peek at what I see as the future of the franchise.

    I grew up in Des Moines in the 1970s and 1980s. Central Iowa is now Cubs territory, due to the presence of the Triple-A Iowa Cubs. But during my youth, the area was more of a melting pot of baseball fans. You had Cubs fans, yes. But you also had lots of Royals fans, Cardinals fans, a smattering of White Sox fans, and a significant minority of Twins fans. This was a remnant of the 1960s, when the Twins of Killebrew and Oliva owned the loyalty of most Central Iowa baseball followers.

    This was fading when I first became aware of baseball in 1976. The Twins had been in the dumps for several years, and the Royals were increasingly popular. But the Twins still got a lot of coverage in the local paper. WHO radio (1040 AM, 50,000 watts), and local cable TV still carried Minnesota baseball. For some unknown reason, I latched onto the Twins as my team.

    The torch became a burden in the early 1980s. WHO dropped the Twins, reducing my radio listening to desperate attempts to pick up a static-laced WCCO on clear nights. The cable system dropped the Twins in favor of the Atlanta Braves and the new-fangled "superstation" WTBS. The newspaper stopped paying attention to the Twins. Any rational 12-year-old would have switched allegiances at some point. Rooting for Hosken Powell and Willie Norwood was hard enough as it was, but with player news and game stories hard to come by, what was the point?

    Alas, fandom is seldom logical. Once burned into the psyche, team allegiance is difficult to change.

    The 1980s brought changes: a new stadium, exciting new players like Kent Hrbek and Kirby Puckett, a competitive team in 1984, just enough to keep the fires burning. All was finally rewarded with the unexpected World Championship of 1987. A second flag in 1991 was icing on the cake, and it looked like we had many years of good times ahead.

    1992 was a good year, but in '93 things started to go downhill. The team aged; veterans brought in to patch holes didn't do as well as expected, and the farm system seemed to stagnate. The loss of Puckett to glaucoma in '96 was the final break between the Good Years and a new era, one that looked increasingly gloomy as the realities of baseball economics intruded in the Metrodome. Owner Carl Pohlad, once hailed as the savior of the franchise, morphed into Montgomery Burns. Some people pined for the return of Calvin Griffith, the skinflint former owner who at least seemed to care about baseball.

    During this period, I became a "baseball professional," my long-time hobby turning into a full-time job due to a combination of luck, work, more luck, and providential circumstance. Oh, yes, and a great deal of luck. Writing about baseball for a living forces you to take a more objective, logical look at the activities of your favorite team. To retain intellectual honesty, you have to get some emotional distance. The threatened contraction of 2001/2002 left a very bad taste in my mouth, and seriously tested my love for the Twins. Ultimately, I'm still a Twins fan and will always be one.

    OK, so what does the future hold for Minnesota?

    The Good News:

    The farm system is in good condition. Joe Mauer is ready to step into the catching slot, and could be a superstar. Justin Morneau is a stud, if they'll give him the at-bats to get comfortable. Jesse Crain is, in my opinion, much closer to being ready to contribute than a lot of people think. He could be the closer very soon. Grant Balfour, Boof Bonser, and J.D. Durbin all have the ability to be successful major league pitchers, and this is just the top group.

    The pet pitcher of most statheads, Johan Santana, will finally start in 2004. . .assuming his arm is OK. The loss of Guardado and Hawkins SHOULD be fixable with some combination of Joe Nathan and youngsters, but baseball history is littered with the corpses of similar plans.

    One bit of good news is the level of competition in the Central Division in '04. The White Sox look dysfunctional to me. The Royals have improved this off-season and could finish over .500 again, but I can't see them winning 90 games just yet. The Indians need another year of rebuilding. The Tigers are the personification of suck.

    Other good news: Kyle Lohse is a few minor adjustments away from dropping his ERA 75 points. He could win 20 games if he gets some run support. The Santana/Lohse/Radke trio could be the second-best 1-2-3 punch in the league if all goes well. A major "if," of course, but it's more likely than people think.

    The Mediocre News:

    I'm not real wild about some of these off-season moves. I've always been a big Eric Milton fan and while trading him does free up salary, the rotation would look a lot better if it was Santana/Radke/Milton/Lohse.

    I like Shannon Stewart, but the Twins have had an excess of outfielders in recent years, and keeping Stewart while letting Milton/Hawkins/Guardado walk seems backwards to me. I would have let Stewart go, given Mike Cuddyer a job without sending him to Rochester if he goes 1-for-10, and used Stewart's money to keep the pitching together. But that's me.

    Aaron thinks that keeping Stewart and then trading Jacque Jones for prospects or something is a good move, though we haven't yet seen what the Twins may or may not get for Jones, of course. He could well be right. The Milton trade is defensible considering the salary factors, although I disapprove emotionally. I'm not sure keeping Stewart was the best way to maximize resources.

    The Bad News:

    At some point the Twins have to realize that Cristian Guzman and Luis Rivas are stagnating. Neither has progressed beyond where they were a couple of years ago. Both are still young enough to improve, but if they remain at their current level of performance, their value relative to their salaries will continue to decline, and that's not something a limited-budget team can handicap themselves with. A similar calculus led to the Milton trade, but the chance of Milton having a significant positive impact in '04 is higher (in my opinion) than the chance that Rivas will suddenly become a .300 hitter or that Guzman will knock 15 homers. Baseball is dynamic, and we can't afford to stand still. I'm concerned that the roster turnover this winter isn't really focused on fixing weaknesses.

    The Twins are not a stathead club. One opposing GM described the Minnesota system to me as "one of the most traditional teams, but they are good at it." I'm not saying that Minnesota should become Oakland Midwest, but I'd like to see at least SOME sabermetric thinking mixed in with the traditionalism. The Twins are open-minded and creative in some ways; they are very aggressive about scouting in unusual places like Australia and Europe, for example. Using sabermetrics to supplement traditional scouting can yield big rewards. Division competitors Kansas City and Cleveland have started to do this, and the Twins need to stay ahead of the curve.

    2004 and Beyond:

    Despite the roster shuffling, it seems likely that the Twins will be in the thick of things again in 2004, contending for the division title. The talent base remains strong, and the farm system is productive. In the long run, the Twins face growing challenges from the improving Royals and Indians, plus the ever-obnoxious if dangerous White Sox. In the big picture, the long-term stability continues to rest on the complex tango between state and local governments with the Pohlad family and major league baseball over the stadium issue.

    Being a Twins fan is variously frustrating, exhilarating, depressing, exciting. But it is seldom boring. May the tradition continue for another 40 years.

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