Friday, April 28, 2017

The Maddux on a Baseball Card

If you've read much of my writing, you're likely aware that when I was a kid, baseball cards were a huge deal to me, really taking off when Topps released its classic 1987 set, the one with the wood paneling trim. I say they were a huge deal when I was a kid, but it's not as though I ever entirely let them go. Last summer in fact, I spent hours over the course of my weeks off from teaching loosely organizing the thousands and thousands of cards I had in a couple of large cardboard boxes in the basement. First I sorted them by sport (because I had a few football and basketball cards as well, along with some Star Wars and Marvel superhero cards too. Then I sorted the baseball cards by brand. There were Donruss and Fleer, Bowman and Score, Upper Deck and O-Pee-Chee. By far the largest pile was the Topps one though. My first love, and always to remain my greatest. And because of that, when I came upon something new today, I beamed with excitement the way I would have when I pulled a Kirby Puckett or a Bo Jackson from a pack as a kid.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Best MLB players of the last 30 years, #6: Albert Pujols

Albert Pujols was born the same year as me. Same month, in fact. On Opening Day in 2001, he became the first person younger than me to appear in the Major Leagues. He is by far the best player born in 1980, and while it's too early to know for sure, there's a strong chance he'll go down as the greatest player born at any point in the 80s. (Not that anyone actually keeps track of such a thingThat Pujols is now one of the league's elder statesmen is a reminder that I'm getting older too. I take some comfort in knowing that while 37 is old for baseball, it's only the early stages of middle age for the rest of the world. He was a star from the beginning, and I was aware of the proximity of our births from the beginning, so for his entire career, he's felt like something of an analog to me, if a somewhat more rich, famous, and successful one.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Best MLB players of the last 30 years, #7: Pedro Martinez

As a child, I was drawn to position players. Home runs, stolen bases, diving catches... those were the things that captured me, and those are things position players do. When I went to a game, or sat down to watch one on TV, I wanted a high-scoring slugfest. In my ideal scenario, the guys standing on the mound as baseballs were whacked all over the stadium hardly mattered. As an adult though, it's the opposite. I now want to a see a pitchers' duel, two guys matching each other, scoreless frame for scoreless frame. If I'm not watching the Indians, I'm watching whichever game offers me the best possible arms. Greg Maddux, who I consider my favorite player ever, played a big role in that, but when I think about planning my day around being able to watch a guy, it's Pedro Martinez who comes to mind. And if my life depending on a ballgame, and all I could control was who would pitch, it's Pedro Martinez I'd hand the ball to.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Best MLB players of the last 30 years, #8: Ken Griffey Jr.

This seems like a subjective thing, I know, but Ken Griffey Jr. was the ballplayer for my generation. The #1 overall pick in 1987, Griffey made his MLB debut on Opening Day in 1989, when he was still a teenager. He was a huge deal right from the start, popular enough that in just his second season, he was voted by fans to be a starter for the All-Star Game, making him the second-youngest position player ever to be so honored. (Only Al Kaline was voted in at a younger age, and by just one month.) By the end of his age-30 season, he'd hit 40+ home runs in seven different seasons. Before Griffey, no one so young had done that more than five times. He made breathtaking plays in center field, the kind every kid pretended to make when he was at Little League practice or alone in his backyard, and won ten consecutive Gold Gloves during the 90s. He finished in the top five of the AL MVP vote five times, winning the award in 1997, and having an excellent case for it in 1993, 1994, and 1996 as well. He was chosen for the All-Century team, despite not yet having turned 30. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2016, having received a record 99.32% of the vote. Only a fool would leave Griffey off their ballot.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Best MLB players of the last 30 years, #9: Chipper Jones

Larry Jones Jr.'s father was a baseball coach, and when the boy took to baseball at a young age, his family saw it as a sign that he was a "chip off the old block," which is why they began to call him Chipper. Two players still to come in this countdown are the sons of former Major League players, and a number of others on the list had a father or other close family member who played college or semi-pro ball. I wonder how much more likely a child is to become a great player if they grow up with someone who was a great player. And whatever the difference is, how much of it is the actual genes, how much of it is having someone in your life who can teach you the skills, how much of it is the connections that family member may have, and how much of it is having someone who's trying to bend your life in that particular direction?