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"The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It's been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again."
The Origin of Baseball is something of a Multiple-Choice Past. The traditional story (sponsored by Albert Spalding at the turn of the 20th century) is that it was created in 1839 by a young Abner Doubleday in his hometown of Cooperstown, New York. Since Doubleday would grow up to be a general during the Civil War, this played well with the Patriotic Fervor of the day. However, it was also based upon Blatant Lies told by an old man and doesn't really hold up. At all. Respected sports journalist Henry Chadwick offered his counter belief that Baseball had simply evolved from the earlier bat-and-ball games in the English tradition, such as Rounders and/or possibly Cricket (which had a following among the early American gentry; George Washington was an avid cricketer). (Chadwick himself, an English immigrant, was originally a cricket reporter for The New York Times when he stumbled upon an early game being played at the Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey in the 1850s, at which point he began evangelizing for baseball.)
Americans have been playing bat-and-ball games with the name "base ball" or suchlike since at least the 1790s: a document from 1791 was found in the city of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, that mentions "base ball" (specifically in the context of it being banned anywhere in the vicinity of the town hall's expensive glass windows). That said, this form of the game probably did not resemble modern baseball except in the vaguest way (i.e.: a bat, a ball, fielders, outs), and varied wildly across place and time. These variations were critical to the development of what we know as baseball, however, as contrary to legend, the general consensus is that the modern game wasn't born anywhere or at any single time, but probably slowly developed over time until it finally started resembling the modern game some time in the middle of the 19th century. We can reasonably say that the modern game took its form starting in the 1840s, with the earliest known written rules that resemble modern baseball traced to New York man Alexander Cartwright, who wrote the "Knickerbocker rules" for the "Knickerbocker Base Ball Club," an association of young professionals who played one of these early forms of the sport, in 1845.
Cartwright's rules pulled together some existing rules for bat-and-ball games (games which went by a number of names, of which "town ball" and "base ball" were the most common) into a coherent whole, including the ideas of strikes and strikeouts, three outs per inning, fixed batting orders, and getting out by catching a fair ball. Cartwright also added a few new ones—most significantly, he cooked up a new rule that fielders could not throw the ball at baserunners to get them out, replacing that traditional—and dangerous—way of getting outs by inventing tagging the base. The Knickerbocker rules proved popular among the New York clubs, and within a few short years, most New York-area teams were playing under some variation of the Knickerbocker rules—which Cartwright kept updating and tinkering with as people saw how new rules played out. Of course, the game was no less a free-for-all for that, and new rules emerged among the New York baseball clubs playing under increasingly-modified versions of the Knickerbocker rules in the 1850s, many of which made their way into the modern game. These include the distance between the pitcher's mound and home plate, the distances between the bases, the adoption of the nine-inning structure (1857), nearly-modern rules about counting foul balls as strikes (1858), and the strike zone (1858).
You will notice that this increasing standardization came in the 1850s. You might also recall that The American Civil War began in 1861. You might think these two had something to do with each other. If so, you would be right. New York, being the largest city in the country, provided a large number of soldiers to the Union Army, and New Yorkers had the opportunity to spread their baseball rules across the Army in the long stretches of encamped boredom the troops experienced. They even managed to spread the game to the South, as many New York units were assigned to guard Confederate prisoners—and war or no war, they taught their prisoners their favorite game. Thus became New York baseball America's baseball.
While all this was going on, we had the development of a professional game creating the impetus for a single, steady set of rules. In 1857, the National Association of Base Ball Players, the first thing approaching organized baseball, was founded by 16 clubs in the New York area, and later attracting some more clubs from farther away. As mentioned above, it began to standardize the rules of the game into something that began to resemble modern baseball, and these rules began to spread over the next decade. It was initially an all-amateur organization, then became a part-professional part-amateur organization in 1869, and, when that led to a whole host of problems about how to count games between amateur and professional teams and handle players hopping around and clubs popping in and out of existence mid-season, the first professional baseball league (for that matter, the first professional league of any sport), the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, was created in 1871. It has been debated whether the National Association counts as a true "Major" League or whether the first Major League was the current National League, which was founded in 1876 after the National Association collapsed.
(If the history of the sport is what you're interested in Ken Burns' Baseball is an excellent and engrossing way to get at it.)
Rules of the Game
Like all bat-and-ball games, baseball is at its core a very simple game. Two teams take turns either batting or fielding. One member of the fielding team (in baseball, the pitcher) throws the ball at members of the batting team. The batting team tries to hit the ball with a stick to score runs. The fielding team tries to get a certain number of the batting team "out" so they can take their turn to bat: either the guy throwing the ball can do so by throwing the ball into a "strike zone" and the batter not hitting it, or the other fielders can get outs by catching the ball and some other things. The devil, of course, is in the details.
At the absolutely most basic level (say, to play between friends) you need only two things to play baseball—a ball and a stick. No, really:
The ball: An official baseball has a golf ball-sized center made of either cork or rubber wrapped with yarn and encased in white leather. These are used in most situations, but in private games for fun, it isn't unheard-of to see tennis balls make an appearance.
The bat: The official regulations of Major League Baseball really do define the bat as a stick. "The bat shall be a smooth, round stick not more than 2.61 inches in diameter at the thickest part and not more than 42 inches in length. The bat shall be one piece of solid wood." The wood is generally ash or maple (hickory, along with ash, is considered traditional, like willow is for cricket bats, but it is rarely used anymore; maple was first allowed in the Majors in the 1980s). You could, in theory, show up with a wooden dowel from the hardware store and legally bat in an MLB game. You probably wouldn't get anywhere with it, but you could do it.
Note: Amateur baseball generally allows metal bats, generally made from aluminum. These supposedly allow for faster, farther hits. These bats are also tightly regulated—you see, a certain structure and composition of bat makes the ball fly so fast the pitcher can't avoid injury from the flying ball.
In organized games, you will also need:
Gloves: Leather, with different types for different fielding positions. There are six basic types, five (pitcher's, catcher's, first baseman's, infielder's, and outfielder's) being based on position. The sixth is for switch-throwers (i.e. ambidextrous ones); it has two thumb sockets.
Helmets: For batters, so they don't get concussions when accidentally (or not) get beaned by the pitcher.
Shoes with cleats: In professional baseball, the cleats are metal. Certain players gained a bad reputation for deliberately using their cleats as weapons against the opposing team.
Uniforms: Baseball uniforms are button-up, short-sleeved, have a distinctive collar, and have long pants worn with distinctive stockings, harking back to the game's 19th-century origins (although the materials today are very modern). Home uniforms are, generally speaking, predominantly white, while away uniforms are most often gray, although other dark colors are common. At the highest levels of play, the home uniforms bear the team nickname while the away uniforms typically bear the name of the place from which they hail (e.g.: the Boston Red Sox have "Red Sox" in red on white on home uniforms but "Boston" in red on gray for the away ones). Most teams will often feature a colored alternate "softball" jersey for home openers and other special occasions. Baseball uniforms also give us the baseball cap, worn while fielding. This particular item is, long story short, derived from the floppy kepi hats worn by soldiers in the The American Civil War; the first documented use of soft caps with a forward brim in baseball dates to 1865—right after the Civil War ended.
A baseball field is a quarter of a circle or an oval. Much like cricket fields, the precise overall size is not officially defined, so different fields play to the strengths of different teams/players. The playable area is demarcated on the straight sides by "foul lines" painted in white on the grass. The curved edge of the field is generally marked by a fence or wall.
Because a quarter of a circle or oval is roughly diamond-shaped, fields are often called diamonds. This is reinforced by the division of the field into an "infield" and and "outfield". The infield consists of a grassy square 90 feet on a side plus the dirt/clay running tracks between the vertices of the square, plus a dirt/clay arc-shaped area occupying a curved space between the square and the outfield. The outfield is everything not in the infield, and is grassy.
At the four corners of the infield are the eponymous bases, marked by (usually) white "plates".note Some plates for private use are differently colored—orange is usual. These are most often seen in school gym class. At the vertex of the diamond is home base, marked by home plate. Home plate is in the shape of a pentagon with two right angles, i.e. the prototypical elementary school drawing of a house (coincidentally). In organized baseball, this is usually made of rubber. It is flanked on either side by batter's boxes, painted-on rectangles in which the batter (see below) stands while batting. The remaining three bases are marked by square plates, numbered first, second, and third counter-clockwise; in upper-level baseball, these are traditionally canvas sacks stuffed with something, hence "bag" an alternative term for "base." Lower-level games may use rubber for the numbered bases, as well.
The outfield is roughly divided into thirds, as well, with the divisions being called "left field", "center field", and "right field". Much like cricket positions, the precise lines between these are somewhat fuzzy; unlike cricket positions, all three are always manned.note Well, almost always. Managers have been known, on occasion, to bring one of their outfielders in to play a "fifth infielder" position," but this is only done in exceptional circumstances.
Another key element is the pitcher's mound, a raised area which marks the area from which the pitcher (again, see below) can legally pitch. The pitcher's mound is slightly off-center, being 60.5 feet from home plate. A fixed rule is that the outer edge of the curved region of dirt/clay between the foul lines and 1st, 2nd, and 3rd bases must be 95 feet from the mound. There are minimum standardized dimensions for the outfield fences, but these are ignored even in the major leagues for aesthetic and historical reasons (particularly when dealing with old parks). Traditionally, a dirt strip called the "keyhole" would connect the mound and first base at many ballparks, but today, only two major-league ballparks (Comerica Park in Detroit and Chase Field in Phoenix, both neotraditional/"retro" parks) have it.
Nine players are legally allowed to defend the field, and bat (one exception, see below). Substitutions are allowed any time the ball isn't in play, but a substituted player is not permitted to return to the game. Defending players may swap positions at will. Batting order is not fixed by position, and determined at the start of the game; generally, contact hitters with high on-base percentage will bat early, power hitters will bat in the middle of the lineup (with the #3 and #4 (cleanup) spots generally being the strongest hitters on the team), and the team's weakest hitters will bat last. Once the game starts, batting order may only be changed by substitution.
MLB teams may have a maximum of 25 players on the roster,note except for days of scheduled day-night doubleheaders—i.e., two games on the same day, but with the stadium cleared between games and separate tickets sold for bothwhen teams can carry a 26th player for that day only expanding to 40 after September 1 to allow playoff teams to rest starters and all teams to evaluate prospects in major league play. Postseason rosters contain 25 players, and can be constructed from any player who appeared in at least one game for the team during the season, with one restriction: the player must have been on the active roster, disabled list, bereavement list, or suspended list as of August 31. Players who do not meet this requirement but were in the team's minor league system can be added to the postseason roster as injury replacements (again, provided they appeared in at least one game during the season), while players acquired via trade or free agency after August 31 are not eligible for postseason play. Teams can make unrestricted roster changes between postseason series, but replacing a player in the middle of a series carries a hefty penalty: the replaced player must sit out not only the rest of that round, but the entire next round as well should his team make it that far. Since a team must have a considerable number of pitchers on the roster (10 to 12), and at least one back-up catcher note The catcher position is so specialized that non-catchers can't realistically play the position, and catchers usually can't play any other position except first base, at least not well many second string position players will be "utility" players adept at a number of roles. Occasionally, a position lacking any real star power will be played by a "platoon," a duo consisting of a right- and left-handed batter who swap out depending upon the opposing pitcher. note Because of the physics behind the way breaking pitches move, batters generally hit better against opposite handed pitchers. Since the majority of pitchers are right-handed, the lefty batter naturally sees more play time.
Player positions are usually referred to by number for scoring purposes.
Pitcher (1): Responsible for pitching the ball to the batter, and fielding the pitcher's mound, as well as backing up first base on balls hit right. A successful pitcher typically has several pitches in his arsenal; which can be broadly sorted into 3 types, a fastball (a pitch designed to defeat batter by sheer speed with little to no movement, most commonly the four-seam fastball, which is your vanilla fastball with the maximum speed), a changeup (a slower pitch thrown with the same delivery as a fastball, intended to confuse the batter), and a breaking ball (a pitch that changes direction in flight, and notably slower than the fastball, most commonly the slider—named after its swooping horizontal movement—and the curve—named after its sudden "dropping" movement at the plate). Of course, there are pitches that doesn't fit into either of these 3 categories, namely the spinless knuckleball, which doesn't break in the conventional sense so much as it wobbles, the eephus pitch—a slow, high arching trick pitch. Generally, pitchers are divided into two categories. Power pitchers succeed by the speed of their pitches and win games by striking out batters. Control pitchers win games by preventing solid contact with their pitches and delivering few walks. A team's pitching staff can usually be divided up as follows:
Starting pitchers are usually the most effective pitchers on the roster, and are the ones who begin each game. Statistically speaking, the starting pitcher is usually the most significant factor in whether a team wins or loses the game, and they are paid accordingly. While pitchers once pitched entire games, most teams will now keep pitch counts, and try to replace a starter at around 100 pitches or if he becomes ineffective before that. Pitching is a strenuous activity—one of the most strenuous in sports—and a major league pitcher will often require four to five days to recover in between games. Anything less is seriously damaging to both physical and mental health. Teams typically maintain a rotation of five starting pitchers, and over the course of a season will move pitchers in and out of the rotation to account for injuries or loss of effectiveness.
Relief pitchers, known collectively as the bullpen, are the ones who replace the starter. These are generally less effective pitchers, or possess less stamina, than the starting pitchers. Some pitchers become relievers because they don't have as varied a repertoire of pitches; throwing one pitch extremely well can work for an inning or two. They can usually be divided into long relievers (responsible for relieving ineffective pitchers early in the game, generally the most expendable reliever, although starter-level stamina is required), middle relievers, late relievers, left-handed specialists (one-inning or one-out pitchers often used to put out a strong lefty hitter late in the game), set-up men (responsible for maintaining a close lead in the later innings; the team's second-best reliever), and closers (responsible for maintaining a close lead in the final inning; the team's best relief pitcher). The use of closers has been heavily criticized, especially since the recording of the "save" statistic (awarded for maintaining a close lead); many feel that "saves" are more due to the team's offensive ability and the law of averages, and that more games could be won by using the best reliever in any close situation rather than just the last three outs. On the other hand, some argue that keeping the best relievers scarce prevents hitters from getting wise to their pitches, and ensures their effectiveness.
Catcher (2): Takes up position behind the batter, wearing protective gear. The catcher is the only defensive player permitted in foul territory at the time of the pitch. Will usually signal desired pitches to the pitcher, and is the most defensively-oriented position player on the team; responsible for fielding home plate, coordinating the infield players, and catching base stealers. As a result, most catchers (but not all) post poor offensive stats. A non-pitcher with a strong right throwing arm will usually end up as a catcher; southpaw catchers are rare enough to be a non-entity.note It is more difficult for a left-handed catcher to throw out potential base stealers since the majority of hitters are right-handed and would get in the way of a lefty-throwing catcher.
First baseman (3): Takes up position at first base. Since this is the first base touched in the event of a base hit, he will take up position very close to the bag, and uses a special glove to field throws to first base. Given this, speed and ability to field grounders aren't factors for a successful first baseman, and since the player's right hand (the glove hand for a lefty) faces the infield, this is usually a dumping ground for a fat left-handed power hitter. (Right-handed first basemen are not uncommon, however.) Responsible for warming up the infield at the beginning of their defensive half-inning, which is why the first baseman is thrown a ball when their team retires from the field in order to bat.
Second baseman (4): Takes up position between first and second base. Almost always right-handednote All the infielders except the first baseman are almost always right-handed. This is because a left-handed infielder would have to pivot before making a throw to first, which costs valuable time.. Fields grounders hit by left handed hitters, covers second base on balls hit to left, and backs up first base when needed. Usually requires a good mix of defensive and offensive skills. Emphasis on the former, since second base is the key man for any kind of double play.
Third baseman (5): Fields third base, or the "hot corner". Requires quick reflexes and a very good throwing arm, as he is closest to the batter on any balls hit by right-handed batters, and must make the long throw to first. Third base often tends to be played by right-handed sluggers, the reason being that baseball has needed more offensive power since the live ball era of the 1920s. Shortstops and second basemen who show good offensive ability will often be moved to third base if their defensive skills decline due to age. An example is Cal Ripken Jr, who came up as a third baseman but played most of his career at shortstop before moving back to third in the twilight of his career. However, the best fielding third baseman is generally agreed to be Brooks Robinson, who was so good getting balls heading to his base that he was nicknamed, "The Human Vacuum Cleaner."
Shortstop (6): Fields between second and third base, and covers second on balls hit right. Always right-handednote None have played in the major leagues since 1957, as opposed to 5 lefty second basemen and 45 lefty third basemen since the beginning of pro ball.The name is something of an artifact, as the player would once field much closer to the pitchers' mound and field balls in much less well-kept grass. Since most batters are right handed, and pull the ball to the left, this is the most defensive of the infield positions, and shortstops are usually selected for their defensive qualities, although some display impressive offensive ability as well.
Left/center/right field (7,8,9): Outfielders. Take up position in the grass well outside of the infield. Responsible for catching fly balls, as well as any grounders or line drives that the infielders miss. Center field is the most demanding position defensively and is responsible for coordinating the outfield. The center fielder will generally be the fastest and most agile of the outfielders due to having the most ground to cover. Left field requires a decent amount of running speed. Right field requires a very strong throwing arm to make the throw to third. (The left and right fielders have equidistant throws to second and home; the left fielder's throw to first is as long as the right fielder's throw to third, but the need for such a throw to be made hardly ever arises.) All outfielders are generally very strong hitters. Since the infield is usually dominated by right-handed players, left handed hitters that aren't placed at first due to injuries or rotundity will usually play outfield.
Designated hitter: In leagues that allow the DH (most high school and college teams, MLB's American League, and NPB's Pacific League), the DH bats in place of the pitcher, and does not field a position. Something of a controversial position, as many baseball fans still believe in the "everybody hits, everybody fields" ethic taught to them back in Little League. There have been movements to normalize the rules between the two MLB leagues in this regard, especially since 2013 as interleague play is now in place throughout the season note In interleague play, the home team's rules are used; NL teams may use a DH in an AL stadium, and AL teams have pitchers bat in NL stadiums. . Leagues that permit the DH usually post much better offensive statistics than corresponding non-DH leagues, and the position is a way to allow power hitters who no longer possess the speed needed to field to continue their careers. George Brett and Frank Thomas would be notable examples, moving from the diamond in their last years in MLB. Many teams using the DH in the present no longer have a dedicated DH, but rotate among several very strong hitters to alternate a day off from fielding and provide a better matchup for the opposing pitcher.
The DH is subject to a number of obvious rule patches. If the DH is moved to a fielding position, the team forfeits the DH and the pitcher must bat. If substituted, a DH must occupy the same spot in the batting order as the preceding DH. These forestall a common tactic, known as the "double switch", used to push an undesirable batter to later in the batting order, and prevent the DH from cycling around more than once per nine at-bats. As a result, leagues without the DH feature more later-inning substitutions and managerial strategy regarding batting order.
In some leagues, the DH can at least theoretically be used to bat in the place of a player other than the pitcher if so designated before the start of the game, since in amateur leagues the pitcher might not even be the worst batter in the lineup. At the high school level it's also not uncommon for a player to be pitcher and DH at the same time, and even continue to play in one position even after being substituted out in the other (though once substituted out, he can't return). At the professional level, this is a non-issue since position players who hit worse than pitchers aren't going to get pro contracts, and any pitcher with halfway decent batting skill is more likely to be playing in the National League anyway.
Sequence of play
A baseball game is divided into a number of innings; major league games will play at least nine, high school teams may play 5 or 7-inning games. In one inning, both teams will alternate between batting and fielding. Rather than a time or scoring-based system (like most goal sports), possession is determined by "outs"; each batting team has three before switching to field. A batter or runner who is called "out" may not attempt to advance and must return to the dugout, but is not removed from the game. Batters ultimately attempt to advance along the bases and reach home again, at which point their team is credited with a "run". The team with the most runs at the end of the game wins. In a tie situation, extra innings are played until there is a winner at the end of an inning. Usually only one or two extra innings are required, but April 29, 2013 saw two particularly long games; the Los Angeles Angels and Oakland Athletics played for 19 innings, while on the other coast the New York Mets and Miami Marlins played fifteen innings.
The pitcher throws balls towards the catcher, and the batter (taking up position in front of the catcher in one of the batter's boxes) will attempt to hit these balls. One of the following will happen:
If the batter swings at the pitch and misses, or the pitch passes through the strike zone (over home plate, within an arbitrary set of vertical limits), a strike is called.
If three strikes occur, the batter is out, and the pitcher is credited with a strikeout. If the third strike is not cleanly caught, with either two outs or no runner on firstnote Like the infield fly rule, this is an Obvious Rule Patch, designed to prevent the catcher from intentionally dropping a third strike for a double play, the batter may attempt to "steal" first base. This is relatively uncommon in the big leagues, but this play famously cost the Brooklyn Dodgers a World Series in 1941.note The Dodgers were one out away from winning game 4, which would have tied the series at two games apiece. The batter struck out, which should have ended the game, but the third strike got by the Dodgers' catcher. The batter reached base, keeping the inning alive. The Yankees came back to win and took a three games to one lead in the series. They finished the Dodgers off the next day.
While usually, if a batter is hit by a pitch it is an automatic walk, if they make a full swing as they are hit it is declared a strike. It will also be declared a strike if the pitch passed through the strike zone; you can't finagle a walk by standing over the plate.
A strike is also called if the batter hits the ball into foul territory without it being caught (called a "foul ball"). The only exception to this is if there are already 2 strikes against the batter, and the batter hit the ball with a "real swing" rather than a bunt.
If the pitch is not swung at, and outside the strike zone, a ball is called. A player's combined balls and strikes are referred to as "the count" and are listed with balls first in the USA; a count of 2-1, for example, means two balls and one strike.
In non-American leagues, for example the Korean Baseball Organization, the count is sometimes given as strikes and balls.
If four balls are called, a "base on balls" is declared (informally known as a "walk"), and the batter is awarded first base unopposed. Any player on first base advances to second, and other runners take one base if the batter or a runner behind them moves to their base; if the bases are loaded and the batter walks, a run is scored. A walk may be "intentional," in which the catcher stands far outside the strike zone and the pitcher makes four soft throws in rapid succession. The batter can still technically swing at these, but few ever try.
A count of 3-2 (three balls, two strikes) is called a "full count." At the right time, a full count is often a very dramatic situation—since it means the only way for the batter to go is to run or to strike out (or hit a foul ball...)—and thus beloved of media. A full count with two outs generally results in the runners on base starting to run with the pitch, since the only reason they'd need to return to their base is for a foul ball.
If the batter is hit by the pitch, made a reasonable effort to avoid it, and is hit outside of the strike zone, the batter is awarded a base in the same manner as a walk.
If the catcher commits an illegal action preventing the batter from hitting the ball, "catcher's interference" is called, and the batter is awarded first base.
If the pitcher commits an illegal action misdirecting baserunners as to whether or not he is making a pitch, a "balk" is declared, each runner advances one base, and the batter remains at bat with the previous count.
If a third out is reached while the batter is still up (due to a runner being picked off or caught stealing), that batter will make the first plate appearance in the next inning with a new count.
If the ball is hit into foul territory (outside the first and third base lines) and not caught before it hits the ground, it is a "foul ball." The ball is declared dead, and a strike is counted if the player has less than two strikes. If the foul ball is caught, the batter is out. If the ball is only "tipped" (light contact that doesn't impede the balls travel to the catcher's mitt), it is treated as an ordinary strike, even a third strike. A bunt into foul territory is also counted as a third strike.
If the ball is hit and is caught in the air by a fielder — whether that fielder is in fair or foul territory — the batter is out. Any runners must "tag up" to their original base after such a catch. If the ball is thrown to the base before the runner "tags up" then the runner is also out. Runners may attempt to advance after the tag-up, even on a foul ball. A long flyout that allows a runner to advance home is referred to as a "sacrifice fly."
A pop fly into the infield, with runners on first and second and less than two outs, is treated as a flyout even if not caught (the infield fly rule). This is an Obvious Rule Patch to prevent fielders from dropping an easily caught ball to provide for a double play. The infield fly rule is not in effect on a bunt.
If the ball is hit into fair territory and is not caught in the air, the batter becomes a runner and may attempt to advance to first base. Any other runners on base may also attempt to advance. If the batter reaches at least first base, this is, with two exceptions, known as a hit. The exceptions are:
Hit on error: The fielding team makes a mistake in fielding the ball, allowing the batter to advance to first when he likely would have been put out.
Fielder's choice: The fielding team opted to put out a runner other than the batter, effectively giving up first base.
A batter-runner may also attempt to gain additional bases, known as a double or triple. In extremely rare cases, the batter may advance the entire way around the park for an inside-the-park home run. The fielding team attempts to put runners out by either tagging them with the ball, or tagging a base the runner is forced into by runners behind him. If a runner is hit by a batted ball, the runner is out.
If the pitcher throws to an occupied base, and a fielder tags the runner while he is not on (due to taking a lead in preparation for a hit or steal), the runner is out. This is referred to as a "pickoff," and is used more to keep runners close to their base rather than to actually get players out.
Runners on base may attempt to "steal" bases while the ball is in play. If the runner is not tagged out, he is awarded the base and credited with a "stolen base." Note that the ball is in play even before the pitcher throws it.
If the ball is hit into fair territory outside the field of play, a home run is declared, the batter and all runners advance to home, and sportswriters write articles on whether or not it would have been possible without performance-enhancing drugs.
If the ball is hit into fair territory, bounces on the ground in the field of play, and then exits the field of play without being handled, this is an automatic double, usually referred to, somewhat inaccurately, as a "ground-rule double".note This is something of a pedantic distinction, as the results of an automatic double and ground-rule double are identical. A true ground-rule double is a double awarded by rule due to a batted ball interacting with a terrain feature unique to the stadium in which the game is being played, e.g. the ivy at Wrigley Field. All runners are entitled to advance two bases, and the batter-runner goes to second base. The same occurs if a spectator touches a ball in play. Befitting the name, there are other stadium-specific methods of obtaining a ground-rule double; e.g., a ball becoming trapped in the ivy covering the outfield walls at Wrigley Field, or a batted ball hitting one of the myriad of catwalks at Tropicana Field.
(NOTE: This section under construction. Please help.)
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For the last 150 years of its existence, baseball has lent itself quite well towards the accumulation of individual statistics, being mostly a contest between batter and pitcher. The traditional "baseball card" stats are as follows:
Batting Average (AVG): Safe hits divided by at-bats. It sounds simple enough, until you look into how "safe hit" and "at bat" are defined. Being walked, hit by a pitch, or reaching base on catcher's interference, are not considered hits, but the hitter is not charged with an at-bat. The hitter also is not charged with an at-bat if he performs a sacrifice bunt or hits a run-scoring fly ball (known as a sacrifice fly). Reaching base on an error or through a fielder's choice are not hits, but they are considered at-bats, so a hitter who does one of these things is basically charged with a hitless at-bat. A league-average player will probably have a batting average somewhere between .240 and .280 (in super-layman's terms, hitting the ball roughly once every four times you come to the plate—remember, it's not for nothing that people often call batting the most difficult act in sportsnote Again: a ball traveling at anywhere from 50 to over 100 miles per hour is coming at you and you have to hit it with a round stick substantially narrower than the ball. Even tennis players have a wide racket—and don't get us started on cricket bats. Did we mention that the guy throwing it at you is specifically trying to make sure you don't manage it?). Hitting at least .300 is usually considered an indicator of great skill, while hitting less than a point called the "Mendoza Line" (named after shortstop Mario Mendoza, who had a career .215 batting average but managed to play for a while by being a really good defensive shortstop), which lies somewhere between .190 and .220, depending on who you ask, will generally make you a bench player at best unless you're a really good defender or hit a lot of home runs. Anyone who consistently bats below the Mendoza Line is assumed to be hurting his team so badly on offense that his defensive prowess can't possibly make up for it.
On-Base Percentage (OBP): Times reached base divided by plate appearances. Like batting average, except that walks and hit-by-pitch plate appearances count. Sacrifice Bunts don't count, as the batter-runner usually isn't trying to get on base when they bunt, but Sacrifice Flies (when the ball is caught by an outfielder, but a runner on base advances) do count as plate appearances. Despite being called a "percentage", it's usually written as a three-digit decimal, e.g. .355. It's probably written like this because batting average and slugging average are also written like this. The best players will usually have an OBP somewhere in the neighborhood of .400, with the average being somewhere between .320 and .330 and the worst at about .250.
Slugging Average (SLG): Like Batting average, but adjusted for how many bases you got from the hit: each safe hit is multiplied by the number of bases earned during that play. Hitting a single counts as 1, a double counts as 2, a triple counts as 3, and a home run counts as 4. Batting Average, On-Base Percentage, and Slugging Average are sometimes referred to as the "Triple-Slash Stats" and are put next to each other in that order when referring to a player (e.g., .265/.341/.458).
OPS: On-base percentage Plus Slugging average. Widely considered to be the best all-around measure of a batter's performance, although quite a few stats geeks and general managers feel that it undervalues OBP (a 1.000 slugging percentage for an inning can mean anything; a 1.000 OBP for an inning is an infinite number of runs scored).
Runs Batted In (RBI): The number of runs generated while the player is a batter-runner. Sacrifice plays count. Solo home runs also count, because the player batted himself in. It's one of the three stats of the hitting triple crown, along with Home Runs and Batting Average. Old-School statisticians like this stat a lot, but more modern ones like to point out that it depends heavily on the skill of a player's teammates and where in the batting order they hit (as does Runs Scored, but to a slightly lesser extent). Obviously, it's hard to bat many runs in if your teammates suck and don't get on base much. The players at the top of the batting order tend to have higher OBP's than the players at the bottom, so a player hitting 3rd - 5th will have more opportunities to get RBI's than a player hitting 8th-9th, or even 1st or 2nd.
Earned Run Average (ERA): This is a pitching statistic. It's how many runs have been earned against a pitcher per 9-inning game. If, as is the case in most modern games, a pitcher doesn't play all 9 innings, his ERA is "pro-rated" for the fraction of a game he did play; i.e. it's the number of earned runs divided by innings pitchednote An inning can be divided into thirds, 1/3 for each out, if the pitcher only pitched for part of the inning. and multiplied by 9. Pitchers rarely have anything to do with defense once the ball is put into play, and a pitcher's ERA may fluctuate wildly as a result, making it a questionable metric for pitching effectiveness. Various sabermetric replacements, called "defense-independent pitching statistics" have turned up, but none are in mainstream use.
Wins and Losses (W-L): Awarded to pitchers, and attempts to credit them with winning or losing the game. A loss is awarded to the pitcher that gives up the run that puts the winning team into lead they hold for the rest of the game, and a Win is awarded to the pitcher that pitched the half-inning before that winning run scored. There are a few exceptions, the most commonly seen being that Starting Pitchers need to pitch at least 5 innings to get a Win. Collectively, Wins and Losses are referred to as "Decisions". If a starter gets neither a win nor a loss, he gets a "No-Decision." Modern statheads consider this stat to be nearly worthless, because of the large number of ways a pitcher can fail to win a game they pitched well or win a game they pitched poorly- namely run support and the skill of the bullpen.
Strikeouts (K): Both a hitting stat and a pitching stat, though the pitching version is much more commonly used. For hitters, it's the number of times they strike out, and for pitchers, it's the number of batters they strike out. It, Wins, and Earned Run Average are the three stats that make up the pitching triple crown. It might be the only stat that old-school and modern statisticians can agree on the usefulness of.
Bases on balls (BB): Walks, charged for the hitter and against the pitcher. For most of baseball's history, walks were not considered an offensive statistic, changing only with the focus on on-base percentage.
Saves (S): Awarded to pitchers for pitching the end of a close game that they didn't start and didn't win, and came into with a lead. There's a few other additional requirements to define "close" (either pitching at least the last three innings, or entering with a lead of 3 or less, or entering with the tying run on base, at bat, or on deck). It may be the only case of a statistic creating a job in sports: Starting in the 1970's, teams started assigning the job of finishing games to one specific pitcher, the "closer." The position evolved into it's current usage in the 1990's: A pitcher who pitches almost exclusively in situations where they can get a save, usually only in the 9th inning of a close game. Some deride this stat for the current job of closers, pointing out that they rarely come into a game at a point where the lead is an any serious danger of being lost. That it's possible to get a save for doing nothing more than pitching the last three innings of a game, regardless of the score, also occasionally leads to saves being awarded in total blowouts, notably a game in 2007 in which the winning team won 30-3.
Error (E): Charged by the official scorer when he or she feels that a fielder misplayed a ball, allowing a batter or runner to advance, when that advance would have been stopped given "ordinary effort." This is a very chancy and subjective statistic for measuring fielding, not in the least that it requires the fielder in question to do something right (being in position to make an "ordinary effort") in order to do something wrong.
However, starting in the 1970's, a new generation of amateur stats jockeys, led by Baseball Abstract publisher Bill James, began to call into question the utility of many of these stats for determining the effectiveness of a team's offense and defense.
Take, for example, batting average. For most of baseball's existence, it has been the prime metric of offensive production, and players like Wade Boggs, Tony Gwynn, and Ichiro Suzuki have been paid millions upon millions of dollars for their ability to hit for a high average. However, batting average corresponds poorly to a team's total runs scored (total runs scored and total runs allowed correspond very well with the number of games won in a season- a formula using runs scored and allowed as inputs known as the "Pythagorean Formula of Baseball" tends to give a number very close to the team's actual winning percentage, usually to within 5 games, although not always). High-average hitters are more often than not contact hitters, and since they don't have the power to intimidate pitchers, they draw few pitches and few walks. Meanwhile, the fat power hitter with an eye for good pitches is wearing out pitchers left and right (forcing a team into less-capable relievers earlier), and with all the walks he is drawing, getting on base the same or better as the contact hitter. And, when he is hitting, he's driving extra-base hits and home runs.
Sabermetricians (the name comes from the Society of American Baseball Research) have dismissed stats like ERA and RBI under similar arguments. For most of their existence, sabermetricians have been ignored by the baseball establishment, settling for mutual contempt. However, in the 1990's, the Oakland A's, under general manager Sandy Alderson, began rebuilding their minor league system along sabermetric lines (particularly a high demand for on-base-percentage). Alderson's replacement, Billy Beane, was able to reform the major league team in the same manner, using sabermetrics to find winning players on the cheap, and with the lowest payroll in all of baseball, was able to regularly produce winning seasons and playoff appearances despite losing all their best stars to free agency, star in a bestselling book, and be played by Brad Pitt in a major Hollywood production. The A's success did not go unnoticed, and many other teams (particularly the Boston Red Sox), have began similar "Moneyball" tactics, ironically pricing the A's out of the markets they established (being the A's, they went on to establish new ones).
Commonly Used Sabermetric Stats:
There are literally hundreds, maybe thousands of different stats that sabermetricians have invented over the years, of varying accuracy and utility. Listed here are a few of the ones that are most commonly used that you will likely see mentioned at some point if you pay much attention to sabermetrics. They're all generally agreed to be more useful than most traditional statistics by sabermetricians, but even among them there are plenty of disagreements over which ones are better.
Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA): Although OBP, SLG, and OPS are all more useful than Batting Average as a measure of hitter value, they all have problems- OBP assumes all methods of getting on base are equally valuable, SLG assumes the value of extra bases is linear when it's much less than linear (Two singles are worth considerably more than a double and an out, for instance), and OPS assumes SLG and OBP have equal value. Weighted On-Base Average attempts to correct for this by calculating the approximate value of every result of a plate appearance except intentional walks (Walks, Hit by Pitches, Singles, Doubles, Triples, and Home Runs) and setting it on a scale so that the average wOBA is close to the average OBP (generally somewhere in the neighborhood of .320). Because offense levels vary from year to year, the exact calculations for wOBA also vary from year to year.
Runs Created (RC): One of the oldest sabermetric statistics, created in the 1980's by Bill James. It basically tries to look at the Run Value of all of the things a player does offensively, and sum them all up to get the total number of Runs Created over a season. It has in recent years largely been replaced by the more accurate Weighted Runs Created (wRC), which was based of of the original Runs Created formula and wOBA.
Defense-Independent Pitching Statistics (DIPS): A catch-all term for a number of different statistics that attempt to calculate what a pitcher's ERA would be if they pitched for a league-average defense. Usually looks most closely and Strikeouts, Walks, and Home Runs, the so-called "Three True Outcomes" that are almost entirely in control of the pitcher and hitter- ignoring the receiving abilities of the catcher and the occasional home run robbed by an outfielder, the defense never touches the ball on any of these plays. The most commonly used is probably Fielding-Independent Pitching (FIP), though all have their strengths and weaknesses (One interesting weakness of FIP is that it can actually be negative over a sufficiently small span of innings, which is completely illogical)
Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP): Both a hitting and pitching statistic, it measures batting average only on balls hit into the field of play- basically, it ignores strikeouts, walks, and home runs. Usually considered to be a good indicator of how "lucky" someone has been, since hitters don't have much control over exactly what happens once a ball is put in play and pitchers have barely any control over this at all. The League Average BABIP is around .290-.300. Hitters can sometimes sustain a BABIP much higher or lower than this through making good contact or being fast enough to get infield singles on balls that would ordinarily be outs, but most pitchers can't sustain a BABIP very far off the average, so if a pitcher has a BABIP significantly outside of this, there's a strong chance that it will regress towards the mean. There are some exceptions, though- The San Francisco Giants' Matt Cain, for instance, consistently maintains a BABIP around .260, mostly because he's really good at getting opposing batters to hit infield pop-ups.
Wins Above Replacement (WAR): A statistic that attempts to capture every single thing a player does- hitting, baserunning, fielding, and pitching- and put it into one statistic. As you might guess from the name, it tells you how many wins that player was worth, relative to a hypothetical "replacement player" who has value roughly equal to that of a player that could be acquired for basically nothing, such as waiver-wire players or the best minor leaguers. A League-Average WAR is about 2.0.
Baseball in America
"Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball."
— Jacques Barzun, God's Country and Mine
Baseball was first dubbed America's "national pastime" or "national game" sometime in the 1850s. And while it has not been the most popular team sport in surveys since The Sixties or The Seventies (having fallen behind American Football), it is still consistently near the top (almost always no. 2, at worst no. 3 behind basketball) in those surveys.note And even then, some baseball people are secretly relishing football's current problems with head injuries, and several commentators' declaration that football is likely to go the way of boxing—i.e. a sport so violent that, while it has a small and devoted fanbase, is no longer nearly as popular as it once was—has piqued baseball's (and basketball's) collective Schadenfreude. It is also telling that the yearly attendance for Major League Baseball is more than every other Major North American Sports League combined (although this is partially because Baseball has a longer schedule — starting from late March/early April and usually ending at the end of September for the regular season and the end of October for the World Series — and its teams play virtually every day). It has also left a imprint on America's culture that has manifested itself in America's language, entertainment and, perhaps most tellingly, sexual activities. Important historic players such as Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson are often used as metaphor when describing players in sports or countries that Americans are not as familiar with ("The Babe Ruth of Soccer" or the "Jackie Robinson of Japan").
At all levels, the culture of baseball differs from that of other North American sports. For many, going to a baseball game is as much an excuse to have a leisurely day with friends as it is a sporting event. While it doesn't quite go to the extent of cricket in being a picnic with something to watch, the nature of the sport lends itself to being watched only casually by a good portion of the folks in the stands. At the professional level, the only-vaguely-baseball-related spectacle is almost as much of a draw as the actual game—more of a draw, in fact, when the home team sucks. This is part of the reason that baseball has maintained its popularity—it's an event. Young people go to cheer mindlessly as they get sloshed on usually-overpriced beer,note Usually, because some minor-league teams, in an effort to make money, sometimes run discounts on drinks that bring the prices back to Earth while families can enjoy some of the odd food items and distractions, and of course diehard fans get to see their team do something interesting every once in a while. In stadiums with lawn seating, picnic baskets are not uncommon at lower levels (especially in the amateur game). In other words, a baseball game generally has a much more relaxed atmosphere than, say, football or basketball (unless the Yankees are playing the Red Sox or the Mets... or just about any team east of the Mississippi).
It is made up of two "leagues" (although these days they no longer exist as independent legal and economic entities, and really function more like conferences within a single league): the National League (sometimes called the "Senior Circuit", since it is the older of the two) and the American League (sometimes called the "Junior Circuit"). Each league has 15 teams and is divided into 3 divisions. Another notable difference is that the American League uses the Designated Hitter, but the NL does not. This has led to something of a Broken Base (no pun intended) as to which league is better or whether the DH is good or bad for the game.
The regular season consists of 162 games for each team (although sometimes it's less if a rain-out isn't made up, and every once in a while it is more if a divisional or wild-card tie has occurred at the end of the season).
The mid-point of the season is usually the All-Star Gamenote It usually falls about a week after the season's mathematical halfway point, but for discussion purposes, it's regarded as the easiest place to divide the schedule, in which the top players of the two leagues face each other in a game. The All-Star Game controversially decides who has the home-field advantage in the World Series. This practice began in 2003, after the previous year's game ended in a tie after both managers, trying to make sure everybody got to play, ran out of pitchers; the rule was implemented to try to get managers and players to treat the All-Star Game as a serious game rather than just a meaningless exhibition. Another tidbit: The day after the MLB All-Star Game is usually the lightest sporting day of the year, and the only one in which none of America's four major pro sports leagues ever plays a game. ESPN capitalized on this, and now tapes its annual ESPY awards the day after the All-Star game, which, up until 2010, it aired the following Sunday (in 2010, it aired the show live).
The postseason prior to 2012 involved eight teams, four from each league: the three division champions and a wild card team, the team with the best record of all those who didn't win their division. The three rounds of the playoffs are the Division Series, League Championship Series and the World Series. The Division Series is best of 5, the LCS and WS are best of 7. Many favor expanding the Division Series to a best of 7, but Major League Baseball has resisted the idea due to not wanting to push the season too late into the year (by late October, many top baseball cities are already quite cold weather-wise). In 2012, a second wild card team was added in each league. These teams meet in a one game playoff to decide who advances to the LDS. This is in addition to the possible 163rd game (see below), though the wild card game is officially part of the postseason, not the regular season.
Then there is the rarely seen "play-in" or tiebreaker game, sometimes known as a one-game playoff (emphasis singular). This is a 163rd game following the 162-game season, and is only played when two or more teams have identical records at the end of the season and a postseason berth is on the line. It is considered a regular season game, and all statistics accumulated during play count in the regular season numbers. The most recent of these games to occur was in 2013, when the Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers faced off for a wild-card spot in the AL. Prior to 2012, no playoff was held if both teams qualified for the postseason anyway (that is, if the loser would still be in line for the wild card); the team with the better record in head-to-head competition was considered the division champion while the other was relegated to the wild card. When the postseason expanded in 2012, Major League Baseball decreed that going forward, all ties for a division lead would be settled with a one-game playoff (settling ties between two division-winning teams from different divisions or two wild card teams with a tie-breaker game would be rather silly- it wouldn't have much of an effect on which teams reached the division series) even if both teams would make the playoffs anyway, with the winner getting the division title and the loser getting a wild card. This was presumably done in the interest of fairness since the wild card team now had to face a one-game sudden death situation instead of automatically gaining a berth in the Division Series anyway.
The village of Cooperstown, New York is home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, established in 1939 to enshrine the history of the game and the men who played it. Each year a handful of retired players are selected by committee for induction into the Hall, and thereafter known as "Hall of Famers". Players must have been retired for at least five years before gaining eligibility to join the Hall, though this requirement has been waived once - Roberto Clemente, who died in a 1972 plane crash, was inducted the next year. This exception became the rule, as the Hall decreed that an otherwise eligible player who dies while active or prior to the five-year cutoff would be eligible six months later. Contrary to popular belief, no formal exception was made for Lou Gehrig except a special one-man election just for him. Under rules of his day, he was eligible for the Hall upon his retirement, and because of his terminal illness (a disease that now bears his name), a special election was held for him in December 1939, about 18 months before his death. Although elected and honored with a plaque in Cooperstown, he never received a formal induction ceremony until 2013.
Various team executives, managers, and umpires have also been enshrined in the Hall, and there are annual awards for the game's journalists and broadcasters (who are not technically Hall inductees, but are often regarded by the public as such). There is a common belief that comedians Abbott and Costello are also Hall members, but they are not; their Who's on First? routine is commemorated with an exhibit in the Hall museum, but the comedians themselves have not been inducted.
Major League Baseball, unlike every other sports league in the United States, enjoys explicit protection from antitrust legislation (granted in what is often believed to be an "oddball" Supreme Court decision). Thus, team moves (often forced by an antitrust lawsuit) have been much rarer than in the NFL or NBA.
MLB has no salary cap, and trades are much more open-ended than in other sports. Players may be traded not only for other players, but also cash, or minor league prospects (known as a "player to be named later," this gives the team six months to decide which minor leaguer would be the best fit for their roster). The vagaries of MLB transactions have led to several players being traded for themselves, and one (future Hall of Famer Dave Winfield) being traded for dinner between two GM's.
Due to the lack of a salary cap, and the relative open-endedness of MLB ownership, most teams exist in a cycle of contending and rebuilding. A contending team will stock up on free agents in an attempt to make playoff appearances, until they are too far in the hole, their star players age out, or their farm system just runs too dry. At that point, they will begin to sell off their high-valued players for cash and/or prospects, and generally do very poorly while stocking up a new generation of players, hopefully to be supplemented with high quality free agents for another championship run in the future. MLB draft picks once played a principal role in this cycle, but changes in the Player's Agreement in 2013 drastically reduced the role of compensatory picks.
After the season, a number of different awards are given out to those who excelled in some aspect of the game. The specific awards, which are voted on by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, are as follows.
The Most Valuable Player Award (MVP) is given to the player in each league who is considered to have been most valuable to his team. There are no restrictions on who can be named Most Valuable Player, but it almost always goes to a player from a team who made the playoffs or came very close. Pitchers are eligible for the award, but seldom win it; many baseball writers believe pitchers shouldn't win it because they have their own award, while others simply don't feel that a single pitcher can ever be as valuable as someone who plays every day. Justin Verlander's MVP win in 2011 was the first time a pitcher won that award since Dennis Eckersley in 1992, and the first win by a starting pitcher since Roger Clemens in 1986.
The Cy Young Award is given to each league's best pitcher. Starting pitchers and relief pitchers are both eligible, but the award almost always goes to a starter. The last reliever to win the Cy Young is Éric Gagné of the Dodgers in 2003; the last AL reliever to win is Dennis Eckersley of the Oakland Athletics in 1992. Yes, it was the same year he won the MVP. Yes, he was that good.
The Rookie of the Year Award is given to the rookie in each league who is considered to have had the best season. Though a rookie is generally defined as a first-year player, he doesn't necessarily have to be. As long as the player enters the current season without having exceeded 130 Major League at-bats, 50 innings pitched, or 45 days spent on a Major League team's roster, he is considered to be in his rookie season. Experience in leagues besides the MLB is not counted against a player, which has caused some controversy since beginning with Hideo Nomo in 1995, several Japanese-born players won the award despite having prior professional experience in Japanese baseball. It was renamed the Jackie Robinson Award in the eighties to commemorate one of its most famous winners. Robinson was also the first recipient of the award. The official name is rarely used, however.
The Manager of the Year Award is awarded to one manager in each league. There are no specific guidelines for who can win, but the award typically goes to the manager of a team who achieved surprising success, usually a team that was expected to finish low in the standings but ended up competing for a title.
The Gold Glove Award goes to the top defensive players in the game. Unlike the above awards, they are voted on by the managers and coaches in each league as opposed to the baseball writers. Each league awards nine Gold Gloves, one at each fielding position. Since fielding excellence tends to be measured by a lot of intangibles rather than pure statistics, the Gold Gloves frequently spark debate; the most common criticism of the award process is that they are often awarded based on reputation, without regard as to whether the player truly had a better year in the field than his peers.
The Silver Slugger Award goes to the top offensive player at each position. Like the Gold Gloves, they are voted on by each league's managers and coaches rather than the baseball writers. Silver Slugger awards are slightly different from Gold Glove awards; due to the American League's use of the designated hitter, the award for AL pitchers (who do not hit) is replaced with one for designated hitters.
Historical people to know in MLB
"It is a haunted game, where each player is measured by the ghosts of those who have gone before."
Babe Ruthnote "Babe" was a nickname, because of the baby fat he carried in his face. His real name was George Herman Ruth was, for many years, recognized as the greatest player ever, and probably the most influential player ever. If you've only heard of one ballplayer, it's probably him. He was originally a pitcher, and awesome, but changed position when management determined he was even more awesome as an everyday position player—and absolutely glorious as a hitter. He basically invented the modern concept of power hitting, and was more or less the prototypical "fat power hitter" of the kind that populates today's outfields and first bases. He hit lots of home runs at a time when everybody else hit hardly any, which prompted baseball leaders to change the ball and thus lower the Difficulty Levels of hitting, leading largely to today's game. Was sold to the NY Yankees by the Boston Red Sox, which supposedly cursed the Sox to not win a World Series ever again (or at least until 2004). His records have since mostly been broken (but as any hardcore fan will point out, while Ruth's records have been broken by a collection of men, you must remember that they were all set by one). A great Boisterous Bruiser, he loved eating,note He was famous for eating a dozen hot dogs at a single sitting drinking,note Early in his career, he had a whiskey and ginger ale at breakfast—and this was during Prohibition womanizing,note He had several mistresses, girlfriends, and flings, not to mention being a much-liked customer at whorehouses across the country and general carousing, and he is subject of numerous tall tales about his sex and alcohol-related experiences; he was nevertheless noted for being a fundamentally decent, fun-loving guy who was good with kids. Was rumored to be partially black, which back in his day was a pretty big deal. He was once given a rather enormous contract which let him earn more than the President, in an era when people didn't think that was a good thing. His response: "I had abetter year than he did." note The President at the time was Herbert Hoover, so Ruth's statement was probably accurate.
Jackie Robinson was an African-American who played in 1947 for the Dodgers after African-Americans had been informally banned from the major leagues for 60 years. After this, the other major league teams slowly integrated. So naturally, he's a pretty big deal, especially since he was an excellent player throughout his 10-year career. His number, 42, was retired across Major League Baseball in 1997, the only player to receive that honor, with two exceptions: First, players who wore 42 at the time were allowed to keep wearing it (Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, who retired at the end of the 2013 season, was the last player to wear it), and second, every player in the game wears it on April 15, the anniversary of Robinson's Major League debut. The number has become associated with Robinson so much that a movie about his life simply had the number 42 as its title.
"Shoeless" Joe Jackson was a really good player for the White Sox until he got accused of helping out some gamblers during the 1919 World Series (the infamous "Black Sox" scandal). He was not one of the major figures in the scandal, but he was still banned for knowing about the incident and not reporting it, and was easily the most popular player to be banned. The phrase "Say it ain't so, Joe" is a reference to this incident, and occasionally comes up in Vice-Presidential debates every now and then.
Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth's career home run record. Being African-American, he quite naturally had to deal with a little bit of intolerance as he approached the record. However, Aaron holds many records such as Total Bases earned, a record he is particularly proud of since he considers it more indicative of how much he contributed for his team. He also holds the career record for runs batted in with 2,297, and had 3,771 total hits. (Anyone who gets close to 3,000 is considered a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame.) Aaron was a model of consistency; he never hit 50 homers in a season, but he hit 40 or more eight times, 30 or more 15 times, and had a streak of 19 straight years in which he hit at least 24 homers. He is one of the leading candidates for the title of best baseball player ever.
Willie Mays, another name frequently cited as the best baseball player ever (even by other great players; Joe DiMaggio once claimed that although there was no such thing as a perfect ballplayer, Mays was the closest thing to it; and Mickey Mantle consistently maintained that Mays had the better career), was a center fielder who spent the majority of his career with the New York/San Francisco Giants. Mays excelled in all aspects of the game, including hitting for both power and average, and possessing great running speed and incredible defensive skills. He had 660 career home runs, fourth all-time behind Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, and Babe Ruth. Coincidentally, Mays is also Barry Bonds's godfather. Mays's most famous moment on the diamond was probably the incredible over-the-shoulder running catch he made in the 1954 World Series, a moment often cited as the single greatest defensive play in baseball history.
Mickey Mantle The other name along with Willie Mays that most often comes up in greatest ever debates. An incredible power-hitter with lumberjack-like arms, Mantle was also once considered the fastest man in the sport, and one of its greatest fielders. He hit the longest documented home run in baseball history, which became the first homer to be known as a 'tape-measure' home run due to a team official (allegedly) using a tape measure to record its distance. Baseball historians agree that he almost certainly would have broken the career home run record had injuries not hampered him for a large part of his career. It should be noted that with all of his achievements, the first line on his Monument Park plaque reads "A great teammate," which Mantle was far more proud of than any other accomplishments. He was one of the most beloved of all Yankee greats, and one of the few Yankees to be well-liked by fans of other teams.
Ty Cobb was a very, very good player in the early part of the 20th century. He held the all-time record for most career base hits until it was broken by Pete Rose, held the record for career stolen bases until it was broken by Lou Brock (and subsequently again by Rickey Henderson), and had a career batting average of .366, a record that still stands today. He was also a massive jerkass. It was said he sharpened his spikes to injure opposing fielders. He once jumped into the stands to beat up a heckler who had no hands. Upon being told that the man had no hands, Cobb is reported to have said "I don't care if he has no feet!" And, most regrettably, he was a raging racist, even by the standards of the time. Despite this, had his own brand of Crazy Awesome, and his legacy has recently been subject to reappraisal and accusations of Historical Villain Upgrade from his biographers (in particular, his racism tempered considerably, to the point where he was an early endorser of integrated baseball).
Honus Wagner, who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates around the turn of the 20th century, is widely considered the greatest shortshop ever. He even got to nail Ty Cobb in the mouth but good when that racist bully called him a "Krauthead" and threatened to spike him at his base. He's also known as the face on the most valuable baseball card ever. It was originally printed in 1909 and packaged with loose tobacco. Wagner, being strongly anti-tobacco, refused to allow production of this card to continue; over time, its rarity made it something of a Zillion-Dollar Bill. Recent sales have ranged from $200,000 to over $2,000,000 depending on the card's condition and backstory (for example, one card was briefly owned by hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, and another by actor Charlie Sheen.)
Joe DiMaggio was one of the greatest hitters in baseball history, having recorded at least one hit in 56 consecutive games (bearing in mind that hitters who succeed 33% of the time are phenomenal). No one has come close to his record in 60 years; when a hitter reaches about 30 consecutive games he begins to get serious media attention. Also extremely famous for marrying Marilyn Monroe and having a nation turn its lonely eyes to him in a Simon & Garfunkel song. And, later, for endorsing Mr. Coffee.
Cal Ripken, Jr. was a very good player who became famous for never missing a game for over 17 years (a whopping 2,632 games in a row), and this consecutive-game streak is one of baseball's "records to know", up there with Bonds's home run records and DiMaggio's hit streak. Furthermore, he started every single game during the streak, hardly ever left a game early, and for over five years, he played every single inning. He also played his entire career with one team (Baltimore Orioles), which is seen as somewhat rare. A lot of people tend to forget that he had Hall-of-Fame numbers even without the consecutive game streak. Some naysayers think that him keeping his streak alive when he was past his prime was to the detriment of his team.
Lou Gehrig - The "Iron Horse" played for the NY Yankees at around the same time as Babe Ruth, and was really good. Was the consecutive-game record holder before Ripken. His streak ended because of a rare disease called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which is now also known as, wait for it, Lou Gehrig's Disease. Before his retirement he gave a famous speech at Yankee Stadium which is generally considered a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming/Tear Jerker for baseball. Probably the most universally beloved baseball player in the history of the game; despite his team affiliation, to this day not even a member of the Red Sox Nation will say anything against him.
Nolan Ryan, aka "The Ryan Express", was a pitcher who played for four different teams. One of the first pitchers to be documented throwing at 100 miles an hour, he first became famous for putting up ridiculous strikeout numbers and later became famous for having been around forever, as he played for a record 27 seasons. He holds numerous pitching records (most famously, strikeouts in a career, strikeouts in a season, no-hit games in a career) that are widely considered to be in "will never be broken" territory, as well as others (bases on balls, hit batters, wild pitches) that he probably wishes would be broken. Needless to say, had some control problems, and is often regarded by detractors as a flashy .500 pitcher. He is also famous for beating up Robin Ventura, when the latter charged the mound. (Ryan was age 46 at the time.) He became president of the Texas Rangers in 2008 and part-owner in 2010; he committed himself to making the team a contender, and did a pretty good job of itnote The Rangers were American League Champions in 2010 and 2011 and won at least 90 games every year from 2010 to 2013. He had something of a falling out with other members of the Rangers' leadership in 2013 and jumped ship to the Astros; the Rangers seem to have completely collapsed on account of a ridiculous number of injuries in his absence.
Cy Young was a pitcher in the late 19th and early 20th centuries who was so awesome, baseball eventually named their top award for pitchers after him. Holds the record for career wins, which is literally in "will never be broken" territory due to differences in the way baseball is played today (Young pitched every third or fourth game or so, which would be unacceptable to today's players).
Roger Maris was a relatively obscure player who was good for a few years and who most everybody today would have forgotten about, if not for this one season where he got really lucky and broke Babe Ruth's single-season home run record, which stood for 37 years. note That record was the Ur Example of baseball's "asterisk", as Commissioner Ford Frick ordered that Ruth's record remain in the books, as he had achieved the record with eight fewer games on the schedule.
Mark McGwire was the holder of the single-season home run record after Maris. He was scary dangerous as a rookie, was one half of the "Bash Brothers" on Oakland's feared late-'80s teams, then got hurt a lot for a while. After this, he resurfaced in St. Louis where he broke the record. Almost immediately afterward, it was uncovered that he had used androstenedione, a legal but all-too-steroid-like performance-enhancing substance, an event which is generally considered the climax of the "Steroid Era". For years his reputation was ruined, but he's slowly become an accepted member of the St. Louis sports community again after becoming the Cardinals' hitting coach.
Jose Canseco was the other half of the aforementioned "Bash Brothers" who was for a while one of baseball's most notorious, and disliked figures. After his career, he wrote a book called Juiced where he not only admitted that he used steroids during his career, but also "outed" a number of prominent players as steroid users. However, sportswriters and baseball experts regard him as a shameless scandal-monger who merely lobbied blind accusations at players who he suspected might have been "juicing" and by chance happened to be right about a few. (Mark McGwire, for instance, admits to using steroids, but flatly denies Canseco's account of events.) During Canseco's career, he was known for his speed and power; in 1988, the year he won the MVP award, he became the first player to both hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases in the same season (Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, and Alfonso Soriano have since accomplished the same feat). On the other hand, he was commonly lampooned for his defense; he once had a ball bounce off his head for a home run, a mainstay of "blooper" reels.
In recent years, he has occasionally made headlines for various other reasons, most notably for a few reality show appearances and for accidentally shooting off one of his fingers while cleaning a gun.
Jim Bouton is mostly an obscure pitcher who had a couple of good years for the Yankees. He is famous, however, for writing the 1970 book Ball Four, which was a controversial "tell-all" book about the "behind the scenes" life of the sport while he was playing for the Seattle Pilots for their only season in existencenote the next season they moved to Milwaukee and became the Brewers. Was blacklisted for this, and the commissioner at the time tried to get him to disown the book. He was also the co-creator of Big League Chew bubble gum, with fellow ballplayer Rob Nelson.
Pete Rose broke Ty Cobb's career hits record, and somewhat coincidentally, is about as well-liked as Cobb was. (He's still revered in Cincinnati, but you'd be hard pressed to find anyone from another city who likes him.) Gambled on baseball (after he retired and became a manager), which caused him to be banned from the sport and made ineligible for the Hall of Fame. He was proven to bet on his own team, though he swears to this day that he always bet on them to win. Thus, whether or not this is a fair judgment remains one of baseball's open debates. (Before PEDs came along, gambling was considered the single biggest scourge of the sporting world. Going back to the Black Sox scandal, betting on baseball at all is prohibited, so it's academic if your name isn't Bill James). While Cobb sharpened his spikes, Rose is well known for once running over opposing catcher Ray Fosse, separating the catcher's shoulder. This would have been acceptable play had it not happened in the All-Star Game, which at the time was a meaningless exhibition. (While the incident did not end Fosse's career as is often reported - he stayed in the lineup during the second half of the season, and played eight more seasons, three as a starter and one as an All-Star - he was never again as good as he was prior to the injury.)
Rose's reputation wasn't helped by his litigiousness: when the Commissionernote Who, incidentally, was Paul Giamatti's father Bart started an investigation against him for his gambling, he filed suit in Ohio state court against the Commissioner, the Reds, and MLB asking the court to stop the Commissioner's investigation. The case is famous for all kinds of amazing dick moves on Rose's part (well, technically his lawyers', but frankly they're such fantastic dick moves that it's hard not to see how he wasn't involved in the decision to make them), and as a result, Civil Procedure law casebooks often include his case in the introduction to show wet-behind-the-ears first-year law students how bizarre their profession can get...and reinforce Baseball's universal agreement that Pete Rose is an asshole.
Satchel Paige is widely considered one of the greatest pitchers ever. Unfortunately, he was also black, which meant he couldn't play in the Majors until 1948, when he was in his 40s. He was still pretty good at this age, though, considering his team was the first integrated team to win the World Series. Was coaxed out of retirement to pitch one game at 59 (not a misprint), went three scoreless innings in a Crowning Moment of Awesome. One of the two biggest stars of the Negro Leagues, Paige was known for being extremely cocky, though he almost never failed to back it up. On barnstorming tours, he would have his infielders sit down behind him and then he would strike out the side. Supposedly, Paige once intentionally walked the bases loaded in a playoff game (records of Negro League games are somewhat sketchy) just to set up a confrontation with the other big star of the Negro Leagues, slugger Josh Gibson, and responded by striking Gibson out to clinch the championship. He expressed resentment at the time that Jackie Robinson was the one chosen to break the Majors' color line and not himself, though he later conceded that Robinson was probably the right choice. Well-known for pithy sayings, the most famous being "Don't look back, something might be gaining on you."
Speaking of Josh Gibson, he was another one of the greatest players ever who, on account of being black, couldn't play in the Majors for the prime of his career, and unlike Paige, he never got the chance to play at all, since he died of a stroke a few months before the 1947 season. A catcher, his prodigious power led to him being called "The Black Babe Ruth." Like Babe Ruth, he hit a huge number of home runs- it's hard to say exactly how many because of the sketchiness of Negro Leagues records and the large number of unofficial games Negro League teams tended to play, but some sources credit him with as many as 800, which would be more than any Major League player ever hit. He was the subject of numerous tall tales about his power, the most famous being that he once hit a home run in Pittsburgh that came down in another city the following day, in another ballpark, in a game that Gibson was playing against the same team. It was caught by an outfielder, leading the umpire to exclaim, "You're out, yesterday in Pittsburgh!"
Ted Williams is one of the best hitters in history, and was the last person to have a batting average (hits divided by at-bats) of over .400 in a season, batting .406 in 1941. (No player since 2000 has hit over .372.) Took time off in the prime of his career to serve as a pilot in both World War II and the Korean War. Well loved in Boston (where he played) and San Diego (where he was from), and there are highways named for him in both cities. After he died in 2002, he received a lot of media attention over the bizarre battle that took place within his surviving family; his son and daughter claimed that the three of them were to be cryogenically frozen together. At Fenway Park, there is a single seat in the right field bleachers painted red to mark the landing spot of one of his home runs, the longest in the park's history. The home run ball actually hit the guy sitting in the seat while he was taking a nap, and broke his straw hat. Hit a home run in the last at-bat of his career. Oh yeah, and he had his incredible career while serving his country twice (WWII & Korea).
Yogi Berranote "Yogi" was a nickname he earned because he sat with arms and legs crossed while waiting to bat. His real name was Lawrence Peter Berra was the catcher on the Yankees' solid teams of the '40s and '50s, but today he is mostly known as one of the funniest Cloudcuckoolanders ever. He was once complimented by a female reporter: "You look cool out there, Yogi." "Thanks, you don't look so hot yourself!" He said of a restaurant in his native St. Louis, "Nobody goes to that place anymore. It's too crowded." There are many other examples; of course, he also said "I didn't really say everything I said." Yogi also enjoyed some success as a manager, leading the 1964 Yankees and 1973 Mets to the World Series (though both teams lost). Though it may seem obvious that Yogi Bear was named after him, Hanna-Barberaalways maintained the notion that this was coincidental.
Roger Clemens pioneered the modern concept of the "power pitcher" with the Red Sox in the 1980s. Nicknamed "The Rocket", Clemens threw harder than almost anyone else at the time, and had a dominant, macho personality that intimidated hitters and made him almost synonymous with Boston at the time. Clemens set a then-record in 1986 by striking out 20 batters in one game and very nearly won Boston the infamous "Game Six" of the World Series that year. Clemens has won a total of seven Cy Young awards in his career, a record for any pitcher. Unfortunately, his personality translated into a long, long, long record of Jerkass behavior over the years that tarnished the public's perception of his career more and more. Split acrimoniously from the Red Sox in 1996 and went on to play for the Blue Jays, Yankees and Astros, winning two World Series with the Yankees. Opinions vary of the man, but these days he is almost universally despised in Boston. Although acquitted of charges of lying under oath to Congress about using illegal performance enhancing drugs, he is still widely believed to have used them.
Dock Ellis, most famously of the Pittsburgh Pirates, is well known for two things: firstly, a number of incidents of deliberately hitting opposing players with balls; and secondly, a June 12, 1970 game, when Ellis pitched a no-hitter while tripping balls on LSD.
Harry Caray, pretty much regarded as the most memorable baseball (if not sports in general, he also did some football games too) broadcaster of all time. As their entry below shows, he was most well known for broadcasting Chicago Cubs games, although during his career he did White Sox, Athletics, and Cardinals at various points too. He is highly quotable to this day, with his frequent calls of "Holy Cow!" and "It might be...it could be...It is! A home run!" Apparently his talent was In the Blood, as shown by both his son (Braves broadcaster Skip Caray, now also deceased) and his grandsons (Cubs/Braves broadcaster Chip Caray and AAA Braves broadcaster Josh Caray). Younger fans may be most familiar with him from Will Ferrell's impressions of him on Saturday Night Live.
Mel Allen was another well-known broadcaster, who served as the voice of the New York Yankees from 1939 to 1964, a period that coincided with what was arguably the team's golden age: during Allen's years behind the mike, the Yankees won 19 American League pennants and 13 World Series championships, and fielded such Joe DiMaggio, Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle, and Phil Rizzuto. Allen also called numerous World Series and All-Star Games on radio and television, and served as a narrator for Fox Movietone newsreels, making him (and his catchphrase, "How about that!") well-known to sports fans throughout the country. He was unceremoniously fired from the Yankees in 1964, but re-emerged in the late '70s as host of the syndicated series This Week in Baseball, a role he held until his death in 1996.
George Steinbrenner was the longtime owner of the New York Yankees. His deep pockets were historically an asset to the team; his meddling nature and tendency to fire managers was not. Steinbrenner passed away in 2010; during his time as owner of the Yankees, the team won seven World Series championships. His son Hank now runs the team, and Hank is shaping up to be very much like his father. A fictionalized version of George Steinbrenner was George Costanza's boss on Seinfeld.
Billy Martin was the hard-nosed second baseman for the great New York Yankee teams of the 1950s. After his retirement, he became a successful major league manager known for his ability to turn losing teams into winning ones. However, Martin's abrasive and blunt nature also caused him to perpetually feud with upper management, leading to him being frequently fired despite his success on the field. He served five different stints as manager of the Yankees, in addition to stints in Minnesota, Detroit, Texas, and Oakland; all but Texas reached the postseason at least once under his leadership, and he at least took them from last place to second in the span of a year. He was preparing to become Yankee manager for the sixth time when he died in a car crash on Christmas Day 1989.
Bert Blyleven is a Hall of Fame pitcher, known for his devastating breaking ball and long, productive career. A member of the 3000 Strikeout Club, his career spanned over two decades and included two World Series rings (with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1979 and the Minnesota Twins in 1987). He was an inveterate dugout prankster (teammate Kirby Puckett noted that he would crawl under the bench to light somebody's shoelaces on fire - and this was BEFORE Major League Baseball banned chewing tobacco) and overall loose cannon. Currently the color commentator for the Twins.
Blyleven's post-playing career is notable in part for the path the pitcher took to Cooperstown. He received precious little Hall of Fame support in his first several years on the ballot. Internet baseball fans took up his cause and relentlessly, tirelessly advocated on his behalf, writing countless blog posts and emails to voters. This, along with the facts that many more recent pitchers being under a cloud of suspicion for alleged or admitted use of steroids and HGH and new approaches to statistical analysis steadily revealing that Blyleven had a much more dominating career than he had been given credit for, made the tide turn in Bert's favor. Blyleven's eventual election is almost certainly the first in baseball history attributable largely to the Internet.
Kirby Puckett joins Lou Gehrig and Roberto Clemente in baseball's pantheon of players whose career was cut brutally short. One of the most productive and popular stars in Major League Baseball from 1984 until 1995, Puckett was a stalwart presence in the Twins dugout. Most nationally famous for winning Game Six of the 1991 World Series (the second of his two World Series rings) with a walk-off home run against Charlie Liebrandt. Puckett was one of the few good things going for the Twins from 1992 until 1995. During the preseason of the 1996 baseball season, Puckett woke up without vision in his right eye - he would eventually lose the eye and be forced to retire from baseball. Puckett died in 2005 of a hemorrhagic stroke.
Randy Johnson, a.k.a., "The Big Unit" (he's 6' 10"/2.08 meters tall) is one of the hardest throwing, most intimidating pitchers in recent history, and is often regarded as the greatest left-handed pitcher ever. He spent most of his career playing with the Mariners or the Diamondbacks, plus a few short stints with the Expos, Astros, Yankees, and Giants. He retired with over 300 victories and the second-most strikeouts in baseball history, behind only Nolan Ryan. He is also one of only 23 pitchers to throw a perfect game. He also formed one-half of the pitching duo that ended up winning the Diamondbacks their first World Series in 2001 and also won them co-MVP honors that year. Considered a mortal lock to enter the Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible in 2015.
Curt Schilling during his playing career was known for not only being an outstanding pitcher (helping the Philadelphia Phillies enter the 1993 World Series, as well as forming the other half of the co-MVP pitching duo that won the Diamondbacks the 2001 World Series), but one of the gutsiest competitors you'll ever find. While pitching for the Red Sox in the 2004 ALCS against the New York Yankees, he tore a ligament in his ankle, yet was able to pitch again in the series thanks to a brand new experimental surgical procedure, albeit one which did not prevent him from bleeding. The Red Sox came back from a 3-0 defecit to win that series, and Schilling's bloody sock became an iconic image of the team's first World Championship in 86 years. Later in his career and after his retirement, Schilling became known for his outspoken political views. He's a hardcore Republican who has openly supported several prominent Republican candidates for public office, even going so far as to actively campaign for John McCain during his 2008 Presidential run. Rumors have long abounded that Schilling would run for public office himself, but he has yet to do so. He's also known as a fairly hardcore gamer who plays MMORPGs (once another player that hit a home run off of him claimed it was to avenge an Everquest character Schilling had betrayed) and started his own game studio, 38 Studios, after his jersey number. 38 Studios released one game, the 2012 RPG Kingdoms Of Amalur Reckoning, which was well liked by critics, but ultimately failed sales-wise. This led to a major scandal after the company defaulted on its loan to the state of Rhode Island, leaving the company bankrupt and Schilling's reputation in ruins.
Curt Flood was a defensive center fielder who played for the St. Louis Cardinals. However, when he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1969, he vehemently did not want to go there, so he refused to report, then wrote a letter to Bowie Kuhn requesting to be made a free agent, in circumvention of the league's Reserve Clause (which said that the team that a player played for keeps his rights, meaning that he could not sign with another team even after his contract expired.) When Kuhn refused, Flood sued under the Sherman Antitrust Act for the right to be a free agent. His case went to the Supreme Court, where Flood was denied the right (in an opinion penned by baseball aficionado Justice Harry Blackmun, which opened with a seven-page essay on how awesome baseball is and how many great players had been screwed by the Reserve Clause, but went on to say, in effect, "MLB has gotten some special exceptions under the Sherman Act in the past that apply to the Reserve Clause, and we're not in a position to change them at this time; sorry."* When presented with Blackmun's opinion, Chief Justice Burger noted, "I concur in all but Part I."). However, Flood's action strengthened the Major League Baseball Players Association such that the reserve clause would be struck down in 1975, creating the "free agency" era in Major League Baseball.
Mike Schmidt was known for both his defensive prowess (earning 10 Gold Gloves by the time of his retirement), and his power-hitting ability (he finished his career seventh all time with 548 career home runs). Playing his entire career in Philadelphia, he earned three MVP awards (at that time unheard of for a third baseman), and played in two world series, winning one in 1980. Five years after his retirement, he was named to the Hall of Fame, and about five years after that, he was named to the MLB All Century team as the starting third baseman. Pete Rose once said about Schmidt: "To have his body, I'd trade him mine and my wife's, and I'd throw in some cash."
Ken Griffey (Jr.) was one of the best (arguably the best) players of The Nineties. Well-marketed (even having his own series of baseball games made by Nintendo for the SNES and the Nintendo 64) and excelling in all facets of the game, he led the previously pathetic Seattle Mariners out of obscurity and enjoyed tremendous popularity. He's also the first of two players in history (Tim Raines Jr. joining him in 2001) to play on the same team with his father (of the same name), who was a successful, if not Hall-of-Fame caliber outfielder. After many good years with the Mariners, he requested a move to the Cincinnati Reds, where he would mostly spend the next nine years and last years of baseball injuring his hamstring. Still, he became the 6th player to hit 600 home runs (and, some argue, the first since Aaron to do so legitimately, since the 4th and 5th (Bonds and Sammy Sosa, respectively) were both linked to performance-enhancing drugs). Despite having a prodigious Hall of Fame career, many fans consider there to be an element of What Could Have Been to his career, because for years he seemed destined to break Aaron's all-time home run record, and if not for constant injuries nagging him for those seasons on the Reds he may well have done so. (His time in Seattle may have been part of the problem—the Kingdome, where the M's then played, was infamous for its concrete-hard artificial turf.) May have had the most beautiful swing in history during his prime. One darker, and lesser-known fact about Junior is that he has on occasion been an advocate for suicide/depression awareness, himself having attempted (and nearly succeeded) suicide early in his minor league career.
Barry Bonds, a former San Francisco Giant, considered one of the best all-around players in baseball history. He holds the record for both the single-season and career record for home runs, which is even more impressive when you consider that he also holds the career records for both walks and intentional walks. He has won 7 MVP awards, more than any other player (his closest competitor in this department has 3). Despite the fact that he holds these feats, he failed to gain entry to the Hall of Fame when first eligible, receiving only 34% of the vote. Why? Steroids. Bonds was one of the central figures in the performance-enhancing drug scandals that rocked baseball in The Nineties and early 00s, going from a wiry rookie as a Pittsburgh Pirate to an imposing hulk in his later years. While PEDs were widely used throughout MLB, even before the "Steroid Era," Bonds has become the face of the scandal, aided by his frigid relationship with the media. Despite his tarnished legacy and the inability of any of his teams to win a World Series, Bonds remains the owner of some of baseball's most cherished records, and simply the most dominant player of his generation.
Perhaps the most illustrative example of Barry Bonds's general ridiculousness is that he is the only member of the 500-500 club - players with 500+ career home runs and stolen bases.
Bonds drew so much attention for his alleged PED use in large part because of the absurd nature of some of his performances; his 2001-2004 seasons are not only regarded as some of the greatest in the history of the game, Bonds, in some ways, fundamentally altered the game he was playing in. There's an old saying that even the best MLB hitters fail far more often than they succeed; Bonds, in 2004, put up a .604 on-base percentage, meaning he successfully reached base in more than 60 percent of his plate appearances.
Pedro Martínez pitched for four teams in his major league career, but was best known for his time with the Boston Red Sox. In the '90s, he was on everyone's short list of "greatest ever", as he was putting up ridiculous, video game-esque pitching numbers at a time when the trend was toward ridiculous, video game-esque hitting numbers. He was controversially cheated out of an MVP award in 1999 because two writers refused to list pitchers, even though one of them had done so the year before. He was also one of the central characters of the recent Red Sox-Yankees rivalry. In the 2000s, his performance began tailing off. He was clearly still a talented pitcher, but in the latter part of the decade had a great deal of trouble staying healthy (he threw the ball very hard and had a slight frame, not an ideal combination), causing most teams to shy away from him.
Greg Maddux Also known as "Mad Dog" or "The Professor", Maddux pitched for the Cubs, Braves, Padres, and Dodgers. He was discovered at a young age when scouts went to see his brother Mike, and his father said "you'll be back later for the little one". Most scouts were turned off by the scrawny kid who had no velocity on his fastball, but Chicago Cubs scout Doug Mapson saw past it saying "I really believe this boy would be the number one player in the country if only he looked a bit more physical". 1987 was his first full year in the majors, and Maddux went 6–14 record and 5.61 ERA, with several people saying "we told you so, he won't make it. Too scrawny and not enough juice on the ball". Then, in 1988 it started (finishing 18–8 with a 3.18 ERA). Gregory Alan Maddux cut a swath of devastation not seen in major league history, going SEVENTEEN seasons with at least fifteen (15) wins. During this time Maddux would often have an ERA lower than his batting average, Gold Gloves (18 in his career), and Cy Young Awards (four). To give an indication of his dominance during this period; "On July 22, 1997, Maddux threw a complete game with just 76 pitches, against the Cubs. Three weeks earlier, he had shut out the defending champion New York Yankees on 84 pitches, and five days before that, he'd beaten the Phillies with a 90-pitch complete game. Maddux allowed just 20 bases on balls in 1997, including six intentional walks. Ignoring those six intentional walks, Maddux only went to a 3-0 count on one batter in all of 1997". He eventually joined the 3000 strikeout club, and passed Clemens in career wins. His mind and ability to read players was uncanny; he once intentionally gave up a homer to Jeff Bagwell so later on in the season Bagwell would look for that pitch again. On another occasion, while sitting on the bench, Maddux once told everyone "watch this, we might need to call an ambulance for the first base coach." The batter then drove the next pitch into the chest of the Dodgers' first base coach. There are several other stories about Greg Maddux, and no one should argue his credentials as one of the greatest of all time. Elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 2014.
Rogers Hornsby Nicknamed "Rajah," Hornsby was perhaps the greatest right-handed hitter to play the game and one of, if not the, greatest hitter of all time. Hornsby batted a lifetime .358 average, (second only to Ty Cobb's .366) won the Triple Crown in the National League twice (one of which was also an MLB triple crown), was a two-time MVP, and batted .400 or higher three times. Hornsby's .424 batting average in 1924 has never been matched in the modern era, nor has his .722 slugging percentage (for players with over 600 at-bats) in 1922. Hornsby was also famous for a mean disposition and dislike of younger players; despite excellent offensive statistics, he was often traded because nobody else on the team could stand him. In one incident while assessing prospects for the New York Yankees, the nicest analysis he could muster was that one of the prospects only "looks like a Major League ball player" (the player in question? Mickey Mantle). Rajah was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1942, but the Hall held no induction ceremony during U.S. involvement in World War II, and never bothered to include Gehrig or Hornsby in later ceremonies. The Hall finally rectified that error in 2013, when Gehrig, Hornsby, and nine other figures voted in during the war years were part of the induction ceremony.
Bob Gibson One of the most dominant pitchers of all time, Bob Gibson was a 9-time All Star, won nine Gold Gloves, two Cy Young awards, pitched one no-hitter, set records with 35 strikeouts in a World Series and 17 K's in a single World Series game, threw 255 complete games, and holds the single-season record for ERA with a 1.12 mark set in 1968. In fact Gibson's 1968 performance (combined with other dominant pitching performances that year) changed the game of baseball, by leading Major League Baseball to lower the mound by five inches and reduce the size of the strike zone. Gibson was also famous for his fierce intensity on the mound, and earned a reputation for knocking down and hitting batters (102). In addition to his pitching, Gibson also possessed great skill with the bat, and is one of only two pitchers since WWII with a career line of a .200+ batting average, 20 or more home runs, and over 100 runs batted in. He also played for the Harlem Globetrotters before turning to baseball.
Harry Kalas was briefly an announcer for the Houston Astros. Shortly after, he became the announcer for the Philadelphia Phillies, which he did until his passing in April of 2009. Kalas was a well known voice not only among Phillies fans, but also was known for doing voiceover work for the NFL, after the passing of original voiceover artist John Facenda. Kalas was known for his memorable home run calls, and had the catch phrase "Swing ... and a long drive, this ball is ... outta here!" when calling a home run.
Stan "The Man" Musial played his entire career for the St. Louis Cardinals and is considered not only the greatest Cardinal of all time, but also one of the greatest men ever to play the game. Not just as a player, but as a person. He was a 3-time MVP, 3-time World Series Champion, 24-time All-Star, and had a .331 lifetime batting average, 3,630 hits, 475 home runs, and 1,951 RBIs, but he also gave away more autographs than any other player and became an iconic civic figure in the city of St. Louis. He was so nice and kind—he cheered up everyone he met (from sick children in hospitals to ordinary adults) and aged into a Cool Old Guy with a harmonica—that he verges into Boring Invincible Hero territory, but in the best way possible (like a Real LifeSuperman or Captain America—he was just that good). A proud son of Polish immigrant, he made trips to Poland to help popularize baseball there, and became good friends with Pope John Paul II in the process; they eventually named a stadium after him and gave him Poland's highest civilian honor. He was just about the best and least-controversial example of Fandom Sacred Cow there ever was. Hank Aaron has said of him, "I didn't just like Stan Musial. I wanted to be like him." Even Ty Cobb said that Stan was the closest there'd be to a perfect player. Oh, and he once found out on a family trip that he had fans in Australia and Tahiti. Stan the Man ranks among the greatest of the greats, but he's not often talked about because he was never a Yankee or a Dodger. But when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1969, then-Commissioner Ford Frick said, "Here stands baseball's perfect warrior. Here stands baseball's perfect knight." Those words were etched into The Man's statue at Busch Stadium, which has been covered in flowers and memorabilia since he passed away on January 19, 2013, at age 92. Before his death, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the U.S.'s highest civilian honor, from President Obama in December 2011, thanks to a grassroots petition campaign conducted by members of Cardinal Nation.note Fun fact: During Musial's high school days in Pennsylvania, one of his baseball and basketball teammates was Buddy Griffey, father and grandfather of the baseball-playing Ken Griffeys. Musial and his white basketball teammates once threatened to forfeit a major tournament because a hotel restaurant wouldn't seat Buddy in the main dining room.
Roberto Clemente was one of the sport's first Latin American stars. He spent his entire 18-year career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and over the course of that career, he became a 15-time all-star, got exactly 3,000 hits, was a part of two teams that won the World Series, and became known as one of the best defensive right fielders of all time. Well-respected for his skills at the game, he was also well-respected for his humanitarian deeds, frequently working in charities in Latin American countries. Sadly, he and his career met an untimely end in 1972, when he was in a plane crash on his way to deliver aid to victims of an earthquake in Nicaragua. After his death, the league named an award after him, which is awarded each year to the player who "best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual's contribution to his team"- generally a player who both plays the game well and gets involved in charities, like Clemente.
Jean Faut was the pitcher for the All American Girls Professional Baseball League's South Bend Blue Sox from 1946 to 1953. Her statistics as a pitcher can easily stand alongside some of the greatest male pitchers of Major League baseball. What makes her truly notable is that she accomplished something no other pitcher in the history of professional baseball ever did: over the course of her career, Jean Faut pitched two perfect games (that is, a game in which no batter even made it to first base, much less made it around the bases and back to home; this is a feat so rare that it has only happened 23 times in the history of major league baseball). In addition, she pitched a one-hitter earlier in her career, meaning that not only did she pitch two perfect games, she was only one base-hit away from pitching a third. Legendary Brooklyn Dodgers manager Leo Derocher said of Faut that, had she been a man, he would have begged Dodgers owner and president Branch Rickey (who had as Dodgers manager signed Jackie Robinson in 1947) to sign her in a heartbeat; unfortunately, league rules specifically forbade women ever playing pro ball in the majors (rules which still stand to this day).
Sandy Koufax is widely held to be one of the finest pitchers in the history of the game, despite having serious control difficulties in his early career. He actually was far more interested in basketball than he ever was in his own sport, and had it not been for the fact that he could throw a 100 mile an hour fastball, might have ended up in that sport than baseball. He is said to have studied the "art and science" of pitching, to the point that he became one of the finest technicians in that position in the game. Mickey Mantle once pointed out that Sandy Koufax always signalled his pitches before his windup. "If Koufax was going to throw you a fast ball, his elbows would be out away from his body; if it was gonna be a curve, his elbows would be in close to his body. Every batter who ever faced Koufax knew precisely what he was about to get, but it didn't matter because the pitches were so good you couldn't hit them anyways." He was the first pitcher to win the Cy Young Award three times, the first to pitch four no-hitters, and the eighth pitcher in major league baseball to pitch a perfect game. He had a higher career strikeout total than a career innings-pitched total, one of only four starting pitchers to accomplish that feat (Minimum 1000 innings pitched; the other three starters are Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson, and Pedro Martínez. Many Relief Pitchers have done this over short periods, but the only ones to do that while meeting the 1000-inning minimum are Trevor Hoffman and Kerry Wood. A few currently active players also currently have more strikeouts than innings pitched, though the only ones who have also pitched enough innings are starters Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum, Max Scherzer, and Francisco Liriano, and starter-turned-reliever Oliver Perez). He left the game when he was only 30 due to arthritis in his left (throwing) elbow, and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame five years later (becoming the youngest player ever so honored).
Sophie Kurys was a already a star shortstop in fast-pitch softball before joining the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, where she played second base for the Racine Belles from 1943 to 1951. Many baseball historians describe her as the greatest second baseman who ever played the game, male or female. She was called "Tina Cobb" during her professional career, for her ability to steal bases, because once she reached first base, it was almost inevitable she was going to end up on second and there was nothing the opposing team could do about it. She averaged 150 stolen bases per season, with a career high of 201 in 1946 (a single-season record she still holds; the closest any male player has ever come is Rickey Henderson's 130). Throughout her career she amassed a career total 1,114 stolen bases, more than Ty Cobb (892), Lou Brock (938) and Japanese star Yutaka Fukumoto (1,065). Her record was finally surpassed in 1994, by the aforementioned Rickey Henderson, who ended his career with 1406 total stolen bases. Most of her fans go to great lengths to point out that it took Henderson nearly 20 years to break her record, while she set it in only 8.
Something that is often overlooked when Sophie Kurys is discussed is that she set her record for stolen bases while wearing a skirt. This is not an insignificant detail. The uniforms for the women who played in the AAGBL were skirts because the management wanted to show the world that these were extremely feminine women ("No Tomboys" was the official line). But that meant that when a runner like Kurys slid into second, she did it with bare legs. Sliding across the hard-packed dirt of the infield resulted in huge bruises and multiple "strawberries" — open woulds that often bled through the players' uniforms.
Rickey Henderson, as mentioned above, holds the major league record for both career Stolen Bases and stolen bases for one season. He also holds the records for career runs scored (2,295) and unintentional walks (2,129), and is among the few players in baseball history to amass 3,000 hits. All of these skills combined to make him perhaps the best leadoff Hitter of all time. Though he's often cast as a singles hitter like most leadoff hitters, he had a decent amount of power, too, sometimes hitting as many as 28 home runs, a large total for a leadoff hitter, especially one who played most of his career in the pitcher's era of the 1980's. He played for 25 years and for a lot of teams, but is best remembered for his 5 years with the Yankees and many stints with the Athletics, with whom he won one of his World Series rings in 1989 and his only MVP Award in 1990.
Dennis Eckersley was one of the first pitchers to be a closer in the current sense of the word, and more than any other was the one who defined the position as a ninth inning specialist. He was a good but generally unspectacular starter for the first half of his career, highlighted by getting two all-star selections and throwing a no-hitter in 1977. He was switched to being a closer when he joined the Oakland A's in 1987, and had several ridiculous years during the A's dominant run in the late 80's and early 90's. His best year was probably 1990, when he had an ERA of 0.61, a ridiculously low ERA (even for a relief pitcher) that would go unmatched until Rays closer Fernando Rodney finished the 2012 season with an ERA of 0.60. In 1992, he became one of the few relief pitchers to ever win both the Cy Young and the MVP Award. Though he's a Hall of Famer and generally considered an all-time great, his skills fell off a bit after 1992, and he was never nearly that good again. His most famous moment is probably giving up a walk-off home run to Kirk Gibson in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.
Earl Weaver was the manager of the Baltimore Orioles from 1968-1982 and 1985-1986, during which time he led them to several American League Championships and a World Series Victory in 1970. He was notable for many innovative and unusual tactics, many of which would have been sabermetric in principle if sabermetrics were a thing when he was managing. For example, he hated plays like bunts, base-stealing, and hit-and-runs that he viewed as giving up outs- two of his philosophies were "On offense, your most precious possessions are your 27 outs" and "If you play for one run, that's all you'll get," preferring fighting it out and waiting for big innings to playing small-ball to get maybe one run. He had many other quotable mottos, the most commonly remembered being "Pitching, Defense, and Three-Run Homers." Weaver was also known for his very animated arguments with umpires; he typically turned the bill of his cap around when he came out to argue so that he could get right in the umpires' faces. Died during a Caribbean cruise on January 19, 2013, the same day that Stan Musial died.
Walter Johnson was a pitcher who spent his entire career with the original Washington Senators during the early 1900's. As this was the dead-ball era, his low-90's fastball, which would be considered fairly average today, made him one of the best power pitchers in the game at the time- or at least, what could be considered "power pitchers" in the dead-ball era. And he certainly had success- his 417 career wins are second only to Cy Young's 511, and his ERA regularly went below 2.00 (his career ERA is 2.17). His major league record of 110 shutouts still stands today and is considered unbreakable. He also was the first (and for a long time, only) pitcher to get at least 3,000 career strikeouts, and he held the major league record with 3,509 until 1983, when it was broken by Nolan Ryan (and, later in the same year, by Steve Carlton and Gaylord Perry). His long list of accomplishments led to him being one of the five players inducted into the Hall of Fame in its first year of existence, although he's since become much more obscure, largely due to the fact that the Senators were generally terrible while he played there (and for the entirety of their 60 years in Washington, for that matter).
Ozzie "The Wizard of Oz" Smith was a shortstop who played for three years with the San Diego Padres, before being traded to the St. Louis Cardinals, where he spent the remainder of his 19-year career. Though not known for his offense (he managed to collect over 2400 hits, but had almost zero power) Smith is perhaps the greatest defensive shortstop in the history of the game. He appeared on fifteen All-Star teams and collected thirteen Gold Gloves for his defensive play, won the 1985 NLCS MVP award, and was a first-ballot inductee into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He set the single-season record for assists in 1980 with 621, the career mark with 8372, has a lifetime fielding percentage of .978, (13th all-time among all shortstops) and his Range Factor of 5.215 ranks fifth all time at his position. Ozzie quickly became a beloved icon in St. Louis, where his athletic and acrobatic play quickly earned him the nickname "The Wizard of Oz." If there was ever a definition of the Human Highlight Reel it was Ozzie in his prime, and any countdown of the best defensive plays of all time will feature him prominently.
Tony Gwynn was an outfielder who played his entire 20-year career with the San Diego Padres. Known as an intense student of hitting—he was one of the first players to use video to analyze his swing—he became a member of the 3,000 hit club, his career .338 batting average is the highest among players who began their careers after World War II, and his eight NL batting titles are tied with Honus Wagner for the most all-time. Gwynn also played in 15 All-Star Games and won five Gold Gloves, and was elected alongside Ripken to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. In 2003, he became the head baseball coach at his alma mater of San Diego State (where he played both baseball and basketball) and served in that role (as well as part-time gigs on the side with ESPN and Yahoo! Sports) until dying of cancer in 2014.
Chipper Jones, during his 19-year career, was typically considered the best switch-hitter in the game and one of the best of all time.note Jones is one of only two players with 5,000 or more at bats to have hit .300 from both sides of home plate. The other was Hall of Famer Frankie Frisch. He spent his entire career with the Atlanta Braves, at one point even re-working his contract with them so they would have more money to spend on other players. However, he was never that great of a power hitter, despite consistently putting up solid numbers over the past decade and a half. Given that he was hitting in the era of players such as Bonds, McGwire and later Pujols, he's basically a case of Overshadowed by Awesome. He retired at the end of the 2012 season.
Trevor Hoffman was a relief pitcher who spent almost all of his career with the San Diego Padres. He became the Padres' closer shortly after joining them, and, somewhat unusually for a closer, held onto it for the next decade and a half (the volatile nature of relief pitchers means that most closers tend to flame out fairly quickly), making a few all-star appearances and generally being consistently able to lock down games for the Padres. As he came into the league right around the same time as Dennis Eckersley codified the current role of the closer as the guy who got all the saves, he got a lot of saves pretty much every year in his career, and because closers with this type of role weren't as common prior to Eckerlsey's dominant run in the early 90's (especially ones who were closers for almost their entire careers), he managed to completely destroy the all-time career saves record with 601. Shortly after he retired, that record was itself broken by Mariano Rivera, who had similarly been a great closer for a really long time. That Hoffman's career largely overlapped with Rivera's caused him to generally be Overshadowed by Awesome, as Rivera was always considered the slightly better closer and was far more popular. Still, Hoffman was undeniably a great closer, and his 601 saves and 9.36 strikeouts/9 innings pitched ratio (the latter is the highest of any reliever with at least 1000 innings pitched), among other stats, should ensure his eventual Hall of Fame selection. Throughout pretty much his entire career, he had the song "Hells Bells" played as his entrance music, which would end up inspiring the Yankees' staff to play "Enter Sandman" whenever Mariano Rivera entered games (in keeping with Rivera's larger popularity, "Enter Sandman" would become far more iconic for Rivera than "Hells Bells" ever was for Hoffman)
Tommy John pitched for numerous teams for a long time, achieving his greatest success with the Dodgers and Yankees. Though he's somewhat remembered for his pitching, he's far better remembered for the elbow surgery now named after him that he was the first patient of. In the middle of the 1974 season, he tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching arm, making pitching effectively impossible; at the time, the injury was considered career-ending. Not willing to let his career end like this, he spent the next few months working with one of the Dodgers' team doctors, Frank Jobe, attempting a comeback. After exhausting several other options, they decided to replace the ligament with a tendon from his other arm, the procedure that would later be known as Tommy John Surgery. At the time, Jobe thought that the odds of a comeback were about 1 in 100, but it worked great; far better than he could have ever expected, in fact. John was able to return to pitching in 1976, and would continue pitching until 1989, never being bothered by the elbow again. His career numbers from both before and after the surgery include having won 288 games and having pitched for Twenty-Six seasons- a major league record, until Nolan Ryan broke it a few years later. Now, the surgery is fairly commonplace, in both baseball and other sports, but especially for baseball and especially for pitchers; about 1 in 4 of currently active pitchers have had the surgery at least once, a few more than once.
Mariano Rivera, the closer for the New York Yankees, is baseball's all-time saves leader with 652 saves and believed by many to be the best relief pitcher in baseball history. He is particularly known for his many clutch postseason performances, often working up to two innings for a save. (Saves lasting more than one inning had become extremely rare by the time Rivera began pitching.) Just to give you an idea of his postseason dominance, more men have walked on the moon than scored an earned run on him in the playoffs. note 12 men walked on the moon during the Apollo Missions, Rivera allowed 11 earned runs in his entire playoff career, though he also allowed 2 unearned runs. His signature pitch, the cut fastball or "cutter" (a fastball thrown with a slightly off-center grip to give it extra lateral movement), has been compared by opposing batters to a chainsaw, because its late, fast movement breaks bats off in batters' hands. A torn ACL early in the 2012 season could have brought his career to an end, but he said that he didn't want his career to end like this and would try his best to recover in time for the 2013 season. He then announced he would retire at the end of the 2013 season, and came back as if he hadn't had a day off, much less a year. In his final All-Star Game appearance in 2013, he was named MVP.
Jamie Moyer was the oldest active player in baseball (turned 50 in November 2012) at the time of his retirement in 2013—and actually had been the oldest active player in baseball for several years by that point. He started in the majors in 1986. He holds the distinction of having allowed more home runs than any other pitcher in history, though when you consider how long he had to pitch to reach that mark, it isn't that embarrassing an accomplishment at all. He also became the oldest pitcher to ever win a game in 2012, and weeks later became the oldest player ever to collect an RBI.
Vladimir Guerrero played for 16 years, mostly for the Expos and the Angels. During his prime, he was considered one of the most feared hitters in baseball, usually hitting for both high average and power. He had a 10-year streak in which he hit at least .300 with 27 home runs and a .900 OPS, and at least 100 RBI's in every season except for one that was shortened by injury. He never hit lower than .290. In 2004, his first year with the Angels, he hit .337 with 39 Home Runs and 136 RBI's and won the AL MVP. He also was a decent base-stealer early in his career, and came just one home run short of the 40-40 club (40 home runs, 40 steals) in 2002. He was also famed as one of baseball's best "bad-ball hitters"; that is, he frequently swung at and got hits off of balls thrown well outside the strike zone- He once even got a hit off a curveball that bounced in the dirt.
Roy Halladay, who last played for the Philadelphia Phillies, was arguably the best pitcher in the game a few years ago. He began his career with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1998, but in 2000 became so bad that he was demoted all the way down to the Blue Jays' Single-A team to relearn how to pitch. It worked: he had a breakout season in 2002 and won the AL Cy Young award in 2003. In December 2009, he was traded to the Phillies, giving him a shot at pitching in the postseason. During his first season with the Phillies, he threw a perfect game against the Florida Marlins, and in his first-ever postseason appearance, he threw a no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds - only the second postseason no-hitter in baseball history, following Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series. Halladay won the NL Cy Young in 2010, one of only five pitchers to do so in both leagues (the others are Gaylord Perry, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, and Roger Clemens). Sadly, injuries over the past few years severely impacted his ability to pitch, and ultimately forced him to retire after the 2013 season after signing a ceremonial contract with the Jays.
Derek Jeter, a shortstop who retired at the end of the 2014 season after playing his entire career with the New York Yankees, was generally thought of as the "heart and soul" of the run of great Yankees teams from the mid-'90s to the 2010s, although he was usually not their best player statistically. In his last season, Jeter was the only active player with 3,000 career hits. He is also personable and charismatic, and had a tendency to play well in clutch situations. However, sportswriters and Yankees fans often had a Godlike reverence of him to the point of causing a Hype Backlash for everyone else. Immediately after he retired, the Hall of Fame put up a web page that considers his first-ballot induction in 2020 a foregone conclusion.
Current people to know in MLB
Alex Rodriguez of the NY Yankees was baseball's highest paid player from 2001, when he signed a 10-year, $250 million contract with the Texas Rangers, to 2014, when his salary was exceeded thanks to larger contracts given to Clayton Kershaw and Miguel Cabrera. A shortstop in the first half of his career with the Mariners and Rangers, he moved to third base upon being traded to the Yankees in 2004, as the Yankees already had Derek Jeter at shortstop. His status as one of the game's all-time greats is not in doubt, as he was a prime MVP candidate every year from his age-21 season in 1996 to about 2010 (He has won the award three times), when age and injuries started to rob him of some of his skill. His high contract combined with the fact that he used performance-enhancing drugs while he was with the Rangers (and has since been connected to steroids again in the Biogenesis Scandal in the 2012-2013 offseason) make him one of baseball's most passionately disliked figures. His most passionate haters are mostly fans of the Red Sox (because he's a Yankee, because a trade that might have brought him to Boston instead of New York in 2003 failed, and for some in-game incidents, most notably slapping the ball out of Red Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo's glove in the 2004 ALCS) or the Mariners (because he started in Seattle, then left after the 2000 season and signed the aforementioned massive contract). But even some Yankees fans hate him, for nebulous reasons ranging from "he's cold and distant" to "he hasn't played in a World Series" (not true after 2009) to "he doesn't deliver big hits when you need them" (an assertion not backed up by statistics), to opting out of his contract during the last game of the 2007 World Series (the Yankees weren't playing in it, having been eliminated in the first round of the postseason, but the timing still attracted lots of criticism) to sign a slightly bigger 10-year contract with the Yankees shortly after, to his recent decline in production, among others. Known by his nickname "A-Rod", but prior to 2009 his lack of postseason performance led to detractors (including within the Yankees lockerroom) to call him "A-Fraud", and his admission in 2009 to having used steroids early in his career inevitably led to him being called "A-Roid". Injuries have slowed his production tremendously in the last couple of years, leading many to consider his days of being an elite player to be over. He was banned for the 2014 season due to allegedly obtaining (and using) large amounts of PEDs from Biogenesis, a now-closed South Florida "anti-aging clinic".
Bud Selig is the MLB commissioner and has been so, officially and unofficially, since 1992.note prior to that, he owned the Milwaukee Brewers He made a number of risky changes in Major League Baseball's format which risked alienating the sport's traditionalist fanbase but since have proven very successful, such as interleague play (before 1997, American and National league teams did not play each other except in the World Series) and the introduction of the new three-round playoff format. His most important achievement would probably be the addition of the wild card, which increases overall fan interest by keeping many teams relevant much later into the season than they normally would be. However, he's largely blamed for the performance-enhancing drug scandals which more or less happened on his watch, and this fact has caused him to be portrayed as inept and bumbling. He has announced that he will retire in January 2015.
Rob Manfred, currently MLB's chief operating officer (i.e., running most day-to-day league affairs), will succeed Selig as commissioner. Manfred first worked with MLB as an outside counsel in 1987, became a full-time MLB employee in 1998, and became COO at the end of the 2013 season.
Albert Pujols of the Los Angeles Angels is a first basemen who, during his days with the Cardinals, was seen by many as baseball's best player for most of the 2000's, and, strangely enough, is actually polite, charitable, and well-liked. Lots of fans hope he'll break Barry Bonds's records someday. He is nicknamed "The Machine" due to his formerly incredibly consistent production. For a 10-year stretch from 2001 to 2010, he hit .300 with at least 30 Home Runs and 100 RBI's every year. He won 3 MVP awards in this time (2005, 2008, 2009), and the only reason he didn't win more is because Barry Bonds was putting up ridiculous numbers from 2001 to 2004. In the last couple of years, his production has slowed a bit due to age and injury, and it's looking unlikely he'll ever be as good as he once was, or that he'll even come close to being as valuable as the huge contract the Angels signed him to (10 years, $240 million) is paying him.
He's also called "El Hombre" (The Man), although he has said that the nickname "The Man" only belongs to the former Cardinals slugger Stan Musial, to whom the name is a Shout-Out and Call Back.
Ichiro Suzuki, an outfielder who currently plays for the New York Yankees, is the first Japanese position player to have a protracted, successful career in the American majors. After many years of being one of the NPB's biggest stars, including 3 MVP awards, he came to America in 2001, signing a contract with the Seattle Mariners. He immediately became one of Major League Baseball's best players, hitting .350 and stealing 56 bases that year, helping the Mariners win a record-tying 116 regular-season games, and winning both the AL Rookie of the Year and MVP Awards. He continued to play at an elite level for the next decade, with a record 10 straight seasons with at least 200 hits from 2001 to 2010. In 2004, his best season, he collected 262 hits, breaking the major league record for hits in a single season. He is well-known for his unusual hitting style- rather than try to always hit the ball as hard as he can, Ichiro prefers to "slap" the ball into gaps, trying mainly to hit balls wherever no fielder is standing. Despite not appearing in the majors until he was 27, he is on pace for over 3,000 hits in the MLB, and if you include the 1200+ hits that he got in Japan, then he recently reached 4,000 total hits in his professional career between America and Japan. Ichiro is considered a lock for the Hall of Fame once he becomes eligible. He is also an apparent victim of Memetic Mutation.
Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers is currently a first baseman, though he has also played third base and in the outfield at other points in his career. A week before the 2014 season began, he signed a 10-year, $292 million contract extension with the Tigers, the largest contract in baseball history. He originally came up with the Florida (now Miami) Marlins halfway through the 2003 season, and put up decent numbers for a then-20-year-old rookie and contributed a bit to the Marlins' World Series win that year. He spent the next few years in relative obscurity despite several all-star appearances, as the Marlins were fairly mediocre and he was outshined by several other players, like Albert Pujols. Then, during the 2007 offseason, he and the Marlins' ace pitcher Dontrelle Willis were traded to the Tigers for a package of very good prospects. People's opinions of the trade were somewhat mixed at the time, and as Willis was never even remotely good after this point and the Marlins finished 10 games better than the Tigers in 2008, it made the trade look initially bad on Detroit's part. However, none of the prospects the Tigers gave up ever had even decent careers, while Cabrera would reach far greater heights than he had with the Marlins. Spending the next several years as the Tigers' first baseman, he made a few more all-star appearances and led the majors in batting average in 2011, and helped lead the Tigers to the playoffs that year. He moved to third base in 2012 to make room at first for Prince Fielder, who the Tigers had signed to a massive contract during the offseason. In 2012, he hit .330 with 44 home runs and 139 RBI's, and became the first winner of the hitting Triple Crown (leading his league in batting average, home runs and runs batted-in/RBIs) since 1967, a feat that many had once thought was no longer possible in the modern game, due to batters becoming more specialized more in either hitting for average or power at the cost of the other. As a result, he won his first MVP handily, although many think that Mike Trout should have won it—Cabrera was certainly a better hitter than Trout that year, but Trout was a much better defender and a much faster baserunner. Incredibly, he did even better the following season in most of his statistics and looked like he might become the first back-to-back triple crown winner, but injuries at the end of the season limited his power greatly, and though he finished with a .348 batting average, 44 home runs, and 137 RBI's, he still fell well short of the triple crown, thanks to Chris Davis hitting 53 homers. He did still win his third consecutive batting title and second consecutive MVP award, though.
Daisuke Matsuzaka, former Boston Red Sox pitcher, is another Japanese player. An insanely dominant pitcher for the Seibu Lions who came to international prominence during the 2006 World Baseball Classic, he was offered $51 million by the Sox just to negotiate a contract, and somehow was the subject of hysterical rumors that he knew how to throw a mysterious pitch known as the "gyroball". So far he's been good, but not quite among the best pitchers in baseball. He is nicknamed Dice-K, an Anglicized pronunciation of his first name and pun on the symbol scorekeepers use for a strikeout (the letter K).
Later, Matsuzaka has earned infamy for being one of the biggest-name busts from the Japanese posting system. The Red Sox ended up forking over about $100 million for six years of a pitcher who has been above-average at best ('07 and '08) and downright painful at worst (not to mention frequently injured).
Ozzie Guillén is the former manager of the Chicago White Sox and the Miami Marlins. He is credited with making the White Sox a winning team again, though he is also perpetually in the news for saying something controversial, often an inflammatory remark regarding a player, umpire, sportswriter or Fidel Castro, which turned out to be a very bad idea when he was managing Miami. (However, there are many who feel he attracts controversy to himself on purpose in order to take heat off his players.)
Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins is considered one of the best-hitting catchers in MLB history, having led the American League in batting average 3 times (2006, 2008, 2009), the most batting titles won by any catcher- in fact, it's just one fewer than the total number of batting titles won by every catcher in history that isn't Joe Mauer. He also won the 2009 AL MVP, a year when he had one of the best seasons any catcher has ever had at the plate, including the highest batting average by any catcher in the modern era (.365). He was often thought of as the second-best player in baseball (after Albert Pujols) when he was in his mid-20s, though he's been limited heavily by injuries in recent years, and the Twins have announced that they will move him to first base basically full-time starting in the 2014 season to try to prevent future injuries to Mauer from catching. Barring further injury, though, he will likely continue to be one of the game's biggest stars for the next decade or so. Also notable for being something of a hometown hero, as he grew up in the Twin Cities and has spent his entire career (thus far) with Minnesota. Easily the most marketable player currently, he's been in commercials for Head & Shoulders and Sony's MLB The Show series. Well played, Mauer.
Vin Scully, announcer for the Los Angeles Dodgers for more than sixty seasons, is often regarded as one of the greatest baseball announcers ever. A recipient of the Baseball Hall of Fame's Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting, he is revered in California, and was listed as the greatest sports announcer ever by the American Sportswriters Association. But, more importantly, he's regarded as the soul of the Dodgers, much like Chick Hearn was for basketball's Los Angeles Lakers. During the 1980s, he was the main play-by-play announcer for NBC's baseball coverage, where his warm, friendly voice became familiar to a nationwide audience. Some of his most iconic calls include Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series, Sandy Koufax's perfect game in 1965, Hank Aaron's record-breaking 715th home run (against a Dodgers pitcher) in 1974, Bill Buckner's error in the 1986 World Series, and Kirk Gibson's game-winning home run off Dennis Eckersley in the 1988 World Series.
Josh Hamilton is a standout hitter, formerly playing for the Texas Rangers, but he became a free agent after the 2012 season and now plays for the Los Angeles Angels. While he's been in the league in some form or another for a long time - he was taken by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays as the first overall pick in the 1999 draft, and reached the big leagues in 2007 after many years of struggles with drugs and alcohol - he really only started to get attention when he started playing for Texas - his dominance at the plate is cited as one of the key factors in their 2010 turnaround. In the 2008 Home Run Derby, he hit a record 28 home runs in the first round, though the amazing performance ended up working against him; by the final round, he had tired himself out slugging so many home runs that he ended up losing to Justin Morneau (as the home run totals were reset for the finals). Early (and later) in his career, he's dealt with his addiction to alcohol - because of this, when the Rangers won the division and their two playoff series in 2010, they celebrated with ginger ale instead. After the season, Hamilton would be named the American League MVP for 2010. His reputation has been tarnished, however, due to his game breaking performance in the winner of the American League West deciding game in 2012 where he notably fumbled a ball that allowed in the runs that broke the then tie between the Rangers and the Athletics. He also got off to a very bad start in his first season with the Angels and though he started hitting better at the end, his final numbers were well below what he'd done with the Rangers.
Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers was one of the best, if not the best pitcher in the game a few years ago, although his poor performance in the 2014 season has cast some doubt on his skill. Playing for the Detroit Tigers, he pretty much walked away with the 2011 American League Cy Young by winning the Pitching Triple Crown: most wins (24), strikeouts (250) and lowest ERA (2.40). He was instrumental in the Tigers running away with the American League Central division title. He won the American League MVP award that season as well, which is seldom awarded to a pitcher because of strong feelings that it should go to an everyday player, and not one who plays every four or five days. He came within a hair of winning a second straight Cy Young in 2012, finishing second to Tampa Bay's David Price in the closest Cy Young vote since 1969.
Armando Galarraga became famous for his perfect game for the Detroit Tigers which was tarnished by a bad call by umpire Jim Joyce, who tearfully apologized, leading to an Unlikely Friendship between the two. He later traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks where he seemed to take a level in jerkass. He hasn't been heard from since being demoted to their Triple-A affliate in Reno and has since bounced around the minor league systems of many teams, and it's starting to look like his days as a big leaguer might be over.
Manny Ramirez, over the course of his career, has been one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball, but also one of baseball's most unpredictable characters. His frequent mental lapses, both on and off the field, have cost his teams a game or two and have been referred to as "Manny being Manny". Most controversially, in the latter part of his career, he acquired a reputation for playing outstanding baseball his first few months with a new team, but at some point thereafter wearing out his welcome and resorting to childish outbursts and lackadaisical play until he's shipped off somewhere else. He twice tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs; after the second test, he chose to retire rather than face a 100-game suspension. Or not. He requested a reinstatement, and signed with yet another team (the Athletics), then another one (the Rangers), then joined the Cubs' AAA team in 2014 as a player/coach, to mentor some of the Cubs' top prospects (and maybe have some chance of getting back to the Major Leagues, where he hasn't played since his 100-game suspension/retirement)
Yu Darvish, pitcher of the Texas Rangers, is known for being the Michael Jordan of Japan. Yu started out as a top level prospect, with MLB teams scouting him in Junior High. However, he wanted to go with a Japanese baseball league instead. In Japan, Yu posted extraordinary numbers, with a 1.99 average ERA. At 25, he wanted to go to America, and the Rangers won his services with a huge bid. He is known in MLB as having seven pitch types (in comparison, normal MLB pitchers have 3-5 pitch types). On April 2, 2013, he nearly threw a perfect game against the Astros, but it was broken up by the Astros' Marwin Gonzalez with 2 outs in the 9th inning.
Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels is considered by many to be the best player in baseball. Trout made his major league debut late in the 2011 season, at the age of 19, and initially struggled, despite showing some impressive skills. He was not with the big league team team at the beginning of the 2012, receiving a call up to the majors about a month into the season. Trout proceeded to set the league on fire with his hitting, baserunning, and fielding abilities, finishing near the top in several offensive categories. Trout's fantastic season sparked a discussion at the end of the season. While Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera won the triple crown (finishing first in batting average, home runs, and RBI's, a feat that hadn't been accomplished in almost half a century), an argument using statistical analysis was made that Trout actually had the more valuable season, since his hitting numbers were close to Cabrera's, and Trout had the clearly outperformed Cabrera in fielding and baserunning. Cabrera wound up winning the MVP, with Trout taking a close second. However Trout was a unanimous selection for AL Rookie of the Year (His time in the big leagues in 2011 was too small to make him ineligible for the award). He finished second to Cabrera again in 2013 before finally winning the MVP in 2014.
Bryce Harper, an outfielder for the Washington Nationals, made his debut in 2012, on the same day that Mike Trout was called up for the first time that year. While he had an impressive beginning to his career, he did tail off later in the year. Overall, however, he still had a good year- perhaps the best year ever for a 19-year-old- earning an All-Star selection and easily winning the 2012 NL Rookie of the Year. He has occasionally been compared to fellow young phenom outfielder Mike Trout- coming into 2012, Harper and Trout were widely considered the best prospects in the game and hailed for their incredible talents and potential. Like Trout, Harper possesses the tools to excel at all aspects of the game and has had success at a very young age. Harper, however, has yet to get the results out of his talent that Trout has. He's also suffered injury-related setbacks in the past few years, and attracted a reputation of being something of a Jerk Ass. Coined the phrase "That's a clown question, bro", when a reporter asked if Harper, then 19, would drink alcohol while playing in Ontario, Canada (where the legal drinking age is 19, not 21 like in the United States).note Regardless of his age, Harper is a Mormon, and Mormonism forbids the consumption of alcohol.
Stephen Strasburg, a pitcher for the Washington Nationals, Strasburg made his debut in 2010. He was on his way to an impressive rookie year when damage to his elbow forced him to undergo surgical repair. He briefly returned at the end of 2011, then returned in full force in 2012 and was impressive again. However due to concerns about overtaxing his surgically repaired elbow so soon after the surgery, his season was ended early by management. This was controversial among the press and the fans, especially after the Nationals were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round. However, time will tell if this will have been something that helped him in the long run.
Buster Posey is the catcher for the San Francisco Giants. He was called up to the majors at the end of May 2010, and took off like a rocket, winning the NL Rookie of the Year Award and playing a major part in the Giants' World Series run and victory. His 2011 season was cut abruptly short, however, in a horrific collision at home plate in a game against the Marlins that left him with a broken leg and several torn ankle ligaments. His return to catching— even his ability to ever play at the same level he had played at before— was questioned. He returned to catching in 2012, and seemed to be preforming at respectable level... until the second half of the season, where he ignited and proceeded to have one of the best seasons ever by a catcher. He finished with the highest batting average in the whole league, making him the first catcher to lead the NL in batting average in more than 70 years, won the NL Comeback Player of the Year Award, and won the NL MVP Award by a landslide. And the Giants won the World Series... again.
CC Sabathia began his pro career as a Cleveland Indian and began turning heads in the Major Leagues. Despite being a big man - looking overweight in his baseball uniform - Sabathia quickly proved to be an ace pitcher that could strike out a number of batters. Baseball experts also noticed how long he could last during each outing, regardless of him being twice as big as most starting pitchers who lose stamina and get tired during the nine innings. The experts began calling him a "work-horse" or an "innings eater" because of this. He had his most dominant year in 2007, where he quickly reached 1,000 strikeouts and ended up winning a Cy Young Award - being the second pitcher in franchise history to do so. The Cleveland Indians were able to build a competitive team around Sabathia's pitching and make a couple of playoff appearances. After failing to make it to the World Series, however, Sabathia eventually became too expensive and was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers, leading them to their first playoff appearance in 26 years. However, they too would fail to reach the World Series, and Sabathia left after the season to become a free agent. He eventually got a 161 million dollar contract with the New York Yankees, becoming one of the most highly paid pitchers in baseball history. The Yankees didn't regret it, as he would lead them to a World Series title in 2009 with dominant pitching during the playoffs and was even named MVP of the ALCS that same year. Having been the best or second best pitcher on generally very good teams for his entire career, many predict Sabathia to become the next (and possibly the last) pitcher to accumulate 300 lifetime wins, though his physical condition, workload, and more recent mediocre performances are concerns. Surprised everyone when he went on a weight loss campaign that began in 2012, and as of 2014, C.C Sabathia is the thinnest he's been his whole life. Rather this will benefit him or not remains to be seen. So far, the results haven't been good- he's lost a bit of his fastball velocity and suffered many injuries to his legs.
José Bautista, an outfielder, spent the early part of his career going between a lot of different teams, frequently getting cut for bad performance. Then he joined the Blue Jays. The rest is history: He became one of the best hitters in the game, leading MLB in home runs in 2010 and 2011. He didn't hit nearly as many in 2012 and 2013, though, as injuries prevented him from playing for several months, but he was always near the top before the injuries. Considering how much worse the Blue Jays were with out him (though they were also without several other players both years), they should hope that he recovers from those injuries and continues being one of the best hitters in the game.
Félix Hernández is a young pitcher who has spent his entire career thus far with the Mariners. Since his breakout season in 2009, he has become one of the best pitchers in the game, winning the AL Cy Young award in 2010 and throwing a perfect game in 2012. He routinely ends up in the top 5 of most pitching statistics, with the notable exception of Wins. Because the Mariners have had some of the worst hitters in baseball for several years, he often fails to win games in which he pitched well simply because the Mariners don't score many runs, and has a reputation for often losing games by scores like 1-0 and 4-2 (though he also wins some of those games 1-0 or 4-2). Because of this, he had a win-loss of record of 13-12 when he won the Cy Young Award in 2010 (the worst win-loss record any Cy Young-winning starting pitcher has ever had). He is known for usually being incredibly consistent in his performance- he broke a somewhat obscure record in 2014 by going 16 straight starts with at least 7 innings pitched while allowing 2 runs or fewer in each start.
David Price, currently of the Detroit Tigers, is another one of the best starting pitchers in the game. He started his career with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008, pitching a few games for them late in the season and in the playoffs. He showed great promise in the 2008 ACLS, where he won the deciding game from the bullpen and helped the Rays reach their first World Series by defeating the Boston Red Sox, but they ended up losing the series to the Philadelphia Phillies. He became a full-time starter in 2009. Over the next four years, David Price cemented himself as the Rays' best pitcher, quickly taking over that title from "Big Game" James Shields, the best starter on the Rays staff in 2007-09. In 2010, he was in the running for a Cy Young Award with C.C Sabathia and Felix Hernandez. As mentioned above, Felix Hernandez ended up winning despite a poor win-loss record caused by the Mariners' historically awful hitters, which the voters didn't blame him for. Price had a solid but not quite Cy Young-calibur year in 2011, and also surrendered Derek Jeter's 3,000th hit. In 2012, David Price had his most dominant year. He won 20 games - becoming the first pitcher in franchise history to do so - and had the lowest ERA of the American League with 2.54. He finally won the Cy Young Award at the end of the year, beating Justin Verlander by one vote. He continued to be dominant over the next few years, and the small-revenue Rays started to have difficulty affording his contract, leading to frequent trade rumors surrounding him. He ultimately was traded to the Tigers in 2014, giving the Tigers a starting rotation with 3 Cy Young winners (Price, Justin Verlander, and Max Scherzer).
Johan Santana is a pitcher who was a huge part of the Minnesota Twins' recent sucess. During the mid-2000's, he was one of the best pitchers in the game, winning Cy Young Awards in 2004 and 2006 and coming close to winning another in 2005. He was traded to the Mets in 2008, and has since become an injury magnet, missing large parts of almost every season he spent with the Mets (and all of 2011 and 2013), although he did become the first pitcher in Mets history to throw a no-hitter in 2012.
Cliff Lee currently pitches for the Philadelphia Phillies. He came up with the Indians, and had a few ups and downs before cementing himself as one of the best left-handed pitchers currently in the game with his Cy Young-winning season in 2008, with 22 wins, 2.54 ERA, and 170 Strikeouts. He has a reputation as one of the best pitchers in the postseason: In the first 7 postseason games he pitched, he went 7-0 and allowed just 9 runs in total. On account of the struggles of many of his teams, he's been a human trade rumor almost every year since 2009, though it appears that trading him is cursed: He was traded 3 times in the span of about a year (from the Indians to the Phillies in July 2009, from the Phillies to the Mariners in Decemeber 2009, and from the Mariners to the Rangers in July 2010), and each time the minor-league players gotten in return for him failed to accomplished much at the major league level.
David Freese is the third baseman for the Los Angeles Angels, after being traded from the St. Louis Cardinals following the 2013 season. A true Hometown Hero during his days in St. Louis, having grown up in a suburb just a few miles from their stadium, he's best remembered for his amazing performance in the 2011 NLCS and World Series that won him the MVP of both series. In particular, he's remembered for the game-tying triple he hit in game 6, with 2 outs and 2 strikes in the bottom of the ninth and the Cardinals down by two, and the walk-off home run he hit two innings later.
Brian Wilson, formerly the San Francisco Giants' closer but currently with the Los Angeles Dodgers, is known to a certain degree for his pitching, which has sent him to several all-star games and the Giants to a World Series victory. However, he's probably much better known for his general weirdness and for having one of the most epic beards in baseball.
Yadier Molina has been the catcher for the St. Louis Cardinals for most of the past decade or so. He's widely regarded as the best defensive catcher in the game, in particular for his great skill at throwing out opposing base-stealers. His offense was a bit more inconsistent, though later in his career he developed into a major offensive threat. Even for a catcher, he's a very slow runner- to the point that his speed (or lack thereof) is constantly joked about by fans and sportswriters alike.
Billy Beane is the Oakland Athletics' General Manager, as well as a former major league outfielder. Entering the sport with high expectations due to his high school success, he performed poorly for most of his professional career, barely qualifying for a major league spot, and ultimately retired at the age of 27, accepting a job with the A's in the front office. Constrained heavily by Oakland's small budget, he constantly has to come up with ways to find players that are being undervalued by the rest of the league for Oakland to compete. He's mostly been successful, particlarly during the early 2000's, when Oakland was practically the only team to embrace sabermetric principles, and they had 4 straight playoff appearances. His job got harder when the rest of the league copied his ideas, but he's been able to keep Oakland reasonably competitive recently by finding other ways to stay ahead of the game. Brad Pitt played him in Moneyball, a movie that followed the A's 2002 season.
Prince Fielder is the Texas Rangers' first baseman after being traded by the Detroit Tigers in the 2013–14 offseason. Fielder is famous for hitting lots of home runs, usually topping 40 and reaching 50 in 2007, when he was still with the Milwaukee Brewers. Unusually for power hitters, he also usually hits for decent batting average and walks more often than he strikes out. He's also famous for being one of the fattest players in the game; in the book ''Moneyball, he's described as being "too fat even for the A's," a very rare thing at the time; he very briefly flirted with vegetarianism in his pro career in an attempt to lose weight. As he's not a very Acrofatic player, he's a slow runner and a bad defender, even at first base, which makes his last name somewhat of a misnomer. (A name, which, incidentally, he inherited from his father Cecil Fielder, who was a well-known slugger in his own right.)
Ryan Braun is an outfielder for the Milwaukee Brewers. A few years ago, before his issues with PED's surfaced and problems with his thumb cost him some of his power, many argued he was the best hitter in the game, or at least in the top 5, routinely having some of the best statistics in just about every major offensive category. He won the MVP award in 2011... and almost immediately after, it was leaked that he failed a drug test, although the accompanying suspension was overturned on what some view as a technicality. He was also one of the players named in connection to the Biogenesis scandal in the 2012-13 offseason, although like everyone else involved, he flatly denied that this means he was using steroids; he ultimately accepted a 65-game suspension and made an admission of wrongdoing around the same time the Brewers lost any hope for the 2013 season. His multiple steroid connections and lack of punishment made people consider him either a big Karma Houdini or an innocent man who was the victim of multiple bad coincidences—at least until he was finally caught and suspended for his connection to Biogenesis.
David Ortiz is the Boston Red Sox' designated hitter. While he isn't always their best statistical player, he's certainly been their most recognizable and famous player for the past decade, similar to Derek Jeter being the heart and soul of the Yankees. He's somewhat of a rarity among designated hitters in that he hardly ever plays in the field- most American League teams, if they even employ a single full-time DH rather than rotating the position among several different players, will have them also play plenty of games (at least 20-30ish) as a non-DH. And with most of the other full-time DH's, they hardly ever play in the field either because they're really old, have suffered injuries that robbed their fielding ability but not their hitting, or both (Jim Thome, for example). While Ortiz is now getting up there in age, he never even played a substantial amount of games in the field even when he was younger (generally just no-DH games in National League stadiums), simply because he's an epically terrible fielder. Still, he's an amazing hitter, and his 50 home run season in 2006 remains the only 50 HR season by a Designated Hitter. In 2013, David Ortiz won the World Series MVP Award for his excellent play during the championship games and the whole post season as whole, including hitting a clutch grand slam during the 8th inning of Game 2 against the Detroit Tigers in the ALCS.
Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers is considered by many to be the best pitcher in the game right now. And the statistics appear to back up this claim: He leads all active starting pitchers with a career ERA of 2.60, has more career strikeouts than innings pitched (both are slightly over 1000), almost three times as many career strikeouts as career walks, and he won the pitching triple crown and Cy Young Award in 2011. To be fair, he does pitch a lot of games in the pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium, but even accounting for that, no other active starter comes close to his numbers. His curveball, dubbed "Public Enemy No. 1" by Vin Scully, is so good that it became a minor story when he allowed a home run off it in May 2014, since he hadn't allowed a home run off it in almost 5 years. And he's still pretty young and seems to be getting even better; He followed his Cy Young season by leading the National League in ERA again in 2012 and 2013, winning a second Cy Young in 2013 thanks largely to an amazing 1.83 ERA. He did even better than that in 2014, leading the NL in ERA for the fourth year in a row and winning the Cy Young and the MVP- even though he was injured for the first month of the season! Signed a 7-year, $215 million deal in January 2014, making him the highest-paid player in the game. He threw one of the best-pitched games in baseball history against the Rockies on June 18, 2014, striking out 15 batters in a no-hitter that would have been a perfect game if not for an error by Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez.
Robinson Canó was the New York Yankees' second baseman until he signed a 10-year, $240 million contract with the Seattle Mariners in the 2013-14 offseason. Following the beginning of Alex Rodriguez's decline from his age and injuries in 2009-10, Cano became generally regarded as the Yankees' best player, and possibly the best second baseman in the game, thanks to his great defensive skills and power numbers that would be impressive even if he wasn't a middle infielder. He had a Crowning Moment of Awesome at the 2011 Home Run Derby, winning and breaking the record for most home runs hit in the Final Round with several outs to spare. It also counted as a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming, as he was being pitched to by his dad, a once minor league pitcher who never quite made it to the big leagues. Canó was named the AL Captain of the next two derbies, but didn't have nearly as much success, and was booed relentlessly by Kansas City Royals fans at the 2012 Derby (in Kansas City) for not picking any Royals to go to the derby when he originally said he would.
Joey Votto is the Cincinnati Reds' first baseman. He's been on almost everyone's short list of the best hitters in baseball since his 2010 MVP season, although he also somehow manages to be a bit more obscure and underrated than one would expect. He ends up in debates about sabermetrics a lot, thanks to his high walk totals that have given him a career .419 on-base percentage (the highest of any active player). Because of his great plate discipline and frequent walks, some, including his former manager Dusty Baker, have criticized him for not being aggressive enough and not driving in enough runs for a middle-of-the-order hitter, even though he usually puts up decent RBI totals and has hit 100 RBI's twice. In addition, as sabermetricians will point out, he probably contributes more runs by getting on base as often as possible at the cost of a few home runs rather than swinging for the fences on pitches well outside the strike zone like some seem to want him to, and his RBI's are largely dependent on the hitters before him getting on anyway.
Troy Tulowitzki is the Colorado Rockies' shortstop. He's perhaps the best power-hitter in the game among shortstops, a position that typically lacks power (especially after the end of the steroid era) and this, combined with his amazing defense, have caused him to be widely considered one of the best shortstops, if not the best shortstop, in the game. Sadly, he's also frequently injured, playing in more than 150 games in one year only twice, and as some of his detractors will note, his power numbers are partially a product of the immensely power-hitter-friendly Coors Field. He gained a small amount of internet fame in 2013 when a gif of a line drive he hit being caught thanks to an amazingly quick reaction from Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez circulated around for a while.
Yasiel Puig is an Cuban outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers. After signing a large 6-year contract with them in 2012, he began to tear up the low minor leagues and had an absolutely incredible 2013 spring training that probably would have led to a big league call-up if the Dodgers hadn't already had three highly-paid all-star outfielders in Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp, and Andre Ethier. He continued destroying minor league pitching and eventually ended up in the big leagues in June following some injuries in the Dodgers' outfield. He proceeded to crush major league pitching almost as much as he had crushed minor league pitching, hitting over .400 in his first month, and came very close to getting an all-star selection despite only playing for about a month before the 2013 all-star game. His raw talent and incredible speed and power are virtually unmatched, and he often puts his talents to good use- but he also makes frequent mental errors on the bases and in the field, overthrowing infielders by 10 feet almost as much as he makes incredible plays to get people out. He also gets some hate from other players for "unwritten rules of baseball infractions", like his exaggerated bat flips on home runs, and his part in the Dodgers' celebration of their 2013 NL West Title- they clinched it with a win against the Arizona Diamondbacks and celebrated in Arizona's pool just beyond the outfield wall after the game.
Andrew McCutchen is an outfielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates and perhaps the best all-around player in the National League, excelling at virtually every aspect of the game. In 2013, he won the NL MVP and led the Pirates to their first playoff berth and first winning season since 1992, ending what had been the longest streak of consecutive losing seasons in the history of MLB- or any other major sport.
Aroldis Chapman is the Cincinatti Reds' closer. He currently holds the world record for the fastest fastball, having reached velocities as high as 106 MPH, and often throws over 100. His high fastball velocity has made him one of the best in the game at striking people out, retiring nearly half the batters he faces that way, an insanely high number even for a relief pitcher.
Giancarlo Stanton, formerly Mike Stanton, is the Miami Marlins' right fielder. Known mainly for his incredible power, hitting lots of home runs and hitting most of them very, very far- he led the NL in Home Runs in 2014 despite playing in one of the largest ballparks in the MLB half the time. In the 2014-2015 offseason, he signed a 13-year, $325 million contract with the Marlins, both the longest and the most expensive contract in baseball history (though not the highest by average salary per year), which came as a surprise to some, given the usual penny-pinching tendencies of Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria and Stanton's previous public disagreements with the franchise (On account of Loria's penny-pinching, they rarely ever spent money trying to field a decent team and occasionally went through fire sales, most notably a series of trades in 2012 that saw the Marlins trade virtually every player they had making any amount of money)
Buck Showalter is the current manager of the Baltimore Orioles. A former minor league player for New York Yankee Affiliated teams, and since the early 90s, a manager for the New York Yankees, Arizona Diamondbacks, Texas Rangers, and in-between those, and baseball analyst for ESPN he was hired by the Orioles in the middle of the 2010 season. As this was during the O's Dork Age (an age where fans were abandoning the team, and holding the "Free the Birds" walk out movements to protests Peter Angelos' poor ownership of the team), he had a rather large task in front of him. He immediately got to work as he coached the worst team in the league at the time, and finished their season with 34 wins of 57 games played under him. Additionally, he made it clear to the team and fans, consistent under performance would have you on the bus to the AAA Norfolk Minor League team until your skills improved. His first full season with the O's in 2011 was another rebuilding year, capping it off with the now famous "Game 162", on September 28th, 2011, "The Best Night of Baseball" where the last place in division O's knocked their rivals the Boston Red Sox out of the playoff's on their last game of the season. This fired up both the team, and fan base for the next season. And it showed as in 2012, the Dork Age officially ended, with the O's securing a Wildcard playoff, knocking out the Texas Rangers, before losing to the Yankees in the playoffs. 2013 was another winning season above .500 win average, and 2014 Showalter managed the team to a dominating 96-66 Win-Lose Record as the AL East champions, preventing the playoff regular Yankees from even making it to the playoffs and receiving the American League Manager of the Year award. If you need any further proof of how popular and successful he's been, fans cheer him on just as much as the players, with chants and signs of "The BUCK stops here!" and "BUCKle Up!"
To get to the Majors, most players (with the exception of people coming over from Japan's league and occasionally a rare prodigy) have to go through time in the Minor Leagues, lower leagues in smaller cities where every team is made up of players who are the property of a major league club. Because the players are not well known, Minor League teams are often marketed through use of crazy promotions and give-aways, and a sense of local pride. Lately, some teams have come around to the realization that in comparison with the bigs, the smaller, more intimate facilities and comfortable vibe and wallet-friendly prices are a powerful draw themselves (think jazz bar versus large arena). However, players from the majors will occasionally play for minor-league affiliates of their teams while they recover from injuries. The roster rules forbid a major league team from reactivating an injured player within 15 days of his last game played if the team calls up a player from the minors to replace him, but there is no prohibition on that player from playing in the minors during that 15-day exclusion period.
Each league is in one of a few classification levels that roughly note the level of play and size of city. Working from the bottom:
In Rookie level the players are raw, often straight from whatever college or high school they were playing at before they signed. Teams in the Rookie Leagues range from Arizona and Gulf Coast league teams that merely use the Spring Training practice facilities in front of basically nobody to (in higher rookie leagues) small-town teams in places like Casper, Wyoming and Danville, Virginia that play in front of a few hundred or a few thousand people.
Getting past that is the Short-Season A level, which is like the Rookie level, only in bigger cities, more modern stadiums and slightly more polished players.
From there is the A level, which is the lowest level that plays a full-season schedule (Rookie and Short-Season players have a shorter schedule of games to account for the College season).
The Advanced A-Ball level is when the players really start getting good and when a player starts to have any shot whatsoever of getting promoted straight to the majors.
Then there is AA, which is, not surprisingly, basically A-ball only better. Although it is technically the second-highest level of the Minors, some teams will often call up their best prospects straight from here (see below for reasons), although with others it is just simply another step on the road to another level and closer to the Show.
Finally, there is AAA Baseball, the last rung before MLB. In general, the competition here is almost as good (and in some cases better) than what it is in the Big Leagues, and the prospects are often, but not always, the best in a team's system. But even if the Prospects skip AAA, the AAA team will still generally be the most talented team outside the MLB club itself. This is because sometimes AAA will become a "parking lot" for players who are either good enough for the big leagues but are unlucky enough to be trapped on the depth chart behind a established MLB player (Ryan Howard of the Phillies remained in AAA longer than he probably should have because the Phillies had an established player in Jim Thome, for example) or players who are just barely not good enough to make it in the Big Leagues, but are certainly better than most of their AAA compatriots (these players are sometimes said to be playing in AAAA). Fifteen members of each AAA team (usually) are major league ballplayers; they're part of the expanded 40-man roster and eligible to play for their major league club after September 1 (although many teams will wait until after the minor league postseason if their farm club is a contender). Because of the fact that AAA rosters have less fluidity than those in AA or A, it is not uncommon for fans to become attached to their favorite players and follow their careers once they make it to the majors, even if they aren't playing for one's favorite team. Similarly, some "AAAA" players sometimes become fixtures for years on certain AAA teams, and become involved with local charities, hospitals, etc (although this has become less common in recent years because the cold hard economic realities of the game and the dream of getting to the big leagues will usually lead to a player either being released or signing with another team where he'd have a better shot of making the big leagues). AAA ball is also notable for its mascots and promotional gimmicks between innings, making it great for families with young children. Notable teams in the AAA leagues are the Durham Bulls (of Bull Durham fame), the Toledo Mud Hens (of Mash fame), the Albuquerque Isotopes (named for the would-be location of the Springfield Isotopes in an episode of The Simpsons), the Indianapolis Indians (play in what is essentially a major league parknote Victory Field, an absolutely picturesque ballpark in the heart of downtown with dimensions and facilities that rival those of some Major League parks, which is widely beloved by Hoosiers old and young; it is consistently cited as the best minor league ballpark in America, and with good reason and used to be good, but currently suck), the Rochester Red Wings (one of the oldest continuously-operating teams in Baseball, and the only Minor League team that has operated uninterrupted since the 19th century), and the Pawtucket Red Sox (notable for playing host to the longest game in professional baseball history, a 33 inning win over the aforementioned Rochester Red Wings). Weep, a little, for the Portland Beavers — they were part of an earlier attempt for a 3rd major league (the Pacific Coast League) and spent years trying to get added to the big leagues — as the team was forced to move to Tucson when their ballpark was converted to a soccer-specific stadium for the MLS Portland Timbers. The ex-Beavers are now known as the El Paso Chihuahuas.
The rest of North American baseball
There are also other layers of Ball in North America as well.
The Independent Leagues are like the minor leagues, but they are not connected to the Major League teams, so instead they hire their own players (usually at a much lower salary than even a Minor Leaguer). Although generally this is a "last gasp" place where has-beens and never-will-bes go to die, on occasion a major player will play for a Independent team during a salary dispute or to prove that a injury wasn't as serious as thought. Because of the low level of play, Independent teams often make up for it with over-the-top promotions and giveaways, although this is also common for many Minor League teams.
College Baseball is not followed even close to as much as its Basketball and Football counterparts. There are a few reasons for this. For one, many top prospects are drafted from High School. Second, all but the very, very, very, best Collegiate players will still have to go through a few years of the minor leagues, ending any "buzz" he might generate. Third, they use metallic bats, which mean that their offensive statistics are somewhat inflated - though the NCAA has shifted to composite bats to lessen hitting power and injury risk. Finally, due to weather and economic issues related to it, warm-weather schools in the South and the West Coast have dominated competition. The top Collegiate competition is the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska and the current champions are the Vanderbilt Commodores.
High School baseball has similar problems to College: all but the very, very, very best are still going to have to go through the Minors, so it's not like a prospect can get much "buzz" like a top Football or Basketball recruit.
Little League and other youth organizations such as Babe Ruth/Cal Ripken Baseball and RBI Baseball are, of course, organized leagues for younger people, basically from as soon as someone is old enough to swing a bat until they are eligible for College (sometimes even longer). Little League itself is the largest youth sports organization in the world, and it's Little League World Series (which differs from the College and MLB World Series in that it actually has teams from different continents) in Williamsport, PA draws pretty large crowds, is shown on ESPN and ABC, and has featured many future Major Leaguers back when they were young innocent 12-year-olds.
Negro Leagues Now defunct, but from about 1887 to 1947 Major League Baseball instituted a color line, barring players of African descent (this was technically a gentleman's agreement since neither the American nor National Leagues had an explicit policy. The result was the creation of a "third" major league (although many of its teams were not as consistently financially viable as their white counterparts) consisting of the top African-American talent. Many Negro League teams were often on par with or better than their white counterparts. Sometimes it would exist as a formal league other times it would exist as a collection of barnstorming teams. After 1947, when Jackie Robinson signed with the Dodgers, Negro League teams hemorrhaged talent to the Majors. The Negro American League formally folded in 1958 and the final Negro League team to exist, the Indianapolis Clowns, lasted until the 1980s.
The All American Girls Professional Baseball League. Also now defunct, the "Girls League" was created by chewing gum magnate and owner of the Chicago Cubs Philip Wrigley in response to the most popular male professional baseball players going off to fight in World War II. Franklin D. Roosevelt felt that professional baseball was important to national morale, and asked the various team owners to come up with ways to keep it going despite the war's draw on the players. In 1943, Wrigley, who knew a thing or two about baseball from owning the Cubs (Wrigley Field is named for his father), decided to create a league made up of teams of women recruited from various fast-pitch softball leagues around the country, who would play pro baseball (not softball) in small cities across Midwest. After a slow start, the league became very popular during the latter years of the war. It finally folded in 1954, under pressure from competition with the newfound pastime of following the Majors on TV, when the Major Leagues decreed that women were to be banned from organized professional baseball. This diktat had no legal force, of course, but since the club owners tended to also own Major League teams, they dropped the AAGPBL like a hot potato. It should be noted that some of the players in this league generated playing records that are easily comparable to the greatest baseball players in the major leagues. The story of the league was dramatized (and fictionalized) in the movie A League of Their Own.
Baseball around the world
With some exceptions like thevariouscodesoffootball, Ice Hockey, and Basket Ball, sports, like languages, laws, and other things, tend to follow empires. Just as The British Empire spread Cricket to its Commonwealth, and the Spanish gave Latin America the controversial gift of bullfighting, the American commercial empire spread baseball. Outside the US, baseball is most popular in an area aligning with the American sphere of influence in the period roughly 1880-1950, which translates to the Spanish-speaking Caribbean and the Pacific, particularly East Asia. Canada and Mexico come in as a matter of course, as well.
Baseball came to Cuba in the 1860s. Brought by Cubans who studied in the United States and American sailors in Cuban ports. Nemisio Guillo is credited with bringing a bat and baseball to Cuba in 1864 after being schooled in Mobile, Alabama. Soon after this, the first Cuban War of Independence against its Spanish rulers spurred Spanish authorities in 1869 to ban playing the sport in Cuba. The reasons were because Cubans began to prefer baseball to viewing bullfights, which Cubans were expected to dutifully attend as homage to their Spanish rulers in an informal cultural mandate. As such, baseball became symbolic of freedom and egalitarianism to the Cuban people. Until the 1959 communist revolution Cuba was a hotbed for Major League scouts. Afterwords, Cuban professional baseball was shut down and replaced by "amateurs." This resulted in Cuba becoming the most powerful team on the international stage since Major League clubs refused to allow their talent to play in international competitions. Major League money is still a powerful lure to their players, and those brave enough to do so, often defect to the US. This lure is so powerful that when the Cuban national team is playing abroad the Cuban government will rely on police state tactics to prevent defections.
Cuban refugees brought the game to the Dominican Republic in the nineteenth century, and the Island soon developed a thriving domestic league. After the communist revolution closed Cuba to the majors the Dominican Republic became a major pipeline for Major League talent. The island is home to numerous baseball academies run by MLB clubs seeking to find those diamonds in the rough. The Dominican Republic are also the the defending champions of the World Baseball Classic (see below)
Baseball was first played in Japan in 1873 at Kaisei Gakko (now Tokyo University) under the instruction of an American teacher, Horace Wilson. Around 1880 the first Japanese baseball team was organized at the Shimbashi Athletic Club, and several college teams were formed in Tokyo. During the period 1890 to 1902, a team from the First Higher School in Tokyo played and often defeated a team made up of American residents in Yokohama; the publicity for these games helped make baseball one of the most popular Western sports in Japan. Since World War II, baseball is the most popular spectator sport in Japan; no doubt the American-led occupation had something to do with that. High school baseball in Japan is intensely popular, especially the National High School Baseball Tournament held every August at Koshien Stadium.
Various other places got the game variously. Most of the Caribbean got it through American and Cuban evangelists for the game. Korea and China got it through a combination of Japanese imperialism and literal American evangelism (American Protestant preachers were as thick as bees in late 19th and early 20th century Korea and China). In China, most of the best players and coaches fled to Taiwan after the Communists won the Civil War and while the game is the most popular sport on the island, it is only now starting to recover on the mainland. The Netherlands received baseball through an energetic American English teacher, although the fact that the Netherlands Antilles (in the Caribbean) are well within the American sphere of influence and play baseball as their main sport has an impact as well.note We should also note, as an aside, the existence of Pesäpallo, or "Finnish baseball," one of Finland's three national sports (along with motor racing and Ice Hockey), which is a completely different sport from standard baseball, but was invented by a Finn who went to America, saw baseball, and combined it with traditional Finnish bat-and-ball sports to create something delightfully bizarre.
Other than the earlier elaborated leagues in North America, Professional leagues (or professional level in the case of Communist Cuba) exist in (in rough order of level of play- although not necessarily of the baseball playing abilities of that country): Japan, Cuba, Korea, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Taiwan, the Netherlands, Italy and China. Australia has had professional baseball on-and-off since the 80's, but has not had a stable league since 2002—three years after the country's one MLB player bought the entire league. A new league, the Australian Baseball League, was established for the Southern Hemisphere summer of 2010-2011, and is still in existence. Colombia, Nicaragua, the Phillippines and several other European countries have semi-professional leagues, although little information is available on them.
Although it tends to be scoffed at in the modern United Kingdom due to its resemblance to rounders (a similar game, albeit with shorter bats, which is regarded as a children's sport in the UK), baseball enjoyed a burst of popularity there in The Thirties. This culminated in England even beating the United States in the final of the very first Baseball World Cup in 1938. However, the intervention of World War II killed the sport's popularity (and leading to joking conspiracy theories among enthusiasts that the Americans secretly engineered the war to prevent England from beating them again).
After World War Two the Americans tried to introduce Germans to the sport, as seen in the 1948 movie A Foreign Affair starring Jean Arthur, where these efforts are somehow described as helping Germans to learn the values of democracy. The fact that the ball-and-stick game Schlagball had been quite popular before the war could have helped, but the people of the American zone and West Berlin stuck to playing football (soccer). In later decades German baseball teams made their appearance, but these had to start from scratch, and to this day baseball is a small niche sport in Germany that gets less attention than handball, volleyball or field hockey.
Baseball was an official Olympic sport from 1992 to 2008. The reason it isn't any longer is because the IOC, citing the fact that Major League players were not allowed to participate in tournament due a conflict with the regular season (among other reasons, such as the steroid problems of MLB and the fact that the sport is not popular in Europe, from which most of the influential IOC members hail), dropped the sport from the program.
In response to that, Major League Baseball, along with the International Baseball Federation (IBAF), the sport's international governing body at that timenote The IBAF merged with the International Softball Federation in 2013 to create the current world governing body, the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC). The formation of the WBSC was part of the unsuccessful attempt to return baseball and softball to the Olympic program for 2020., instituted the World Baseball Classic. This sixteen-team tournament — first held in 2006, with the second edition held in 2009 and future tournaments to be held in 2013, 2017, etc. — takes place in March, right before the MLB regular season, and many of the players are on MLB teams, unlike in most tournaments. Japan won the first two WBCs played so far, and has a bit of a rivalry with South Korea for obvious reasons. The Dominican Republic won the 2013 edition of the tournament and are the current champions. The USA missed the semifinals in 2006 and 2013,note Eliminated in the second round by Puerto Rico'. but made the semifinals in 2009.
Baseball terms in mainstream slang
Baseball has been so popular for so long that many terms from the game have made their way into common usage, in situations having nothing to do with baseball.
A success is a "home run".
If you make a great success, you "hit it out of the park".
Strange ideas "come out of left field".
Inappropriate talk is "off base".
If you failed at something, you "struck out".
A more fleeting failure is a "swing and a miss".
Someone who hasn't talked to you in a while might wish to check up on you, just to "touch base".
In a brainstorming session, you might "bat around" an idea.
In trying to convince someone to buy something, you make a sales "pitch".
If a coworker finds himself unable to perform a task (such as, say, giving a presentation) at the last minute, you may well be called upon to "pinch-hit" for him.
A rough estimate is a "ballpark figure".
If two things are so different they can't be compared to one another, they're "not even in the same ballpark".
If you haven't yet made a mistake, you're "batting a thousand".
If you've got contingency plans for everything, you're "covering all your bases".
When something unexpectedly difficult happens, life is "throwing you a curveball".
If an interviewer asks his subject tough, probing questions, he's "playing hardball". If he asks easy, complimentary questions, he's "throwing softballs".
"Playing hardball" is also used in a few other situations:
A negotiator in, e.g., a business deal who is being hard-nosed and generally "negotiating to win" is "playing hardball."
If someone is crazy, he's gone completely "screwball".
Laws that call for mandatory jail sentences after the third offense are called "three strikes laws".
Someone trying for a big, improbable win, such as shooting the moon in Hearts, is "swinging for the fences".
If something minute and technical has great importance to people who know a subject well, it's "inside baseball."note "Inside baseball" is an old term meaning often-overlooked and rather boring items that only really interest baseball insiders and a strategy based on exploiting these small, unexciting details to consistently win games. Very often used in the political context, where "this is a little bit inside baseball" is a common preface meaning "this involves about ten minutes of you hearing who hates whose guts in the House Republican caucus and why that matters" (or something to that effect). (Washington, DC has always had an affinity for baseball analogies, even though it went for over thirty years—1971-2005—without a baseball team.)
One of the biggest effects, though, is on American sexual slang. Here goes:
In foreplay, the various bases indicate how close the couple are to intercourse. Usually, it goes like this:
"Strikeout" is not getting anywhere.
"First base" is making out (i.e. kissing with tongues),
"Second base" is playing with the breasts or other non-genitalia erogenous zones
"Third base" is playing with the genitalia, including oral sex
"Hitting a home run" in this context is often called "going all the way" and means...going all the way. "Scoring" is another useful term.
Among gay men, the one on top is said to be the "pitcher" and the one on the bottom is said to be the "catcher".
Bisexuals are said to be "switch hitters" or to "bat for both teams" (the latter being used in some cricketing nations).
Relatedly, someone of a different sexual orientation "bats for the other team" (e.g.: Straight Guy: "Don't bother hitting on Maryanne, she bats for the other team" or Gay Guy: "Jimmy's hot, but he bats for the other team.")
Tropes that often come into play in baseball-related works of fiction:
Down to the Last Play: Important games in works of media almost always end with a big dramatic play, usually either a home run, a strikeout, or an incredible defensive play (usually a leaping/diving catch or a close play at the plate). You never see a climactic game end with a routine groundout to shortstop.
The "down by three with the bases loaded, a full count and one out to go'" is a popular setup for a game-winning grand slam. In reality, this has been done exactly twice in the majors. Twice, in more than 200,000 games.
Even discarding the "full count" and "two outs" qualifiers, the game-winning three-run grand slam has only happened 27 times in all. It's a feat nearly as rare as a perfect game or unassisted triple play.
Recently, on September 27, 2011, all but the full count happened as the Arizona Diamondbacks staged a 10th-inning Miracle Rally against the Dodgers — who scored five runs in the top of the inning — with two outs and nobody on. Ryan Roberts capped off a six-run rally by hitting a walk-off grand slam on the first pitch. The Diamondbacks won this game 7-6.
Sometimes happens in real life games - in baseball, extra innings go on as long as necessary, and are often referred to as "bonus baseball" or "free baseball". If the home team takes a lead in its half of any inning after the 8th, the game immediately ends, with no further play. This has led to the concept of the "walk-off" hit, originally only a "walk-off home run" but the concept was since expanded to any hit that ends a ball game. The "walk-off" hit was originally coined by pitcher Dennis Eckersley, who intended it to indicate that the pitcher walks off the field with his head hung in shame but has come to mean that the batter-runner walks off the field to the adulation of his home crowd.
Because baseball has no clock, a team can be down to their last out and still win, no matter how far down they are. There are actually Real Life cases of a team being way down with two outs in the bottom of the 9th and winning the game because the defense wasn't able to record that final out (e.g. Cleveland's 9-run rally against Washington in 1901, final score 14-13).
Game of Nerds: Baseball probably has the highest geek quotient of any mainstream sport, and several media works (especially those involving children) will have at least one kid who isn't really athletic but tries to make up for it with his knowledge of baseball's minutiae.
The advent of SABRmetrics and the rise of fantasy sports has taken this Up to Eleven.
Put Me In, Coach!: With seemingly every other option exhausted, a neglected player comes out of nowhere to lead his team to victory. Happens in Real Life as well, though hardly ever under as dramatic of circumstances. One of the more extreme examples, which happens probably once or twice a year, if that, is when a game goes into an absurd number of extra innings and teams run out of viable pitchers, an available position player - usually one that had experience doing it in high school, college, or even in the minor leagues - will volunteer to pitch for an inning or possibly longer. Several position players have logged official pitching stats such as wins and saves in this manner.
Who Needs Overtime: The game is always decided in the ninth inning, win or lose. Teams never tie the game in the ninth and then win in extra innings. In Real Life, extra inning games are considered very exciting (if a bit exhausting at times), but in fiction, this violates The Law of Conservation of Detail.
Mighty Glacier: First basemen and DHes tend to be portrayed this way because...well...most of them in Real Life tend to be big, slow, power hitters.