Monday, February 1, 2010

16 Days Until Spring Training: Whitey Ford

The greatest Yankee pitcher of all-time grew up in Astoria, Queens just a few of miles from the Stadium in the Bronx. Edward Charles "Whitey" Ford went to Aviation High School in Sunnyside, Queens and after being signed by the Yankees in 1947, spent four years in their minor league system. He started out in class C ball in Butler, PA and worked his way up the ladder to B then A and eventually the AAA team in Kansas City for for the 1949 season.

The “Chairman of the Board” made his major league debut on July 1, 1950 and went on to win his first nine decisions en route to being named the Sporting News Rookie of the Year. In 1951 and 1952, Whitey left the team to serve in the Army during the Korean War and when he returned in 1953, joined a staff of Allie Reynolds, Vic Raschi, and Eddie Lopat.

Ford became the ace of the staff and in 1955 and went on to an 18-7 record while pitching 18 complete games with a 2.63 ERA. However, 1956 was an even better year – he was 19-6 with a 2.01 ERA. Whitey pitched over 200 innings in 11 of his 16 professional seasons and never had an ERA over 3.24. He won the 1961 Cy Young Award, made the All-Star team eight times in his career and was a six-time World Series Champion.

The Yankees won the pennant 11 times when he was a Yankee and Ford won a record ten World Series games in addition to holding almost every other World Series pitching record. In Ford’s eight World Series losses, the offense provided an average of just 2.25 runs and were shut out twice.

Whitey was a small guy - just 5'10" and 180 lbs - and didn’t throw very hard, but he controlled games with pin-point accuracy and his ability to stay calm under pressure. Ford was one of many pitchers of his time to doctor baseballs and, according to legend, used a spitball in the 1961 All-Star game to strike out Willie Mays.

That year, there were two All-Star games and the first was at Candlesick Park on July 11th. Mantle and Ford were out in San Francisco had ran up a $1200 tab (or $800, or $200 depending on who you want to believe) at a Bay Area country club under the account of Horace Stoneham, the owners of the SF Giants at the time. Ford wanted to repay Stoneham but was offered a bet instead. If Ford faced Willie Mays during the All-Star game and retired him, Stoneham would cancel the tab. However, if Mays got a hit Mantle and Ford owed double.

Mays had owned Whitey over the course of his career ("9 for 12" at that point, according to Ford in the book Baseball Like It Was) and at one point had seven consecutive hits against him. Mantle was reluctant to take the bet but Ford went through with it. Mays was batting clean up for the NL and was brought up in the first inning when Roberto Clemente rapped a double. Willie fell behind Whitey on two long foul balls, and struck out swinging, later recalling that it was the "craziest pitch I ever saw". That, of course was the spitball, a spin-less pitch that dove sharply when it neared the plate.

Late in his career, Ford began to lose his stuff and admitted after he retired that he doctored balls in order to gain an edge. In addition to tossing the ol' spitball, he claimed that he scuffed them up with his diamond wedding right or had catcher Elston Howard coat them with mud in an area behind the plate intentionally kept wet by the Yankee Stadium groundskeepers. Ford eventually retired in 1967 at the age of 38 after attempting a comeback to repair a circulatory problem in his shoulder.

Whitey spent his entire 16 year career in Pinstripes and compiled a career record of 236-106 with a ERA of 2.75. Those 236 wins for the Bombers ranks as the most in franchise history and his .690 winning percentage is the highest among all pitchers with at least 300 decisions. Ford was enshrined in Cooperstown in 1974 with his friend and teammate, Mickey Mantle.

That same year, the Yankees retired the number 16. Later, they dedicated a plaque in Monument Park to him which states he was “one of the greatest pitchers ever to step on a mound”. Eighty-one years old now, he's pictured below scooping dirt from the mound at the Old Stadium with Don Larsen in September of 2008. He and Yogi Berra represent a fleeting link with the great Yankee teams of the 50's and 60's and we are lucky to still have them around.

16 Days Until Spring Training: Dwight Gooden

With the fifth pick of the 1982 draft, the Mets selected a lanky right handed pitcher from Tampa, Florida with an incredible amount of raw talent but only two years of experience pitching in high school. Gooden was not yet Doctor K. and had only begun to harness his talents when the Mets started him in Rookie Ball in Kingsport, Tennesee that year. He won the MVP of that league and finished the '82 season in Little Falls with the Mets' NY-Penn League team.

Gooden started 1983 in High-A ball and proceeded to destroy the Carolina League with a 2.50 ERA and 19-4 record, leading the 1983 Lynchburg Mets to a 96-43 campaign, 10.5 games ahead of their next closest competitor. After jumping all the way from from High A-ball to the Big Show in 1984, he pitched 218 innings at a 2.60 ERA and won 17 games. He also took home the Rookie of the Year, finished second in the Cy Young voting, became the youngest All-Star in the history of the MLB, and struck out all three hitters he faced in the game.

Doc's '85 season made his rookie campaign look pedestrian. Dr. K tossed 276 2/3 innings and the only time his ERA was over 2.00 that year was after his first start of the season. He won pitching's Triple Crown, leading the league in ERA (1.53), wins (24) and strikeouts (268). He threw 16 complete games, including two back to back CG shutouts in September although he received a no decision in both. That year the Mets won 98 games but finished 3 games out of the postseason.

When the Mets won the World Series in 1986, Gooden threw 250 regular season innings at a 2.84 ERA, won 17 games and made it back to his third All-Star game in his first three years as a pro. He didn't get the decision in any of the games he started that postseason (and actually took three losses), but in Game 5 of the NLCS against Houston, Doc went 10 innings and only gave up one run. He missed the Mets victory parade that year and told people he overslept, but those closest to him knew the truth. He was already an alcoholic with an even more serious addiction about to be publicly revealed.

In December of that year, Gooden's legal troubles began, when he was arrested after being involved in vicious brawl with Tampa police. The officers were accused of racism and thought to have used excessive force so when the District Attorney released a report clearing them of any wrongdoing, 3 nights of rioting in Tampa ensued. In Spring Training in 1987, Gooden tested positive for cocaine, agreed to enter a rehab center, and as a result didn't make his first start until June 5th. However, that didn't stop him from winning 15 games and finishing 5th in the Cy Young Voting.

Still only 23 years old in 1988, Gooden threw 248 more innings of a 3.19 ERA, picked up 18 wins and made another All-Star team. Unfortunately, his 1988 season might best be remembered by the game tying home run he gave up to Mike Scioscia in a game they eventually lost to the Dodgers, leveling the NLCS at 2-2, instead of giving the Mets a 3-1 lead.

After missing more than half of the '89 season (but still pitching effectively in his appearances), Gooden had another very solid season in 1990. He struck out 223 in 232 2/3 innings, finished 4th in the Cy Young voting, and even got some acknowledgment in the MVP race. On two terrible Mets teams in 1992 & 1993, Gooden threw over 200 innings to about a 3.50 ERA twice, but picked up only 10 & 12 wins respectively.

Doc started off his 1994 season on the wrong foot, giving up 7 runs against the Cubs. He responded by kicking a step in the dugout and breaking his toe and went on the disabled list after only three starts. After he returned in June, he did cocaine for the first time in more than 6 years after it was offered to him at a nightclub in Manhattan. The downward spiral began quickly and the Mets announced on June 28th that he had violated the terms of his after-care program and would be suspended 60 days. After a month-long stay at the Betty Ford Center, Gooden fell off the wagon and began drinking and doing coke once again. He failed at least 8 drug tests and received a letter from Bud Selig that September informing him that he would be suspended for the entire 1995 season. It was during that time that he entered narcotics anonymous and began really trying to stop his destructive habits.

His problems with substance abuse, the extended period without pitching and the 1172 2/3 innings he threw from the ages of 19-23, all took their toll on Gooden. He returned to baseball in 1996 and signed with the Yankees but - except for some brief flashes - he was never the same again.

One of those fleeting moments of greatness game on May 14th against the Mariners when Gooden threw a threw a no-hitter. Just before the game, he had learned that his father needed a double by-pass surgery but he decided to take the mound instead of flying back to Tampa to be with his family. Unfortunately that game was the equivalent of sinking a hole-in-one on the way to shooting an 85, as he finished the season with an ERA of 5.01 and was left off the postseason roster.

He returned to the Yanks in 1997 and threw only 108 1/3 innings, but this time he did manage to be included on the 25 man for October. He started Game 4 of the ALDS and handed the bullpen a 2-1 lead after 5 2/3 innings but Mariano Rivera blew the save in the 8th. Despite appearing in 12 of them, Doc was never able to record a win in a postseason game.

At George Steinbrenner's insistence, Gooden was added to the Yankees in the middle of the 2000 season after he was released by the Devil Rays. He was a pretty useful piece for the Yanks that year, pitching 64 innings split between starts and relief appearances and recording a 3.36 ERA. He came in from the bullpen twice that postseason but sadly not against his former team in the World Series.

Since he retired in 2001, Gooden has had more than his fair share of legal troubles, spending time in jail and rehab for DWI, cocaine use and violating probation. In 2006, he chose to do time as opposed to extending his probation in hopes that being in prison would finally help rid himself of the addictions that dragged down his career. So far, it has. Gooden is now working as a Senior VP for the Newark Bears and has plans to open the Dwight Gooden Baseball Academy in New Jersey this year.

Gooden's story is simultaneously incredible and terrible. He had an ephemeral, meteoric rise at an impossibly young age. He also had an inescapable and tragic decline far too soon. Although he won 91 games by the age of 24, he ended his career with only 194.

Like many of the Yankee greats we have profiled in this countdown, Gooden holds a special place in the minds of the franchise with which he was most inextricably linked though his career wasn't great enough to get him into Cooperstown. Happily, the Mets recently announced that Doctor K, former Yankee Darryl Strawberry, Davey Johnson and Frank Cashen would be inducted into their Hall of Fame.

No word on whether their musical efforts will ever be given such recognition:

Baseball Braces For Bloomberg

For about four hours yesterday, a good portion of the baseball blogoshpere gathered at the Bloomberg headquarters in Midtown Manhattan. Many went through the painful process of putting on pants, emerging from their mother's basements and commuting to New York City in exchange for an up close and personal tour of Bloomberg's new baseball software, along with lunch, beverages, some especially delicious frosted peanut butter brownies and an awesome shirt.

Even those of us who don't work in finance were familiar with Bloomberg's capabilities in data gathering, organization and visualization and were anxious to see how they had applied it to baseball. The company is offering two separate products, one aimed towards fantasy baseball players and the other designed specifically for and in partnership with the teams in the MLB. The demonstration of the fantasy version came first.

Within the fantasy product, there are two main incarnations of the program, available for purchase separately. The first is the draft kit, in which you can enter the specifications of your league regardless of where it is hosted (CBS, ESPN, Yahoo, etc).

Bloomberg's system revolves around a proprietary B-Rank based on a 5x5 league, which the presenters disclosed next to nothing about. I understand reasons for the secrecy, but I think users might find this off-putting in contrast to the availability of data throughout the rest of the software. It's tough to get a someone with a sabermetric slat to put their faith behind a metric whose methodology is purposely concealed.

Beyond the B-Rank though, you can search for and prioritize players by any statistical category (and by multiple categories at once) to ensure you have a balanced roster. Conveiently, Bloomberg has already computed player's eligibility by position to save you that headache. With your subscription, you have access to a player's average draft position in relation to their projected production, providing a simple visual representation of their value among many, many, many other intuitive features and comparisons. If you take your fantasy draft preparation seriously, the biggest limitation of the utility of the software is the amount of time you want to put into it.

Similar to the draft tracker, the in-season version of the Bloomberg software offers an impressive depth of information and is very customizable. They don't have historical or minor league stats available yet, but those are included in the professional suite and could be added in the future. The in-season version will be the most useful to this site and you will likely see some of the Bloomberg visualizations in our posts once the software debuts on February 18th.

The draft kit is being offered for $19.95, the in-season tools for $24.95 and both of them together will set you back $31.95.

The professional level software was what was most tantalizing to most of us bloggers in attendance. With a less colorful and more data-heavy layout, I could imagine spending days on end poking through the spray charts, pitch predictors and countless other tools that were offered. The teams are being given a free trial which started at the Winter Meetings and extends through the All-Star break, during which time Bloomberg has been and will be making every effort to customize the software and give the teams exactly what they want.

One of the underlying themes Bloomberg bent over backwards to convey was that what we were looking at on the 7th floor of 731 Lexington Ave. yesterday was just the beginning. They welcomed and encouraged - and might have even demanded - our input and suggestions were that socially acceptable.

To a company like Bloomberg, the market for baseball information is pretty limited. The financial firm employs over 10,000 people and has 126 offices around the world, so their entrée into the world of sports statistics and information isn't likely to significantly affect their bottom line, even if their software becomes ubiquitous among teams, fantasy baseball players and bloggers alike. But they seem committed to constant improvement of the technology nonetheless.

What was most encouraging about yesterday's presentation was that Bloomberg seemed to embrace the sabermetric ideal, even though they had arrived there from a financial background. They aren't attempting to give people the answers they are looking for, they just want to give them the information to come to their own conclusions. Through it all, there was a notion of humility and the desire to improve the product in every way possible and that bodes well for the future of the software.

Beanpot, Burritos, And Bernie

Good morning Fackers. If August is the dog days of summer, then we need a name for this time of year. Spring Training is still sixteen days away and there's virtually nothing in the way of baseball news right now. We have the Super Bowl next Sunday and then football is gone until the fall. I won't care about NCAA basketball until conference tournaments start next month and I have zero interest in the NBA at any time of year. The NHL goes on its Olympic break in two weeks. The Olympics will feature a killer hockey tournament surrounded by a bunch of other garbage I don't care about, out of which NBC will painfully try to squeeze overwrought human interest stories. In short, this is the worst time of year sports wise, and that Old Man Winter has had a death grip on the tri-state area for the past several days makes it all the worse.

That said, this Monday and next will offer a little flicker of sporting hope for me as the annual Beanpot tournament will take place in Boston. Held on the first two Mondays of February each year, the tournament features the men's ice hockey teams from the four major Boston schools: Boston College, Boston University, Northeastern, and Harvard.

Clearly this isn't of major interest to the majority of our readership, but it's slim pickings this time year. Despite what some may say, the Beanpot is a great sporting event. For the schools involved, winning local bragging rights in the Beanpot is as important as winning their conference. For those of you with DirecTV or those in New England, you can catch the games on NESN. Harvard-BC is tonight at five, with BU-Northeastern at eight. The consolation game will be next Monday at five, with the championship at eight. If history holds, it will be BC and BU squaring off for the pot, with my Eagles looking to avenge losses to their arch rivals last Friday and last month at Frozen Fenway. And if you're looking for a remote Yankee related angle on the tournament, Harvard is coached by former Bruin, Islander, and Ranger forward Ted Donato, whose brother Danny spent three seasons in the Yankees' minor league system.


Of course, the Beanpot is big business for our friends in Beantown, and local business are seizing upon it. Local restaurant chain Qdoba Mexican Grill is sponsoring a Rice & Bean Pot Burrito-Eating Contest for the students of the four participating schools. Aside from being an excuse to binge on delicious burritos, it's for a good cause. Proceeds from ticket sales to the contest finals will benefit the Kevin Youkilis Hits for Kids Foundation. We spew an awful lot of venom at Mr. Youkilis in these parts, but I think we can all agree that this is a worthy cause. If attending a competitive eating contest isn't your thing, you could still get in on the act by purchasing the "Youk Burrito" at Massachusetts Qdobas. Not only will a portion of the sale benefit the Foundation, but consuming the burrito is thought to help you grow hideous looking facial hair and develop a ridiculous looking batting stance. We encourage all our Massachusetts Fackers to take part.


Lastly, in NYC-based charity news, Bernie Williams be performing tonight at Feinstein's at Loews Regency, located at 540 Park Avenue. The show starts at 8:00 PM, and all proceeds benefit Ed Randall's Bat for the Cure, dedicated to prostate cancer awareness, education, and prevention. Also on the bill for tonight are guitarists John Pizzarelli and Earl Klugh. Klugh has recorded and performed often with Derek Trucks Band drummer Yonrico Scott, but Yonrico does not appear to be on the roster for tonight.