Results tagged ‘ Gregg Zaun ’
It was suppose to be a pairing party in advance of the 2012 Toby Hall and Friends Celebrity Golf Classic. It was suppose to be one of those meet and greet opportunities for the duffers to meet other members of their foursome, and also celebrate another awesome tournament. That was the plan Toby Hall had in his mind before he entered the Courtside Grille last night.
Instead it became an impromptu Retirement Party complete with the obligatory pine wooden rocking chair that party invitees were asked to sign and give their well wishes to Hall as he embarks on other adventures in his post MLB life like watching his kids grow up, and devote more time to his charity and other worthwhile endeavors. It was an event I did not want to miss.
There were people coming out of the proverbial woodwork for this honor like former Rays owner Vince Namoli who looked very relaxed and had even lost a few pounds. Former Rays Pitching Coach Chuck Hernandez came to the event as well as former Rays Bullpen Coach Glenn Ezell and current Bullpen Catcher/Enforcer Scott Cursi. The showing of support from former players on a night usually reserved for the menial task of assigning pairings was a complete success.
In the crowd was also former Rays OF Randy Winn, Toronto Blue Jays Pitcher/ Rays Bat boy Jesse Litsch, hurler Boof Bonser and Tampa Bay Bucs Defensive Back Ronde Barber. On the screens around the bar played a photo montage of Hall’s days both at Triple-A Durham, Tampa Bay and his stint with the White Sox. Food was plentiful, drinks were flowing and the room held a great vibe of well wishes and a few well placed cards and present for Hall and his family.
As the pairing were being announced, it was immediately noticeable that this season’s tournament had a few extra Rays names being bellowed out like P David Price, James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson, SS Reid Brignac, CF B J Upton, RF Matt Joyce along with Rays farm Coach Ozzie Timmons, Jason Michaels and the always entertaining Gregg Zaun. Former Rays RP Trever Miller, Dan Wheeler Andy Sonnanstine, Rays Coaches Tom Foley and George Hendricks plus that strapping young lad, FSN Florida/Rays traveling ambassador of good times Todd Kalas. The event seems to have exploded this season with the addition of several Rays player who will be first time attendees this year. The show of great support for Hall and his main charity, the Miracle League should make this the best tournament turnout and fundraising in the Toby Hall Foundation’s history.
It was a great time to show our admiration and respect for a player who gave his all for the Rays, and is still considered the best to ever squat behind the plate. Hall may be leaving the game a bit earlier than he expected, or wanted, but his foundation, his children and his wife will be more devoted attention. If Hall takes to his retirement that way he called games and hit at the plate, then he will again be hitting for the fences. Go get ’em Toby!
Five years ago it seems like it was the sore spot of the Tampa Bay Rays farm system. For some reason catching did not seem to be the Rays thing. After Toby Hall, the Rays did not seem to have a viable prospect in their system who might make it to the Major League level.
Sure the Rays had farm system catchers who could hit, play some solid defense, and even throw on a frozen line to second base to get the speediest of base runners. But the obvious problem was there was no one with even two of those traits in the system.
But just like everything else within the Rays system since 2007, Rays VP of Baseball Operation Andrew Friedman and his Scouting crew quickly honed, molded and transformed some of the Rays farm system borderline catching prospects into bona fide Major League Baseball caliber backstops.
Suddenly the Rays seem to have a bumper crops of backstops all emerging at the same time with only a limited amount of space at Triple-A and possibly no room at the MLB level. So let’s take a look at the few of the names on everyone’s lips in the catching corps of the Rays this Spring:
Most people considered John Jaso a great offensive weapon, but his catching fundamentals and procedures had a lot to be desired. But after the Rays committed to working with Jaso before, during and after Spring Training in 2010, the young catcher responded with a stellar game behind the plate.
Suddenly Jaso was stopping the pitches in the dirt that used to get by him and pushed base runners into scoring position. Jaso began to gain confidence and began to rocket the ball to second base having one of his best seasons of his professional baseball career. Most people forget Jaso started out at Triple-A with the Durham Bulls before the Rays recalled Jaso after Kelly Shoppach went down with his first injury on April 13,2010.
Jaso seized the opportunity and became only the 14th rookie catcher all time to serve as the primary catcher for a Rays team that made the playoffs for the second time in three seasons. With help from Rays Bullpen Coach bobby Ramos, who also used to serve as the Rays catching instructor, Jaso worked long and hard to separate himself from the rest of the Rays catching corp.
Jaso also took the lead-off spot in the Rays line-up 45 times in 2010 becoming the first Rays catcher to earn that spot, plus posting more time at the lead-off spot than any other rookie catcher in MLB history. Jaso had 59 walks leading all AL rookies and combined with his 39 total strikeouts, Jaso posted the best BB to K ration of anyone with over 400 plate appearances.
Coming into 2011, Jaso has renewed the focus to improving on his 18 percent rate in throwing out base runners by working extensively before Spring camp in finding a more reliable and quicker release point, plus working on his leg core in the weight room to bring stability and agility to his throwing motion. In essence, Jaso is trying to take his game to the next level and become an all-around catcher.
Some considered Nevin Ashley, the Rays heir apparent to the Rays second catching spot once Kelly Shoppach’s 2011 contract is off the books. Ashley has been considered the Rays farm system’s best defensive catcher the last two seasons, and seemed to have stepped up their game during the 2010 MLB Spring camp and during the Grapefruit League season.
Rays Manager Joe Maddon, a former catcher himself liked what he saw from Ashley during the Spring, and Nevin took that new confidence displayed by the Rays and put it into his game during his rapid climb through the Rays minor league system. Ashley even got a chance to provide some important insurance for the Rays during the American League Divisional Series as a non-rostered third catcher after former Rays catcher Dioner Navarro had a mental meltdown and took his equipment and went home in October 2010.
Ashley caught 41 percent of his base runners while with the Montgomery Biscuits early in 2010, and sported an impressive .992 Fielding Percentage. By comparison, the MLB average in 2010 was only 23.1 percent. How impressive was Ashley in the Spring of 2010, he only hit .474 (9-for-19) during only
9 Spring games,and got his first HR off Red Sox hurler Josh Beckett.
The Rays had such high hopes for Ashley in 2011 that they invited him to their Rays Winter Development Program held less than two months ago in Tropicana Field that helped highlight the attributes of the some of the Rays most promising prospects. High praise for a backstop who caught Washington Nationals top prospect Stephen Strausburg’s professional debut in the 2009 Arizona Fall League.
A third name has quickly risen on the lips and scouting reports for the Rays. A former infielder who only took over catching chores three seasons ago in the Chicago Cubs farm system, Robinson Chirinos is making such an impressive display this Spring that some whispers within the system think he might leapfrog Ashley as the heir apparent to a Rays back-up catching slot.
Spring is still young, and Chirino’s offensive display including a 2-run rocket shot Home Run today to help defeat the Boston Red Sox is only hgelping to build on “El Chef’s” cult status for 2011. In the same way so many within the Rays faithful fell in love with Jaso’s hustle and confidence in 2010, Chirino’s is quickly turning into the best piece of the return for sending Rays starter Matt Garza to the Cubs this Winter.
How can you argue with a appearing in double digit games (10) this Spring for the Rays sporting a .289 Batting Average with 5 extra base hits, 8 RBI and stellar .944 Slugging Percentage. And this is not a fluke either. Chirinos posted a .999 OPS, which ranked 8th among all minor leaguers in 2010, and topped every catcher in the entire minor leagues.
And just like Ashley, Chirinos was considered by “Baseball America” to be the best defensive catcher for the second season in a row in the Cubs system. Chrinos also threw out 31.8 percent of his base runners at Double-A and Triple-A in 2010. Hit .438 versus left-handed pitching and .271 versus right-handers in his two minor league stops in 2010. Was placed on the Cub’s 40-man roster on October 29, 2010.
Suddenly the once barren wasteland that was the Rays catching corps is bearing fruit close to the Major League level. All three of these catchers have limited MLB, or no MLB experience, but this bodes well for the future of Rays catching for a long time. There are other Rays catchers in the Rays minor league system currently paying their dues and making noise themselves.
But the noise and banter about these three potentially lethal Rays backstops will help cool the Rays scouting department’s yearning for the next great Rays catcher. Jaso could possibly lead-off 120 times in 2011 breaking the single season record set by Jason Kendall in 2004 while with the Pirates.
Ashley could make it difficult for the Rays to keep him at Triple-A with a solid start, or an injury at the MLB level. And then there is the Wild Card, Chirinos, who could prove to be the best of the rest and make Shoppach expendable before the end of the month. Rays catching has come a long way since the yearly rental of guys like Josh Paul Charlie Johnson or even recent retiree Gregg Zaun. Finally maybe the Rays backstop will get some respect. If one of the Rays starters can break that 20-game win plateau, you can bet he will celebrate with the guy behind the plate first….and that is the way it should be.
Day 2 of the Charity Week experience. This charity event actually took place last Thursday, but somehow I lost my little camera video card in the movement from the camera to the computer. Now that the day’s photos are safely within the computer, it is time to give you some of the highlights and tales from the 2011 Toby Hall Celebrity Golf Classic.
This is my second year volunteering for this golfing event that first started out as a bowling event in Tampa so many years ago. Arrived at the Bayou Club gold clubhouse about 9:45-ish and immediately came face-to face with three off-duty members of the St. Petersburg Police Department.
They were there as special guests of Hall to participate in a fundraising event through their memorial T-shirt benefiting the families of two recently slain SPPD officers. During the charity event, the SPPD representatives set up a tent at the turning point or Hole 9.5 of the course and as the golfing pairs came up to do the putting challenge, they could also purchase T-shirts and speak to the officers( including a K-9 officer) that knew the two officers.
When Tampa Bay Rays centerfielder B J Upton’s 5-member pairing came up for the putting contest, Upton took a moment to go over to the SPPD tent and purchased not one, but over a dozen T-shirts, including one for everyone in his pairing group.
Fellow Rays Fans Wall of Fame member George Stone was on the scene again that day spreading the word about the featured charity of the event, The Miracle League. Some might not know that the Miracle League is a baseball league formed so that children of all ages with special needs and abilities can also enjoy the greatest game on dirt. At one point later in the evening, Stone actually got a verbal commitment from St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster to attend the 2011 Opening Day event in St. Petersburg.
There were plenty of Rays, plus ex-Rays on hand this day helping Hall in his quest to help this great organization. I remember a few years ago when they completely re-constructed the Miracle League field in the Azalea region of St. Petersburg, just down the street from the old Rays Spring Training facility.
On hand that day supporting Hall’s charity event was Dan Wheeler (Red Sox), Jesse Litsch (Jays), Brian Stokes (Jays).Boof Bonser ( NY Mets), Jason Michaels (Astros), Trever Miller (Cardinals),Ryan Webb (Marlins), Gregg Zaun (Padres), Miguel Cairo (Reds). Bobby Wilson (Angels) and Jorge Cantu (Padres), plus former NBA star Matt Gieger and retired Bucs running back Mike Alstott.
Representing the Rays was Upton, starter James Shields, RP Andy Sonnanstine, and new RP Adam Russell. Also on hand were a few other well known Rays faces either from the Coaching ranks, or from their on-the-field reporting. Broadcaster Todd Kalas was joined on this day by current Rays Third Base Coach Tom Foley and former Rays Coaches Bill Evers ( Durham Bulls), Ozzie Timmons (Columbus Catfish) and former Hitting Coach Steve Henderson. Rays shortstop Reid Brignac was also scheduled to attend, but had an emergency.
I was stationed to begin the day in the registration area handing out specially made Toby Hall caps, visors and rain slickers. But just as it seemed I might have an early end to my day, I volunteered to run the putting contest. It was a great time in which each pairing member got a chance to hit one golf ball into a sectioned off squared area for multiples of points with a maximum of 10 points if you sunk your putt..
You could cut the air with a knife as to the early competitive nature of the event as Cairo was the closest to the hole for most of the day until 5 pairings from the end, the cream began to rise to the putting top of the pot. Local attorney David Papa, who was in the Wilson pairing found the center of the hole to become the first to thrust his team to a sizeable lead. ( total 14 points).
That total seemed safe until one of the last groups, which included LPGA star Brittney Linicome, had their first putting contestant Tim Nalls of American Marketing put in square in the hole. With an immediate 10 points, this team was quickly putting (bad pun) itself into contention for the Putting contest crown.
But suddenly we all noticed that Linicome, who had an early flight out of Orlando in the morning for a LPGA event had left before taking her putting chance. I made an executive putting contest decision to let Nalls put his way to either team victory, or a second place finish. The climatic moment was short lived as Nalls pulled his second try to the right and did not even register a single additional point. I wonder if Linicome would have gotten them that needed 5 points for their victory by putting her golf ball in the inner square within a foot of the hole? We will never know.
But the solace of placing second was definitely short lived by the Linicome pairing as they finished the event with a 52, good enough for the eventual top finish in the tournament and bragging right for the entire year. As the teammates from the Linicome pairing basked in the afterglow and celebrated at the after party at Courtside Grille minus Brittney. The real winner here was the Miracle League.
I have been proud the last two years of volunteering in this event, and also made a commitment that day to help another event that will be held this Friday. On that day I will be helping out the Jesse Litsch & Bechtel Financial Celebrity Golf Tournament in Oldsmar, Florida. How can I possibly complain, another great day in the Sun with athletes supporting their local charities and spreading the news of this great charitable golfing event.
I want to remind the Rays Republic that the memorial T-shirts that benefit the families of the two slain SPPD officers will be ongoing in the Tampa Bay community. You can contact, or visit the St. Petersburg Police Department’s lobby to purchase a T-shirt, or contact them about ongoing outside T-shirt opportunities within the community. Please support this worthy charity and remembrance of these Tampa Bay heroes.
Again I want to thank Tracey and her staff plus Toby for the adventures and memories. Believe me, I have more than a few moments to tell people about that would not fit on this post today. But that is the great thing about charity events like this that happen so close to Spring Training. The excitement levels in seeing past friends and the approaching report dates just adds to the zeal and essence of the tournament.
I am already looking forward to the 2012 event. I want to post a link here for the Miracle League of the Gulf Beaches and hope that all of us can contribute in some way to a great organization that brings the love of the game to some that might not be able to run, hit or even pitch like everyone, but the smile and joy on their faces as they move around the bases makes it so worthwhile.
All photos taken at the 2011 Toby Hall Celebrity Golf Classic can be found in a photo set on Flickr.com
Sometimes I can visually see vividly in my mind a few of the Tampa Bay Rays staff inside the dugout tunnels or near the clubhouse during games banging their heads against the wall in regards to the antics and misadventures involving Rays catcher Dioner Navarro over the past two seasons. The mire fact that Navarro is still on the Rays 40-man roster even at this moment just baffles me to no avail.
Navarro in my mind is one of those professional baseball players who just seems to be more of a heavy albatross around the neck of this franchise than any measure of a good omen. It just seems to me personally that Navarro must have had a few unflattering photos or video of someone somewhere within the Rays organization. I guess that is the rationale I have to put into my mind to explain how Navarro still has a coveted spot upon the Rays 40-man roster.
Soon the Rays front office could end all of this mind boggling insanity and possibly non-tender Navarro, thus setting set him free upon the rest of the MLB. Or could the Rays be hoping and praying for someone to be willing to trade even a few minor league prospects for their catcher who now seems to have his Rays days numbered.
Why in heck is this guy still got even a hint of possibly securing another year with the Rays after his blatant disregard for his own club after he walked away from the Rays on October 7th because his name was omitted from the American League Divisional Series 25-man roster. How in his mind could Navarro really think he deserved a ALDS roster spot over the more productive pairing of current Rays catchers Kelly Shoppach and rookie John Jaso?
Could his agent have possibly diluted his mind to such a state that Navarro took the omission as a disrespectful move by the Rays instead of the right personnel move considering Navarro’s 2010 track record? Might that roster omission by the Rays fueled Navarro’s frustrations and made him implode and pack up catching gear and leave the Rays clubhouse for maybe the last time?
Or was this another visual outburst of denial by Navarro of the ever increasing valley between the team and himself after Navarro spent his time from June 24th until his call-up on August 31st with the Rays Triple-A affiliate in Durham, North Carolina. The fact that Navarro openly told the team on October 7th that he was “going home” instead of staying with the club and working out in case of an injury to any of the Rays catchers’ should have pushed him beyond the confines of Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s doghouse and given Navarro an instant exit from the Rays 40-man roster.
But still, the Venezuelan catcher still sits upon the 32 names currently resting on the Rays 40-man roster this off season. Isn’t this the same Navarro who became certainly expendable in the Rays minds back during Dec 2009 when the Rays first had thoughts of trading away Navarro, but the return was not considered beneficial to the team’s future. Wasn’t Navarro the figure on the Rays roster who should have been more aware and concerned for his job when the Rays traded one of the Rays top farmhand pitchers Mitch Talbot to the Cleveland Indians for Shoppach.
Shouldn’t that transaction by the Rays during the off season been a clear signal to Navarro that his Major League job might be in deep jeopardy? Instead it just seemed like Navarro, who had seen the Rays bring fellow backstop Gregg Zaun late in 2009 did not seem to heed the warning signals. Instead it seemed that Navarro just tried to do just enough to again hold onto one of the Rays two catching positions.
Even during the Winter of 2009 when teams like the San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, New York Mets and Toronto Blue Jays were hunting for catching options, the slow-footed Navarro did not peak anyone interest farther than a casual phone call to the Rays. During the 2009 off season the Rays did think long and hard about non-tendering the arbitration eligible catcher, but again he somehow had enough believers in the Rays staff to fend off his departure.
More and more in 2009 and early 2010 the Rays faithful had to witness the extreme casual attitude behind the plate when Navarro basically saw balls hit the dirt in front of him and he mysteriously missed the balls and had to chase them around the Tropicana Field backstop. It was if Navarro had stepped into a hole defensively that he could not get himself out of in time to save his starting job.
But now as another arbitration time is quickly approaching it is time for the Rays to send a loud and clear message to their one time All Star catcher. It is time to cut the string between Navarro and the Rays and set him along towards another team. With the emergence of Jaso and the stability of a contract with Shoppach for another season, it would be ill advised to hold onto an arbitration eligible Navarro who could demand a $ 2.9 million salary even with his demotion during 2010 to the minor leagues.
It is time to let the slow-footed catcher makes his way out of the fold of the Rays and into the glaring sunlight to see his true worth around the Major Leagues . They say a mother bird sometimes has to push a baby bird out of it’s nest to make it realize it has to fly. It is time for this bird to definitely get pushed out of the Rays fold. Some might call it a reality check for Navarro, but I consider it more a relief of catching albatross from around the necks of the Rays. Fly away little Navi, Fly away!
Gail Burton / AP
In what might be a simple Tamp Bay two-step right now, the Tampa Bay Rays traded the always popular “Player To Be Named Later” today to the Cleveland Indians for experienced catcher Kelly Shoppach. The Rays will probably conclude the trade with a member of their current 40-man roster, and this trade announcement should be made public before December 20th.
The move gives the Rays a solid hitting catcher with a keen eye at the plate, and some much needed power in his bat. Shoppach, who has hit 33 HRs over the past two seasons is tied for second with American League MVP Joe Mauer in total HRs by an AL catcher. Another bright spot for the Rays is that Shoppach lead the American League in 2009 with 18 HBP. He is known to crowd the plate and makes opposing pitchers work hard to get him out at the plate.
And this trade is definitely a physical “calling out” of Rays current catcher Dioner Navarro. For the first time in many years, the Rays did not invite a experienced catcher to come into Spring Training in 2009 to push Navarro for his starting job. But now, this trade to upgrade the Rays offensive power behind the plate makes perfect sense considering that Navarro fell so far off the offensive wagon for the Rays last season.
Navarro’s seasonal batting average quickly dipped from a career high of .295 in 2008, to an anemic .218 this season. And combined with his offensive downfall, Navarro also saw his defensive statistics also take an unexpected tumble. At times, Navarro’s defensive game has been called into question several times during the 2009 season. Navarro’s caught stealing percentage dropped from 35.7 (25-70) percent in 2008, which was third best in the Major Leagues, to only 23.8 (19-80) percent in 2009.
Maybe this downward trend finally convinced the Rays to look somewhere else for catching help for 2010. I personally noticed several times during the season that Navarro was becoming a bit lazy behind the dish at times not coming out of his crouch for simple errant balls in the dirt. Navarro seemed to be not getting his glove down flat to the plate to prevent Wild Pitches or Passed Balls by adequately securing the baseball during games. Even though he was charged with only 5 Errors and 6 Passed Balls in 2009, his defense did take a huge step back in 2009.
Maybe this is a clear message to Navarro by Rays Manager Joe Maddon, an ex-catcher, and the Rays staff that they are about done with trying to fix Navarro’s many defensive woes. It seems to me to be a blatant message that Navarro has regressed and maybe was rested too heavy on his laurels after his 2008 All Star season.
But this is not the first time in the last few months the Rays have not tried to send a message to Navarro. You have to think that when the team traded Arizona Fall League standout Ryhne Hughes to Baltimore for veteran Gregg Zaun, the young catcher would finally get the message. For some reason, Navarro did not read into the transaction that things might not be so rosy under the surface with his game performances in 2009.
And considering Navarro, like Shoppach is also up for arbitration this season, it might be a clear indicator that Navi’s time is about to end in Tampa Bay. With the trade for Shoppach, it is a clear that Navarro is now clearly behind the 8-ball and might not be tendered a contract by the Rays this off season. You have to imagine that the Rays would not trade an arbitration eligible player unless they plan on giving him a contract offering.
And with the Rays not fully disclosing if they might be one of the 8 said teams talking with Zaun for 2010, this is a clear measure by the Rays to get the attention of their 2009 Opening Day catcher. Zaun has made recent comments that within the next week, or before the MLB Winter Meetings, he will announce his 2010 destination.
Another player that could make some noise in this recent transaction is Rays back-up catcher Shawn Riggans, who is currently playing Winter Ball in Puerto Rico for Gigante de Carolina. Riggans is not arbitration eligible, and would only cost the Rays $450,000 compared to a possible $ 2.5 million arbitration ruling for Navarro. The play of Riggans in Puerto Rico might be a key component to the team even considering either Zaun or Navarro for 2010.
Since Riggans did spend 97 days on the DL, and played in only 6 games for the Rays in 2009, his durability is a keystone to any catching arbitration moves by the team.
Riggans is currently hitting .211 average with a solo HR and a .429 Slugging Percentage during Winter ball. Riggans has caught in 5 of Gigante de Carloina’s 11 games this season. His injury situations over the last few seasons could be another factor to securing a solid player like Shoppach.
After the Rays traded for Zaun in August 2009, Navarro’s agent, Kendall Almerico was famous during the rest of the season for sending email and text messages to the Rays front office supporting his clients abilities with direct comparisons to the newly acquired Zaun. Almerico also represented Navarro in 2008 when he was trying to obtain a $ 2.5 million 2009 salary during Navarro’s first run during arbitration.
The Rays currently hold Navarro’s rights for three more season, or until 2011, then he would become a free agent. But after all of Almerico’s 2008 pre-arbitration ” talk” about respect, and the hearing maybe effecting Navarro long term relationship with the team. The Rays might be visually showing Navarro their first move in the chess match towards any possible arbitration for Navarro by the Rays.
Considering that the Indians did pick up a pretty good catching prospect in Lou Marson in the player return with the Philadelphia Phillies for pitcher Cliff Lee, it might be a long shot that Navarro could be the “PTBNL” in todays deal. So maybe Navarro’s career clock with the Rays is ticking louder and louder right now in his household. Because the Rays might have cast the first stone to bring in a viable replacement to Navarro in the Rays lineup. The next comments by Navarro or Almerico might seal his fate in Tampa Bay.
Before the 2008 season, Benjamin Thomas Zobrist was considered a possible “Super Utility” player for the Tampa Bay Rays future. He was one of the players the team acquired back in July 2006 when the Rays sent disgruntled rightfielder Aubrey Huff to the Houston Astros near the MLB Trade Deadline. When the Rays made that deal, Zobrist was being sought after as a back-up and not a starter, even though he had the talent to start in the Major Leagues.
And even if the Rays did throw that “utility” moniker on Zobrist when he arrived, at that point the Rays had not given him a fair amount of time to shine at the Major League level until the end of 2008. But then again, Zobrist has always seemed to be in that different group of player who’s game beats to a different drummer, but is in unison with the team’s goals and aspirations.
But Zobrist has always been strong silent type who used his glove and bat to do his talking. And even then he still got pigeon-holed into a small finite group in the MLB. Zobrist is only the ninth player in MLB history to ever appear in the regular game at the shortstop position, joining Rays Senior Advisor Don Zimmer in that exclusive club.
Zobrist is only the second Rays player to have a “Z” at the beginning of his name, joining Victor Zambrano in that club. And only Tiger’s pitcher Joel Zumaya is lower in the alphabetical listing in the MLB entire active roster than Zobrist. So as you can see, Zobrist has always seemed to be at the back of the class by alphabet, but on the field, well that is a different story.
But how valuable is a guy who in 2008 played 6 different positions for your squad? During the Rays 2008 season he jumped back and forth from the minors to the major leagues four times before finally sticking with the Rays on August 5,2008 and played every field position but pitcher, catcher and first base during the season. And this season, he added first base to his playing resume’ when he started playing the position after a late season injury to All-Star first baseman Carlos Pena.
And who knows, after the Rays let go of Joe Dillon, maybe Zobrist was the Rays designated “third catcher” option in case of a unfortunate injury to Dioner Navarro and Gregg Zaun during a contest. But that is the reason Rays Manager Joe Maddon think so highly of his fielding handyman who brings four different types of fielding gloves into the dugout during Rays games. I can still remember a game during the 2009 season where he started the game in rightfield, moved to second base in the middle innings of the contest, then finished out the game at third base subbing for Evan Longoria.
I know there are only a handful of players on any roster in the Major Leagues who can hop, skip and jump from position to position like Zobrist. And that is one of the reasons I keep looking at players like Mark DeRosa and new White Sox journeyman Mark Teahen and can ultimately see Zobrist developing into that same mold of player who will do whatever the team needs to win every game.
So am I upset that Zobrist did not end up in the top 5 in the MVP voting? I am a little surprised, but I also know that it sometimes take more than a splash on the scene to convince the tunnel visioned BBWAA guys in the press box who never played the game that you are a special breed. And that is honest truth to why I feel he did not post any higher vote totals in the American League MVP race because the BBWAA voters are more geared towards their own teams player selections and other regional and divisional guys they see all the time.
But I can understand some of the BBWAA voters for not getting so excited about Zobrist this season. But if he still puts up the same numbers in 2010, and even posts higher numbers, will they still see him as a reliable utility player or as a full-time field player?
And the fact the Zobrist began this statistic campaign actually during the last 4 games of the 2008 season when he hit four home runs and won co-AL Player of the Week honors after the Rays season ending series in Detroit. Sure in 2008 he might have only appeared in 62 games ( 49 starts), but people forget Zobrist might have actually made the Rays 2008 Opening Day roster if he had not gone down with a left thumb break. So you have to wonder, if Zobrist had gotten more playing time in 2008, would this season’s MVP total have been different.
And of course, this has to be speculation, but sure, his number would have been dramatically different, and considering he lead all Major League middle infielders with a 16.5 At Bat per Home Run ratio finishing ahead of players like Marlin Dan Uggla (16.6), Hanley Ramirez (17.9) and Phillie infielder Chase Utley (18.4). Considering each of these players is an All Star caliber player, doesn’t that make you think the potential might have always been bubbling under the surface in Zobrist.
And also in 2008, he hit is second Gram Slam of his career during a September 13th game against the New York Yankees and was the last visiting player to hit a Grand Slam in the old Yankee Stadium off starter Sidney Ponson in the nightcap of a doubleheader. So as you can see, his 2008 numbers gave Rays fans something to look forward to in 2009.
And if you have even looked towards the outfield grass beyond first base before a Rays game, Zobrist is always out there stretching with the starters even if he is not in the lineup. That is part of his game day prep, and one of the reason I truly feel he is a player to watch over the next few seasons.
And considering he is not even arbitration eligible yet, Zobrist becomes a huge double-edged value to the Rays both in payroll and in his playing ability. Zobrist’s projected 2010 salary might only be around $450,000 before he hits arbitration for the first time after the 2010 season. And how valuable is that right now with the Rays looking to stabilize their payroll and find needed money for possible Bullpen help. Zobrist is not only helping the Rays on the field already, he is heaping them in their fiscal bottom line too.
So even if Zobrist did not get an additional votes in the MVP race to post his name up there with the American League heavyweights, his day might still come in the future. People always love to root for the underdog, and you know Zobrist definitely fits the bill for that title, even in 2010. And you can be sure that in 2010 there will be more than a few Fantasy Baseball team owners who will take Zobrist onto their rosters. I have to admit, I took him in the 10th round last year because I have seen his potential over the last two years and have always liked what he brings to the game both on and off the field.
So Benjamin Zobrist, we are proud of what you have done in 2009. And we salute you and hope and pray that the off season keeps you safe and ready for Spring Training in 2010
. Starting this spring, when your name appears in the lineup people will begin to check your stats and watch your development to see if you are a flash-in-the-pan or the real deal. We already know the answer here in Tampa Bay. We already know you are our MVP.
So what if the American League’s other BBWAA voters do not give you the respect yet, or even the courtesy of a 10th place vote on every ballot. You can be our little secret for another year. You can be the guy that opposing fans look at each other and wonder who you are after you launch one into the stands. Sure we might hide you around the outfield and infield again, but getting you on the field is the main thing, because a lineup with Zobrist in it is a ticking time bomb ready to launch an offensive explosion.
So as we begin to go towards the bulk of the off season, it is okay if the rest of the countries media want to forget about Zobrist. It is fine if they do not want to honor a year to remember from a guy who stepped up and accepted the challenge and propelled his team. We know your value and we know your potential. Tick,tock…..tick, tock. Spend the off season resting, relaxing and playing with your son Zion. For in the Spring of 2010, you can again get your determination and intensity scale set to “10”, because some people forgot who you were. They forgot you were “Zorilla”, but that is fine. Even Godzilla had more than one film, and he did pretty well for himself.
Bill Koustroun / AP
Within the next few days the Tampa Bay Rays will have to make some critical decisions on three members of the team. They will have to either consider accepting or declining club options on three members of the 2009 roster. Carl Crawford ($ 10 million), Gregg Zaun ($ 2 million) and Brian Shouse ($ 1.9 million +incentives) all are currently being looked at forward and back, and inside-out for pluses and minuses by the Rays. And more than likely, only Crawford could end up the only club option is picked up by the Rays.
Crawford’s $ 10 million option is pretty comparable on the open market with outfielder who are within their prime and he is considered a value at that price right now. And the announcement during the last few weeks of the season that Crawford would be willing to talk about even lowering that price tag and extending his contract again must have had the team giddy with glee.
But it is the other two club options that might be more of a time consuming decision by the team. Because if the Rays accept either option, it might send into effect a landslide of changes for the Rays roster even before Spring Training.
And of the two club options, it seems to me that Zaun has done a great job with the Rays starting rotation and getting acclimated to the Rays system in his short time with the squad. I consider him an upgrade in the catching department both behind the plate and in the batters box for the Rays. And if the team does pick up his option, it will possibly be a signal to current starter Dioner Navarro that he might have a rough road going through arbitration this year and might even be considered a possible Rays non tendered candidate?
Zaun’s .259 batting average is 40 points higher than Navarro’s season ending .218. But an interesting point might be that Navarro had his highest batting average( .231) on April 13th, while Zaun has hit .289 since joining the Rays and .308 against right hander since the trade. And if you look at their defense, Zaun wins that battle hands down. Zaun is a jack-in-the-box behind the plate attacking every ball in the dirt and trying to smother or keep them in front of him. He might have only thrown out 11 of 51 base runners this season (21.6 %), but it is only slightly below Navarro’s (23.8 %) mark for the season.
So this decision might be more if the Rays want to have an aging catcher (38 years old) behind the plate and might make a decision on the Navarro era with the Rays. And considering Navarro is up again for arbitration this season, could his salary which has been estimated at around $ 2.5 million be an upgrade over Zaun’s abilities. And considering that Navarro’s agent made it a habit to pester the Rays front office with phone calls and emails showing his clients stats, maybe the Rays will turn their back on Navarro and look elsewhere for catching help.
I see the Rays picking up Zaun’s $2 million option because it might be time to make a change for the Rays. Catching was not a huge disadvantage for the team in 2009, but a upgrade and a change in personnel might be needed right now. And Zaun is a veteran presence the Rays need to support and work with this young pitching staff and fine tune them a bit more in 2010.
And the other option to be considered by the Rays might have actually been decided before the season was even concluded by the way Brian Shouse portrayed it me when I gave him congrats for reaching his incentive numbers. Shouse gave me the off-the-cuff indication that he felt he might not be with the team, but held out enthusiasm and hope for a different scenario.
Considering the team lost Bullpen members Chad Bradford, Troy Percival and Russ Springer who close to go to the free agent market, the Rays Bullpen will again be a work in progress going into Spring Training. And considering that Shouse did prove to be an effective left-handed specialist for the Rays, this decision might come down to his option amount and if the team think that leftie reliever Randy Choate can perform in this role in 2010.
Choate is arbitration eligible, and might command only about $ 1.2 million in arbitration. And if the Rays do indeed decide to keep Shouse, Choate might be considered trade bait or even non-tendered. And here lies the difficult decision for the Rays. Shouse will be 42 near the end (Sept 27) of the 2010 season, and is already the oldest pitcher to grace a Rays roster. Does giving him a possible $1.9 million plus his incentive be considered a sound investment for the Rays?
Combine that with Shouse holding lefties to a .224 average and holding his opponents scoreless in 21 of his last 24 appearances, Shouse still has the ability to do the job. But the emergence of Choate late in the season while Shouse was on the disabled list with a left elbow strain, it might bring the decision simply down to who the Rays think can do the job in 2010. I have feeling the Rays might dwell a bit on the fact he will be 42 before the end of 2010, and will decline the club option for Shouse.
And the buy-out options for both players is not a huge amount, and might also play into the Rays decisions. They currently have until November 11th to make public their decision on Shouse. And if he is not retained by the Rays, he will be given a $ 200,000 buyout. But the decision on Zaun needs to be made on Monday, November 9th, which is 5 days after the end of the World Series. If the Rays do not intend to keep Zaun on their roster, it will cost them $ 500,00 or 25 percent of the salary he would have commanded in 2010.
And you have to take the delay on the announcement of the club option on Carl Crawford as a positive sign that things are being discussed behind-the-scenes, and that a decision will be announced soon on the Rays plans for Crawford in 2010. The decisions made over the next few days by the Rays will not totally sculpt their roster for 2010, but it could indicate the direction and the possible intentions of the team in the free agent and trade markets over the Winter months.
You would love for the team to take all three players back into the fold and retain the chemistry that existed at the end of 2009. But the financial realities of the Rays payroll make this kind of a fairy tale and not a reality. Hopefully the Rays front office is working long and hard on their decisions concerning all three players, and that whatever looms in the future for any of them, that the decision will be for the good of the team and be received with the zeal that the team is again striving to be a player in not only the American League East, but in the chase to the 2010 World Series.
Usually about this time of the year we try and look back and celebrate and remember some of the great moments of the Tampa Bay Rays season. As we begin to enter the sunset of the year, we should remember just how far we really have come as a franchise, and the players and people who have emerged this season to make its memories and tales light up like the brightest day.
Over the next several days I am going to revisit some of the Top 5 moments for me personally during the 2009 season. Now I am not going to throw them down as isolated moments, but as key moments I think happened during the season to change the outcome of this team. Also not listed will be the in-game foul ball catches by me ( May 29th vs Twins @ home), because those are personal moments of triumph, and not Rays moments.
So today I felt it was only right to throw down my personal 5 favorite moments of the Rays 2009 season. And there is surely more than 5 that come to mind quickly, but I would hate to write a 125 paragraph blog on the excitement and the adventures that this team experienced daily in 2009 from the first reporting date on February 15,2009.
The fifth memory of the 2009 season has to be the way that the Rays newly acquired catcher, Gregg Zaun introduced himself to the Rays hometown fans during a game against the one of his old teams, the Toronto Blue Jays on August 16th. Most Rays fans remember that in 2008, it was Zaun that hit a Grand Slam HR against the Rays to garner a victory for the Jays.
This Sunday afternoon contest had all the makings of a tight game with Rays starter Matt Garza taking the hill for the home team. And it was a tight game until the bottom of the eighth inning when Jay reliever Brandon League came on with the score knotted at 1-all.
League got the first out of the inning quickly when he got Evan Longoria to fly out to rightfield on the second pitch. But then League gave up a single to rightfield to Ben Zobrist, and Carlos Pena quickly countered with a double to deep centerfield to put 2 men in scoring position for the Rays with still only one out in the inning.
Toronto then Intentionally Walked the next batter Willy Aybar to load the bases, and the Rays decided to pinch hit Gabe Gross for Gabe Kapler. League and Gross had a classic pitcher-hitter confrontation throwing 10 pitches before finally striking out to produce the second out of the inning. With catcher Dioner Navarro due to come up next, Toronto must have felt like they had dodged the bullet in this inning.
But Rays Manager Joe Maddon was not done with his mind games and instead sent up Zaun to pinch hit for Navarro with the bases still juiced with Rays runners. League got behind in the count early and finally got back to a 3-2 count before throwing the sixth pitch of the at bat. The next ball he would get would be a spanking new ball after Zaun smacked the ball a good 10 rows deep into Section 140 for a Grand Slam home run, and to post the Rays to a 5-1 lead in the game.
The crowd and the players in the dugout both went totally nuts and Zaun as he circled the bases did not even look into the Blue Jays dugout. But you could see his wide grin as he stepped on home plate and was mobbed by the three other base runners that had scored before him. It was a great way for the “Zaunbe Nation” to begin its quest to win over the Rays fans. The pitch effected League so much he hit B J Upton with the next pitch and was taken out of the game by Toronto Manager Cito Gaston.
The reason it was my fifth best moment of the year was the introduction of a player I hope the Rays decide to have on their roster again in 2010. Zaun brings a nice energy and professionalism that seems to be working great with the Rays starters. The team will have to pick up his $2 million option, but considering that Dioner Navarro is also arbitration eligible, and might get a raise to about $ 2.5 million, my gut tells me that Zaun would be better in the long run for the franchise.
Also, if you get a chance, please go to www.greggzaun.com and check out his very slick and very entertaining website that he developed for his fans and to promote his many charity efforts. It also has both his “walk-up” tunes on the site.
The 2009 season has so many great memories and moments it has been difficult to even get them down to a possible 20. But I sat there for a few days this weekend with my list and a big sharpie and wrote notes in the margin and in between the lines to try and get a pretty concise and complete list. Of course we will not have the number 4 reason posted on Sunday as we have the “Sunday Rewind” already in the works to preview some of the classic blogs postings of the last few seasons.
But you can bet that on Monday night we will again begin posting the rest of my list from Monday to Thursday night baring any important MLB news. So hopefully you will return back and cherish some of these awesome Rays 2009 moments with me during the next few days as we celebrate the second winning season of the Rays, and just a small step backwards in our journey to walk tall among the teams in the American League East.
Every day until I reach my number # 1 moment of the 2009 season, I will be posting a link of that event on the sidepanel to the right of the blog entry. This will give other people a chance to also check out the event as it happened during the Rays 2009 season. You will see the Number # 5 moment is currently already on the sidebar so you can relive Gregg Zaun introductory moment to the Rays Republic.
Earlier this season I got a chance to try something I had been meaning to check out and participate in for about 5 seasons. You always hear your friends and other people around you discussing the activities of their Fantasy Leagues, and how in-depth and how competitive they can get over the course of a season. I have had some previous experience with a ESPN Fantasy team in regards to College Football and NASCAR picks, but had never joined a competitve league.
What was even more exciting to me was the fact that this league would be formualted with 13 of my fellow MLB bloggers pitting their wits and their strategies against each other from the Opening Day first pitch to the last two weeks of the 2009 season. The final two weeks of the 2009 season would consist of two rounds of playoffs, which became some of the most intense weeks based on all of our competitve natures, and some of us (me included) were still refining our rosters within an inch of their lives.
And all of this started from a question asked by “Confessions of Baseball” ( Chris Powers) even before the 2009 Spring Training season. Chris was seeking interested people in participating in a season long head-to-head competition fantasy league with a foundation from the MLB bloggers as members.
The “League” membership was quickly formed and consisted of a great cross-section of bloggers like ” Julia’s Rants”, “Braves World”,”The Future Sox Blog”, “Team Clemson”, “Indianapolis Reds”, “Team Diatribe”,”Austin James Dreamer”, “Mets Main Man”, “The Mets Blog”,”How About Them Orangebirds” “Bay Area King of Cali”, “Bob’s Boston Green Sox”, “Rambling Ramblers” and of course, “Rays Renegade.”
So our first order of business after selecting our team names was the “Live Draft held on Valentine’s Day. Perfect day to pick players for the game we all love so much. I have to say, from my first pick of the “Live” draft ( Ryan Braun) to the last game played during the Championship Playoff series on October 4,2009 , this league was always fun-filled and extremely exciting.
And it was truly wild time sitting there on February 14th anxious and sweating during the “live” draft since I had never been in a situation like that drafting players round by round. From the first pick by “The FutureSoxBlog” of Hanley Ramirez to her last selection of J C Romero, the draft seemd to have come off perfectly.
I have to admit I did have few moments of getting a bit upset when someone selected my guy one spot before me, or if I missed someone and saw him go within two spots of my missed selection. But it was an extremely awesome time, and one I really want to try again next season. I got a new respect for the MLB scouts and the MLB’s front offices by sometimes taking soem critical time trying to select the best players with in the two minute time lines.
But I thought I selected a pretty competitve roster, and even got a few sleeper picks mixed into the bunch. I did get a pure gem when I selected Tampa Bay Rays uber-superman Ben Zobrist in the 34th round and he rewarded me constantly during the entire season. But I also made a few amateur mistakes that came back to haunt me throughout the season. After the Draft, the league membership was polled and I was rewarded with the first Draft Championship virtual trophy.
I mean I made some pretty critical mistakes throughout the season and for some odd reason I accidently dropped Rockies First Baseman Todd Helton early on in the season. He was not the first blunder, but was one of the one that made me kick myself a few times. I also at one point in the season had three very important cogs in the Rockies outfield platoon consisting of Carlos Gonzalez, Seth Smith and Dexter Fowler, but I tried to be smart and let them slip through my fingers back onto the Waiver wire and onto other teams. But the one that really irked me was the one I did by total mistake, and it cost me dearly.
I was trying to gain another frontline starter and accidently dropped Tigers pitcher Edwin Jackson for someone I ended up dropping within a few weeks. That really hurt me, more for the fact that I am a huge pro-Jackson supporter and I dropped the ball totally on that move. I wish I could say I was trying to get him through the waiver system without anyone seeing him, but I messed up big time, and I regretted the move from the moment I hit the Enter buttom on the computer.
But I get a few guys I felt might make a huge impact in the 2009 season, but they either got injured or were not effective throughout the season. I selected Josh Hamilton in the 2nd Round, and kept him through the season hoping for a healthy return. But after his first injury during the season, he did not possess the same power and monster numbers I was hoping for this year.
But I had a few players who went down with unexpected injuries after they began the season on a truly positive note. Players like the Brewers Ricky Weeks and the Rays Jason Isringhausen, who both went down and would be sidelined for the rest of the season. But also bad season starts from guys like Rays new DH Pat Burrell and the Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco had me sweating at time during the season before I gave up on them and dropped them from my roster.
But besides the pick of Zobrist, I did feel I picked up a few other good sleeper picks. I selected Oakland/Colorado basher Jason Giambi in the 30th Round, and also ended up getting Seattle slugger Russell Branyan, who had the best season of his career before going down with an injury in September. I got a small dose of what it felt like to be a General Manager to try and adjust and seek a few select players that would make a difference in my team. But fortunately, I did not have to juggle payrolls or decide MLB service time in this league like the actual MLB GM’s have to do every day in their jobs.
During the season I have to admit, some teams creeped up on me and scared me to death during the weekly match-ups. I selected 7 members of the Tampa Bay Rays for my roster, and if they did not play up to snuff, my team took a dive fast. But I was happy with my Rays offensive selections of Zobrost and Carl Crawford and added and released pieces like Burrell, Willy Aybar and Akinori Iwamura during the season. Gregg Zaun even made an end of the season appearance after he was picked up by the Rays after a trade with the Orioles.
But my other two main pieces for my Rays offensive foundation might not happened if not for some great trade partners. I ended up trading with the “Mets Main Man” and sending the Brewers Ryan Braun to his team for Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett and eventual Nationals closer Mike MacDougal. That gave me a consistent bat at shortstop, and also someone who could steal some bases for me.
ond trade might have a few people scratching their heads a bit, but it is my faith I have in this player that made this trade a sure thing for me. On June 1, 2009, I traded Angels closer Brian Fuentes for B J Upton straight up with “The Mets Blog“. I still think this was a great trade, because Upton ended up becoming the July Paler of the Month for the American League, and ended up the season on a bit of an offensive tear.
I bounced around in my divisions standings until the final three weeks of the season when I balanced out and found myself on top of the hill. I ended up the season with the MLBlogger’s Fantasy Leagues best record at 128-79-13 and was awarded my second virtual trophy. But then it was time for the Playoffs, and I was selected as the number 1 seed and ended up fighting my major competition in my division who got seeded 4th for the playoff rounds.
For two weeks “Braves World (Gregg Henglein)“ and my roster fought back and forth before I finally started to take a slight advantage and ended up winning the first round of the Playoffs with a 6-4 record. Then came the finals against a team that I had fought me hard during the season, but I expected more extreme action this time. So during the last two weeks of the season it was ‘Rays Renegade” against “Austin James Dreamers (Darion Morgan)” for the League title.
And I have to admit, I was selecting starting pitching and still tweaking my roster up until the last day of the season. It was so close of a battle that the series really did not turn until the last few days of the regular season. “Austin James Dreamer” took an early lead and made me sweat more than a few times during the two week period. That also corresponded perfectly during the time that the Rays got flattened by the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees in two straight series and did not rebound until they got back home.
But finally my guys began to win some starts, and began to drive in some RBIs and It went back and forth from a 4-5-1 record to a 5-5 record to finally getting settled at a 6-4 record. And I was really sweating a bit when on the last day my roster advised me I had used up my alottement of pitching and I would not getting any more statistics from my starters on that day. I was at the mercy of “Austin James” pitching staff to secure the League title. So finally on October 5th, I was declared the MLBBloggers Fantasy League’s first Champion and got my third virtual trophy of the season.
In the end, I glanced at the final totals for my teams a found some interesting facts. My pitching staff had accumulated 2,369 strikeouts, over 490 more than my closest competitor. Also amazing to me is that fact those same starters got me a total of 178 wins, which was 35 wins more than anyone else. I had built my original team based on offensive power, and my pitching staff ended up being the strong part of my league team. I did lead the league in stolen bases and RBI, but fell a bit short in runs and HRs.
I admit, it was a great fun every week being pitted against other people and using my head for more than a baseball cap rack. I am really looking forward to the January announcement of the reformulation of the MLBloggers Fantasy League for the 2010 season. For now I have a league title to defend, and I am really excited to again include this great event into my yearly baseball plans..
I want to thank all 14 members of MLBlogs who particiapted in the league and look forward to going from the “Live” Draft to the Playoffs again in 2010. It was an amazing experience, and it even got me to join a Fantasy Football and Hockey League on ESPN this year to get some added experience.
I had never gotten so much fun out of a computer based gaming activity as I did in this season’s fantasy league. I know it is not an activity for everyone, but I highly recommend doing it because of the great competition and the great amount of experience and fun you can have taking the role of a team owner and adjusting your roster by adding or subtracting to your team throughout the season.
So I ended up on October 6th opening a small bottle of Mumm’s champagne and spilling it all over the grass outside my apartment building. The neightbors might have thought I was nuts, but I wanted to experience the last part of being a team owner. I wanted to have that celebration and that extreme moment of knowing all the work was worth it. As I picked up a towel from the ground and wiped the stinging chamapgne out of my eyes I remembered the same thing I experienced with the Rays in 2008. I felt pride, honor and an inner feeling of accomplishment………..And yes, I yearned for more.
Everyone and anyone who has ever take in a baseball game at one time or another have thought they could do the job better than the guy in blue behind the plate. We have all seen the umpires make calls from a distance,or in retrospect with considerable digital enhancements to expose the life of an umpire is not easy. But one of the greatest dangers of being an umpire is not the threat of harrassment or injury from people attending the games.
The biggest threat to their personal health is actually the small white ball that they call for balls and strikes.
The game is played at an extremely fast pace between the pitcher and the hitter. In an instant the ball can travel from the pitcher’s hand to the glove or bat without a conscience of what might happen to it. In a fraction of a second all three members of the pitch’s evolution have to make consierable actions and reactions before the guy in blue even gets a chance to make a decision on the pitch. And sometimes the unthinkable happens.
Sometimes a variable comes to light that barely ever happens in a game,or a simple pitch selection cross-up between a pitcher and a catcher makes the unthinkable happens. We in the stands usually do not hear the sound of the ball hitting the metal mask or chest protector before the guy behind the plate goes down in a heap of humanity. It is a constant thing that can nhappen on any pitch in the game. He doesn’t have the ability to think for itself, or redirect its path, the ball can cause more harm in a split second than a Walk-off Grand Slam.
And lightning did strike, twice last night during a game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Toronto Blue Jays. Twice a lighting fast ball of twine and leather struck a member of the blue fraternity behind the plate, and twice there had to be a change of positions due to injuries sustained by a member of the umpiring crew to keep the game going smoothly.
Last night’s game began with the groups crew chief, Jerry Crawford behind the plate. He is considered by many to have one of the most consistent strike zones in baseball. And that is a high honor considering most nights everyone,including the guy selling peanuts, thinks they can call the balls and strikes with more clarity than the umpire behind the plate. In the first two innings of last night’s game, Crawford called 24 strikes and 19 balls between the two teams, which included 5 strikeouts for both squads. The game was going smoothly and Crawford had a good grasp of both pitcher’s arsenals and seemed to be cruising along without incident.
But within a flash, he was gone. Crawford had begun having back spasms after taking a foul tip off the bat of the Jays Arron Hill in the bottom of the first inning. The pitch seemed to hit flush into his mask and it rattled his cage a bit. Instead of maybe compromising the game, he pulled himself out from behind Home Plate before the beginning of the third inning and umpire Tom Hallion, who began the game at second base went behind the plate to call the contest.
Somewhere during the course of the first two innings, a foul tip came back and got Crawford square in the mask. But do we really know who might have slapped at the ball that finally got got Crawford? During the first two innings, a total of 16 foul balls were hit off the plate by members of both squads. And one of those fouls came straight back and got Crawford right on the mask.
It really doesn’t matter who got him, but it also shows the inherent danger of this position that we all might take for granted. Umpires have been hit by backswings, errant pitches and even shards of broken bats in the past and had to buckle down and keep calling games. For Crawford, who is the crew chief of this umpiring crew to pull himself out of the game, it had to be an extremely painful event. This is also the second Rays game that Crawford has had to take himself out of this season, He also was injured in the June 21st game against the Mets in Citi Field.
Major League Baseball has 17 revolving umpire crews that travel throughout the circuit on a given year. But during that time injuries and game complications can endanger the group. On May 15, 2008 the MLB actually had six members who don the blues out with injuries, and of that group, five were out with head and neck injuries. and most of those injuries had a direct correlation with a ball striking off of their equipment when they were behind the plate.
And that has to be another area of major concern for MLB. With the guy calling the games getting more and more injuries sustained because of batted balls or miscommunications between a catcher and a pitcher, it is only a matter of time before a umpire is seriously hurt to the point of extended hospitalization. And most of the catchers in major league baseball take pride in the fact they can get to most of those pitches before they ever get to the umpire’s chest protector.
But in the case of the second injury on Weds. night, Rays catcher Gregg Zaun could do nothing to stop that 96 mph fast ball that tailed up and away and caught Hallion square in the chest. “That was scary,” Gregg Zaun told the St Petersburg Times. “I feel so bad. It’s one of those things I don’t like to see that happen. It’s pretty rare I don’t get leather on a ball.” And Hallion stayed down as medical staffs from both teams came out to aid him.
But after a considerable amount of time, Hallion walked off the field on his own. He was checked by medical personnel, and it was determined that if he felt no breathing difficulties, he could stay in the game. The incident effected both Zaun and Rays starter Scott Kazmir who was physically shaken by the event. “You saw it and it hit him flush,” Kazmir told the Times. “And I heard the sound. And the way he fell down, I knew it wasn’t good. You never want to see anything like that. … It looked pretty serious. I missed my location and you kind of feel at faul
But the truth is that Kazmir’s pitch missed so bad it was the only contributing factor to the injury. Zaun had set up for an outside low pitch and the ball tailed up andin on him and Zaun could not have done anything to stop the ball. The only good that came out of that pitch was the fact Jays batter Travis Snider swung and missed at the pitch and it ended the inning. And since the team Not the fact he struck out stands out as the positive, but the teams would be switching field positions, this factor made it easier for the medical crews to come out and check on Hallion before the game play was restored.
And with that, the third member of the umpiring crew went into the Umpire’s room under the stadium tonight and changed into his protective gear. After a 21 minute delay , the third Home Plate Umpire of the night, Brian Onora called the game back into action. And you had to wonder if the facts of the night were swirling in Onora’s mind knowing that two of his crew had already gone down in this game. But Crawford was still at the ballpark and willing to even go out to third base and try and call the rest of the game, but Hallion made it be known that he wanted to continue this game at third base.
MLB has rules governing the umpiring of games, and the possibility of an injury to any of the games Umpiring crews. Rules 9.01-9.05 pertain to the job of the umpires during the course of a MLB sanctioned game. In Rule 9.02(d) it states: “No Umpire may be replaced in a game unless he is injured or becomes ill.” After that passage it continues onto 9.03, which outlines what is to happen if the number of umpires goes below the required 4 per contest. This section outlines the repsonsibilities and the duties of the remaining umpires and their correlation to getting game completed.
The incidents during this game did become a life threatening situation like in May 1, 2008 for umpire Kerwin Daley. He was behind the plate during a Los Angeles Dodgers versus Washington Nationals game when Dodger starter Brad Penny threw a 96 mpoh pitch that struck him in the head. His 68-year old mother was in the stands that day to watch her son and she was the first one to speak to him besides medical personnel before he was lifted into the ambulance.
In 2008, MLB umpires sustained a total of 38 blows to the head. Within the first two months into the 2008 season, there have already been 20 umpire injuries. These numbers are high,but the ratios are higher yet, when considering that there are only 68 Major League Umpires. Mrs. Danley knew that her son was in a profession that posed a physical risk to him, following surgeries to his shoulder and foot to repair damage he incurred on the field. But head injuries are a different story.
Even with the advent of newer equipment and more caution by both catchers and umpires, injuries will still be a fact of life behind the plate. But the true fact that neither of the umpires injured in last night’s game had to physically be carted off, or sent to the hospital has to be a sign that the equipment is doing its job to promote a safer environment for the men in blue. But you also have to tip your hat to the guys behind the plate who are tough as nails.
Crawford commented after the game to the Times that “If he (Hallion) was having any difficulties breathing or something like that we wouldn’t have let him go back out there,” said Crawford, the crew chief. “I would have gone back out there.” These guys know the inherent risks of their jobs and they still do it night after night. Both Hallion and Crawford fully expect to be able to again man spot in the field or behind the plate come Friday night in St. Louis for the Cardinals series. Say what you will about the umpires, but after last night, i have a new respect for two members of that fraternal order.