This day in baseball: Clemens signs on for one more year in New York

Forty-year-old Roger Clemens agreed to a $10.1 million, one-year deal with the Yankees on December 30, 2002. At the time, Clemens indicated that 2003 would be his final year in baseball, and the end of the 2003 season became a series of public farewells met with appreciative cheering. Clemens would come out of retirement almost as quickly as he went into it, however, signing with the Houston Astros in early 2004.

roger clemens

ESPN Classic defends Harry Frazee

In December 1919, Boston Red Sox owner Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth for $125,000 to the Yankees, and also secured a $300,000 loan from the New York team. Throughout history, Frazee has been criticized for this deal, taking the blame for igniting the Curse of the Bambino, in which Boston did not win a World Series from 1918 to 2004. In the video below, originally aired in 2005, ESPN Classic takes a closer look at the circumstances surrounding the deal and comes to Frazee’s defense. True, Babe Ruth was one of the great pitchers of the era, but Ruth ultimately did not want to be a pitcher, but rather expressed more interest in hitting home runs. Additionally, Ruth’s antics off the field were well-known headache-inducers for any team. These are just a couple of the reasons that motivated Frazee to make the deal.

This day in baseball: Jackie Jensen named MVP

On November 20, 1958, outfielder Jackie Jensen of the Boston Red Sox was named American League Most Valuable Player. Jensen managed to beat out Bob Turley, Rocky Colavito, and Bob Cerv for the award, finishing the season with a .286 batting average, a league-leading 122 RBIs, and also earning 99 walks, 35 home runs, 31 doubles, 293 total bases, and a .396 on-base percentage.

Jackie_Jensen_1953
Jackie Jensen, 1953 (public domain)

This day in baseball: DiMaggio named AL MVP

On November 11, 1941, the American League Most Valuable Player Award went to Joe DiMaggio, who hit 30 home runs, 125 RBIs, and collected 348 total bases. DiMaggio also led the Yankees to a 101-53 season that culminated with their ninth World Series title. In the midst of all of this, the Yankee Clipper also had a Major League-record 56-game hitting streak along the way.

DiMaggio edged out Ted Williams in the voting for the award. Williams remains the last player to finish a season with a .400 average, doing so when he hit .406 in 1941. Williams’s season won him the American League batting title by a whopping 47 points that year, however, his efforts fell short in the league’s MVP voting.

The Science of Hitting, by Ted Williams

Ted Williams’s The Science of Hitting has been on my radar for a few years now, though admittedly, since it has been so long since I last played ball, I wasn’t in any real hurry to read it. But now that I have, I’m glad that I did because even though I no longer play, I learned a lot from this book.

First published in 1971, The Science of Hitting serves as a guide on how to improve one’s performance at the plate. Even though it is a very slim volume, only 81 pages long, it is a goldmine on hitting technique and about the game as a whole. Ted Williams, with the help of John Underwood, manages to walk a fine line between elaborating on the technical aspects of hitting while maintaining a very readable style of writing.

Despite the fact that Williams originally wrote this book more than 50 years ago, the observations and advice within are timeless. Some of the advice is commonly heard today, such as being selective at the plate and making the pitcher work until they’ve got two strikes on you. Other bits of advice flies in the face of popular coaching today. For example, the recommendation to maintain a level swing, parallel to the ground, is something I heard throughout my playing days. Williams argues and demonstrates why a slight upward swing is the better approach. The book is full of pictures and diagrams depicting Williams’s teachings in a visual format.

Nevertheless, Williams’s approach to teaching the art of hitting is not strictly proscriptive. He provides numerous examples of variations on hitting styles, naming some of the greatest hitters in the game as examples of these variations. (As new editions of the book have been released, the lists of players named have been updated to include some who played in more recent years.) A hitter’s swing is unique to that hitter, so if what a player is doing is working, stick with it. If it’s not working, or if that hitter is looking to improve, then The Science of Hitting provides a number of things to consider.

This book doesn’t just stop at hitting, either. Williams briefly discusses pitching and touches on his thoughts on the approaches of various pitchers. He talks about what approaches work on the mound, which do not, and the importance of studying the game and being able to make adjustments.

As a whole, Ted Williams emphasizes the importance of practice, practice, practice. Given the number of factors that go into a single swing of the bat, this book is aptly named — hitting is a science. And in order to improve at it, players need to study, think, adjust, and continually practice.

Home Run Derby X – London

The inaugural Home Run Derby X took place in London this afternoon. I had seen some vague references to it over the past week, though nothing that caught my attention to the point of thinking that I needed or wanted to watch it. However, as I sat in my living room hiding from the heat wave that has been pummeling the Midwest for far longer than should be necessary, I stumbled upon the final of the Home Run Derby X streaming on YouTube.

I figured, what the hell, why not put it on? I let the stream run and took a moment every now and then to pause my activities to see what was going on.

Honestly? It was weird. The final of the competition featured the “Yankees” vs. the “Red Sox” (go figure). Representing the MLB for the Red Sox was Jonny Gomes. On the Yankees side, the MLB rep was Nick Swisher. From what I’ve been able to find, every team in the tournament features an individual from four different backgrounds:

  • MLB legend (in this case, Gomes and Swisher)
  • Superstar: Players who hail from the world of softball and women’s baseball.
  • Rookie: Players from the men’s baseball development system
  • Wild Card: “Influential content creators.”

I never managed to get a full handle on the rules, but based on what I was able to gather, teams can earn points not just for home runs, but also for defensive plays. Bonus points could be earned for hitting a particular target or by hitting a home run with an orange baseball. In general, the whole event felt more like a giant arcade game featuring real people, rather than an MLB event. And, in keeping with the stereotypes, the Yankees won the competition.

I won’t say that I hated it. Maybe if I had taken the time to really watch it and get an understanding of the rules and the scoring, it might have captured my interest better. I will say that I am thrilled that the event also features female athletes, because girls can play ball, too. It just seemed like a strange way to try to promote Major League Baseball in other countries.

Speaking of other countries, today’s exhibition apparently is not the only instance of the Home Run Derby X to take place this year. Upcoming competitions will take place on September 17th in Seoul, South Korea and on October 15th in Mexico City.

If you’re interested, you can watch the stream from today’s final in London below: