It’s time to start thinking about year-end baseball awards, and first up is the BBA’s Connie Mack Award (Manager of the Year). I am not the only BBA blogger following the A’s this year. Jason Leary of Junkball/Swinging A’s joined last year but filed his own 2010 ballot, and we welcome David Wishinsky to the fold this year.
We decided to file a composite ballot this year, and Jason, David and I submitted ballots for all the awards this year. 1st place votes received 5 points each, 2nd place received 3 points, and 3rd place got 1 point each. Having combined their scores with mine, our ballot is as follows:
1st Place: Joe Maddon of the Tampa Bay Rays, a unanimous decision (15 points). He lost a ton of talent during the off-season, but he made the best of what he had, like unsung heroes Matt Joyce, Sam Fuld, and the perennial energizer bunny Johnny Damon on offense, and James Shields, David Price and rookie Jeremy Hellickson excelling on the hill. And who can forget the last day of the season when the Red Sox led 3-2 and the Orioles were down to their last strike? Unfortunately for the Bosox , their vaunted closer Jonathon Papelbon blew the save, and the Red Sox lost the game. 3 minutes later, the Rays came from behind and beat the Yankees, pounding the nail on the coffin of the Red Sox massive collapse by knocking them out of the postseason. Especially amazing since Maddon sent Dan Johnson (former A’s 1st baseman) to the plate (batting an unimpressive .109) when they were down to their last stike in the bottom of the ninth. DJ hit a homer to tie the game! Evan Longoria homered in the bottom of the 12th to win it. Now that is inspired managing.
2nd Place: Jim Leyland of the Detroit Tigers (6 Points). Jim didn’t have much of a turnover from last season and added Victor Martinez to the mix. He bettered last year’s 81-81 record by finishing at 95-67, earning the team the Central Division title and a trip to the postseason. He gets kudos for accomplishing all this despite having to keep a lid on the fallout from Miguel Cabrera’s DUI arrest during spring training. He has won the MLB’s MOY award 3 times already, 2 in the NL in the 1990’s, and in 2006 in the AL with the Tigers.
3rd Place: Manny Acta of the Cleveland Indians (4 Points). This one surprised me as not many other writers have even mentioned him in the conversation around MOY. But my two cohorts both voted for him and he gets the nod. In his second season as the Tribe’s manager, he lead the team to a second-place finish in the AL Central with an 80-83 record. He lead the team to an 11-game improvement over their 69-93 record in 2010, and accomplished this with the 3rd youngest roster in MLB, including 11 players who made their Major League debuts. I guess he is pretty impressive. BTW, I picked Joe Girardi for this spot.
That’s it for the Connie Mack Award for 2011. The Willie Mays Award (Rookie of the Year) is up next.
As promised in my last blog article, Justine Siegal took the mound today and pitched BP at the Cleveland Indians Spring Training site. You can read about it and watch a video of her pitching here. On Wednesday she will pitch to A’s players in Phoenix. I’ll keep you posted from time to time on her progress.
When I was down in Phoenix for spring training, I met Bob Feller, one of the greatest pitchers of all time. I found him sitting under the stands, signing autographs with Ferguson Jenkins and two other former players.
They were signing autographs to raise money for Fergie Jenkins’ Foundation which supports the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the Red Cross and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, and others. Bob had quite a crowd around him.
I worked my way up to the front, paid my $20 (most of which went to the Foundation), and watched as he signed a pristine ball, put it in a plastic display case and handed it to me. I told him that I was taking this home to my husband, Ralph, who grew up in Toledo, Ohio, listening to Cleveland Indians games on the radio or watching on TV.
The volume was always cranked up in the Hylinski household because another game was also on in the other room. Mr. Hylinski–that sounds so formal but I never met the man–positioned Ralph in the room with the radio, with strict instructions to remember exactly what happened in that game, while his father was glued to theTV in the other room.
I told Bob that his was the only player’s name my husband could remember from those years, when Ralph was forced to listen to baseball games when he’d rather be outside or at the Paramount Theater in downtown Toledo. Feller was my father-in-law’s favorite player on his beloved Indians.
A huge smile broke out on Bob Fellers face. He took my hand and held it saying, “Thank you so much for telling me that story. It means a lot.” Our eyes held for a few seconds before he let go of my hand.
I remember Bob from my childhood also. He was pitching mostly in relief when I saw him in 1955, as he was nearing the end of his career (he retired after the following year).
Number 19 still had good stuff, but his fastball had lost some of its zip. The A’s radio announcers often talked about how good Bob was when he was in his prime, so he was a familiar figure to me.
Of course, the A’s were terrible during their first few years in Kansas City, and were called a farm team for the Yankees. (There is some truth to that, according to a recent book by Jeff Katz, entitled The Kansas City A’s and the Wrong Half of the Yankees: How the Yankees Controlled Two of the Eight American League Franchises During the 1950s.)
Some have said Feller threw harder in his heyday than Nolan Ryan ever did.
Did you know that Bob is the only pitcher ever to throw a complete-game no-hitter on Opening Day (April 16, 1940)? And did you know that in the prime of his baseball career he enlisted in the Navy during WWII was a highly decorated anti-aircraft gunner on the USS Alabama? Or that he came back from the war was as great a pitcher as ever? In fact, his best season ERA (2.18) was in 1946, his first full year back from the war.
The year before the no hitter, Bob’s parents were in the stands Chicago on opening day when Bob took the mound. Bob went the full nine innings but his mother was not so lucky. The White Sox third baseman, Marv Owen, sliced a line drive foul into the stands that hit his mother in the face. She was rushed to the hospital where she stayed for 2 weeks with two black eyes and various cuts and bruises. What’s worse, it was Mother’s Day.
So it was with much apprehension that Mrs. Feller attended opening day in 1940. If that had happened to me the previous year, I don’t think I would have gone back to Chicago for opening day, especially as it was a fiercely cold and windy day. As Bob says, “The only people in the whole ballpark who were warm were the pitchers and the catchers.” But his mother fared much better than she did the year before. No foul balls came her way and her son dazzled her and the other Cleveland fans in attendance with a no-hitter.
Bob was an 8-time All Star, he lead the American League 6 times in wins, 5 times in innings pitched, 7 times in strikeouts, and was selected to the Hall of Fame in 1962, receiving 93.8% of the votes.
Feller’s 4 years of military service meant that he won only 266 games and recorded only 2581 strikeouts. If he hadn’t enlisted, he could have won 350+ games and might have struck out nearly 3500. So those of you who look only at his overall numbers and think he wasn’t all that good, remember he voluntarily fought for his country for 4 years during the height of his baseball career. Hardly anyone does that sort of thing in today’s world.
Bob threw out the ball that day in Phoenix when I met him, and he threw what looked like a strike from where I sat. Not bad, as he is 92 years young. So if you run in to him at an autograph signing (he’s very generous with his time) or at the Bob Feller Museum in his home town of Van Meter, Iowa, tell him I send my regards.
Quote and other material from: “Now Pitching Bob Feller,” by Bob Feller and Bill Gilbert, Harper Perennial, 1990
(Editor’s Note: There is a glitch in the Movable Type program that MLBlogs uses for this website. Inserting pictures changes the size of the typeface in the paragraphs before and after a picture. I apologize for the varied type sizes.)