Justin Upton, My New Favorite Player

Justin Upton, to those who only follow the celebrity aspect of sports, is not the child of Justin Verlander and Kate Upton.

kate and justinThe photo above is click-bait, I’ll admit it. Anyway, Upton is far more important than that possible future wunderkind. Justin Upton is now my favorite player. Okay, not really, not just yet, but I’m very hopeful he will become just that. When the news hit that the Tigers – my most-favored baseball team – signed Mr. Upton, my initial reaction was a mental shrug. Nope, not even worth an actual physical shrug; that’s how little I cared about the signing.

But upon further reflection, I’m very happy with the news, and excited about Detroit’s postseason prospects. Why the change of heart? Well, let’s take some steps back into history – about 32 years back.

In 1984, the Tigers were coming off a fine year; they went 92-70, and finished second in the AL East. They had a damn good roster, including one of the best double play combos ever in Whitaker and Trammel, an excellent catcher in Lance Parrish, and some quality pitchers, led by Jack Morris. But they were still missing something – enough fire to put them over the top in the talent-laden East. Turns out they’d had that missing piece all along; it just took him time to put it together. His name of course, is Kirk Gibson.

gibby

Gibson made his debut at the age of 22, getting into 12 games for the Tigers in 1979. He never played in more than 100 games until 1983. In his first mostly full-time gig, he played in 128 games, with a slash line of 227/320/414. 66 of his games were at DH, and just four in right field – in which he showed limited range and committed one error in seven chances. Gibby hit third in 55 of those 128 games, and rewarded his skipper with an OPS of .632. Manager Sparky Anderson looked at this performance and did the only thing that made sense: he installed Gibson as his full-time right fielder and batted him third in 93 of his 134 starts. Gibby of course caught fire with this vote of confidence, and was as responsible as anyone on the team for their ridiculous 35-5 start. Chet Lemon and Alan Trammel were still better players, but Gibby, one of my favorite players ever, had arrived.

upton homer

Which brings me back to Mr. Upton. He comes to the Tigers at the age of 28, one year older than Gibson was in his breakout year of 1984. Gibson played baseball and football at Michigan State, delaying his arrival in minor league baseball until he was 21. Upton hit the minors straight from high school and wasted no time there, reaching the big leagues at the age of 19. So instead of age, I’ll compare the two players through their first nine years of play.

Here’s Gibson.

Gibson G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
Totals 893 3672 3210 528 885 140 35 150 499 166 51 380 713 .276 .352 .481 .934
Average 99 408 357 59 98 16 4 17 55 18 6 4 79 .276 .352 .481 .834

And here’s Upton.

Upton G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
Totals 1184 4934 4329 694 1175 234 35 190 616 115 44 509 1185 .271 .352 .473 .825
Average 132 548 481 77 131 26 4 21 68 13 5 57 132 .271 .352 .473 .825

These guys look pretty similar, right? Upton strikes out a lot more, steals less, but that’s a function of today’s game as much as it is his particular game. Upton’s fielding is a big edge; Gibby just wasn’t very good in the field, with 23 assists and a RF of 1.91 after nine years; Upton has 39 assists and a RF of 2.15. Hey, I said he was better than Gibson, not Guerrero. Gibson’s total WAR in his first nine years was 24.4; Upton’s is 24.7. Upton has more upside entering his tenth year simply because he’s younger. And more importantly, he’s a big upgrade to the Tigers’ outfield, filling the gap that the trade of Yoenis Cespedes left in mid-season last year.

The question for me is simple: will he show anything close to the drive of Gibby? I doubt it; after all, few did. I know this much; I hope to God someone paints the inside of his cap with eyeblack in spring training. I mean, all Gibson did after blowing up and informing his new teammates in no uncertain terms that he wasn’t there to screw around, was win the National League MVP, wreck the Mets in the NLCS, and make his own version of The Natural against the game’s best closer, proving to the Dodgers they could win the Series. Gibby, you’re calling games for the Tigers now; think maybe you could sneak into the dugout in Lakeland in a few weeks?

upton tiger uni

So Mr. Upton. You’re entering your tenth year in the bigs, just like Gibson in 1988. You’re on a new team, just like Gibson was with the Dodgers. You’ve got talent here already, just as Gibson did in Los Angeles. Can you be that missing piece? Here’s to my early pick for the AL MVP, and vastly more important, (hopefully) my new favorite player, Justin Upton. And by all means, if a certain Tigers broadcaster asks to see your cap, hand it over.

I May Be In The Minority…

…but don’t worry, your regularly scheduled rant will return in this slot soon enough. For now, we’ll return to those halcyon days of yesteryear in 10th grade English: choose a subject, then compare and contrast, Mr. Vandenberg. Today we’ll learn why baseball movies totally rule, and football movies are the worst.

Baseball is a far different sport than football, as George Carlin famously described in his classic routine. Baseball, played at its own pace, encourages talk and reflection. Football, governed by the ever-ticking clock, is best discussed and digested after the game. In my mind, films about the sports reflect this aspect as well. Of course there are exceptions, as we’ll see. But baseball films tend to be more personal, deeper and richer than football films. I’ll rank my favorites from 20 through 11, comparing the baseball movie to its football counterpart. I made the cutoff at twenty because frankly, there aren’t a lot of great football movies. This forced me to leave out some pretty good baseball flicks like The Sandlot, Alibi Ike, It Happens Every Spring, Angels in the Outfield, and Ed. Yeah, just seeing if you were paying attention with Ed.

I haven’t matched films for similar themes, although in some cases they do match up well; this is simply my personal ranking of the movies. I’m including the Rotten Tomato score, or in the case of older films the IMDB user rating, scaled to match the 0-100 scale.

Jackie-Robinson-Story

20. The Jackie Robinson Story, 1950, 63. Not a great film, but it’s pretty awesome to see one of the all-time greats portraying himself, even a deeply sanitized retelling of his struggles. The story is better told in the terrific 42.

20. Everybody’s All-American, 1988, 30. A college star fades, and finds that life sucks. Dennis Quaid is good, at least.

19. The Life and Time of Hank Greenberg, 2000, 97. This documentary shows that Greenberg had his own battles to be accepted in baseball. The lesson of America: don’t be different.

19. All the Right Moves, 1983, 53. Tom Cruise does good work as an angsty high school football star.

18. Fear Strikes Out, 1957, 82. Tony Perkins is terrible as a ballplayer, but exceptional portraying the emotional battles of Red Sox star Jimmy Piersall.

18. Varsity Blues, 1999, 40. A CW take on high school football, years before the CW began.

17. Ballplayer: Pelotero, 2012, 88. Great documentary that focuses on two kids in the Dominican Republic and the signing process in the MLB. By the way, Dominican means Shortstop in Spanish.

17. The Replacements, 2000, 41. Coach Gene Hackman turns to a bunch of scrubs when the real players go out on strike. Keanu Reeves proves to be a baller.

16. 61*, 2001, 80. This HBO feature follows Maris and Mantle in their chase of Ruth’s single season record. Barry Pepper and Thomas Jane shine in their respective roles. Thank you, Billy Crystal! Yep, that Billy Crystal, who not only produced the film, he directed it as well.

16. Knute Rockne, All American, 1940, 68. Pat O’Brien plays the legendary Notre Dame coach, and Ronald Reagan impersonates George Gipp. You know, win one for the Gipper? Yeah, we got eight years of him because of this movie.

15. Major League, 1989, 82. C’mon, you know this movie. I’ll say, “Just a bit outside”, and leave it at that.

any_given_sunday

15. Any Given Sunday, 1999, 51. Al Pacino is loud, Cameron Diaz is mean, and Dennis Quaid (again) plays ball. At least Quaid and Jamie Foxx looked like they could play.

14. The Rookie, 2002, 83. Damn, that Quaid guy sure likes sports roles. Here, he plays high school coach Jim Morris, who at the age of 35 regained his fastball and played two years in the bigs. Yes, it’s a true story. Amazing.

14. Invincible, 2006, 71. Another “old guy makes it” story, in this case with Mark Wahlberg as Vince Papale, who debuted with Philadelphia Eagles at the age of 30. Oddly enough, this is the only film at which Dick Vermeil never cried.

13. The Stratton Story, 1949, 83. Jimmy Stewart plays pitcher Monty Stratton, who managed to get back to the minors after losing his leg in a hunting accident. The film won the Oscar for best screenplay.

13. The Blind Side, 2009, 66. Another real-life story, about the journey of Michael Oher, who came from a tough background to a career in the NFL. Naturally, the white lady won the Oscar. Yep, I went there.

moneyball

12. Moneyball, 2011, 94. A great look at the mechanics of how teams are assembled, and sabermetrics. Yes, I am a geek. Oh yeah, Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill rock this flick.

12. Undefeated, 2011, 96. This story of a small-town, resource poor team that won it all won the Oscar for best documentary. No flippant comment; this is a great movie.

11. Bang The Drum Slowly, 1973, 88. Robert De Niro and Michael Moriarity are terrific in this story about a not-too-bright catcher and the world-wise pitcher who takes him under his wing.

semitough

11. Semi-Tough, 1977, 80. Burt Reynolds, Kris Kristofferson, and Jill Clayburgh are at their peak in this funny, sexy look at two football pros, their mutual girlfriend, and the weirdness that was the 70s.

The average Rotten Tomato score for the baseball flicks is 84. For the football movies, it’s 59.6. While these are my personal rankings, the overall scores for baseball compared to football changes little including the top ten. So those rankings may be biased, but they’re not my bias. And we haven’t even gotten to my personal top ten movies – sure, there are some great football flicks, but nothing that stands up to the best of baseball.

So maybe football movies aren’t the worst, unless they’re football movies with Adam Sandler. For once I’m in the majority – football movies aren’t as good as baseball movies. The worst critic’s consensus score was 63 for The Jackie Robinson Story; all other baseball-themed films scored at least 76. There are twelve football movies that scored under 76, five under 50. Baseball just lends itself to storytelling better than football. Add a great cinematic team, and baseball is magical in a way that football just can’t reach.

I may be in the minority, but I’d rather watch a replay of Game One of the ’88 World Series than Super Bowl 50 live. Or even It Happens Every Spring.

Examining Athletes, Baby Daddy’s and today’s society!

puff-daddy-mase-shiny-suits2In my world – I’m the father that spends time editing a parental blog – which operates in the heart of TriBeCa, NY. My world-renowned nationally syndicated BTR (Late Night Parents) podcast is consumed by millions – maybe even billions globally!  Well, now back to reality – It’s 2016 – and management is ensuring that I fulfill my HHN contract.  So, on a regular basis – you’ll get a bi-weekly rant from yours truly. As you already know – I also co-host Baseball, Beer & BBQ with two of the roughest, toughest SOBs in the business. (aka MGMT) Continue reading “Examining Athletes, Baby Daddy’s and today’s society!”

Shut The Buck Up

World-Series-primary-590x647

By Todd Vandenberg

To be clear, what a fantastic game that was last night. I’m not sure how the rest of the Series can live up to the drama of Game One – and of course it will, and will surpass it, because it was just the first game, after all. A game that started with Matt Harvey grooving a fastball to notorious first-ball hitter Alcides Escobar, who slammed it off the leg of the ultra-fast Yoenis Cespedes for a standup inside-the-park homer. First, the pitch: in case their scouts missed it, Royals manager Ned Yost is very publicly on record, telling everyone who has ears, that Escobar swings at the first pitch. Dude, Harvey, what were you thinking? Escobar is so locked into that first swing, you could have thrown to the dugout and gotten a strike. There were questions as to the wisdom of playing Cespedes in center, especially in the vast acreage of Kauffman Stadium. Despite his play on Escobar’s ball, where he clearly looked at LF Michael Conforto and then knew he had to make the play, Cespedes can’t be faulted on it. The statheads tell us his route efficiency (the path he took to the ball) was 95%. No, it wasn’t perfect, but he made a great effort; Escobar just found the perfect hole in left center. Continue reading “Shut The Buck Up”

#NYMvsKC – The 111th World Series By The Numbers – @wallethub

The Mets and Royals are ready to square off, and WalletHub is right there with them. The personal finance website crunched the numbers in honor of the 111th World Series, amassing a collection of interesting facts and figures related to the event – from ticket sales and TV ratings to salaries and the spoils of victory. We even explore Bernie Madoff’s impact on the Mets’ finances. Continue reading “#NYMvsKC – The 111th World Series By The Numbers – @wallethub”

Grading the 2015 Atlanta Braves Trades by Joel SChafer

JAN 1 Atlanta Braves traded LHP Chasen Shreve and RHP David Carpenter to New York Yankees for LHP Manny Banuelos.

Chasen Shreve looks to be a reliever of the future for the pinstripes while Carpenter seems to be a throw in member of the trade. Manny has struggled mightily going 1-4 with a 5.50 era. for Atlanta. Manny is just 24..  Grade C- Continue reading “Grading the 2015 Atlanta Braves Trades by Joel SChafer”

Remembering the Pine Tar game. @RealTedHicks

lorde-brett-041514sp

ThePine Tar Game was a controversial incident during an American League game played between the Kansas City Royals and New York Yankees on July 24, 1983 at Yankee Stadium in New York City. With his team trailing 4–3 in the top half of the ninth inning, with two outs, George Brett of the Royals hit a 2-run home run off Yankees relief pitcher Rich “Goose” Gossage to give his team the lead. However, Yankees manager Billy Martin, who had noticed a large amount of pine tar on Brett’s bat, requested that the umpires inspect his bat. The umpires ruled that the amount of pine tar on the bat exceeded the amount allowed by rule, nullified Brett’s home run, and called him out. As Brett was the third out in the ninth inning with the home team in the lead, the game ended with a Yankees win.The Royals protested the game, and American League president Lee MacPhail upheld their protest and ordered that the game be restarted from the point of Brett’s home run. The game was restarted on August 18 and officially ended with the Royals winning 5–4. Continue reading “Remembering the Pine Tar game. @RealTedHicks”

2015’s Best / Worst Cities for Baseball Fans @WalletHub

bb_field_photoGet used to seeing more Americans sporting baseball fan gear this summer. If 2014’s any indication — Major League Baseball witnessed its seventh biggest attendance of all time this past September — we may see yet another record-breaking baseball season in 2015. Continue reading “2015’s Best / Worst Cities for Baseball Fans @WalletHub”

Dodgers In Trouble? by Lee Vowell

I am a dyed-in-the-wool Dodgers homer. I want them to win every game, but when they do lose I am insane enough to think 1) I somehow something to do with it (Was it what I wore that day? Is it because I watched the game?), and 2) this will be the first loss in a string of around 874 of them. As I write this the Dodgers have been shut out twice in a row by the evilness to the North, the New York/San Francisco Giants. Part of the issue with the last two games is what has concerned me for the entire season thus far. And so, I share my pessimism with you now. Continue reading “Dodgers In Trouble? by Lee Vowell”

Our Tax Dollars at Play at Sports Stadiums – @RealTedHicks

Every Saturday at 1030am ET – you can always expect some banter on @baseballbeerbbq from this Long Islander about athletes chasing the dollar, contracts, mergers or acquisitions or what’s happening in the social media world.  Since April 15th was our official tax deadline filing date – I thought it was apropos to share an infographic of your tax dollars at play in sports stadiums. (Ask yourself – what are two things that are always being built in America – it’s ballparks and penitentiaries)  You already know professional sports are a big business – most of these teams earn revenue in the hundreds of millions, with the most successful being valued at more than $2 billion. But these teams are nowhere without their stadiums. Get a look at how financing has changed over the years and where taxpayers have footed the bill.  We’ll look at three of the oldest professional sports venues currently in operation – Madison Square Garden, Wrigley Field and Fenway Park.  Ultimately, the rich get richer and the poor don’t get a —– you know the rest. Continue reading “Our Tax Dollars at Play at Sports Stadiums – @RealTedHicks”