I actually had a fun, little exchange with Ian Happ on Twitter today, regarding (birthday boy) Billy Williams and the fact that he’s the only Cubs lefty to hit 40 homers in a single season, that I had planned on using as a fun little intro … but it seems quite tone deaf at the moment, considering MLB’s path towards self-destruction.
Manfred admits on ESPN this has been “a disaster” in terms of optics for MLB. That’s something we can all agree on.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) June 15, 2020
Here’s some other stuff going around the league …
• This is the tweet that spurred the conversation with Happ, by the way, which I still offer as a trivia question to you (answer at the bottom of this post):
The last time a Cubs player hit 40+ HRs was Derrek Lee (46 HRs, 2005).
Can you name the Cubs three highest single season HR totals since Lee in 2005 (Name, HR Total, Year)?
Cubs Single-season HR Leaderboard 2005-2019:
1. Derrek Lee, 46 HRs, 2005
— Michael Cerami (@Michael_Cerami) June 15, 2020
• On Friday, a New York judge ruled that a letter sent by MLB to the Yankees regarding the findings of a 2017 investigation into the team must be unsealed/released publicly by June 19th. The Yankees, meanwhile, are scrambling to find ways to redact the letter greatly or even file an emergency appeal. “There is no justification for public disclosure of the letter,” Jonathan Schiller, a lawyer representing the Yankees, said in a statement to The Athletic. Many are speculating on what, exactly, the letter will contain, though it’s at least in some connection to the sign stealing scandals that washed across baseball over the past couple years, and some attendant lawsuits thereafter.
• And remember, as Drelich points out, “Prior to Manfred’s discipline of the Astros and the Red Sox in 2020 for electronic sign stealing, he publicly disciplined the Yankees and the Red Sox in 2017, fining both.”
Genuinely curious to see what the letter from Rob Manfred to the Yankees about alleged sign-stealing from 2015-17 says. It will, as @EvanDrellich reported, be redacted, but the Yankees acknowledging its unsealing would cause “significant reputational injury” is quite interesting. https://t.co/Bi0bmtD2hn
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) June 13, 2020
• Color me intrigued, but not excited. Don’t get me wrong, I’d like to know about every single instance of cheating – particularly as Anthony Rizzo has assured Cubs fans that the Cubs were not illegally stealing signs during this era – but baseball needs another image problem like I need another hole in the head.
• For what it’s worth, Andy Martino doesn’t seem particularly concerned (on behalf of the Yankees), but we’ll see:
This is why anyone hoping that Manfred’s letter to NYY in ‘17 will reveal a cheating scheme — including, apparently Bregman and Correa, will be disappointed. There wasn’t one. Of course Yanks have stolen sign but there wasn’t a cheating system in ‘17 as w/Hou and BOS.
— Andy Martino (@martinonyc) June 15, 2020
• Here’s a crazy baseball story I’d never heard of: By June of 1990, the Oakland Athletics managed to snag FOUR first round picks in the upcoming MLB Draft (Nos. 14, 26, 34, and 36 overall), in part by letting several key free agents walk. And they used those four picks on four pitchers, including one of the most hyped prospects of the time, Todd Van Poppel, who would’ve gone 1st overall, if teams thought they could pry him away from his commitment – it wound up taking a record-setting $1.2M deal (and some intervention from an up-and-coming agent … named Scott Boras) to get it done, but the A’s did it. They had their four aces.
It's the "error" cover photo that no one noticed 25 years ago. Happy Birthday Kirk Dressendorfer. pic.twitter.com/6fl4CSp7x0
— Mike Barnes (@MikeBarnesMedia) April 8, 2016
• And … they pretty much all busted. Four years after the draft, Van Poppel was the only member of the four aces in the major leagues, a status earned only by his contract, not his merit. And six years after the draft, he was released. I’m not sure this is where the phrase started, but it is a good reminder: TINSTAAPP. (Google it).
• One interesting little Cubs-related anecdote from that story? Van Poppel’s big league career wasn’t a rousing success, but he did have a few cherished memories. Among them: “And once, during a rain delay in Chicago, he made his way to the top of the scoreboard in center field. From there, he looked down to marvel at a view that few ever get to see, Wrigley Field, still beautiful, even when shrouded in gray.” Kinda love that. Check out the full story, for a lot more behind-the-scenes goodness:
In 1990, the world champion Oakland A’s drafted four pitchers in the 1st round, including Todd Van Poppel, one of the most hyped prospects ever. They envisioned a dynasty sustained by “The Four Aces.” They whiffed, and the game was changed forever. https://t.co/UBOoTYTldD
— Marc Carig (@MarcCarig) June 12, 2020
• One of the lone bright spots of a delayed season – for a small handful of teams – is the ability to get key players healthy without missing any percent of the season. The Yankees are enjoying this benefit with Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, whom we’ve discussed, and the Astros, it seems, are happy with the progress Justin Verlander has made.
• Verlander was dealing with a few issues, including a lat strain and groin surgery, but is clearly up and pitching on a mound. With no deal in place and at least a 3-4 week spring training likely in the works before any 2020 season begins, the Astros may have upgraded from Verlander for 50% of their season to Verlander for 100% of their season. That is hugely important, even if the total number of games he can impact remains the same (it’s all relative).
• Have you ever wondered where most MLB players come from (i.e which states within the U.S.)? Well, MLB has you covered. They collected the total number of players from each state – as well as the total WAR accumulated – and ranked them. Unsurprisingly, the states with huge populations (California, New York) rank first and second, though it’s worth noting that California is WAY ahead with 2,311 players (11,519.2 WAR) of New York (1,216 players, 5,893.7 WAR). Illinois does well, ranking 6th overall in WAR (one of only five states with more than 1,000 big league players from within their borders), behind California, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Texas.
• Here’s a reminder that timing is everything.
Rob Manfred will appear on an ESPN special called "The Return of Sports" tonight. You cannot make this up.
— Robert Murray (@ByRobertMurray) June 15, 2020
• And here is the answer to our trivia question:
Alright. Enough correct answers for a reveal:
Kris Bryant, 39, 2016
Aramis Ramirez, 38, 2006
Kyle Schwarber, 38, 2019 pic.twitter.com/zGhuZ57mTd
— Michael Cerami (@Michael_Cerami) June 15, 2020
• Yep. This means we all just watched Kyle Schwarber place himself behind only Billy Williams on the all-time Cubs left-handed, single-season home run leaderboard. Pretty cool.