Weekly Hit Ground Ball: Gwynn, Kershaw and more

WHGB11There was very sad news to start the week with Hall-of-Famer Tony Gwynn passing away at the age of 54.

Gwynn was one of those players that everyone liked, regardless of which team they supported. He was a brilliant hitter, had an infectiously cheerful character and was a one-team man for his entire career.

It’s rare in most sports now for a player to stay with a single club, especially when they are not playing for one of the big-name teams.

Players are shown little loyalty if a team decides to move them on, so we shouldn’t let emotion cloud our thoughts when a player does decide to move onto a club that can offer more chance of success and more financial security for their family. Whilst it may not seem like ‘real work’, it is a career for these men and they have every right to make a career-minded decision.

However, it always makes for a nice story if a player does decide to stay where he is. Gwynn and his family were happy in San Diego so any offers from other teams were put to one side. He weighed up what was most important to him and his family and did what he thought was right for them.

The 1998 World Series was the first one I saw and I vividly remember that, even though the New York Yankees swept their way to the title, there was a real sense of joy that Gwynn had finally gotten the chance to play in the Fall Classic. Typically, even though his Padres couldn’t get the better of a formidable Yankee team, Gwynn went 8-for-16 at the plate. He knew it might be the only chance he’d get at playing in a World Series and he didn’t let that chance pass him by.

It’s a great shame that such an intelligent hitter and generous person, who had already done so much in helping the next generation in his role as baseball coach at San Diego State, wasn’t given the chance to share even more of that wisdom and warm spirit.

Kershaw close to perfect

More cheerful news arrived on Wednesday night in the form of a glorious no-hitter by the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw.

This wasn’t a no-no built on near misses and a handful of walks; Kershaw’s effort was absolutely masterful and it was only an errant throw by shortstop Hanley Ramirez – who has seemed to take a step back defensively this year after showing improvement last season – that allowed a single Colorado Rockies hitter to reach base on the throwing error.

If we wanted to classify it, perhaps we could say it was a ‘resume’ no-hitter.

For some pitchers, a no-hitter is the ultimate moment in their career, one game in which skill and a dash of luck come together and take a solid Major Leaguer into the headlines. When you think of a Phillip Humber or a Dallas Braden, it’s their one great day that always comes to mind and the slight unlikeliness of their feat makes it seem all the more enjoyable.

For a pitcher like Kershaw, it’s yet another thing to add to his list of great accomplishments. He is unarguably one of the very best starting pitchers around and if you wanted to single him out as the best of the best currently you’d get no arguments from me. The word that instantly springs to mind when you watch him at times is ‘unhittable’; you wonder in amazement how anyone could ever manage to square a ball up against him.

So there’s no real surprise when a seemingly unhittable pitcher puts together nine innings when he is exactly that. The lack of surprise doesn’t make it any less thrilling when it unfolds though, especially with the legendary Vin Scully on hand to call the action.

Brad Mills for a dollar

It is still obligatory for MLB commentators to refer to Moneyball when covering the Oakland A’s, even though it’s now 11 years since Michael Lewis’ book of that name was first published. The 2011 film version starring Brad Pitt naturally brought it into the spotlight again, but still it’s a bit of a tired platitude.

The Oakland A’s under General Manager Billy Beane look to put together the best team they can with the limited budget they’ve got and, beyond that simple premise, they are not necessarily wedded to the specific ideas espoused in the book (such as stealing bases being an overly risky strategy).

Moneyball ultimately can be summed up as one repeated motto: “how can we make the most out of every single dollar we spend”.

You don’t tend to get much for a pound these days and I’m sure the same applies to a dollar, yet the A’s excelled themselves this past week by acquiring a new pitcher for that princely sum.

Brad Mills had the dubious honour of moving from the Milwaukee Brewers to the A’s for ‘cash considerations’ that amounted to a token gesture of 1 dollar. Whilst a precious personality may take offence at being ‘valued’ so lowly, in this case Mills is wise enough to know that the move gives him an opportunity to play, which is all any Minor Leaguer asks for.

He didn’t feature prominently in the Brewers’ plans and the A’s needed to add a pitcher cheaply following Drew Pomeranz’s unwise decision to punch a chair (injuring his hand in the process), so this was the quickest way to get him to a new team.

Mills’ debut start came against the Boston Red Sox on Friday night and he lasted only four innings whilst giving up three runs, but even if that’s his only contribution then the A’s can say they’ve more than had their money’s worth.

Royals return

The A’s hold the best win-loss record in the Majors currently and whilst they are doing a terrific job, it is fair to say that so far this season has been characterised by there being no truly exceptional teams.

You could argue, as Tom Verducci has recently, that the parity MLB is keen on has created a landscape of mediocre teams with every much of a muchness. There is some truth to that, although that doesn’t necessarily mean the season is any less exciting. Having teams bunched together keeps lots of them in the running and a good winning streak can really turn their fortunes around.

No team epitomises that better than the Kansas City Royals. On 1 June they were bottom of the AL Central, seven games behind the Detroit Tigers and with manager Ned Yost and General Manager Dayton Moore being castigated by all and sundry.

A 10-game winning streak, ended this past Thursday, rocketed them up to the top of the division, past the much-fancied Tigers. Even though Detroit seem most likely to win out in the end, the recent run has at least giving the Royals fans something to cheer about of late.

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