2017-01-20T14:30:01-06:00A Major League career is a trying endeavor for even the most talented and hardworking of individuals. For Cuban ballplayers, the journey to the highest levels of baseball goes beyond simple balls and strikes. This is amongst the heaviest topics when it comes to the discussion of Cuban baseball, so it will likely take multiple installments to give all of the issues and topics here their proper discussion. Think of this as a prologue to set the stage for the discussion to come, and to get a sense of some of the real people behind the dazzling athleticism and stories of harrowing escapes. The Path to the Big Leagues From the moment he could hurl a baseball, Stephen Strasburg seemed destined for an MLB mound. He overpowered his opponents as a high-school pitcher with West Hills in Santee California, and as a fledgling 15 year-old sophomore, he could already top 90 miles per hour with his fastball. As a senior, Strasburg shined, tossing 62.1 innings while striking out 74 batters and boasting a 1.68 ERA. Strasburg attended college at San Diego State University, where, under the coaching of former Major Leaguer Tony Gwynn, hs shined. Despite some issues with conditioning and weight, Strasburg pitched to a 2.47 ERA and a 0.89 WHIP during his freshman season operating out of the bullpen. Working as a starter during his sophomore and junior seasons, Strasburg lowered his ERA each season to 1.57 and 1.32, while increasing his velocity to the point that he reached triple digits on multiple occasions. Coming into the 2009 draft, Strasburg was regarded as a once-in-a-generation talent, and the Washington Nationals were happy to select him with the #1 overall pick. Strasburg sped through the minors with two seasons spread across the Fall League, AA and AAA ball. Finally, on June 8th, 2010, Strasburg made his MLB debut, pitching 7 innings while allowing 2 ER and striking out 14. Since then, Strasburg has starred in the majors, despite bouts with arm injuries, accumulating 17.3 WAR (BB-Reference), and a sparkling 3.18 career ERA. A half a world away, a similar story was unfolding in Osaka, Japan. There, a young high school pitcher by the name of Sefat Farid Yu Darvish (ダルビッシュ・セファット・ファリード・有) was turning heads with his stellar play. As the latest in a glut of baseball talent to come through Tohoku High School, Darvish led his club to 4 consecutive appearances in national high school tournaments, including two each in the Japanese High School Baseball Invitational Tournament and Japanese High School Baseball Championship. Darvish wowed, accumulating a 7-3 record, a 1.47 ERA, and 87 strikeouts in 92 tournament innings pitched, and even tossed a no-hit no-run game. All in all, Yu was a high school star, sporting a career 1.10 ERA and even reaching 93 MPH on the radar gun. Out of highschool, Darvish was selected in the first round of the 2004 NPB draft by the Hokkaido Fighters. As an 18 year-old, Darvish held his own in pro-ball sporting an even 5-5 record to go along with a 3.53 ERA (compare to league average 4.05) in 94.1 rookie innings pitched. At only 19, Darvish was the opening day starter for the Fighters in 2006, and led the team to its first Pacific League title since 1981, accumulating 12 wins, a 2.89 ERA and 149.1 innings pitched. The teenage phenom was the Game 1 starter of both the Pacific League playoff and the Japan Series, ultimately winning the clinching game 5 by a 4-1 score over future big league Kenshin Kawakami. The next year, Darvish was at it again, taking his team to the Japan Series, where this time he was beaten in a clinching game 5, as Daisuke Yamai and Hitoki Iwase of the Chunichi Dragons combined to toss the first and only perfect game in Japan Series history. In addition to his success at home, Darvish starred with the Japanese National team, helping Japan take gold in the 2009 WBC classic. In 2012, Darvish was posted by Hokkaido and signed on the with the Texas Rangers (insert boos here) of MLB, where he has been a 3 time major league all-star, and finished seco[...]
Valbuena staying in the American League West.
Free agent third baseman Luis Valbuena lost his spot on the Astros roster to Alex Bregman and Yulieski Gurriel this offseason. But Valbuena isn’t going far. FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal is reporting the Angels have signed the infielder:
2017-01-19T09:00:50-06:00New Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell lives large in the memories of those who saw him at his best. Being a member of the Oregon Trail generation, I recently realized that I am something of an elder statesman when it comes to the population of Americans who spend a large chunk of their time daily interacting with others online. In the context of yesterday’s official election of Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell’s into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, I realized that only a small percentage of my social media / blogging brethren can actually remember watching the man play in his mid-1990’s prime on a regular basis. I feel somewhat privileged. And I want to share that experience. My earliest strong baseball memories are watching my family’s Cincinnati Reds reach the world series in 1990 from our brand new home in Houston, Texas, to where we had immigrated only the year before. I have fleeting memories of names like Eric Davis and Chris Sabo and “The Nasty Boys” but no connection was made in my mind with the real figures playing baseball, and certainly no appreciation of their accomplishments despite my vast T-Ball and YMCA league experiences. And so it wasn’t until Middle and High School, when my parents would take us to the Astrodome a couple of times per year so that we might enjoy their favorite sport as a family. Usually when the Reds were in town. But I don’t recall a single name on those Reds teams. Because at every game I attended, there was Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell, and they stood head and shoulders above any other player that I saw during that time. I was in 11th grade when Bagwell hit 43 home runs and stole 31 bases for the 1997 Astros, the second year of an eight year run during which he hit .297/.419/.567 (154 wRC+) with 305 home runs and 139 stolen bases. During that stretch, I went off to college and was fortunate enough to have a roommate who was a huge baseball fan and Astros devotee. The Astros were Louisiana’s team, if one was a baseball fan in Louisiana, because they were the only club available on local cable. We watched the Astros every day. * * * The late 1990’s were a wonderful time for watching baseball, because it wasn’t until later that we understood some of the reasons why home runs were leaving parks at record rates. It was still just innocently great baseball. I saw records shattered, larger-than-life players, expansion of TV coverage and access to players, and an explosion of understanding of the game that came with the mainstream development of the internet. Even so, some memories stand out from the others. Writers and former players often laughingly talk about how intimidating certain pitchers are - Randy Johnson and his scowl; Walter Johnson’s devastating fastball; J.R. Richard. Pedro Martinez’ propensity for pitching inside. The list of pitchers labeled “intimidating” is quite long. But rarely do batters gain that same label, at least publicly. The very best batter I have ever seen is Mike Trout, and I’m excited to continue to watch his career. Behind him, Barry Bonds. But despite their prowess I, as a viewer from home, never labeled them in my mind with the adjective intimidating. There are only two batters I have ever seen in person or on TV that have made me feel genuinely sorry for a pitcher. The first was Gary Sheffield. His aggressive bat-waggle and incredibly violent swing always made me wonder if somebody was going to die when he came to the plate. [side note: a no-doubt Hall of Famer himself, and criminally underrepresented in the vote.] The other was Jeff Bagwell. Something about his crouching stance and uber-intense focus on the pitcher while waiting for the pitch made me sure that the pitcher was quaking with fear. I cannot think of one player currently playing who instills such pity in my heart for the poor soul on the mound than those two guys. * * * So during my formative years, my baseball Mount Rushmore contained only two faces, Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio (in that orde[...]
Your one-stop shop for Houston Astros and news from around the league for Thursday, January 19, 2017.
Astros legend Jeff Bagwell elected to Hall of Fame - Houston Chronicle
Jeff Bagwell, synonymous with the golden age of Astros baseball and one of the best first baseman of his era, was elected Wednesday to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Houston Astros Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell was a guest at Darren Rovell's bar mitzvah
Little did Darren Rovell know that the guest of honor at his coming-of-age celebration 26 years ago -- an Astros rookie named Jeff Bagwell -- would one day be headed to Cooperstown.
Jeff Bagwell is now a Hall of Famer. Remember when the Red Sox traded him for Larry Andersen? - Freezing Cold Takes
Jeff Bagwell was voted into the Hall of Fame on Wednesday, after an incredible 15-year career. And he was once traded for someone named Larry Andersen.
Jeff Bagwell Hall of Famer | Houston Press
Jeff Bagwell, the greatest player in Astros history is the latest inductee into the Baseball Hall of Fame. It needs to be remembered that Bagwell...
For Jeff Bagwell, long wait and deep wounds close in Hall of Fame
Jeff Bagwell made his mark on the game with a unique batting stance and mentality, and ultimately, he overcame clouds of suspicion to earn his place in Cooperstown.
The best and worst of the 2017 Hall of Fame vote - SBNation.com
Tim Raines is finally in, but that doesn’t mean we can’t complain about who’s still out.
Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Ivan Rodriguez elected as members of Baseball Hall of Fame Class of 2017 - SBNation.com
Class of 3 will be inducted to Cooperstown on July 30.
With Jose Bautista signed, which free agents are left? - SBNation.com
Thursday’s Say Hey, Baseball looks at the remaining key free agents, the 2017 Hall of Fame class, and Cleveland’s offseason.
2017-01-18T18:00:01-06:00My most vivid memory of Jeff Bagwell happened in a mid-summer game just after Minute Maid Park opened. I can’t recall the exact game, but if I had to guess, it was this one: June 20, 2000. The Astros were playing the Dodgers. It was the first year Houston was in then-Enron Field. We were sitting in the top deck along the first base line. It was late in the game and they had just opened the roof. The sun had just set, so the light was still dying above the railroad tracks. Bagwell, quiet for most of the game, came up to bat and launched one of his trademark moonshots into left field. I got to see the ball soar out into that creeping darkness and hang there, like it was setting the stage for that bigger white orb popping up later in the night. It was just about as perfect a baseball moment as I’ve experienced. That the moment was authored by arguably the greatest Astro ever made it better. That the greatest Astro was also so very imperfect made it poetic. At the end of his magnificent career, it’s those imperfections that will define Bagwell. His time with the Astros began with one of the most lopsided trades in modern history. His batting stance was often imitated, completely impractical and highly successful. His greatest season ended with a broken hand, a broken season and a cancelled World Series. For years, his marvelous regular season play was overshadowed by four postseason failures. As if 15-odd games of struggling can erase a thousand of brilliance. His career just happened to coincide with an era in baseball marred by a steroids issue ignored by writers, owners and players until it couldn’t be any more. His final few years were destroyed by a debilitating injury he fought through until he couldn’t fight any longer. When he was playing, there wasn’t another Astro on the roster who left fans in awe quite like Bagwell. But, Bagwell’s personality wasn’t so big as to suck the air out of a room. He seemed a quiet guy, one that ran a welcoming clubhouse. He left room for big personalities like Randy Johnson to fit in seamlessly while also incorporating standoffish ones like Jeff Kent just as easily. He lost two good friends during his playing career to tragic ends. His post-playing career has been dogged by baseless whispers about PEDs and a messy trial that brought his private life briefly into the public eye. Neither of these things were fair, but as my dad said, life’s not always fair. Bagwell’s winding road to the Hall of Fame crystallized all this. He should have gotten in on the first ballot. He was that transcendent when he played. There aren’t five first basemen in history better than him. All those imperfections also lead to inevitable what-ifs. What if the 1994 strike hadn’t happened? What if Walt Weiss hadn’t made that catch? What if Kevin Brown weren’t the devil? What if his shoulder hadn’t given out? What if he had hit some of those shiny, round milestones we all love? What if he’d played on a coast instead of in Houston? What if the Astros had won the World Series with him in 2004? Bagwell’s career will always be inextricably linked to Houston’s other Hall of Famer, but it’s also defined by all those imperfections. Not one of us is perfect. On that night back in 2000, as I watched that home run ball soar into the night sky, I didn’t think about the cracks in his career. I just basked in the baseball moment that the greatest Astro made perfect. That was enough for me. [...]