About EJ Fagan

E.J. Fagan been blogging about Yankee baseball since 2006. He is a Ph.D. student at University of Texas at Austin.

Early Returns: Run Scoring Ticks Back Up

I’ve long been concerned about the state of run scoring in Major League Baseball. Run scoring has been on a decade-long downward trend, without any real indication that we’ve hit bottom. Well, that may have changed:

2015EarlyReturnsRuns

Early returns on 2015 have run scoring ticking upwards slightly. Scoring is still well below the historical average, but we’re now a tick above the disastrous 1960s levels. Good news.

What is going on? In part, strikeout rates have stabilized:

2015EarlyReturnsKRate Continue reading Early Returns: Run Scoring Ticks Back Up

The Only Ever Split-Level Outfield: Texas’s Clark Field

I am now a PhD student at the University of Texas at Austin. An older colleague, upon learning of my love of baseball, told me about the craziest thing I have ever learned about the sport. Until 1974, the University of Texas played in this ballpark:

Clark_Field_Austin

Take a look at center field. First, you’ll see a 12 foot cliff that looks a lot like a (rather close) outfield fence. But, a closer look reveals that there is a green space above that 9 foot cliff. That space? In Play! The left fielder would have to run up the small path, called the “Billy Goat Trail” in order to catch the ball:

clarkfieldcenterfieldsc

Unfortunately, I can’t find a lot of information on old Clark Field: I’ve found a few grainy black and white photos, one amazing article from Texas Monthly, and zero video. When I’m a little less busy, I may go on an archival search for more information. For now, we have these great anecdotes from that article:

“The cliff has contributed to some unusual baseball moments. Two years ago a Texas pitcher was working on a no-hitter late in the game when an opposing batter lofted a deep fly to left field. The Texas left fielder scurried up the slope, tapped his glove confidently, and watched helplessly from his perch as the ball fell just short of the incline on level ground.

 

Last year the cliff helped a Texas batter attain the dubious distinction of doubling into a double play. With men on first and second, he drove the ball to deep center. The runners stayed close to their bases, not knowing whether the ball would be caught. The enemy center fielder judged the rebound off the limestone perfectly, and the runners tried to make up for lost time. When the confusion ended, Texas had too many men on third base, and two of them were out.

 

The cliff produced a rare type of home run several years ago. A ball hit over the center fielder’s head appeared destined for higher ground. The left fielder charged up the path to the plateau, intent on holding the batter to a triple. The center fielder went back to the base of the cliff and leaped for the ball. The shortstop raced into center awaiting a relay, and the third baseman covered his base hopefully. They all guessed wrong. The ball hit the top of the bluff, evading the desperate leap of the center fielder, and ricocheted into left field. The closest person to the ball was the runner as he rounded second.”

(The entire article is a must-read for any hardcore baseball fan.)

I want to see video! Internet, can you help me turn up some amazing video of this stadium? It was inhabited by a top-end college baseball team until 1974. Lou Gehrig once hit a 500-foot home run there in an exhibition game. How can there be no video of the craziest ballpark in baseball history?

One more photo:

old-clark-field Continue reading The Only Ever Split-Level Outfield: Texas’s Clark Field

IIATMS Yankee Moment #6: Jeter’s Game-Winning Hit in Final Yankee Stadium Game

I don’t think that I was the only Yankee fan who was growing a little tired of the Derek Jeter retirement tour last September. Jeter was a shadow of his former self, and barely limping to the end of his career. It felt a little sad to watch a once=great player be so humbled by father time. And then, he gave us all a little bit more drama at the very end.

Jeter started the game out with an RBI double. I would have been happy for that to the final hit to remember his career by. He struck out in his next at bat, then reached on an error in the 7th inning. With the Yankees in the lead and David Robertson loaded up in the bullpen, everyone was expecting Joe Girardi to ceremoniously pull Derek Jeter in the 9th inning in order to send him off with a standing ovation. Girardi did no such thing, and David Robertson proceeded to blow the save. On script, Jeter came up to the plate to a tie game in the 9th inning with Antoan Richardson on 2nd base, and the rest is history.

I was watching the game in my apartment just screaming, “No fucking way!” when Jeter walked off. Instantly, all of the disappointment of the 2014 season faded away. In a meaningless regular season game, Jeter brought the drama one last time.

The “stranger than fiction” cliche is thrown around a little too much in sports, but this was a truely unbelievable moment. This side of Lou Gehrig, Jeter’s last game at Yankee Stadium has to be the best send-off of any Yankee ever. We’ll miss you Jetes. Continue reading IIATMS Yankee Moment #6: Jeter’s Game-Winning Hit in Final Yankee Stadium Game

IIATMS Top Moment #13: David Wells’ perfect game

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There was something about David Wells as a Yankee. He only played on the team for 4 non-consecutive years of above-average, but rarely elite, performance, but I think he looms larger in all of our collective consciousnesses than a lot of longer-tenured Yankees. He was fun to watch, a member of maybe the best Yankee team ever, and was a steady pitching force in a time of booming offense.

And the perfect game didn’t hurt either.

It’s hard to write about the perfect game. It happened. The game came in May, before we all knew how special the 1998 Yankees would be. Wells struck out 11 and didn’t allow a baserunner. 7th grade me was screaming at the television.

Instead of writing something long and pithy, here are some great anecdotes from the game, mostly courtesy of Baseball Almanac:

  • It was Beanie Baby Day.
  • Don Larson and David Wells went to the same High School.
  • David Cone approached David Wells in the seventh inning and said, “I told him it was time to break out the knuckleball, he let out a big laugh. That told me he needed it.”
  • Wells: “In the seventh inning, I started getting really nervous. I knew what was going on, I was hoping the fans would kind of shush a little bit. They were making me nervous.”
  • Wells himself admits to having a hangover to start the game.
  • LaTroy Hawkins started the game.

Continue reading IIATMS Top Moment #13: David Wells’ perfect game

Discussion: What Would You Trade for Cole Hamels?

At some point between now and July, the Phillies will trade Cole Hamels. A so-far-so-good Spring Training aside, the Yankees clearly have a need for pitching. Hamels is signed to a reasonable long term contract and coming off his best season. All of this makes yesterday’s new rumor predictable:

Many teams have called on ace Cole Hamels, but so far one club has enticed the Phillies more than the others. Of the teams that have expressed interest in Hamels, the Yankees have come closer than anyone, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes. The Bombers have offered a package of prospects for the 31-year-old that at least has given the Phillies a baseline for future talks.

Who knows how far along the Yankees got with trade talks. The Yankee front office is one of the least gossipy in the majors, so the rumor may not even be credible. Still, the news begs the question: What would you trade for Cole Hamels? What is your best offer? Continue reading Discussion: What Would You Trade for Cole Hamels?

IIATMS Top Moment #19: Jason Giambi’s Walk-Off Grand Slam

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All but one of the moments that were ranked in this list fall under three categories: postseason heroics, perfect games, or historic moments in Yankee history. Jason Giambi‘s 14th inning home run against the Minnesota Twins in an otherwise unremarkable May game is the exception.

The Yankees had signed Jason Giambi to one of the largest average annual values in MLB history. After watching the dynasty team start to age and whither, the Giambi signing signaled the beginning of the Evil Empire phase for the New York Yankees–a big enough move to inspire Billy Beane to attempt the radical transformation of the post-Giambi A’s depicted in Moneyball. Giambi replaced a beloved player with his fair share of clutch postseason moments in Tino Martinez. Going into the game, Giambi was off to a slow (for him) start, and people were starting to question if he could handle the pressure of playing in New York.

But really, we don’t need all that off-field drama to make this an amazing baseball moment. The game and the home run that ended it stand on their own. Continue reading IIATMS Top Moment #19: Jason Giambi’s Walk-Off Grand Slam

Voting Open: Top-20 Yankee Moments, 1996-2014

Last week, ya’ll did an amazing job nominating 56 Yankee moments from 1996-2014. After I spent a few hours trying to rank all 56, The IIATMS staff narrowed the list down to a more manageable 20 moments. Now, it’s your turn again: we want you to rank the top-20 Yankee moments of that time period.

Here is a link to a Google Document. In it, you will find all 20 moments in reverse chronological order. All you have to do to vote is pick a ‘person’ column, and rank all the moments from 1 to 20, with 1 being the best. To check your work, the column must add up to 210.

Voting closes on Friday. Have at it! Continue reading Voting Open: Top-20 Yankee Moments, 1996-2014

Update: Best Yankee Moments of the Derek Jeter Era

Earlier this week, we asked you to nominate the best moments in recent Yankee history. The response was massive: by my count, we have 54 nominations, even after consolidated some moments together. Our original plan was to just put all of the nominations on a spreadsheet and tell you to rank them all. Unfortunately, there are way too moments to do that. I tried ranking all 54 this morning, and it would have taken hours had I not given up.

So, we have a new game plan. The IIATMS team will narrow the list down to a more manageable ballot (probably 15 or 20, plus some honorable mentions), and ask you to rank them. This may take a few days, so I will be breaking my promise to put them all to a vote this week.

In the mean time, here is the pretty impressive list (my own typos included) that you put together. Good job, ya’ll.

Continue reading Update: Best Yankee Moments of the Derek Jeter Era

Nominations Open: Best Yankee Moments of the Derek Jeter Era

For some reason, I decided to binge on baseball documentaries this weekend. I watched the Ken Burns documentary on the 2000s. I watched ESPN 30 for 30’s House of Steinbrenner. I watched MLB’s 2001 World Series documentary. And in the middle of peak nostalgia and a few held back tears, I thought of a fun idea for this blog: let’s rank the best on-field moments in modern Yankee history.

But first, we need to construct a ballot. I’m sure we can all name 9 or 10 great moments in Yankee history, but I’m really excited to see those moments in the 10-20 range that I forgot about. Every nomination will make the final ballot, which we will open up to voting later this week. Once the results are in, the IIATMS staff will write them up just in time for pitchers and catchers to report and start the post-Jeter era.

What is a moment? For the purpose of this exercise, a moment is a single at-bat or fielding play. So, Game 4 of the 2001 World Series has many great moments that could be ranked, and we can debate whether Derek Jeter’s Mr. November home run or Tino Martinez’s game-tying, 9th inning home run is better.

To keep this recent and interesting, we’ll limit the time frame to the Derek Jeter era: 1996-2014, and only to on-field moments. I’ll start us off with some obvious ones:

  • Tino Martinez’s grand slam in Game 1 against the Padres
  • Tino Martinez’s home run in Game 4 of the 2001 World Series
  • Derek Jeter’s Mr. November home run in Game 4 of the 2001 World Series
  • Derek Jeter’s leap into the stands in July of 2004 against the Red Sox
  • Derek Jeter’s flip play against Oakland in 2001
  • Derek Jeter’s walk off hit in his final at bat at Yankee Stadium
  • Scott Brosius’ 9th inning home run in Game 5 of the 2001 World Series
  • Aaron Boone’s home run in Game 7 against the Red Sox
  • Jason Giambi’s “True Yankee” walk-off grand slam in the rain in May 2002

Continue reading Nominations Open: Best Yankee Moments of the Derek Jeter Era

2014 Regular Season: Derek Jeter Game-Winning Hit in Final Yankee Stadium Game
2013 Regular Season: Mariano Rivera Final Save
2012 ALDS Game 3: Raul Ibanez Game-tying Home Run in the 9th, Walk-off Home run in the 11th