How Aaron Judge Built Baseball's Mightiest Hitting Swing

By Billy Witz, The New York Times

When Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Keon Broxton went clattering into the center-field wall in July at Yankee Stadium to steal an extra-base hit from Aaron Judge, he also caught something else the sight of Judge smiling at him.

Aaron Judge

"It was just a friendly smile --- 'Hey, c'mon, man, why you got to do me like that?'" Broxton said with a laugh. "And I'm like: 'Yeah, you got 30 bombs. Chill. It's O.K.'"

Several innings later, judge sent Broxton scrambling again with a towering fly ball. Broxton turned and ran, tracking the ball's flight, certain that he'd haul it in again. As it turned out, Broxton was not close. The ball clanked off the facing of the restaurant windows above Monument Park --- an estimated 445 feet from home plate.

Judge, who is 6 feet 7 inches and 282 pounds, lead the major leagues in early July in home runs and showed off his prodigious power before a national audience in early July in winning the Home Run Derby during the All-Star Game festivities in Miami.

But Judge, his uncommon size notwithstanding, is not just a muscle bound galoot who clubs baseballs over the wall with brute strength. His swing, from start to finish, is a portrait of technical precision that has allowed his rare physical gifts to flourish.

Nobody hits the ball harder --- his average exit velocity, 96.2 miles an hour, is by far the highest in baseball. And nobody hits more balls farther more often --- 14 of his homers have traveled at least 425 feet, including a 496-footer that is the longest in baseball this season.

Judge has returned from the All-Star break in a brief funk with one hit, a dribbler in front of the plate, in 15 at-bats entering Sunday night's game against the Rex Sox. But his starburst of a first half was born of a winter of work --- tinkering with and refining the mechanics of his swing after a rude introduction to the big leagues last August, when he batted .179 and struck out in half his at-bats.

Aaron Judge Aaron Judge Aaron Judge

"It's a project," said Judge, 25, who declined to discuss in detail his swing or the changes he had made. "Ever since I got drafted by the Yankees, I've been working on my swing. So it's just a culmination of all those things, and I'm finally starting to see some results."

Still, Yankees' hitting instructors and opposing catchers and pitchers point to a number of subtle changes that have been integral to his transformation. Judge is standing slightly farther off the plate than he was last season, the leg kick that he incorporated in the minor leagues at the start of 2015 has been toned down, and his weight, when he assumes his stance, is now anchored firmly on his back hip. That last point may be the most significant. When Judge met with the hitting coach Alan Cockrell and his assistant, Marcus Thames, at the end of last season, they had a message to convey: Judge needed to make better use of the lower half of his body.

How to do that was left up to Judge. So over the winter, he pored over video of players he admired, like Josh Donaldson, Miguel Cabrera, Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez, power hitters who used the entire field. He focused on trying to feel anchored on his back hip, where he could not only achieve good balance, but also feel the force he could unleash with his swing. Judge said in February that Rodriguez told him "he wanted to feel like he was squatting 300 pounds."

As a result of being "cemented on his back side," as Houston Astros catcher Brian McCann put it, Judge's head has less movement now, which has helped him recognize pitches --- be it the spin on a two-seam fastball that runs inside or a breaking pitch that swerves off the plate.

Judge has reduced his swings at pitches out of the strike zone by almost a third, to 25 percent from 34 percent last year, taking him from the range of his free-swinging teammate Starlin Castro to that of Boston's selective Dustin Pedroia. Judge, pictured here, won the Home Run Derby during the All-Star Game festivities on July 10.

"The good hitters, you don't gain too much ground forward," said Toronto catcher Russell Martin. "It's kind of a theme: They have their heads still because your head is your camera. If you move your head at all, it kind of changes how you're seeing things."

Aaron Judge

By staying so heavily weighted on his back side, carrying that sensation of squatting 300 pounds through his hip, Judge has improved his pitch selection and his balance. In the early part of his swing, it is as if the lower and upper halves of his body are operating independently --- throughout the leg kick there is little movement from the waist up. Although many hitters lose power when their front foot comes down after the leg kick, when Judge's front foot lands his body remains back --- and his hip still loaded --- waiting to unleash the torque from his hips.

That force was unbridled in July on a 3-2 fastball at the knees from the Blue Jays left-hander J.A. Happ. The pitch was hit at 118 miles per hour and on a line (the ball left the bat at an angle of 18.2 percent, his lowest launch angle of any home run this season), and it left a dent in a metal door casement in the Yankees bullpen. The distance was put at 453 feet.

"That's as hard a ball as I've ever seen hit," Martin said.

Judge's ability to hit the ball so hard also helps explain why he is hitting for such a high average, .319, fifth in the American League entering Sunday's games. While he still strikes out a lot --- 112 times, on pace to shatter Curtis Granderson's franchise record of 195 for a single season --- Judge hits grounds balls so hard, they often scoot through the infield. He was hitting .411 on balls in play, second best in baseball.

It would figure that such an enormous man with long limbs, or levers in baseball parlance, would find adaptations to his swing to be laborious. But Judge has long been skilled at translating what he sees, hears and feels into the movements of his swing. If there is a glitch or a fundamental change, he can translate the fix quickly.

"His proprioception --- what his body parts are doing when he's not looking at them --- is off the charts," said Mike Batesole, Judge's coach for three years at Fresno State. "I can take Judgie right now and in half of a bucket fix his swing. Some guys it's a two-or three-day process. We're going to start here, work our way through this kink and that will help with the next kink. He's not that way."

Aaron Judge

When Cockrell and Thames sent Judge away last fall, they wanted him to consider ways to better incorporate the lower half of his body. They also wanted him to re-evaluate his approach. With 95 major league plate appearances under his belt last season, he had an idea how pitchers were trying to get him out. It was the study guide he used to begin preparing for the test of his first full season.

"What am I taking to the plate to face this guy? What is this guy trying to do to me?" said Thames, who began working with Judge at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2015. "He's looking in a certain location and he's ready to go."

One of those instances came early in the season, when Judge was ahead in the count against the Chicago White Sox left-hander Derek Holland, who delivered a 3-1 curveball. Judge hit it into the left-center-field bullpen at Yankee Stadium. Judge is shown here watching his fifth-inning solo home run in the game against the Milwaukee Brewers in New York on July 7, 2017.

He was asked afterward if hitting the type of pitch that had given him trouble the year before was gratifying.

"The big thing is, it's about learning which off-speed pitches to swing at," Judge said that night. "A lot of people say, 'Oh, this guy can't hit a curveball, this guy can't hit an off-speed pitch.' But it's about swinging at the right one. Swing at the hangers. Swing at the ones you can handle."

If one element of Judge's approach is discerning how the pitcher is trying to get him out, the other is formulating where he wants to hit the ball. Thames described it as "trying to hit it through the center-field wall," which explains why Judge's home runs have been so equally dispersed: 10 to left field, 11 to center and nine to right.

The book on Judge before this season was a brief one.

"Just spin him," Blue Jays reliever Ryan Tepera, referring to breaking balls, said of Judge, whom he has faced six times in the big leagues and also in the minor leagues last season.

But all the modifications --- honing of his pitch recognition, moving a bit farther off the plate and refining his approach --- have coalesced so neatly that pitchers are reconsidering their approach.

"I threw some really good off-speed pitches that stayed in the zone and broke late, and he spit on pretty much everyone." said Brewers left-hander Brent Suter, who gave up a single and a walk to Judge and also struck him out.

The Oakland right-hander Jesse Hahn, who struck out twice and walked him once, said that Judge's newfound ability to lay off pitches out of the strike zone is "a very superstar-like quality, very few guys can do that at that young of an age."

As he patrolled center field last weekend at Yankee Stadium, the Brewers' Broxton had a clear view of just how together Judge looked at the plate. Broxton said that when he faced Judge in the minors last year, he was not anywhere near the menace at the plate that he is now. But Broxton said he was not surprised.

"You could see the talent; you could see what he was capable of," Broxton said. "Right now, any pitcher that steps on the mound and he gets in the box, they're obviously going to be a little shaky. They're going to want to control every single one of their pitches way better than they would any other batter. There's definitely an intimidation factor when he steps into the box."

Photographs by google.com/stack.com; Goliath; nydailynews.com; sportsinquiver.net; Mike Ehrmann, Getty Images; and abc30.com



Ralph Branca, Pitcher Who Gave Up 'Shot Heard 'Round the World

By The Associated Press

Ralph Branca's career was defined by that one high-and-inside fastball.

The Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher who gave up Bobby Thomson's famed "Shot Heard 'Round the World" still echoing more than six decades later among the most hallowed home runs in baseball history, died on November 23. He was 90.

Ralph Branca

His son-in-law, former big league manager Bobby Valentine, said Branca died at a nursing home in Rye Brook, New York.

Branca was a three-time All-Star and spent 12 seasons in the majors. Brought in from the bullpen in the bottom of the ninth inning during the deciding Game 3 of the National League pennant playoff on October 3, 1951, he gave up a three-run homer to Thomson that gave the rival New York Giants a stunning 5-4 victory.

The one-out line drive into the left field lower deck at the Polo Grounds prompted the frenetic call from announcer Russ Hodges, "The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!" The team and its fans celebrated wildly as Thomson breezed around the bases while Branca, wearing his unlucky No. 13 jersey, trudged off the mound.

"You know," Branca told The Associated Press in 1990, "If you kill somebody, they sentence you to life, you serve 20 years and you get paroled. ... I've never been paroled."

Thomson, who also homered off Branca in Game 1, capped a sensational comeback for the Giants, who trailed the Dodgers by more than a dozen games heading toward mid-August. Thomson was at bat, with first base open and Willie Mays on deck.

Mays had gone 0-for-3 with two strikeouts against Branca in the first playoff game, but Dressen was unwilling to put the winning run on base. He was worried that a veteran pinch hitter might be brought in to bat for Mays if he did so. Dressen elected to pitch to Thomson rather than walk him intentionally.

Polo Grounds Bobby Thomson

Thomson later recalled that as he left the on-deck circle, Giants manager Leo Durocher turned to him and said, "If you ever hit one, hit it now."

Branca's first pitch was a called strike on the inside corner. His second was a fastball high and inside, intended as a setup for his next pitch, a breaking ball down and away,but Thomson pulled the fastball down the left field line. The ball disappeared into the lower-deck stands near the left field foul line for a game-ending, three-run home run. Thomson ran the bases, then disappeared into a mob of jubilant teammates gathered at home plate.

The stunned Dodger players began the long walk toward the visitors' clubhouse. Robinson turned to watch Thomson, making certain that he touched every base, before following his teammates off the field.

The best known live description was delivered by Russ Hodges, who was broadcasting the game on WMCA-AM radio for Giants fans. His call captured the suddenness and exultation of the home run:

"There's a long drive ... it's gonna be, I believe ... The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! Bobby Thomson hits into the lower deck of the left-field stands! The Giants win the pennant and they're going crazy!"

"I don't believe it! I do not believe it! Bobby Thomson hit a line drive into the lower deck of the left-field stands and this place is going crazy! The Giants won it by a score of 5 to 4, and they're picking Bobby Thomson up, and carrying him off the field!

Ralph Branca

For the next 50 years, Branca and Thomson often appeared together at card shows, corporate events and baseball functions, re-telling the story of the home run that grew into a sports legend. They always were friendly at the affairs, sometimes even teaming up to sing about the big moment.

"I was closer to Ralph than to any other Dodger," Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully said in a statement. "He carried the cross of the Thomson home run with dignity and grace."

It wasn't until many years later that it was revealed that the Giants had a boost in their swings.

And for years, the question remained: "Did Thomson know the high-and-inside fastball from Branca was coming?

Thomson firmly asserted that, no, he didn't get a sign in advance. A three-time All-Star himself, Thomson stuck to that claim until he died in 2010 at age 86.

Branca, however, wasn't so sure about that.

In 2001, the Giants' sign-stealing operation was detailed in a story in The Wall Street Journal.

A few days after that, Branca and Thomson saw each other for the first time at an event in Edison, New Jersey. They talked in private for five minutes, about a secret they'd both known about but never shared.

Later, they spoke about their discussion. "It's been a cleansing for both of us," Branca said then. "He knew that I knew. It's better this way."

"To me, it was a forbidden subject," the right-hander said. "And I didn't want to demean Bobby or seem like I was a crybaby."

Trevor Bauer

Thomson said, "It was like getting something off my chest after all those years. I'm not a criminal, although I may have felt like one at first."

And then, hours later, Thomson and Branca appeared together in Manhattan at the New York baseball writers dinner. In front of a ballroom full of fans, they took turns singing about the fateful pitch and swing, to lyrics written to the old standard "Because of You" --- a reprise of the act they performed when the same dinner was held in January 1952.

His matchup with Thomson was recounted by Don Delillo in a 1992 Harper's Magazine story "Pafko at the Wall," included five years later in the novel "Underworld."

"Yes. It is Branca coming through the dampish glow. Branca who is tall and stalwart but seems to carry his own hill and dale, he has the aura of a man encumbered. The drooping lids, clodhopper feet, the thick ridge across the brow. His face is set behind a somber nose, broad-bridged and looming."

One of the last remaining Boys of Summer, Branca was 88-68 with a 3.79 ERA in his big league career. He spent the first 11 years with the Dodgers, then played for Detroit and the Yankees before returning to Brooklyn for a final game in 1956.

Ralph Branca

Branca made his debut as a teen in 1944 and went 21-12 with 15 complete games during Jackie Robinson's first season in 1947. Branca added another win that year at Yankee Stadium in the World Series.

"Branca to me was a hero," former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda said in a statement. "Ralph and I became very close, my family and his family. I always enjoyed being around him. He was a tough one in every way and I really admired him."

Branca co-founded the Baseball Assistance Team, which aids members of the baseball family in need of financial, medical or psychological assistance, and served as its president for 17 years. He was a pallbearer at Robinson's funeral in 1972.

"Ralph's participation in the 'Shot Heard 'Round the World' was eclipsed by the grace and sportsmanship he demonstrated following one of the game's signature moments," baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. "He is better remembered for his dedication to the members of the baseball community. He was an inspiration to so many of us."

Branca is survived by wife Ann and daughters Patti and Mary --- the latter the wife of Valentine. A funeral was held at the Church of the Resurrection in Rye Brook, New York.

Contributing to this story was Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Photographs by Harry Harris, Associated Press; nytimes.com; Baseball Eras Blog; Sportsnetla.com; The Associated Press; and Houston Chronicle



Red Sox Pitcher Rick Porcello Wins American League Cy Young Award

Nats' Max Scherzer is sixth pitcher to earn Cy Young in both leagues

By Ben Walker, The Associated Press

NEW YORK --- Rick Porcello of the Boston Red Sox won the American League Cy Young Award by a narrow margin in results announced on November 16. Porcello, who led the majors with 22 wins, beat out Justin Verlander of Detroit and Corey Kluber of Cleveland.

Rick Porcello

Porcello got just eight first-place votes from members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America while Verlander drew 14. But Porcello drew more support across the board and was listed by all 30 voters. Verlander was left off two ballots. This was the first time the AL Cy Young winner did not get the most firsts. Porcello is pictured here delivering a pitch against the Arizona Diamondbacks on August 14, 2016 at Fenway Park.

Porcello enjoyed the moment at his parents' home in New Jersey, surrounded by family, friends and a few bottles of wine.

Porcello became only the fourth pitcher to claim a Cy Young Award with the Red Sox, joining Jim Lonborg (1967), Roger Clemens (1986 and 1990) and Pedro Martinez (1999, 2000).

"It's pretty incredible to be mentioned with those three other Red Sox players, and then Pedro and Roger," Porcello said. "It definitely doesn't feel right, right now, just because I grew up watching those guys. They were my idols growing up, and I had the utmost admiration for what they've done in the game. To be in that category is -- I can't express my gratitude. It's pretty humbling. I never thought I'd be in that position to mention my name with those guys."

Verlander went 16-9 with a 2.40 ERA while leading the American League in strikeouts and other categories. He got 14 first-place votes but didn't draw as much support across the board.

Overall, Porcello won 137-132 in the second-closest vote since 1970. Verlander lost by four points to David Price in 2012.

Voters list their five picks in order. A first-place vote is worth seven points, four for second, three for third, two for fourth and one for fifth.

Porcello got a $100,000 bonus for winning the Cy Young Award. Verlander, who won the 2011 award, would have gotten $500,000 for this win. Porcello rebounded after going 9-15 in his first season with the Red Sox, finishing with a 22-4 record for the AL East champions.

Max Scherzer

He shared this last win of 2016 with those who "never wavered" in their support, admitting, "It was hard not to start bawling and crying." Cleveland's Corey Kluber was third and got three first-place votes. Baltimore reliever Zach Britton, who went 47 for 47 on save chances with a 0.54 ERA, had five first-place votes and was fourth.

Scherzer breezed, drawing 25 first-place votes to beat out Chicago Cubs teammates Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks.

Scherzer, shown here, became the sixth pitcher to earn the Cy Young in both leagues. After earning the American League honor in 2013 with the Tigers, Scherzer joined Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Gaylord Perry and Roy Halladay as winners in both leagues.

This award, Scherzer said, meant even more than the first one. "It just verifies everything I try to achieve," he said.

Scherzer posted a record-tying 20-strikeout performance for the NL East champion Nationals, a year after he threw two no-hitters in his first season with Washington.

"I want to find a way to be better," he said.

Scherzer is the first pitcher from a Washington franchise to win a Cy Young. The award was first presented in 1956.

Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw got three first-place votes and finished fifth. Jose Fernandez, the Miami Marlins star killed in a boating accident in September, was seventh.

Photographs by Winslow Townson, USA TODAY Sports; and USATSI/CBS Sports



Mike Trout Stays Humble and Hungry in New Season with Angels

By Greg Beacham, The Associated Press

TEMPE, Ariz. --- Although Mike Trout is a fairly well-known baseball player at this point, he still made his way around the Los Angeles Angels' clubhouse on Saturday morning, February 18, to introduce himself to several new teammates.

Mike Trout

The two-time American League MVP arrived in Arizona with slightly longer hair and a renewed goal to steal 40 bases this season. He also has two companions at spring training for the first time. His high school sweetheart and new fiancee, Jessica Cox, and their miniature American Eskimo dog June.

While a few things change every year, Trout's teammates and coaches say he has been the same unassuming, upbeat guy throughout one of the greatest half-decades in recent big league history. Trout is pictured here during a news conference at spring baseball practice in Tempe. "Mike hasn't changed a bit from the first day he stepped up here on a major league field," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia. "He probably hasn't changed since he was in high school."

The Angels have plenty of new faces this spring, including left fielder Cameron Maybin at Trout's side. Trout acknowledges the importance of becoming a veteran leader alongside Albert Pujols, but he doesn't plan to allow it to hinder his potential to do something spectacular in any game.

"I wouldn't say I'm changing," Trout said. "But I've been here five, six years now. If the younger guys have questions, people know me. I talk to everybody, so they can ask me anything I wouldn't say I'm vocal, but I don't think I need to change. I like my game to talk, the majority of the time."

Trout spent a good chunk of the offseason planning his wedding to Cox next December, but maintained the same aggressive workout schedule after accepting his second MVP award. About the only thing he changed was his hair --- which isn't exactly long, but it's longer.

"Some of my teammates were complaining that I had the same buzz cut since third grade," Trout said. "A couple of the guys are growing it out, so I said, 'Hey, maybe I should try it.' And I did, and Jess liked it, and I just kept it."

The Angels' first full-squad workout of spring was curtailed by steady rain Saturday across the Phoenix area, but Trout used the time to settle in for the next chapter in his remarkable story.

He won his second MVP award last fall, outdistancing Boston's Mookie Betts and Houston's Jose Altuve in the voting despite playing for the fourth-place Angels, who finished 74-88 in their worst performance of Trout's career. Trout batted .315 with 29 homers, 100 RBIs, 30 stolen bases and a .991 OPS while playing solid defense in center field last season.

Yet he still couldn't lead the Angels into contention in the American League West, largely thanks to a staggering series of injuries to their starting rotation.

"The name of the game is staying healthy," Trout said. "When you have a bunch of pitchers go down, and guys in our lineup go down, we just couldn't put it all together. It's frustrating for sure. You want to get to the playoffs. It's fun. You've seen the World Series last year. You want to be in that atmosphere."

Indeed, Trout has a jaw-dropping list of achievements, but he still hasn't won a playoff game. The Angels were swept by Kansas City in 2014 in his only postseason appearance.

He has four seasons remaining on his current contract, and Angels general manager Billy Eppler has adamantly declared Trout won't be traded. That means he'll spend at least the bulk of his 202 trying to bring a World Series title to Anaheim.

Trout has ample optimism this spring, particularly citing Maybin and Ben Revere as a possible solution to the Angels' long-standing woes in left field. Trout believes the club has the leaders in place to add team success to his individual superlatives within the next four years. "I love Billy," Trout said. "He's great, and he's just trying to do everything he can to help us improve. Our mindset is to get to the playoffs and try to win a ring, obviously."

Photographs by Chris Carlson, The Associated Press



Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Ivan Rodriguez Elected to Hall of Fame

By The Associated Press

NEW YORK --- Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez were elected to baseball's Hall of Fame on January 18, earning the honor as Trevor Hoffman and Vladimir Guerrero fell just short.

Jeff Bagwell

Steroids-tainted stars Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were passed over for the fifth straight year by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

Bagwell, on the ballot for the seventh time after falling 15 votes short last year, received 381 of 442 votes for 86.2 percent. Players needed 75 percent, which came to 332 votes this year.

"Anxiety was very, very high," said Bagwell, pictured here. "I wrote it on a ball tonight. It was a kind of cool."

In his 10th and final year of eligibility, Raines was on 380 ballots (86 percent). He started at 24.3 percent in 2008 and jumped from 55 percent in 2015 to 69.8 percent last year.

"Last night was probably the worst night I've had out of the 10 years," he said. "I knew I was close, but I wasn't sure." Rodriguez, at 45 the youngest current Hall member, received 336 votes (76 percent) to join Johnny Bench in 1989 as the only catchers elected on the first ballot.

"I've been having trouble sleeping for three days," the popular Pudge said. "Johnny Bench was my favorite player growing up."

Hoffman was five votes shy and Guerrero 15 short.

"Falling short of this class is disappointing," Hoffman said in a statement. "I am truly humbled to have come so close. I hope to one day soon share a Hall of Fame celebration with my family, friends, teammates and all of San Diego."

Edgar Martinez was next at 58.6 percent, followed by Clemens at 54.1 percent, Bonds at 53-8 percent, Mike Mussina at 51.8 percent, Curt Schilling at 45 percent, Lee Smith at 34.2 percent and Manny Ramirez at 23.8 percent.

Players will be inducted July 30 during ceremonies at Cooperstown along with former Commissioner Bud Selig and retired Kansas City and Atlanta executive John Schuerholz, both elected in December by a veterans committee.

Tim Raines

Bagwell was a four-time All-Star for Houston, finishing with a .297 batting average, 401 homers and 1,401 RBIs. Among 220 Hall of Fame players, he is the 50th who spent his entire career with one big league team.

Raines, fifth in career stolen bases, is just the fifth player elected in his final year of eligibility after Red Ruffing (1967), Joe Medwick (1968), Ralph Kiner (1975) and Jim Rice (2009). Raines was a seven-time All-Star and the 1986 National League batting champion.

Raines, pictured here, hit .294 with a .385 on-base percentage, playing during a time when Rickey Henderson was the sport's dominant speedster. He spent 13 of 23 big league seasons with the Montreal Expos, who left Canada to become the Washington Nationals for the 2005 season, and joins Andre Dawson and Gary Carter as the only players to enter the Hall representing the Expos.

Rodriguez, a 14-time All-Star who hit .296 with 311 homers and 1,332 RBIs, was never disciplined for PEDs but former Texas teammate Jose Canseco alleged in a 2005 book that he injected the catcher with steroids. Asked whether he was on the list of players who allegedly tested positive for steroids during baseball's 2003 survey, Rodriguez said in 2009: "only God knows."

Rodriguez, shown here, displaced Pedro Martinez as the youngest of the record 74 living Hall members.

Bonds, a seven-time MVP who holds the season and career home run records, received 36.2 percent in his initial appearance in 2013 and jumped from 44.3 percent last year. Clemens, a seven-time Cy Young Award winner, rose from 45.2 percent last year.

Ivan Rodriguez

Bonds, a seven-time MVP who holds the season and career home run records, received 36.2 percent in his initial appearance, in 2013 and jumped from 44.3 percent last year. Clemens, a seven-time Cy Young Award winner, rose from 45.2 percent last year.

Bonds was indicted on charges he lied to a grand jury in 2003 when he denied using PEDs, but a jury failed to reach a verdict on three counts he made false statements and convicted him on one obstruction of justice count, finding he gave an evasive answer. The conviction was overturned by an appeal in 2015.

Clemens was acquitted on one count of obstruction of Congress, three counts of making false statements to Congress and two counts of perjury, all stemming from his denials of drug use.

A 12-time All-Star on the ballot for the first time, Ramirez helped the Boston Red Sox win World Series titles in 2004 and '07, the first for the franchise since 1918, and hit .312 with 555 home runs and 1,831 RBIs in 19 big league seasons.

Several notable players will join them in the competition for votes in upcoming years. Chipper Jones and Jim Thome in 2018, Mariano Rivera and Roy Halladay in 2019, and Derek Jeter in 2020.

Twelve players have been elected by the BBWAA in the past four years, the most over a span of that length since the first four ballots from 1936-39.

Lee Smith, who had 478 saves, got 34 percent in his final time on the ballot. Jorge Posada, Tim Wakefield and Magglio Ordonez were among the players who got under 5 percent and fell off future ballots.

Pete Rose, the career hits leader who has never appeared on a ballot because of a lifetime ban that followed an investigation of his gambling, received one write-in vote.

Photographs by Tom De Pace, USA TODAY Sports; Otto Greule Jr., Getty Images; and Tony Gutierrez, The Associated Press




Corey Seager Named 2016 National League Rookie of the Year

Dodgers shortstop expects more out of his second full season

By The Associated Press; and Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

GLENDALE, Ariz. --- Corey Seager, the unanimous pick for National League Rookie of the Year in 2016, begins his second season as the Dodgers' shortstop confronted by one daunting question. What can he do for an encore?

Corey Seager There is no simple answer. Great rookie seasons are often followed by the so-called sophomore slump. But Seager isn't listening to the clamor for an encore, or suggestions that he will struggle in 2017.

"He eliminates the noise," said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who sees a young player not easily distracted from the immediate task. At spring training, that amounts to detail. One in particular. Seager told Roberts that he didn't have his best swing last season, despite a .308 batting average and 26 home runs.

"It wasn't exactly what I wanted," Seager said on February 23. "Mechanically, I could have been better. I wasn't uncomfortable. I just wasn't 100 percent."

Roberts foresees Seager improving, year to year, at a steady and almost deliberate pace.

"I think that he is always trying to get better as a player," Roberts said. "That's what any player's goal is, of course. For me, what he did was exceptional. Whether a player doesn't have his 'A' swing or doesn't feel great, Corey still goes out and competes. That's the thing that separates Corey from a lot of players."

Additionally, Seager was the first National League shortstop to win the award since Hanley Ramirez in 2006. Houston's Carlos Correa was the last American League shortstop, receiving the honor last fall.

Corey Seager

Seager led NL rookies in games played, hits, extra-base hits and tied for the lead in RBI. He also finished second in home runs, behind Rockies shortstop Trevor Story, and in the top five in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

His OPS+ was second-best (behind Turner, who had fewer than half as many plate appearances), while his 6.1 WAR was more than the second- and third-place rookies accumulated combined (5.9).

Turner and Maeda, meanwhile, deserve recognition. Turner was a catalyst for the Nationals offense all the way into the postseason. Maeda was the Dodgers' most reliable starter, from a health perspective. Yet Turner lacked Seager's playing time and Maeda his splash. As a result, they finished in second and third place.

Seager is the 21st player (and 12th National League player) to win the award unanimously, joining last year's victor Kris Bryant. He is the 17th Dodger to win the award, and the first since Todd Hollandsworth in 1996. Seager joins a star-studded group that includes Jackie Robinson, Fernando Valenzuela and Mike Piazza, among others. Somewhat surprisingly, given how much position matters, Seager is the first Dodgers shortstop to win the award. Comparatively, four Dodgers second basemen have won.

On September 3, 2015, the Dodgers called Seager up to the majors. He made his debut that night as the starting shortstop against the San Diego Padres. He had two hits in four at-bats with two RBI in his debut, with his first MLB hit being a double to right field off of Colin Rea of the Padres.

Corey Seager On September 12, 2015, against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Seager was 4-for-4 with his first MLB home run, a walk and a stolen base, making him the third-youngest player in history to accomplish that feat (after Ken Griffey, Jr. and Orlando Cepeda).

On September 21, Seager passed Bill Russell by reaching base safely in his first 16 major league starts, a new Los Angeles Dodger record. He hit .337 in 27 games with the Dodgers, with four homers and 17 RBI, supplanting Jimmy Rollins as the Dodgers starting shortstop down the stretch. He was the starting shortstop for the Dodgers in the first game of the 2015 National League Division Series, making him the youngest position player to start a postseason game in franchise history.

As the Dodgers' Opening Day starting shortstop in 2016, the 22-year-old Seager became the youngest for the Dodgers since Gene Mauch in 1944. On June 3, Seager hit three home runs in a game against the Atlanta Braves. He was the first Dodgers shortstop to do so since Kevin Elster in 2000, the youngest shortstop in major league history to accomplish that feat and the sixth youngest overall.

Seager was named the National League Rookie of the Month for June and was selected to play on the NL All-Star team. He also participated in the Home Run Derby and hit 15 homers, the second best total for a Dodger player in the derby history, though he failed to advance past the first round.

Corey Seager

On August 6, 2016, Seager hit his 31st double of the season, passing Eric Karros to set a new Dodgers rookie record, and two days later, he hit his 20th home run of the season, passing Hanley Ramirez for sole possession of the Los Angeles Dodgers record for home runs in a season by a shortstop. He hit his 22nd homer on August 22, tying Glenn Wright for the franchise record. On August 27, he passed Wright to take sole possession of the record, with a first inning homer off of Jason Hammel of the Chicago Cubs.

Seager and his brother, Kyle Seager, became the first pair of brothers in major league history to each hit 25 or more homers in the same season. With two hits on September 17, Seager moved past Steve Sax (1982) for the most hits in a season by a Los Angeles Dodgers rookie. On September 20, he became the first Dodgers rookie to hit 40 doubles in a season. He finished his rookie season with a .308 batting average, 26 home runs and 72 RBI in 157 games. Baseball America selected him as their 2016 Rookie of the Year, as did The Sporting News and the Players Choice Awards.

Seager homered in the first inning of Game 1 of the 2016 National League Division Series against the Washington Nationals, becoming the youngest Dodgers player in history to hit a post-season home run. He hit .130 with two home runs in the division series and .286 with no homers in the Championship Series.

After the 2016 season, Seager was awarded with the Silver Slugger Award, the third Dodgers rookie to win the award. He was also the unanimous winner of the National League Rookie of the Year Award, and the 2016 Esurance MLB/This Year in Baseball Award winner as Best Rookie.

Photographs by The Sporting News



Aroldis Chapman, Yankees Reach Deal for $86 Million, 5 Years

By Ben Walker, The Associated Press

OXON HILL, Md. --- Aroldis Chapman found a spot in a most familiar bullpen --- a very rich spot, too.

The hard-throwing closer reached agreement to return to the New York Yankees on December 7, with the highest-priced contract ever for a relief pitcher, an $86 million deal for five years. Pictured here with the Yankees , Chapman delivers a pitch in the ninth inning against the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium on July 15, 2016, in the Bronx borough of New York City.

Aroldis Chapman "I have no concerns about his toughness, mental toughness," said Yankees general manager Brian Cashman. "It just comes down to will he maintain his health and performance levels, and if he does that then he'll be one of the elite closers throughout the contract.

Chapman will receive an $11 million signing bonus, of which $1 million is payable this year and $5 million in each of the next two years, and annual salaries of $15 million. He has an opt out after 2019, a full no-trade provision for the first three years and then a limited no-trade that says he can't be dealt to any of the five California teams or Seattle without his consent.

"The price tags are off the chart, both trade acquisition as well as free agency," said Cashman.

Once it's done, the 28-year-old left-hander whose fastballs routinely top 100 mph would shatter the previous richest contract for a reliever --- that was the $62 million, four-year deal Mark Melancon signed with the San Francisco Giants early in December during the winter meetings. Among pitchers with at least 50 innings last season, Chapman's fastball speed was 2.4 miles per hour faster than the next best average, which belonged to the Mets' Noah Syndergaard.

Chapman was acquired by New York from the Cincinnati Reds last offseason, then missed the first 29 games of the season due to a domestic violence suspension from Major League Baseball. The Cuban was traded to the Chicago Cubs in late July and helped them win the World Series, becoming a free agent when it was over.

Chapman went 4-1 with 36 saves and a 1.55 ERA in a combined 59 games for the Yankees and Cubs. He struggled some in the postseason as the Cubs beat Cleveland for their first championship since 1908.

After serving a suspension under baseball's domestic violence policy, Chapman joined the Yankees last May and converted 20 saves in 21 chances, with a 2.01 E.R.A. and 12.6 strikeouts.

With the Yankees last season, Chapman teamed with Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances in one of the most dominant bullpens in baseball history. Miller was later traded to Cleveland, but Betances is still with New York.

AP Baseball Writer Ronald Blum and Tyler Kepner, The New York Times contributed to this report. Photograph by Al Bello, Getty Images



Seattle Mariners Add to Their Core Strength

By Tyler Kepner, On Baseball, The New York Times

PEORIA, Ariz. --- The Seattle Mariners have a new cap for spring training, in navy blue with a silver trident logo trimmed in teal. The trident forms the letter M, similarly to symbols the franchise wore in its first 10 seasons, through 1986. The team dropped the logo then because a downward-facing trident was said to mean bad luck in Greek mythology.

Seattle Mariner players

Maybe the Mariners are taunting Poseidon, but let's be honest: They don't have much to lose. They have never won a pennant, and they have reached the postseason just four times in 40 years. Their playoff drought, which reached 15 seasons last year, is the longest active streak in the majors, and the highlight of recent years was a gracious salute at Safeco Field on the day the Mariners were eliminated in 2014.

"I remember it was like the fifth or sixth inning when we found out that the team we needed to lose had won," said third baseman Kyle Seager. "And when they showed it over the board, the fans erupted for us. We were all kind of confused, like, 'What happened?' We were getting this standing ovation."

"I'm getting chills right now thinking about it," continued Seager. "It was unbelievable. They love their sports up there --- the Seahawks, the Sounders. You can tell they've been hungry for the Mariners to play better." Felix Hernandez, pictured here, the Mariners' ace who struggled last season, reshaped his lower body with a trainer.

The Mariners are trying. Oh, how they're trying. They won 86 games last season and hung in the race through Game 161. They have four players --- Robinson Cano, Hernandez, Nelson Cruz and Seager --- whose contracts total $572 million. They arrived at spring training with new faces everywhere, after 13 off-season trades by General Manager Jerry Dipoto.

Drew Smyly

"I enjoy working with Jerry because there's never a dull moment and he's absolutely not afraid," said Manager Scott Servais. "He's not afraid of the haunt value. Could this guy come back and haunt us?"

In one way that has already happened. Mike Montgomery, a young left-hander Dipoto trade to the Chicago Cubs last summer, wound up earning the save in Game 7 of the World Series. In return the Mariners got Dan Vogelbach, a husky first baseman with power, plate discipline --- and just one major league hit so far.

The Mariners had a thin farm system when Dipoto arrived in September 2015, and in theory he could have torn down the roster to plan for some distant, imagined dynasty. Instead, he has scrambled to support the team's best players.

"To me, this core is too good to pass up --- you've got to at least try to build something around this group," Dipoto said. "That is a championship middle of the batting order. It is a championship group of players. The game doesn't run on a clock, but our core is on the clock."

Cano, Hernandez and Cruz are all entering their 13th season. Seager has played only six years, but his contract gets expensive in 2018, when he will make $19 million. After last year's tinkering did not lift the team quite high enough, Dipoto aggressively worked the margins again. Pitcher Drew Smyly, shown here, is joining a Seattle team that won 86 games last season but missed the postseason, extending its drought to 15 years.

Since the end of the season, he has added Smyly and Yovani Gallardo to the rotation while losing Taijuan Walker and Nathan Karns. The new backup catcher is Carlos Ruiz, the new left fielder Jarrod Dyson. The new shortstop, Jean Segura, led the National League in hits as an Arizona Diamondback last season, and he is close friends with Cano, who sent Dipoto a text message with dozens of thumbs-up emojis after the trade.

Dipoto and Servais

"We're not trying to go with the 'scrubs and duds' program," said Dipoto, pictured here with Servais. "We're trying to build as well-balanced a 25-man roster --- with enough depth after 25 --- to make a go of it."

Dipoto sees the journeyman Danny Valencia as a super-utility man who can share first base with Vogelbach and spell Seager at third base. He likes the athleticism of Dyson, Ben Gamel, Mitch Haniger and Guillermo Heredia, who are largely untested but have the center-field pedigree Dipoto wants in his corner outfielders.

Even with an excellent center fielder, Leonys Martin, the Mariners had the worst outfield defense in the American League last season. With a fly-ball pitching staff and spacious parks in Seattle, Oakland and Anaheim, they cannot afford a repeat.

"With all the moves he made, I think we're going to be more athletic," said Hernandez. "We're going to be in a good spot. We can compete with anybody in the league. I wasn't expecting all the moves, but he did pretty good."

Hernandez, a career Mariner, is by far the best player in the majors who has never appeared in the postseason. In his first full decade, through 2015, nobody threw more innings or collected more strikeouts than Hernandez. But last season, coping with a calf injury and declining velocity, he had the highest walk rate and the lowest strikeout rate of his career, with a 3.82 E.R.A.

Hernandez stayed busy in the winter. He spent a week on an African safari with his family, but he found time to reshape his body with a New York trainer who also works with Cano and Cruz. They concentrated on Hernandez's lower half, which Dipoto said was noticeably more defined than it was last season.

"I prepared myself this year to be back and be healthy and do my thing," said Hernandez. "I heard social media's down on me, but I'm still here, man. I'm the same guy --- so watch out."

Fans at Safeco Field are pictured here applauding the Mariners after a score that eliminated the team from the 2014 playoffs in late September was posted on the scoreboard.

Mariners' Dugout

For all of Dipoto's dealing, the plan may not work without a better version of Hernandez, who will turn 31 in April and whose fastball averaged just over 90 miles an hour last season. The young flamethrower may be gone, but Dipoto, a former major league reliever, said Hernandez could win without his best fastball.

"My guess is you don't make the ball move like Felix makes the ball move unless you've got some touch," Dipoto said. "It's not like he's just out there throwing. He knows where he's throwing it and what it's going to do. He's probably still one of the half-dozen pitchers in the league that have the liveliest stuff under the zone. His ball's moving all over the place; it's just learning to control it."

That is easy to say, of course, but spring training is the time for optimism, and the Mariners deserve some. The four other teams in the American League West have made 21 combined playoff appearances --- at least three per club --- since the Mariners last made it. Dipoto did not collect superstars this winter because those were already in place. But his flurry of activity underscores the urgency of the moment.

"You have to understand where you are as an organization," said Servais. "Jerry is really in tune with that. Does that mean it has to happen this year and we have to win? No, but our time is now. I really believe that."

The trident points down this spring, but the Mariners desperately hope their arrow points up.

Photographs by Charlie Riedel, Ted S. Warren, and Otto Greule Jr., The Associated Press



Dave "Boo" Ferriss, Legendary Delta State Baseball Coach, Dies

Former Red Sox All-Star pitcher helped lead team to 1946 World Series

By Hugh Kellenberger, The Clarion-Ledger; and The Associated Press

The dean of Mississippi baseball is no longer with us. Dave "Boo" Ferriss died on November 24 at the age of 94, leaving behind an unimpeachable legacy as one of the game's great champions in the state before, during and after his legendary career as Delta State's baseball coach.

Dave Ferris

Ferriss spent 46 years in college and pro baseball and won 639 games as the Statesmen's head coach. They went to the NCAA Division II World Series three times under Ferriss, made the playoffs in eight of his last 12 years and won four conference championships. His 639-387-8 record ranks him among the all-time national coaching leaders at the NCAA Division II level.

Before his retirement in 1988, Ferriss had produced 49 all-conference players, 20 All-Americans and 23 that went on to professional careers. He won 46 games his first two years in the majors and is a part of the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame.

But to distill Ferriss' career down to just the numbers seems unjust.

Born in Shaw on December 5, 1921, Ferriss earned his nickname because that's how as a young boy the word "brother" came out. He quickly became a standout athlete, so much so that Ferriss was the first player in Mississippi State baseball history to earn a full scholarship to the school.

Ferriss was a right-handed pitcher and left-handed first baseman for the Bulldogs in 1941 and 1942 before signing with the Boston Red Sox and serving his country in the military during World War II.

Expecting to spend some time in the minor leagues, Ferriss was instead rushed up to the major leagues and quickly made the Red Sox's decision look very good. In 1945, Ferriss won 21 games with a 2.96 ERA, throwing 26 complete games and five shutouts in 35 starts. He finished fourth in the Most Valuable Player voting.

The next year was even better. Ferriss won 26 games, was named an All-Star and threw a six-hit shutout in Game 3 of the 1946 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.

"I had to pinch myself before the game," Ferriss said in 2004. "I had grown up a Cardinals fan and here I was pitching against them in the World Series. You talk about living a dream. Man, I really was."

Dave Ferris

Ferriss got the ball in Game 7 as well, pitching a no-decision in the Red Sox's eventual loss. Ferriss was one of the brightest young stars in all of baseball when on a chilly, damp night in Cleveland, Ohio, that next July he faced the bases loaded and a full count in a scoreless game. Ferriss' curve ball struck out the batter, but Ferriss felt a snap in his shoulder and was never the same.

The same injury today would be cured with a surgery and a few months of rehabilitation. Then? "They rubbed me down with rubbing alcohol and told me to be sure to wear a coat."

He gritted through it, keeping his spot in the rotation. But Ferriss was never the same, going 12-1 in 1947 and pitching parts of the next three seasons before retiring as a player.

Ferriss served as pitching coach for the Red Sox under manager Pinky Higgins from 1955 to 1959 before moving on to Delta State University as head coach in 1960. He guided Delta State teams to the NCAA Division II playoffs in eight of his last twelve years, including three trips to the NCAA Division II Baseball Championship where the Statesmen finished third (1977) second (1978), and third (1982). Gulf South Conference championships came in 1978, 1979, 1985, and 1988, with the Statesmen finishing second in 1981 and third in 1982.

Ferriss retired after the 1988 season. After several years as the Red Sox's pitching coach, he came to Delta State where he literally had to carve the baseball field out of a bean field.

Dave Ferris' office

The Statesmen were never the same and not just because the program developed into one that the state's Division I powers avoided out of fear they would get beat. Ninety-five percent of Ferriss's ball players ended up graduating from college, and as they left Delta State and went out into the world, they continued to receive handwritten letters from their old coach. He would ask them about their wives, daughters and sons, and eventually their grandchildren.

When Delta State finally won its first national championship in 2004, its coach, Mike Kinnison, climbed up into the stands and handed it to Ferriss.

"He's Delta State baseball," said Kinnison, a former player for Ferriss and the team's head coach since 1997, and then. "He's the guy who laid the foundation."

Every college baseball coach to this day can tell you something they learned from Ferriss, and it was only natural when the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum, which inducted Ferriss in 1961, decided to name the award for the top collegiate player in his honor. After all, who else could it have been? There was never anyone quite like Ferriss, and no one has made the same impact on the game in Mississippi.

Ferriss is survived by his wife, Miriam, two children, David and Margaret, two grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

A memorial service was held at Covenant Presbyterian Church on Wednesday, November 30 with Rev. Tim Starnes officiating. In lieu of flowers, memorials can be made to the Delta State baseball program, P.O. Box 361-DSU, Cleveland, MS 38733 (Mississippi).

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