Sunday Notes: Peter Gammons Perfected the Baseball Sunday Notes Column
Peter Gammons didn’t invent the Sunday notes column, but few would dispute that he perfected it. The 77-year-old sportswriter-turned-TV-analyst did so at The Boston Globe, where he began a career that has seen him become the world’s most-influential baseball columnist. To say that Gammons has been an influence on the column you are currently reading would be an understatement.
I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Gammons for years, yet had never asked him about the genesis of his own Sunday column. Chatting with him at Fenway Park earlier this week, I decided to change that.
“I loved the notion of the notes column, and how Dick Young used it,” Gammons said of the late New York-based sportswriter. “I always thought there should be one for every sport. Bob Ryan and I talked about it when we were both interns, in 1968. I’ve always loved the minor leagues, and in 1970 — 1969 was my first full year with the Globe —I asked, ‘Can I write a notes column on the minor leagues?’ The Globe people said fine. This was for the Sunday paper.”
Gammons recalled writing about Bob Montgomery, who came up through the Boston system before catching for them for 10 big-league seasons. (Later a TV analyst on Red Sox games, Montgomery has the distinction of being the last player for any team to come to the plate without a batting helmet.)
In typical Gammons fashion, the other player he mentioned having covered in his nascent notes days was equal parts obscure and interesting. Calling him “a minor league legend as a hitter,” and citing his .300 big-league batting average, Gammons name-checked Chris Coletta.
Coletta’s 31 career plate appearances came with the California Angels in 1972, which is the same year Gammons began covering the Red Sox full-time. That’s also when the notes column became MLB-focused. Before long, music references became a staple.
“That was probably by 1973 or 1974,” recalled Gammons, who in 2000 co-founded the Hot Stove Cool Music benefit concert that’s held annually in Boston and, more recently, also in Chicago. “I remember John Curtis and Carlton Fisk loved when I would include [music references] in my game stories. I decided I would keep that up. Players were much more attuned to music at the time. Fred Lynn’s favorite song was Country Joe and the Fish’s ‘I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-To-Die.’ (An anti-war classic that, as Gammons pointed out, includes the line “Be the first one on your block to have your boy come home in a box.”)
Gammons went on to say that Peter Abraham is doing “a terrific job” as the current author of The Boston Globe’s Sunday notes column. For anyone compiling a weekly cornucopia of baseball happenings, it is a labor of love.
“I think you have to have, as you do, a lot of passion for it,” Gammons told me. “For me, it was one of the most fun things. And the advantage I had was that nobody else was really doing them when I started it. It was only in newspapers — it wasn’t online — and I would hear from people, from around the country, who’d read it in the Globe.”
His readers weren’t the only ones going out of their way to consume baseball news from distant locales. Gammons was as well.
“When I lived in Brookline, it a was four-and-a-half mile run to the newsstand in Harvard Square,” recalled Gammons. “On Sundays, I would go to Out of Town News and buy newspapers from around the country. I’d sit [in a cafe] and read them over two or three cups of coffee. Maybe I’d have a muffin.”
The Blue Jays were playing at Fenway Park when I spoke with Gammons, and at one point in our conversation, Matt Chapman walked over to shake his hand. I later approached Chapman, and two of his Toronto teammates, to get their perspectives on what makes Gammons a baseball legend.
Chapman: “I went up to say hi to him, because he is a legend. I mean, growing up watching Red Sox games, seeing them on TV, I always thought he had a good perspective on baseball. He’s a very respectable guy who has a lot of knowledge. He’s somebody that will be talked about for a long time.”
Bo Bichette: “It’s the same for anybody who’s a legend, it’s the consistency in their work, their dedication to their work. There is also his love for his work. I think he’s done an amazing job of covering the game. For someone like me, who grew up a Red Sox fan, I’ve definitely seen a lot of Peter.”
George Springer: “Growing up in New England, you associate him with everything that is New England sports. His knowledge of the game is one thing, but the way that he’s always treated players is what really stands out in my mind. He asks you how your family is. He asks how you are, not as a player, but as a person. That’s always gone a long way with me.”
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
Michael Chavis has gotten off to a good start in Pittsburgh. Acquired by the Pirates from the Red Sox in exchange for Austin Davis at last summer’s trade deadline, the former first-round pick began his Bucs’ tenure by slashing .357/.357/.500 over a small-sample-size 42 plate appearances. He’s been even better in the early going this season. In 36 plate appearances, Chavis is slashing .353.389/.618 with a double, a triple, and two home runs. Another small sample size, but nonetheless an encouraging sign for a player who never realized his potential in Boston.
I caught up to the 26-year-old infielder during spring training to see where he felt he was in his career. More specifically, I inquired about his right-handed stroke.
“You definitely try to find that consistency, but if I was the same exact guy I was last year, that means I didn’t make any progress this offseason,” said Chavis, who’d logged a .549 OPS over 82 plate appearances (in 2021) with the Red Sox prior to the trade. “I feel good about where my swing is at. I feel like it’s a little bit more refined.”
Chavis chose not to share specifics, although he did say that his off-season adjustments were subtle. But while his swing won’t “visually look much different,” he did allow that it “might look a little bit different on certain pitches.” Making more consistent contact is likely the objective. Chavis’s career strikeout rate coming into the season was 31.9%.
“I’m trying to be consistent, but I’m also making adjustments,” said Chavis, who has fanned just four times in his 36 PAs. “That’s why hitting is so tough.”
Who holds the New York Mets franchise record for most games played?
The answer can be found below.
Atlantic League signings this past week include Logan Morrison and Justin Nicolino by the High Point Rockers, Robby Scott and Chris Shaw by the Kentucky Wild Health Genomes, Julio Teheran by the Staten Island Ferry Hawks, Jimmie Sherfy by the Gastonia Honey Hunters, and Blake Swihart by the Lexington Legends.
Music City Baseball, a group looking to bring an MLB franchise to Nashville, has hired former big-league pitcher Dave Stewart to lead its Diverse Equity Ownership Initiative. As Craig Calcaterra noted in his newsletter, the proposed name for the potential expansion franchise, the Nashville Stars, would be in homage to the Negro League team from the 1940s and 1950s.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame has restructured its Era Committee and Ford C. Frick Award voting. Information can be found here.
Not baseball-related, but Daryle Lamonica died on Thursday at age 80. Known as “The Mad Bomber,” Lamonica quarterbacked the Oakland Raiders in the 1960s and 1970s, leading the team to one Super Bowl and twice leading the AFL in touchdown passes. His most-memorable TD pass was unseen, having come in the final minute of the “Heidi Game.” With the New York Jets leading the Raiders 32-29, and Oakland in possession of the ball near midfield, NBC infamously cut away from the telecast to show the children’s movie “Heidi.”
Jhoan Duran has been raising a lot of eyebrows, and not only because of a fastball that has averaged 100.7 mph. The 24-year-old Minnesota Twins rookie reliever has been throwing a splitter that has averaged 96.8 mph. I asked Derek Falvey about the Twins having acquired Duran from the Arizona Diamondbacks in July 2018.
“We liked the body, we liked the physicality, [and] we felt his arm worked pretty well,” Minnesota’s president of baseball operations said on Friday’s episode of FanGraphs Audio.”There were maybe some question marks about starter/reliever at the time, but when we made that trade, we had an eye toward, ‘How do we build more on top of what he had?’ He had a really good foundation. He was only in A-ball, but we knew there was something to really like.
“His splitter, that has been termed a ‘splinker’ because it’s really more of a splitter/sinker at those velocities than it is a true split, has become kind of a standout pitch,” continued Falvey. “No one throws something like that. What I’ve heard from hitters who’ve seen it along the way, it’s definitely jarring. That’s a good thing. When you have a pitcher that has something unique, like Jhoan brings, hopefully that’ll allow him to do some things that hitters are really uncomfortable facing as we go forward.”
Duran has made five appearances this season and has allowed six hits and four runs in seven innings. He’s walked two and fanned 13.
FIVE LATE-APRIL SNAPSHOTS
The Los Angeles Dodgers are 13-for-14 in stolen base attempts. The Washington Nationals are 1-for-4 in stolen base attempts.
Chicago Cubs hitters have a 53.0% ground ball rate, the highest in the majors. Seattle Mariners hitters have a 37.7% ground ball rate, the lowest in the majors.
New York Mets pitchers have struck out 161 batters, the most in the majors. Kansas City Royals pitchers have struck out 97 batters, the fewest in the majors.
Gosuke Katoh was in a big-league starting lineup for the first time on Thursday when the Blue Jays played at Fenway Park. A day earlier, I’d asked the 27-year-old infielder if he’d visited MLB’s oldest ballpark prior to the start of Toronto’s road series against the Red Sox.
“First time at Fenway, and also first time in Boston,” said Katoh, who was born and raised in California. “What’s really interesting to me, outside of the stadium itself, is where it’s located. When you look at pictures of Fenway, you look at the Green Monster but you never see what’s behind it. Walking around this morning, it was interesting to see there’s a parking lot back there, and a highway behind that. And there are just so many different historical things that encapsulate the whole environment of the Fenway. It was really cool, just walking around.”
Like many players before him, Katoh went inside the Green Monster and signed his name. And while he hadn’t yet walked out to the red seat, deep in the right field bleachers — Section 42, Row 37, Seat 21 — where Ted Williams purportedly hit the longest home run in Fenway Park history, he was very aware of its existence.
“I was hitting some balls in our early BP session today, and wasn’t even coming close,” Katoh said of the 502-feet-from-home-plate, red-painted seat. “But I definitely looked up there. That’s the mysterious part of baseball. Like, did it actually happen? Did he actually hit the ball up there? We’ll never know for sure. It’s another part of baseball history that is really cool.”
Robert Stock is 2-0 with a 2.13 ERA over 25-and-a-third innings with the KBO’s Doosan Bears. The 32-year-old right-hander is one of three former MLB players on the Doosan roster, Jose Miguel Fernandez and Ariel Miranda being the others.
Dong-hui Han is slashing .414/.462/.707 with four home runs in 65 plate appearances for the KBO’s Lotte Giants. The 22-year-old corner infielder had 17 home runs in each of the previous two seasons.
Brooks Kriske recorded his first NPB save earlier this week. The erstwhile New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles right-hander is in his first season with the Yokohama BayStars.
Yuki Matsui has six saves and a 0.93 ERA over 10 appearances with the Rakuten Golden Eagles. The 26-year-old left-hander has 171 saves to go with 716 strikeouts in 558-and-a-third innings over eight-plus NPB seasons.
Nippon Ham Fighters left-hander Takayuki Katoh threw a complete game shutout against the Chiba Lotte Marines on 90 pitches earlier this week. It was the first complete game shutout on 90 pitches or less in NPB since 2008.
When he appeared as a guest on FanGraphs Audio last November, I asked Frank Herrmann if Roki Sasaki could become NPB’s next superstar. Herrmann — Sasaki’s teammate with the Chiba Lotte Marines in 2021, and now in a hybrid baseball operations/scouting role with the Toronto Blue Jays — was predictably bullish on the 20-year-old’s chances. Especially notable was that Chiba Lotte pitching coach Masato Yoshii had compared Sasaki favorably to Yu Darvish and Shohei Ohtani at the same age.
Sasaki has proceeded to throw a 19-strikeout perfect game, which he followed up last week by tossing eight perfect innings, with 14 strikeouts, before being lifted after “just” 102 pitches. Given the notoriously-high pitch counts historically seen in Japan, I reached out to longtime Tokyo-based baseball scribe Jim Allen for some perspective.
“Pitch counts, which became an MLB topic of conversation in the late 1980s, have long been a part of Japan’s baseball records,” Allen told me. “They’ve been widely disseminated in the papers since the early 1960s, and while I don’t know if they were recorded in the earliest seasons, Jiro Noguchi threw 344 pitches in a 28-inning tie against fellow Hall of Famer Michio Nichizawa on May 24, 1942. The record for a nine-inning game is 209 by Isamu Kida on September 21, 1983.”
As for Sasaki, who Herrmann believes will eventually be posted and come to MLB, the kid gloves are on… at least by Japanese-baseball standards.
“He was controversially sidelined for the biggest game of his high school career to ‘protect his arm,” said Allen, whose website is a treasure trove for fans of Japanese baseball. “[This was] on July 27, 2019 after he’d thrown 194 pitches in a complete game six days before. His high pitch count as a pro came in his Japanese major-league debut when he threw 107 pitches over five innings. His April 10 perfect game is next, with 105, and his eight-inning start last week was third, at 102.”
Sasaki saw his streak of 17-consecutive perfect innings come to an end last night when he surrendered a single on the first pitch he threw. He went to on work five innings, allowing six hits, three walks, a pair of hit batters, and two runs, with a season-low four strikeouts. Sasaki was credited with the win in a 6-3 Marines win over the Orix Buffaloes.
Akron Rubber Ducks right-hander Daniel Espino fanned the first 11 Bowie BaySox batters he faced last night. The 21-year-old Cleveland Guardians prospect — first featured at FanGraphs last October — finished with 14 strikeouts in five innings.
Hudson Haskin is slashing .438/.486/.906 with four home runs in 35 plate appearances for the Double-A Bowie BaySox. Selected in the second round of the 2020 draft by Baltimore, the 23-year-old outfielder is No. 26 on our Orioles Top Prospects list.
Adael Amador is slashing .357/.472/.571 with two home runs in 53 plate appearances for the Low-A Fresno Grizzlies. Signed out of the Dominican Republic by Colorado, the 19-year-old switch-hitting middle infielder is No. 15 on our Rockies Top Prospects list.
Robert Hassell III is slashing .396/.423/.542 with two home runs in 52 plate appearances for the High-A Fort Wayne TinCaps. Selected eighth-overall in the 2020 draft by the San Diego Padres, the 20-year-old outfielder was featured in our Talks Hitting series earlier this month.
Dru Baker is slashing .463/.577/.707 with two triples and two home runs in 52 plate appearances for the Low-A Charleston RiverDogs. The 22-year-old outfielder was selected in the fourth round of last years draft by the Tampa Bay Rays out of Texas Tech University.
Colby Smelley is slashing .429/.475/.629 with five doubles and a triple in 40 plate appearances for the Low-A Kannapolis Cannon Ballers. The 22-year-old catcher was selected in the 13th round of last year’s draft by the Chicago White Sox out of Shelton State Community College.
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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
When Bud Black got his 1,000th managerial win earlier this month, he became the fourth former MLB pitcher to reach that milestone. The others are Clark Griffith, Tommy Lasorda, and Harry Wright. All told, 66 managers have reached the 1,000-win mark.
Miguel Cabrera has 266 hits against Cleveland, his most against any team. He has 50 home run against Cleveland, also his most against any team.
Ty Cobb had 619 hits, a .373 BA, and a .436 OBP versus the Yankees.
Ty Cobb had 615 hits, a .371 BA, and a .437 OBP versus the Red Sox.
On today’s date in 1996, the Twins scored in every inning but the fourth on their way to a 24-11 rout of the Detroit Tigers. Matt Lawton, Paul Molitor and Greg Myers combined for 11 hits, 12 runs scored, and 11 runs batted in.
On today’s date in 1997, the Oakland A’s tied the game with three runs in the bottom of the ninth — Brent Mayne and Matt Stairs both homered — then walked off the Minnesota Twins on an 11th-inning wild pitch by Rick Aguilera. Down 8-1 early, the Twins had rallied to take the lead with a seven-run eighth.
Players born on today’s date include Herman Segelke, whose big-league career comprised three pitching appearances for the Chicago Cubs in 1982. A right-hander who was selected seventh overall in the 1976 draft out of a Bay Area high school, Segelke was once called “the greatest amateur pitcher I ever saw” by legendary scout Gary Hughes.
Also born on today’s date was Walt Smallwood, who pitched in eight games for the New York Yankees over parts of the 1917 an 1919 seasons. A right-hander who finished his career sans a decision, Smallwood made his MLB debut in relief of Slim Love.