It's a sad day for baseball, as Ernie Banks has passed at 83. Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks came up in 1953 as a shortstop for the Cubs and was their first black player. He and second baseman Gene Baker also formed the first all black double play combination in baseball. Before joining the Cubs, Banks spent time in the Negro Leagues with the Kansas City Monarchs and subsequently skipped the Minor Leagues.

Banks had a Hall of Fame career spanning 18 years all with the Cubs. In 2500+ games, he blasted 512 homers, drove in 1636, with 407 doubles and more than 2500 total hits. He was elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 1977. Banks made 14 All-Star teams (double games in 59, 60, 62), snuck in a Gold Glove, and took home 2 MVP Awards. He will be the SS on our All-Time Team of players to win consecutive MVP Awards. 13 times he hit 20 or more homers, and 8 times he drove in more than 100.  He's a member of our All-Time Cubs team and the 1950 NL All-Decade team.

Banks split his career between SS and 1B which will pose a potential problem in our upcoming All-Time position rankings. Bad knees forced the move to first mid-way through Banks' career. Ernie Banks certainly began the process of changing the perception of a shortstop merely being a defensive player. This paved the way for power hitting shortstops like Cal Ripken, Alex Rodriguez, and Troy Tulowitzki to combine great glove work with a power bat.

Banks was famous for his positivity and for wanting to play every day.
The Phillies are in a real dilemma this year - they still have Ryan Howard on their roster.  They've offered him as available in trade for almost nothing and yet there still have been no takers thus far.

That's not hard to believe if you watched him every day last year.  He appears to be done and it looks like he won't bounce back, well, at least it's not likely at his age.  He did manage to end up with some decent numbers last year; 23 homers is not terrible and 95 RBI's is a good year for most but if you watched him closely, you know those numbers are hollow.  A typical Ryan Howard year, when in his prime, he could have had 150 RBI's easily.  He left many men on base last year in critical situations.  Phillies fans wonder how he got to 95 RBI's.

The real dilemma for the Phils is that they owe him $60 million.  Nobody wants to pay that kind of money for a guy whose strikeout ratio is going up instead of down, as it should be this stage of his career.  The Phils are surely willing to pay some (read most) of his salary if someone wants to take a chance on him.
The Nationals just gave $215 million to Max Scherzer, so they seem willing to spend like money is no object.  Plus, they let Adam LaRoche walk, so it would make sense that they need a first baseman.  Ruben Amaro should be able to talk them into taking him, right??

Surely there's an American League team that needs a DH?   The Yanks have money as always and they're paying Alex Rodriguez a ton of money this year for nothing... at least Ryan could hit a bunch of home runs in that park (25 home runs would be the floor, I would think).  Of course, you'd have to bat him against righties only; otherwise, the Yankee fan base would notice how much he has lost.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not bashing Ryan Howard.  In fact, he's one of my favorite Phillies of All-Time (he's a member of our All-Time Phillies team).  At one time he was on a Hall of Fame pace in his career.  500 home runs looked like a sure thing.  RBI's?  1,500 easily.  He helped the Phils win a championship and took them to the World Series 2 years in a row, which as a lifetime Phils fan, I never thought I would see that.  I'm grateful for what Ryan Howard has done for my team.  I want to remember him for the great player he was.  I don't want to watch another year of him struggling and looking bad.  Remember how awful we all felt watching Willie Mays stumbling and falling with the Mets?  That's how I feel watching Ryan Howard now.
As a fan, I would like to see him retire, but I understand he has a lot of money coming to him and I wouldn't quit either if I was him.  It doesn't look like anyone has any interest in him either.  So, to the Phillies I ask you to let him go home and just pay him his money.  He doesn't deserve to be embarrassed anymore.  He was a hero in this town, let him stay that way, please.
So the newest crop of players has been anointed for immortality in the baseball Hall of Fame. The list of eligible players this year rivaled one of our All-Decade teams as far as talent and achievement. Four players were selected as this year's class, tying the mark of 2nd highest inductees since the original class.  The 2015 newest Hall members are Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, and Craig Biggio.

Randy Johnson was an inevitable lock as a first ballot Hall of Famer notching 303 wins, a 3.29 era and 4,875 strikeouts. He is second all time to Nolan Ryan in strikeouts and his four consecutive Cy Young awards were only duplicated by Greg Maddux.  Johnson was arguably the most feared pitcher of the last two decades.

Pedro Martinez joins Johnson as 2 of 5 players to have won the Cy Young award in both leagues (Clemens, Halladay, Gaylord Perry). Pedro collected 3 Cy Youngs during his dominating career. He finished in the top five another four times as well. Pedro's 1999 season is widely considered among the most dominant in history with a record of 23-4, a 2.07 era and 313 K's. He may not have had 300 wins like Johnson, but he did win 100 in each league and was likewise extremely dominant in his career.

John Smoltz is the third pitcher that will be inducted this year in Cooperstown. He was of course part of the dynastic three-headed Braves juggernaut with Maddux and Tom Glavine. Few, if any, triumverates can claim the success and dominance as these with all winning at least one Cy Young. Smoltz was the fireballer of the three amassing over 3000 punchouts. Smoltz lost the entire 2000 season and most of 2001 to injury. Upon his return, the Braves made him a closer where he once again dominated. For three seasons, he was as lights out as they came collecting 44+ saves each year along with a Rolaids Reliever of the Year award in 2002. Many question his status as a first ballot guy, but the dominance as closer coupled with remarkable post-season numbers may have pushed voters over the top.

Craig Biggio rounds out the new class and will be the first Astro enshrined. A staple of the famed Killer Bees, Biggio hit that magic number of 3000 hits. Before you think he hung around just for the milestone, consider he also had 1844 runs (15th all time) and 668 doubles (5th all time). All this while playing outstanding defense at three positions. Biggio came up as a catcher and also won four gold gloves as a 2B and played an excellent Center Field.

I seriously doubt anyone can find fault with these four players punching their card to Cooperstown.  The criticism of this year's vote falls on who didn't make it, the ongoing PED debate, and who fell off the ballot. There are opinions on all sides of these debates. Tune back soon for our analysis of who got snubbed and outright disrespected by voters.
Seasons Greetings!  2014 was a rather slow year for FBJ.  While we continue to rack up page views, we have not done a very good job of keeping up with producing new content and we will do our best to see to it that 2015 is a better year.

Today, we're taking a look at the absolutely stacked 2015 Hall of Fame Ballot - casting our official BBA vote (the format has changed for the BBA - they allow us to vote for as many names as we deem fit).

First ballot names are Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, Gary Sheffield, Brian Giles, Nomar Garciaparra, Carlos Delgado, Darin Erstad, Tom Gordon, Jason Schmidt, Cliff Floyd, Jermaine Dye, Rich Aurilia, Troy Percival, Aaron Boone, Tony Clark and Eddie Guardado

FBJ - First Ballot Selections: Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez... we were split on John Smoltz so we decided not to select him on this first ballot.  We also acknowledged that we would likely consider voting for Gary Sheffield, Carlos Delgado and Nomar Garciaparra in future years.

Don Mattingly is on the ballot for his 15th and final year. 

We did not choose to vote for Don Mattingly.

The rest of the ballot includes Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Lee Smith, Curt Schilling, Edgar Martinez, Alan Trammell, Mike Mussina, Jeff Kent, Fred McGriff, Mark McGwire, Larry Walker and Sammy Sosa.

Remaining Ballot Selections:  We voted for Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, Mike Mussina, Jeff Kent and Larry Walker.

Our methodology is fairly simple - we have three owners/contributors so each of us looks at the list and votes for or against - 2/3 "for" would be sufficient to cast a "yes" vote on our official ballot. 

We were split on a handful of names.  Hersh is a big anti-steroid guy so he left most of those names off of his ballot.  In light of that, his ballot was rather short which reflects his purist mentality so the official FBJ vote ultimately came down to Tom and I and we disagreed on a handful of players; namely Carlos Delgado, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, Mark McGwire, John Smoltz and Sammy Sosa.

We've debated a few names on this ballot in the past; rather than delve into the arguments in greater detail, I would just surmise that you could understand why and where the arguments exist for each of these players and move on (encouraging you to check out our debates if you don't).

My fear while looking at last year's ballot was that we would end up with a stacked ballot and that there would be names on this year's ballot that would fall off simply because there are too many worthy names.  The BBWAA limits voting ballots to ten names and unfortunately, given the state of the Hall of Fame voting, there are a lot of "worthy" names that don't make the grade because of other considerations (steroids being the most obvious).  I could see a players like Tim Raines and Fred McGriff falling off the ballot because there are simply too many other worthy nominees. 

Last year's voting results were encouraging, to me.  The fact that there were three entrants sort of paved the way for another big class in 2015. 

You can write Randy Johnson's name in ink as a first ballot Hall of Famer.  Beyond that, I suspect that Pedro will get in - his greatness goes beyond his numbers as he has certainly left an indelible mark on the game. 

In addition to those two, Biggio and Piazza should make it in on their second ballot.  It would be a huge shock if they did not given the support they had last year (both were all within an earshot of making it last year).  Bagwell might be close... it all depends on how the voting constituency feels that day, I suppose.  I suspect that no one else gets in but I'm really just hoping that players don't fall off due to the 10 name limit.  Regardless, it should be a great year in Cooperstown!
As most of you already know, today is a very sad day in the baseball world.  Tony Gwynn passed away at the age of 54 after a lengthy battle with cancer.

Gwynn is one of those rare transcendent players - it didn't matter which team you rooted for, you respected and appreciated the contributions that Gwynn made to the game of baseball over his illustrious 20 year career.  His 8 career batting titles ranks second all-time behind Ty Cobb (tied with Honus Wagner)... not bad company.  His career batting average of .338 ranks 20th all-time and stands as a truly remarkable feat given the time which he played.  In fact, of the names ahead of him on the all-time batting average list, none played after 1960.

Gwynn is also one of the few players that made three of our All-Time Teams.  You'll see his name on our 1980's and 1990's All-Decade teams as well as the All-Time Padres roster.

But stats aside, Gwynn will be remembered for so much more than his on-field prowess.  I will fondly remember for for his smile and his one-of-a-kind voice; he was a true prince and an ambassador for the game that I love so much.

Of course, my thoughts and prayers go out to current Phillie Tony Gwynn, Jr. and the rest of the Gwynn family.  I pray you're comforted by fond memories and a peace in knowing that the man we refer to as Mr. Padre is in a better place.  Although the world lost a great man, heaven gained a pretty good 2-hole hitter.

During times like this, I like to dial into the local markets to see what they're saying.  I encourage you to check out a couple of links below:

Click Here for a piece written by Jim Salisbury at which talks about the relationship between Gwynn Jr. and his father:

Click Here for a personal account from Jackie Preciado at The Friarhood on the impact of Tony Gwynn (she and her father are 30 year season ticket holders).
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