Last Saturday, former Red Alex Johnson passed away at the age of 72. Known for his bat speed, Johnson played left field for seven teams over his 13 year career. He played for the Reds in 1968 and 1969, winning the National League Comeback Player of the Year award in 1969. After that season, the Reds traded Johnson to the California Angels for Pedro Borbon and others, and it was there that his career took a dramatic turn. Johnson clashed with teammates and was repeatedly fined and openly criticized by Angels management for a perceived lack of hustle. Eventually, Johnson was suspended without pay after accusing a teammate of threatening him with a gun in the clubhouse, and the Players Association filed a grievance on his behalf. Johnson was victorious in the resulting arbitration hearing, proving his accusations were true and that Angles management had attempted to publicly smear him. Johnson was also able to show that the behavior the team objected to was a result of mental illness. Most importantly, the case established the precedent that requires teams to treat mental and emotional problems the same way they treat physical disabilities, and Johnson got the help he needed.
Tyler Kepner of The New York Times had a rare interview with Aroldis Chapman. The article touches on Chapman’s reputation as one of the most unhittable pitchers in the game as well as his injury during last year’s spring training. There’s also an absolutely chilling quote from Brayan Pena about his initial reaction when he came upon Chapman after that injury occurred last March 19. Chapman speaks to the media so rarely it’s always nice to read his own words for a change.
New commissioner Rob Manfred has given fresh hope to Pete Rose and those who support his reinstatement into baseball. But Jesse Spector reminds us that even if Rose were to be reinstated, he still would face a tough road to induction into the Hall of Fame. His candidacy would be considered by the Expansion Era committee, which doesn’t even vote again until December of 2016. The 16 member committee is made up of current Hall of Famers, writers and historians, and Rose would need 75% of their votes for induction. Spector suggests that Rose’s long history of lying and his sometimes flippant attitude about his situation will certainly not help his case.
For the Farmers Only crowd, Chris Mitchell of Fangraphs investigates top prospect Robert Stephenson’s rocky 2014 and concludes that there’s little reason to worry. The usual “There’s no such thing as a pitching prospect” caveats apply, but Mitchell finds historical evidence that pitchers like Stephenson who hit a similar bump in the road of their development can easily recover and continue their rise to the majors.
Sticking with Fangraphs for the moment, Owen Watson compares Joey Votto’s approach to that of Joe Mauer of the Twins. It turns out the two have a lot more in common than their first name and the disdain of a vocal minority of their teams’ fans. Watson noticed that they both rarely if ever pop up to the infield and wonders if there might be something in their approach to explain that. He finds that their plate discipline numbers are strikingly similar, but no evidence that that alone is the cause.
Finally, MLB’s official historian John Thorn spent the past week sharing his personal list of the 25 greatest baseball photographs of all time on his blog. Many of these pictures will be familiar, but it’s still a fascinating list despite the shocking lack of Reds representation. He listed five a day: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5.