Monthly Archives: June 2010

Vern Law recalls his 18 inning masterpiece from 1955

Today, I’m pleased to present a guest post from Joe Guzzardi, who recently attended a reunion for the 1960 World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates and had a chance to talk to former Bucs ace Vern Law.

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On June 19, I was one of the 38,000 at PNC Park for Saturday night’s game that honored the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirate World Series champions. The veterans inspired the struggling 2010 Buccos who broke their 12-game losing streak by beating the Cleveland Indians 6-4.

Vern Law threw out the first pitch. And Law was the best choice for the honor. Law, even though he was hurt, started three of the seven World Series games and won two. Down the home stretch during that magical season, Law was the Pirates’ stopper and won the Cy Young Award for his valiant efforts. (Until 1967, baseball issued only one Cy Young Award that represented the best pitcher in both the American and National leagues.)

Although Law will always treasure his contributions to the 1960 team as his greatest baseball achievement, another of his individual pitching feats will never be matched.

On July 19, 1955 Law pitched an 18-inning gem against the Milwaukee Braves in front of 10,000 Forbes Field fans.

Surrounded by what would become the nucleus of the 1960 champs including MVP Dick Groat and rookie Roberto Clemente, Law held the Braves to one earned run while striking out twelve and walking only two during the equivalent of two full 9-inning contests.

Among the fearsome Braves batters were Hall of Famers Hank Aaron (at second base) and Eddie Matthews. The Braves line up was so strong that Joe Adcock batted seventh behind future Pirate manager Chuck Tanner who was then a rookie right fielder.

Yet, pitching on only two days rest, Law dominated the powerful Braves and held the big guns of Aaron, Matthews and Adcock to a mere three hits in 21 at bats.
Law’s heroic effort kept him on the mound for 4:44. But he did not pick up the win. Bob Friend, another Bucco stalwart, got the credit despite hurling a shaky 19th inning in the Pirates 4-3 victory.

I asked Law about his masterpiece.

As Law recalled, he had been named an emergency starter that evening for Joe Gibbon who had come up sick.

After 9 innings, Pirate manager Fred Haney asked Law how he felt. Then after the 12th inning, Haney indicated that he was going to pull Law.

But Law, who was still feeling fine, convinced Haney to leave him in.

By the end of the 15th inning, Haney was determined to give Law the hook. But Law was still able to hold his ground. Said Law to Haney: “Skip, after pitching this long, let me win or lose this darn thing!”

Looking back, Law sensed that Haney felt sorry for him. “Are you sure you’re all right?” Haney asked. When Law confirmed that he was, Haney said: “Okay, go get ‘em.”

After the 18th inning, Law had exhausted his powers of persuasion. Although he tried to talk Haney into one more inning, the Bucco manager told him: “That’s it, your done. Go take a shower.”

Although Law had great confidence in Friend, who relieved him in the top of the 19th, he said that in the 1950s and 1960s “no pitcher wants to leave a game. All of us back then wanted to finish what we started.”

To Law’s dismay, Friend immediately gave up a run on two hits and a walk. But the Pirates rallied for two runs in the bottom of the 19th to salt away the win.

Said Law: “I was grateful we came back. It would have been devastating to lose a game like that.”

Law’s amazing marathon July 19 has an interesting footnote. Four days later, Law started against the Chicago Cubs. This time he pitched another complete game that went ten innings. Law dominated the Cub, giving up only four hits while striking out eight and walking none in the Corsairs 3-2 victory.

Law’s pitching line for two starts against the Braves and Cubs: 28 IP, 13 H, 3 ER, 2 BB and 20 SOs!

Since Law’s phenomenal outing fifty-five years ago, no pitcher has gone as long. And in this era of the pitch count that normally limits starters to 100 tosses, no pitcher ever will.

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Joe Guzzardi is a writer and member of the Society for American Baseball Research. Email him at guzzjoe@yahoo.com.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Maury Wills

Claim to fame: Wills revolutionized baseball in the 1960s by the leading the National League in steals from 1960 through 1965. In his 1962 MVP season, Wills stole 104 bases, broke Ty Cobb’s 47-year-old Major League record, and personally accounted for 13 percent of the steals in the National League, a rare feat. Other players soon followed suit. By 1965, the stolen base total in the National League was nearly twice what it was the year before Wills began playing, setting the stage for speedsters like Lou Brock, Tim Raines and Rickey Henderson.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Wills exhausted his 15 years of eligibility with the Baseball Writers Association of America in 1992 and can be enshrined through the Veterans Committee.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? This post was inspired a piece from Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray in January 1978, not long after Wills first fell short on the Hall of Fame ballot with the writers. Murray wrote:

It’s a good thing these guys aren’t on the gates of heaven. It’s all right to be selective, but will someone in the congregation please rise and tell me why Maury Wills only got 115 votes? Will someone please tell why Rabbit Maranville is in the Hall of Fame and Maury Wills isn’t?

Murray went on to point out Wills’ 1962 record (since broken multiple times), career marks and his impact on bringing back the steal. He added:

If Maury Wills doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame, Babe Ruth doesn’t. He did the same thing Ruth did–change a national pastime, forever. For him to get only 115 votes and finish 11th behind a pack of journeymen players is a joke.

Murray was and remains one of the most respected sportswriters ever, nearly 12 years after his death, and in the three years after his column, Wills’ Cooperstown votes rose, to a peak of 40.6 percent in 1981, though he never again cracked 30 percent thereafter. Of the 11 men who finished in front of Wills on the 1978 ballot, all but one — Gil Hodges — is now in Cooperstown. Wills also finished 11 spots in front of future Veterans Committee pick Bill Mazeroski.

So the question is, does Wills belong in Cooperstown? Much as I respect Murray, one of my writing idols, my vote is no though I suspect the Veterans Committee may tab Wills before too long because of how he did on the writer’s ballot. Wills has also gotten sober since leaving the big leagues and turned his life around. As I wrote about another man who did this, Don Newcombe, the committee could do well to honor players who find recovery after falling short of greatness due to substance abuse.

For me, though, Wills’ career was too brief, his game didn’t offer much besides base running  (though he did win two Gold Gloves) and his career marks aren’t impressive. He ranks 19th all-time in career steals. Raines is fifth all-time and until he gets a plaque, I can’t support giving one to Wills. These days, Wills seems more like the Home Run Baker of base stealers than the Babe Ruth.

I’m not surprised at Murray’s piece. It’s common for sportswriters to lobby for local heroes. I recently watched a DVD compiled from 8 mm color footage shot by Washington Senators outfielder George Case and there’s a clip at the end from 1989, after Case’s death, where longtime Washington Post writer Shirley Povich says Case belongs in the Hall of Fame. And though it wasn’t a plug for Cooperstown, the last published words Red Smith ever wrote were, “Indeed, there was a longish period when my rapport with some who were less than great made me nervous. Maybe I was stuck on bad ballplayers. I told myself not to worry. Some day there would be another Joe DiMaggio.”

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? is a Tuesday feature here.

Book Review: The 25 Greatest Baseball Players of All Time

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A couple weeks ago, I received an email from a representative of a publishing company, Sourcebooks. The rep said New York Times bestselling author Len Berman has a new book due out this fall, The 25 Greatest Baseball Players of All Time. The rep wrote:

I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on his list, which include Alex Rodriguez (preposterous if you ask me) and excludes names like Rod Carew, Cal Ripken Jr., Ken Griffey Jr. and several other 90’s players that have proven themselves above and beyond many that made the list.

I welcome story ideas, and I’ll write about interesting topics that relate to this site. Berman’s book met those criteria, so I encouraged the rep to send me a copy. He obliged and also included Berman’s bestseller, The Greatest Moments in Sports, which I’ll review in the next few weeks, once I read it.

I finished Berman’s newer book yesterday, and it wasn’t bad. It’s meant for children, similar to many baseball books I had growing up. The book didn’t tell me much I didn’t already know, but it offers good information for children learning the history of the game. The 25 players are mostly fine ambassadors to baseball, offering kids a slice of America’s pastime at its best. In alphabetical order, Berman’s top 25 players are:

  • Hank Aaron
  • Johnny Bench
  • Ty Cobb
  • Joe DiMaggio
  • Bob Feller
  • Jimmie Foxx
  • Lou Gehrig
  • Bob Gibson
  • Josh Gibson
  • Rogers Hornsby
  • Walter Johnson
  • Mickey Mantle
  • Christy Matthewson
  • Willie Mays
  • Stan Musial
  • Frank Robinson
  • Jackie Robinson
  • Alex Rodriguez
  • Pete Rose
  • Babe Ruth
  • Mike Schmidt
  • Warren Spahn
  • Honus Wagner
  • Ted Williams
  • Cy Young

(As I’ll make clear before the end of this post, my top 25 differ somewhat.)

Berman, an eight-time Emmy Award-winning sportscaster, determined picks with a Blue Ribbon Panel consisting of Ralph Branca, Frank Deford, Steve Fortunato, Roland Hemond, Jeffrey Lyons, Chris Russo, and Bernie Williams. The panel members apparently voted subjectively on who they considered worthy, with the 25 highest vote recipients making the book. Given how much baseball changes every generation, the panel’s unscientific look might have been the fairest selection method. Still, a quantifiable ranking system may have helped, too.

I have recently begun to pay more attention to one of the latest crazes in the baseball research community, a metric called Wins Above Replacement (WAR.) This rates the number of extra wins a player theoretically provides over an average replacement, incorporating both offense and defense and suggesting a player’s overall worth. Using TheBaseballGauge.com, I found the 25 best players for career WAR. They are as follows, with players who didn’t make Berman’s list in boldface:

  1. Babe Ruth
  2. Ty Cobb
  3. Walter Johnson
  4. Honus Wagner
  5. Cy Young
  6. Barry Bonds
  7. Willie Mays
  8. Tris Speaker
  9. Stan Musial
  10. Ted Williams
  11. Hank Aaron
  12. Eddie Collins
  13. Mickey Mantle
  14. Roger Clemens
  15. Rogers Hornsby
  16. Christy Matthewson
  17. Grover Cleveland Alexander
  18. Lou Gehrig
  19. Rickey Henderson
  20. Mel Ott
  21. Frank Robinson
  22. Nap Lajoie
  23. Joe Morgan
  24. Greg Maddux
  25. Tim Keefe

WAR isn’t perfect, and in general, stats often don’t tell the whole story. No metric could fully measure the contributions to baseball of Jackie Robinson, who has an eternal spot in my top 25. Still, looking at WAR and other formulas popular within the Society for American Baseball Research can double-check for worthy old-timers like Speaker and Collins.

Berman notes in his postscript, “Who knows? Maybe this book will turn into a ‘doubleheader.'” That route offers plenty of material. I could list 50 great players who didn’t make the cut including Carew, Ripken and Griffey. I don’t know if they make my top 25, and I think if Rodriguez is on Berman’s list, Bonds should be there as well (personally, I don’t feel like honoring either man or Clemens.)

Here’s my top 25:

  1. Babe Ruth
  2. Willie Mays
  3. Ted Williams
  4. Ty Cobb
  5. Walter Johnson
  6. Hank Aaron
  7. Satchel Paige
  8. Lou Gehrig
  9. Cy Young
  10. Honus Wagner
  11. Jackie Robinson
  12. Stan Musial
  13. Christy Matthewson
  14. Tris Speaker
  15. Rogers Hornsby
  16. Eddie Collins
  17. Pete Rose
  18. Rickey Henderson
  19. Josh Gibson
  20. Joe DiMaggio
  21. Greg Maddux
  22. Roberto Clemente
  23. Mickey Mantle
  24. Sandy Koufax
  25. Joe Jackson

I encourage anyone who’s interested to post their top 25 in comment form here.

I periodically review baseball books. For a compilation of my reviews, go here.

My 2010 NL and AL All Star ballot

As regular readers may know, I joined the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America a few months ago. Duties for club members are fairly light, though one of the things we do is cast token votes on mid-season awards and All Star selections. I’m proud to offer my first ballots:

American League

POSITION/ AWARD NAME (Last, First)
First Base Morneau, Justin
Second Base Cano, Robinson
Third Base Beltre, Adrian
Shortstop Jeter, Derek
OF (vote for 3) Hamilton, Josh; Suzuki, Ichiro; Crawford, Carl
Catcher Mauer, Joe
DH Guerrero, Vladimir
Cy Young Lee, Cliff
MVP Morneau, Justin
Rookie Boesch, Brennan
Manager Maddon, Joe

National League

POSITION/ AWARD NAME (Last, First)
First Base Gonzalez, Adrian
Second Base Prado, Martin
Third Base Wright, David
Shortstop Ramirez, Hanley
OF (vote for 3) Ethier, Andre; Pujols, Albert; Holliday, Matt
Catcher Olivo, Miguel
DH Jones, Chipper
Cy Young Jiminez, Ubaldo
MVP Jiminez, Ubaldo
Rookie Heyward, Jason
Manager Black, Bud


Jones is a sentimental pick at National League DH, and with no third baseman doing anything especially noteworthy in that league, I was almost tempted to give the possibly-retiring Atlanta Brave the start. Beltre gets the nod for resurrecting himself, as does Guerrero, and I was tempted to tab Barry Zito for the same reason, but Jiminez has been simply too amazing, in this, the Year of the Pitcher. Lee may be a consensus choice as AL Cy Young, though if I was simply picking who’d make the All Star start, I’d tab Armando Galarraga to make a statement.

Mostly though, I went off of Wins Above Replacement (WAR) data to determine my picks. I used a Web site I recently learned of called TheBaseballGauge.com, which allows any number of different WAR comparisons, including by position and league. I encourage any fellow baseball geeks to make use of it. It could be the new Baseball-Reference or Retrosheet for fanatical baseball researchers.

IBWAA All Star voting ends Wednesday, June 30, 2010, at 9:00 p.m. PST. Anyone who writes about baseball in any capacity on the Internet is eligible to join (yearly dues are $20) and cast a vote for this, as well as Hall of Fame selections at the end of the year. Email Howard Cole, baseballsavvy@aol.com for more information.

Any player/Any era: George Case

What he did: I’ve written a couple of times recently about Case, an outfielder for the Washington Senators and Cleveland Indians from 1937-1947 who shot 8 mm color footage of his career. I didn’t know of Case before first hearing from his son George Case III, but his stolen bases totals impressed me.

In an era before speedsters like Maury Wills, Lou Brock and Rickey Henderson helped revolutionize base stealing, Case averaged over 40 stolen bases in six seasons of leading the American League. Imagine what Case could have done in an era where stealing was encouraged and coached for.

Era he might have thrived in: The 1980s, playing for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Why: Perhaps no team stole as well as the 1985 Cardinals, who swiped 314 bases and had five men with more than 30 steals. Case stole a career-high 61 bases for the Senators in 1943; the stat converter on Baseball-Reference says Case would have 70 steals on the ’85 Cardinals, second-most on the team behind rookie Vince Coleman who had 110.

Maybe there are certain intangibles a machine can’t compute. I ran track all four years of high school, and I remember that as our team attracted more good runners, I got better. I think a lot of things in life are like that. People thrive on competition. We learn from others who best us, receiving encouragement from their feats that the seemingly impossible can be done.

Case didn’t have many peers to draw from. Wally Moses finished just behind him in 1943 with 56 steals, though no other American League player had 30. In fact, Case fell just shy of stealing at least 10 percent of the bases in his league that year. Looking over Baseball-Reference, I found seven men in the modern era who have done this:

  • Luis Aparicio in 1959 and 1964
  • Lou Brock in 1966
  • Bill Bruton in 1954
  • Willie Mays in 1956
  • Jackie Robinson in 1949
  • Snuffy Stirnweiss in 1944
  • Maury Wills in 1962 and 1965

For reference, Ty Cobb didn’t steal 10 percent of the bases in his league when he swiped 96 bags in 1915, Brock fell short of the 10 percent mark when he had 118 in 1974, and Henderson’s record-setting 130 steals in 1982 accounted for 9.33% of the 1,394 stolen bases in the American League that year.

With the glut of expansion and nearly twice as many teams now playing in each league than they did in Case’s era, stealing 10 percent of the bases in one’s circuit has become almost impossible. Consider that Jose Reyes’ 78 steals in 2007 were less than 5 percent of the 1,564 steals in the National League that year. Still, I think Case’s totals for his era are impressive.

Curious, I emailed Case III. He wrote back, “My father often said, that if he had played in another era, he probably could have stolen at least 100 bases in a season.  My dad never ran when the team was behind by more than three runs and never tried to steal third with two outs – it just wasn’t done when my dad played.”

There’s one more thing worth mentioning. Case died in 1989 at 73 from emphysema. When I interviewed Case III by phone two weeks ago, I asked if his dad had smoked during his career. Case III told me his dad started smoking when he was 10. If he’d come of age in an era where this was frowned upon, who knows what his stolen base totals could have been.

Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature here that looks at how a player might have done in an era besides his own.

Pitch count follies

This week’s guest post from Joe Guzzardi, a regular Wednesday contributor here, looks at the practice in recent years of limiting pitch counts.

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When Nolan Ryan took over as the Texas Rangers’ president, one of the first things he did was announce that throughout the organization he would banish the use of the pitch count to determine how long a pitcher stays in the game. Ryan wants his pitchers to go deep instead of being pulled when they reach an arbitrary number like 100.

At the start of the season, Ryan summed his philosophy up to the Dallas Morning News about what he expects to from starters: “The dedication and work ethic that it takes to pitch an entire season…as a starting pitcher and the discipline to continue to maintain his routine all year. And he wants the ball every fifth day, and he’s going to go out there with the intent of pitching late into games and not complaining.”

Speaking from his own experience, Ryan added that he “had to develop stamina because my intent was to pitch a lot of innings.” That message is being sent loud and clear to the Texas starters.

The pitch count debate has picked up over the last couple of years. And not a moment too soon, if you ask me. When you’re brought up as a baseball fan in the era of pitchers like Warren Spahn, Bob Friend and Robin Roberts who finished what they started, it’s hard to listen to a barrage of pitch count statistics from the broadcast booth.

During last night’s game in Arlington between the Rangers and the Pittsburgh Pirates, two divergent pitching philosophies went head-to-head with Ryan emerging as the clear winner—and not just on the scoreboard where Texas won 6-3.

At the center of it all is yesterday’s Pirate starter Ross Ohlendorf.

In August 2009, the Pirates manager John Russell (a former major league catcher) and pitching coach Joe Kerrigan (once a major league pitcher) decided to “shut down” Ohlendorf, their best starter, who had an 11-10 record in 176 innings. The premise was that the Pirates wanted to save Ohlendorf’s arm for the next season.

In an interview with Pirate announcer and former pitching great Steve Blass, Kerrigan justified his move by claiming that it’s a proven that once young pitchers go over a certain number of innings, their likelihood of injury increases dramatically.

But Ohlendorf isn’t young; he’s 27. And, at 6’5” and 245, he’s not a frail rookie. Like Ryan, he’s a Texas-born cattle rancher. And, finally, Olendorf wasn’t about to exert himself during the off-season. He’d committed to an internship at the Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C. where he’d be in a coat and tie working in a cubicle all winter.

Things haven’t worked out as Russell and Kerrigan planned. Ohlendorf hasn’t won a game since he was yanked from the rotation. Last night, the Rangers shelled him in the fifth. Another Pirate announcer and one-time starting pitcher Bob Walk said that after four innings, Ohlendorf had “nothing.” Ohlendorf’s 2010 line: 0-6; 5.43 ERA

By the way, Blass, Walk and all-time relief great Kent Tekulve who does the Pirates post-game analysis are all pitch count skeptics.

Bob Feller, Tim McCarver and other pitchers and catchers with impeccable credentials are among the multitudes who agree with Ryan, Blass, Walk and Tekulve: let pitchers pitch.

By the way, during the 1946 season when Feller was Ohlendorf’s exact age of 27, he pitched 372 innings and won 26 games with a 2.18 ERA.

Then there’s Ryan’s case.

In his 26 year career, Ryan averaged 262 innings per year. In 19 of those years, Ryan exceeded Ohlendorf’s 170-180 inning “shut down” total. When he was 44, Ryan pitched 173 innings (and compiled a 12-6, 2.61 ERA season).

All of baseball is watching the Rangers. Baltimore Orioles’ president Lee MacPhail thinks it will take years to know if Ryan’s experiment works. Said MacPhail: “We need to see if the pitchers under the Texas system remain durable and how many more innings they pitch over an extended time. That’s how we will gauge the results.”

In the meantime, Ryan and MacPhail can point to Ohlendorf as Exhibit 1 of pitch count folly.

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Joe Guzzardi is a writer and member of the Society for American Baseball Research. Email him at guzzjoe@yahoo.com.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Chipper Jones

Claim to fame: Jones rates among the greatest-hitting infielders, with 2,452 hits, 430 home runs and a .306 lifetime average. The 1999 National League Most Valuable Player, six-time All Star and longtime Atlanta Braves third baseman has declined since winning the 2008 batting title, though he’s wrapping an outstanding career.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Jones still plays and will be eligible for enshrinement through the Baseball Writers Association of America five years after he retires.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? The short answer is yes. Every eligible infielder with 400 home runs and a .300 lifetime batting average is in Cooperstown. The question is not if Jones will be enshrined but when.

I took part Friday in a forum discussion at Baseball Think Factory prompted by a blog post from Furman Bisher on news Jones may be retiring (Bisher’s a 91-year-old sportswriter who in 1949 conducted the only interview Joe Jackson granted about the 1919 World Series.) Bisher wrote of Jones:

I don’t care to get into a spitting fight over his ticket to Cooperstown, but I don’t foresee him as a first-ballot inductee. Nor a second, but somewhere down the line. If he had hit 500 home runs, that might have been the decider. Sorry, but he’ll come in somewhere behind Griffey Jr.

Several forum members objected, calling Jones a certain first or second-ballot pick. I side with Bisher, and I commented:

Five of the 10 batters that Jones compares most to on his Baseball-Reference page are in Cooperstown and only one, Mickey Mantle, was a first-ballot Hall of Famer. The others: Duke Snider (11th ballot), Billy Williams (6th ballot), Eddie Matthews (5th ballot) and Jim Rice (15th ballot.) Or, to put it another way, if you were filling out a Braves dream team and had a choice between Jones and Matthews at third, could you honestly take Chipper over Matthews? That’s what, in effect, would happen with making Jones a first-ballot inductee.

This attracted opposition. Some forum members suggested voting for worthy players regardless of their ballot and decried penalizing Jones for Matthews’ unjustly late enshrinement. I still wouldn’t give Jones a first ballot vote. To me, these votes are best rarely used, for immortals like Ken Griffey Jr. and Greg Maddux. Jones has fine numbers, but I doubt he’s considered immortal.

Few are. Of the 104 players the BBWAA has voted in (and 292 people elected total), just 44 made it on their first ballot, not counting Lou Gehrig and Roberto Clemente who were enshrined through special elections. Using Baseball-Reference, I compiled a list of the 44 first ballot inductees. They are:

  • Hank Aaron
  • Ernie Banks
  • Johnny Bench
  • Wade Boggs
  • George Brett
  • Lou Brock
  • Rod Carew
  • Steve Carlton
  • Ty Cobb
  • Dennis Eckersley
  • Bob Feller
  • Bob Gibson
  • Tony Gwynn
  • Rickey Henderson
  • Reggie Jackson
  • Walter Johnson
  • Al Kaline
  • Sandy Koufax
  • Mickey Mantle
  • Christy Matthewson
  • Willie Mays
  • Willie McCovey
  • Paul Molitor
  • Joe Morgan
  • Eddie Murray
  • Stan Musial
  • Jim Palmer
  • Kirby Puckett
  • Cal Ripken Jr.
  • Brooks Robinson
  • Frank Robinson
  • Jackie Robinson
  • Babe Ruth
  • Nolan Ryan
  • Mike Schmidt
  • Tom Seaver
  • Ozzie Smith
  • Warren Spahn
  • Willie Stargell
  • Honus Wagner
  • Ted Williams
  • Dave Winfield
  • Carl Yastrzemski
  • Robin Yount

Interestingly, Jones’ career Win Above Replacement (WAR) rating of 78.4 bests 19 first ballot Hall of Famers: Banks, Bench, Brock, Eckersley, Feller, Gwynn, Koufax, Jackson, McCovey, Molitor, Murray, Palmer, Puckett, Brooks Robinson, Jackie Robinson, Smith, Stargell, Winfield, Yount. It also ties Jones with Griffey, 59th all-time. But I don’t know if enough BBWAA members rely on sabermetrics yet for it to factor. I suspect more voters will employ a subjective sentiment that goes, Chipper was good but he should have been a little bit better… 500 home runs…

Even Roberto Alomar fell short his initial vote in January. Jones and Alomar each may rank among the best-hitting infielders in recent years, but Alomar nabbed 10 Gold Gloves while Jones hasn’t won any. Alomar’s reputation plummeted after he spit on an umpire in 1996, and he still got 73.7 percent of the Cooperstown vote. There are different ways to look at this. Some may suggest Jones, a player with arguably better offensive numbers (and, not that many writers care, better WAR) may receive a sufficient boost without Alomar’s personal baggage to garner the necessary 75 percent of the vote for Cooperstown. Maybe so. But I also think it shows when there’s doubt, the BBWAA votes conservatively.

For what it’s worth, most Hall of Famers needed multiple tries at induction, including Joe DiMaggio, Jimmie Foxx and Tris Speaker. Same goes for 14 of the 20 300-game winning pitchers in Cooperstown. And from 1937 until 1962, there were no first ballot selections. I could write more on how voting has changed over the years or what might make a first ballot Hall of Famer today. For now, I’ll close by saying there’s no shame if Jones joins the multitudes in Cooperstown without that distinction.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? is a Tuesday feature here.

Update: There is now color footage from 1940 of Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams online

A few weeks ago, I did a post here on a DVD, “Around The League: 1939-1946″ compiled from 8 mm color footage shot by Washington Senators and Cleveland Indians outfielder George Case. I got a fun story with great anecdotes from Case’s son George Case III and good still shots from the film. The one thing I lacked when I posted my original piece was a good clip from the DVD.

However, with the help of Case III and the DVD production company, Delaware Digital Video Factory, there is now a two-minute, forty-eight second clip online. I encourage anyone who would like to see color footage of Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams taking batting practice in 1940 to check out the guest post I wrote for Seamheads.com, which is also running a podcast today with Case III.

Let me know what you think!

The 10 most durable position players in baseball history

1. Lou Gehrig: It took a fatal illness later named after him to end his consecutive games streak and drive him from the game. His nickname was the Iron Horse. If Gehrig’s not the standard for durability, I don’t know who is.

2. Cal Ripken Jr: Broke Gehrig’s record and for much of his career played every inning of every game until someone told him that Gehrig set his mark, in part, by playing a few innings some days and resting.

3. Pete Rose: Last played at 45; has the career marks for games played, plate appearances, at bats and hits. The year Rose broke the hits mark, 1985 when he was 44, he had a beefy .395 on-base percentage in 500 plate appearances.

4. Ty Cobb: Played until he was 41 in an era where most ballplayers didn’t last much beyond 35. Unlike another contemporary who cracked 40, Honus Wagner, Cobb was effective his final seasons. After playing most of his career with the Tigers, he spent his last two seasons with the Athletics, batting .357 in 490 at bats and .323 in 353 at bats.

5. Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe: A fine Sports Illustrated article in 2002 introduced me to Radcliffe, who was as durable in life as he was in his career. A Negro League legend, Radcliffe earned his nickname in 1932 from sportswriter Damon Runyon who watched him catch one game of a doubleheader and pitch another. Radcliffe played professionally as late as 1954 and died in 2005 at 103.

6. Rickey Henderson: He earns a spot here for playing in four different decades and, at the end, prolonging his career in the independent leagues and going on ESPN to ask any pro team to sign him, the only 40-something, future Hall of Famer I know of to do this. It worked, as the Dodgers signed Henderson in 2003, though he played just 30 games and hit .208.

7. Ted Williams: Unlike Hank Aaron, Carl Yastrzemski, Willie Mays or many others, Williams looked formidable his final season, 1960, hitting .316 with 29 home runs, 72 RBI and a .451 on-base percentage. Though Williams turned 42 in August that year, he made his final All Star appearance and finished 13th in American League Most Valuable Player voting, even though the Red Sox finished second-to-last.

8. Oscar Charleston: A reader told me recently that Bill James has Charleston rated higher in center field than Joe DiMaggio. Another Negro League immortal and, unlike Radcliffe, a baseball Hall of Famer, Charleston played from 1915 to 1941, in a circuit notorious for epic seasons, low pay and squalid travel conditions.

9. Jigger Statz: Played eight seasons in the majors and 18 in the Pacific Coast League, finishing out with Los Angeles in 1942 at 44. Statz had over 4,000 hits lifetime, including 3,356 in the PCL, and Lawrence Ritter wrote of him as “The Pete Rose of the Minors.”

10. Brooks Robinson: He has a feat of durability not as widely celebrated as that of fellow Baltimore great Ripken, though it could be equally hard to top. From 1960 to 1975, Robinson amassed 16 consecutive Gold Gloves. No other position player has that many Gold Gloves, period, let alone that many in a row.

Related post: All-time durable pitchers

More quotes from my interview with John Thorn

Last week, I posted a story on a forgotten Negro League/semi-pro great named John Donaldson, and in writing it, I faced a high class problem for a writer: I had more solid material than could fit. As I’ve since commented, this was an 800-word piece that could’ve gone 2,000.

A lot of good stuff didn’t make the final edit including several quotes from one of my interview subjects for the piece, John Thorn, a prolific baseball author and the senior creative consultant for the Ken Burns Baseball series that aired on PBS in 1994. Thorn said several things from our short phone conversation June 3 that deserve a wider audience, and I decided yesterday to compile them into a post here.

On his relationship with Donaldson’s lead researcher, Peter Gorton

“Peter and I are not in close contact, and I have not been keeping up with the state of his research. I just know it was pretty great that he did find some Donaldson footage.”

On how Donaldson would rate with other Negro League great hurlers

“By all accounts, he would be up there, but we’re in that strange land of anecdotal measurement. People have tried to remedy this by doing retroactive statistics and filling in gaps and doing some highly suspect things in terms of statistical theory, imagining at-bats, imagining innings pitched, trying to deduce from the slim evidence at hand what a full picture might have looked like. In fact, this is more archaeology than history, and I’m very familiar with that necessity because my specialty is baseball before the Major Leagues.” [Thorn clarified in a subsequent email that he wasn’t including Gorton among this type of researcher.]

On whether he thinks baseball’s done a good job honoring Negro League players before 1920

“Major League Baseball feels no responsibility to honor white players before 1920, let alone black ones. I think if there is no footage you can throw up on MLB television or on the Web site, they’re not particularly interested in the players…. If King Kelly can’t catch a cold with the MLB producers, you can be sure that Rube Foster won’t either.”

“It’s not a matter of discrimination against old Negro Leaguers, it’s a discrimination against old ballplayers. It’s not exactly discrimination. It’s that Major League Baseball has made the judgment that 1/10th of 1 percent of all baseball fans cares about anything that happened prior to World War II, and they’re not going to devote very much of their resources to pleasing that 1/10th of 1 percent. You can’t argue with it as a business decision. You can argue with it as a philosophical or historical question because if baseball is an important institution, then it ought to be important to learn where it came from and how it grew.”

On baseball history being a niche market for writers

“You have to do what you have to do. If this is where your interest lies, if you make it your specialty, you will find an audience. I have a book that I’ve been working on for years now that’s coming out next spring called Baseball in the Garden of Eden. It pretty much begins 1770, or so, and ends in 1939 but the real serious narrative runs, I guess, 1830 to 1908. Now, this book may be read by 12 people but actually, I suspect it’ll have a wider audience.”

On the myths of Abner Doubleday and Alexander Cartwright — whose biography he recently wrote an introduction for — as the founders of baseball

“I think it’s safe to say that most of what baseball fans think about old-fashioned baseball, i.e. before their fathers were born is wrong. Whether they believe in Doubleday or Cartwright, they’re equally wrong.”

Me: “Yeah, it’s funny, I always thought I was smart for knowing Cartwright.”

“You are not alone in that position, and I believe that to this day, if you could interview all baseball fans, that 60-70 percent of them would still say that Doubleday invented the game. It’s pretty hard to kill Santa Claus.”

Some closing remarks

“One thing. In terms of the commentary that you extract from this interview for your blog, you’re free to use anything. There’s nothing off the record. I will add that I admire Peter Gorton’s tenacity and his inventiveness, and while I have no particular feelings for Donaldson this way or that or any notion of where he belongs in the pantheon, I think the man who merits celebration now is not so much Donaldson, but Gorton and you and people like you.”

Any player/Any era: Pete Rose

What he did: Rose has the career record for hits with 4,256, as well as most games played, plate appearances, at-bats, outs and, I’m guessing, money bet on baseball. The latter feat helped get him barred for life from the game in 1989. I consider Pete Rose the greatest baseball player not in the Hall of Fame, I align myself with those who say his ban is cruel and unusual punishment, and I believe baseball should grant an amnesty to Rose and another banished great, Joe Jackson. I say enough is enough, but it’s not my decision.

Era he might have thrived in: The Deadball Era

Why: Rose’s problem is not that he got caught up in illicit activity. It’s that he played 60 years too late.

As the Ken Burns Baseball book recounts, baseball suppressed a betting scandal in 1926 involving future Hall of Famers Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker. Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis permitted both players to quietly retire (and later let them play again) while American League President Ban Johnson paid $25,000 to have information destroyed that Cobb and Speaker bet on a game of the 1919 World Series they knew to be fixed. Rose is not known to have done anything approaching this yet he’s long gone from baseball.

Gambling was endemic in baseball from 1900-1920, the height of the Deadball Era, with many players being barred for fixing games or betting on them including Heinie Zimmerman, Hal Chase and the eight Chicago White Sox players, including Jackson, who threw the 1919 World Series. But there hasn’t been anything substantiated that Rose ever threw a game. Rose finally admitted to betting on games where he was a manager, after years of lying about it, but he maintains that he always played to win. Assuming that’s true, it’s far different than conspiring with underworld figures to rig a game.

Evidence shows that Rose was a compulsive gambler, and addictive behavior can rear its head in any generation or environment. Rose may have gambled on baseball no matter the era. But in the early days, long before free agency or seven-figure contracts, Rose would have had a fraction of the money to gamble with. He also would have had baseball’s brass on his side — rather than being directly responsible for his exile — had his transgressions become public.

There are other reasons Rose would have thrived in an earlier era. His style of play always suggested he was plucked from another generation, a scrappy throwback who gave his all, earning the nickname Charlie Hustle. Rose’s gregarious, roughhouse character also would have been perfect in an era where players scarcely ranked above street criminals in the social hierarchy.

Needless to say, had Rose played in the Deadball Era, I think he’d be in the Hall of Fame.

Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature here that looks at how a ballplayer might have done in a different era than his own. The feature debuted June 3, 2010 under the name “Different player/Different era.” I’m changing the name, effective this week, because the first one is confusing.

A major league day of brawls in the Pacific Coast League

Today I’m pleased to present a guest post from Joe Guzzardi, a regular Wednesday contributor here, about an all-time memorable day of brawls in the Pacific Coast League in 1953.

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At the Society for American Baseball Research Forbes Field Chapter’s May meeting, I spoke about what it was like to grow up as a baseball fan in Los Angeles during the pre-Dodger 1950s.

In a word: Great!

The PCL was designated as “Open” or “AAAA” classification, the highest minor league level. In all but its name, the PCL was a third major league with its own traditions and records. Accordingly, the play quality was excellent and the squads featured a large cast of future and former major leaguers.

Among the outstanding all time greats who worked their way through the PCL were Joe DiMaggio (who had a 61 game hitting streak his first year), Ted Williams, Mickey Cochrane, Luke Easter, Ferris Fain, Maury Wills, Billy Martin and managers Casey Stengel and Charlie Dressen.

During the exhibition season, the PCL scheduled games against the majors. Babe Ruth said that most of the teams he faced were as good as any in the American League. One of the PCL’s premier teams, the Los Angeles Angels, called themselves the “Yankees West.”

What the PCL meant to kids like me is that we rooted for one of the two local teams, the Hollywood Stars affiliated with the Pittsburgh Pirates or the Angels, part of the Chicago Cubs’ organization.

The rivalry between the Stars and the Angels was intense. Think Brooklyn Dodger versus New York Giants. And even that comparison doesn’t do the Stars-Angels feud justice.

When the crosstown opponents took the field, anything could happen. On August 2, 1953 it did.

During a Sunday doubleheader, with the second game cut to seven innings as was the custom, three separate brawls broke out that were so savage that 50 uniformed Los Angeles Police Department officers were summoned to the scene.

Bad blood had been boiling between the Stars and the Angels during their week-long series. The previous Friday night a small scale free-for-all broke out. But it was nothing compared to what erupted during the first Sunday game.

The fighting, broadcast on a TV network, began in the sixth inning. Initially the umpires restored peace.

But the slug-fest promptly broke out again. As it happened, Police Chief William H. Parker was like most of Los Angeles watching the game on television. Parker promptly dispatched his officers to help the over-matched umpires.

By this time, the diamond has become a mob scene with six separate fights in progress at the same time. In one, the Angels’ Al Evans pummeled umpire Joe Iacovetti.

When the melee’s gouging, spiking and slugging finally ended, the injuries included black eyes, deep bloody cuts and several missing teeth.

Chief Parker didn’t trust the two teams to behave better in the second game so he ordered his troops to remain seated on the bench throughout the night cap. Only the nine active players on each team were allowed on the field. The reserves were kept under lock and key in the clubhouse.

The umpires and the cops, fearing that the 10,000 fans would join in any further fights, exercised maximum caution.

As for the games, Hollywood won the opener 4-1 while the Angels prevailed the in late game, 5-3. Hollywood went on to win the 1953 PCL pennant with an astounding 106-74 record finishing thirteen games ahead of the Angels.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the majors played plenty of games that involved fisticuffs. In that long ago era, a pitcher could throw inside or slide into a base with spikes flying without fear of getting tossed.

During the same 1953 as the Stars-Angels infamous dust up, the New York Yankees had a well publicized one of their own involving the former PCL Oakland Oaks’ firebrand Billy Martin and the quick-tempered St. Louis Brown catcher Clint “Scrap Iron” Courtney.

On a play at second base, Courtney spiked shortstop Phil Rizzuto. Martin jumped in and started pounding on Courtney.

When it was over, the Yankees and the Browns were fined an American League record $850. But when you compare Yankees-Browns tussle to the Stars-Angels donnybrook, it isn’t even close.

Such a scene is unimaginable in today’s baseball. A wrong look at an umpire or a brush-back pitch will get a player ejected on the spot.

Bring back the freewheeling days!

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Joe Guzzardi is a writer and member of the Society for American Baseball Research. Email him at guzzjoe@yahoo.com.

What’s the worst brawl you ever saw?

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Albert Belle

Claim to fame: Belle may be the fourth-best power hitter of the 1990s after Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds and Frank Thomas. In a 12-year career from 1989-2000, Belle hit 381 home runs with a .295 batting average. He smacked at least 30 homers eight straight seasons, led the league in RBI three times and made five All Star appearances. He also did so apparently without steroids. Famously surly, Belle told a Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter last year, “I was just an angry black man.”

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Belle appeared on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot twice, receiving 7.7 percent of the vote in 2006 and 3.5 percent the following year, which removed him from future ballots. He will be eligible for enshrinement by the Veterans Committee in 2021.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Short of Lou Whitaker receiving 2.9 percent of the Hall of Fame vote from the BBWAA his only year of eligibility, I think Belle peaking at 7.7 percent of the vote is the greatest Cooperstown injustice of the past decade. But it isn’t surprising.

Belle’s attitude may have influenced at least one voter. And historically, if a non-white player has been perceived to have character issues, he shouldn’t count on making the Hall of Fame. Just ask Dick Allen, Dave Parker, Dwight Gooden and Maury Wills. Ask Jose Canseco, who would’ve lost votes even if it never was confirmed he did steroids. Same goes for Bonds who alienated writers long before he (probably) started juicing.

Many white players with questionable characters have been enshrined, from Ty Cobb, so reviled by fellow players that only three attended his funeral, to Tris Speaker, Rogers Hornsby and Gabby Hartnett who told sportswriter Fred Lieb they were in the Ku Klux Klan. Pete Rose was barred for life for gambling in 1989, and he still received as many Hall of Fame votes in 1992 as Belle got in 2006 with 40.

I took a look at recent white inductees to the Hall of Fame, and none appear to be scumbags. Off the cuff, I couldn’t think of any recent white player denied Cooperstown for this reason. But that could have more to do with the fact that the sports media doesn’t seem to negatively label white players as often it does others.

If a minority wants to be enshrined, he’d better be as beloved as Jackie Robinson, Ozzie Smith or Kirby Puckett. And Puckett ballooned to 300 pounds, developed hypertension and died at 45, after it emerged he was, in fact, human, rather than a lovable stereotype.

Occasionally, minorities with less than glowing reputations are honored. Jim Rice, a player who clashed with the media, made it with the BBWAA on his 15th try. The Veterans Committee tabbed Orlando Cepeda, who served a drug-related prison sentence. The writers also selected one of their arch-nemeses, Eddie Murray, on his first ballot, but with 3,255 hits and 504 home runs, anything less would have been unjust. For fringe candidates, I venture character keeps a minority out of Cooperstown more often than it gets him in.

Belle is a fringe candidate. Baseball-Reference ranks him similar to two batters in Cooperstown, Ralph Kiner and Hank Greenberg, as well as another who’s destined to join them, Albert Pujols, and a few other players who could make it eventually, including Allen; Belle also rates near or above on three of the four Hall of Fame monitoring metrics listed on the site.

I ding Belle most for quitting at 34 due to injuries, like my subject here last week, Don Mattingly and for being somewhat one-dimensional, simply an amazing hitter. Belle was dominant enough in this capacity for most of his career I’d probably honor him, but I suspect I’m in the minority, to pardon the expression.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? is a Tuesday feature here that debuted June 1.

Book Review: Chief Bender’s Burden

bender jacket

In January, I had a rare, wonderful day of research that any writer may know, a stretch of hours where time suspended for a great chase.

I decided not long before to write a book on Joe Marty, a ballplayer from my hometown, Sacramento. Marty came up in the Pacific Coast League with Joe DiMaggio and was considered the better prospect, though he didn’t fulfill his potential. He played in the majors from 1937 to 1941, then went to World War II and played the rest of his career with Sacramento in the PCL.

One day in January, through hours and hours of research online, I verified four of Marty’s big league teammates were still living, all in their nineties. One man died a couple weeks later, but of the remaining three, I have since interviewed one, mailed questions for another, and need a phone number for the third (his name is Al Monchak, and if anyone has any ideas, please email me.)

My inspiration? Chief Bender’s Burden: The Silent Struggle of a Baseball Star, a 2008 biography by Tom Swift on the Hall of Fame pitcher. I received a copy in December and flipped to the acknowledgments not long after where Swift notes, “I sought anyone who could remember being in the same room with Charles Bender. It’s a small club.”

Marty last played in the PCL in 1952 and died in 1984, so it’s not difficult to find men who knew him. Swift faced a greater challenge since Bender played all but one game of his big league career between 1903 and 1917 and died in 1954, leaving no descendants. But to reference Teddy Roosevelt, I think Swift did a good job with what he had where he could.

The 2009 winner of the Seymour Medal from the Society for American Baseball Research — which Swift and I belong to — the book features exhaustive research. The main story spans 290 pages followed by a 36-page bibliographical essay that summarizes what is apparent throughout: Swift gathered every possible Bender detail, scouring microfilm of long-dead newspapers like the Philadelphia North American and chasing interviews. I venture Swift had many days like the magical one I experienced. His research sets a standard for me to live up to with my book.

Swift captures a seemingly complete portrait of Bender, good and bad. While noting his masterful pitching and ability to read opponents tipping their pitches, Swift also documents Bender’s lifelong drinking and that he killed a pedestrian while driving. A writer can easily neglect to seek these details.

Swift has a vivid, smooth writing style. Late in the book, he references an interview subject, a player Bender coached late in life named Joe Astroth. Swift writes:

The memory is precarious. A middle-aged man can seemingly remember precise details of the moment as a child he was stung by a bee and yet still forget where he left the car keys fifteen minutes before he had the recollection. Perhaps the vivid memories are so only because we’re fooling ourselves. The past is obscure, a convincing imposter (sic), too often remembered differently by different people. But sometimes you don’t need to be able to verify everything to find truth. Joe Astroth knows that Charles Bender’s life influenced his own.

My quibbles with the book are minor. Basically, I wanted more about the prejudices Bender faced as a Native American ballplayer. It’s what drew me initially. While the book notes racist coverage Bender received, more words recount game highlights. I understand such details are obligatory with sports-related books, but I don’t think they offer the most sensational story. The book didn’t hook me until the final chapters. There’s a reason I’m reviewing a book in mid-June that I received in December, though in fairness, I also have a short attention span. The Boys of Summer is a personal favorite, and I needed a year to finish it.

Swift writes in the bibliographical essay, “In Bender’s case, the usual fog of baseball legend and lore has been layered with the reality that he lived and played in the face of untold prejudice. That he was seldom asked about the most important aspect of his life story means a full portrait is categorically impossible. I have tried simply to present the closest thing I could.”

Fair enough, though I’d love to see what Swift can do with a contemporary subject. I think Swift chose Bender since he was born in his native state, Minnesota. Perhaps a biography on Kirby Puckett, a tragic figure there, could be in order.

24 busy hours in the life of my site

A week and a half ago, my boss said he would have to cut my hours for June. I was bummed but also grateful to still have a job, and I figured things would be alright.

I’ve worked 16 hours since, and it turns out my new free time has been largely consumed by this site. I’ve written thousands of words, done several interviews and even covered a baseball-themed art show. To any fellow bloggers looking to improve traffic, I found that by doing extra footwork recently, I got immediate results. In the past five days, I’ve had more visitors than I used to get in entire months.

(By the way, before I go any further, I should say I’ve tried to steer this site away from personal posts of this nature. This post is mostly for friends, regular readers and fellow bloggers. To others: Monday will be business as usual here with a review of a book about a Deadball Era pitcher.)

More and more, I’m believing that Search Engine Optimization, at least for blogging, isn’t about fancy coding or high tech maneuvering. I think it’s about putting in long hours, doing work others in the blogosphere can’t or won’t do, making an original contribution.

Monday epitomized this. Here’s what transpired:

12:00 AM: The beginning of Monday morning finds me still awake, not having to work until Tuesday, finalizing my post on forgotten Negro League/semi-pro great John Donaldson. Having done three interviews the Thursday before, including an hour-and-twenty-minute session with Donaldson’s lead researcher Peter Gorton, I know I’ve been given a good story.

2:00 AM: I post my story, email David Pinto of Baseball Musings in hopes of getting a link and go to bed.

7:00 AM: I awaken as my roommate gets ready for work, check online, and see that Pinto has linked to me. Excited, I submit the story to another big site, Baseball Think Factory and email Gorton and my two other interview sources for the story.

7:44 AM: Since Donaldson played in Minnesota, I message a blogger there, Sooze of Babes Loves Baseball.

7:52 AM: Gorton emails positive feedback and suggests I submit the story for SABRgraphs, the Society for American Baseball Research’s weekly email of the best baseball writing from around the Internet.

8:05 AM: I email the person in charge of submissions for SABRgraphs, thinking her name is Robin.

8:11 AM: Actually, her name is Rebecca. But she says she will include my story. I cannot lose this morning.

8:23 AM: I email Gorton that the story is also up on Baseball Think Factory, telling him June 7 is officially Blogger Christmas for me (Baseball Prospectus will pick up the story, too, after SABRgraphs goes out on Thursday, and I’ll work out to contribute to a major baseball site, Seamheads.com.)

9:00 AM: Heading to a 9:30 personal appointment, I stop at the post office for a DVD from George Case III, whose dad, George Case, played in the majors from 1937-1947 and shot color footage there.

10:30 AM: I take my car to the shop for a tire rotation and oil change, since the place does a two-for-one deal and is walking distance from my apartment.

11:00 AM: I watch Case’s documentary. As I will write later for Friday, I think it’s good.

3:15 PM: The shop manager calls to say one of my tires needs to be repaired. I decide to take the car to Costco, since I have a warranty there and don’t want to spend more money. The only catch: It’s a long trek, by foot and BART, back to my apartment, and I have a 5:30 interview with Case III. Also, though I don’t realize it at the time, my only cell phone charger is in my car, since my cat chewed through my wall one, and my battery’s low.

5:31 PM: I return to my apartment just in time and call Case III. We have a good long talk until–

6:02 PM: My battery dies.

6:06 PM: I email Case III to arrange a follow-up for Tuesday. I also see a message from Sooze that she will link to the Donaldson story in a blog she does for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Somewhere in all this, I also finalized my post about if Don Mattingly belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Needless to say, I don’t have days like this very often, but I’d welcome another.

Home movies

Bluege
Ossie Bluege of the Washington Senators in 1939 (George Case)

Every year when George Case returned from another season of baseball, it was time to show his movies.

The four-time American League All Star outfielder, who played for the Washington Senators and Cleveland Indians from 1937-1947, loved 8 mm color film. He shot footage of his family, duck hunts and, most significantly in historical terms, his playing career.

Case died in 1989 at 73 from emphysema but the five-time Major League stolen base champion lives on as the voice of a 37-minute color documentary, “Around The League 1939-1946,” compiled from the footage. His son George Case III, former executive director of the Society for American Baseball Research, produced a VHS version in 1989 and put in on DVD in 2008 (he’s selling copies for $35.95; anyone interested can email him at case67@verizon.net)

“I still have the original 8 mm film,” Case III said, “But I mean, it becomes very fragile over the years, so you put it on another tape, and it will last a lot longer. And that was my whole purpose of this, which was preserve it for future generations. I thought it was of great historic value and the fact that it’s color and then my dad’s commentary on there. You don’t really ever hear too much in the way of a former ballplayer talking about the scenes of a film.”

Color film footage of baseball prior to World War II is rare, the sport’s early days often captured in black-and-white newsreels. Case’s hand-held shots of various legends in Wizard of Oz-style technicolor (he got the Kodacolor 8 mm film from a friend at Eastman Kodak) are at once amateur, raw and surreal. I’ve never seen anything like this, and if anyone knows of similar work, I’d love to see it.

Case III said he has tried various methods to convert the 8 mm film into still shots. Two he’s been successful with are here, including another shot from 1939, Senators pitcher Ken Chase:

Chase

Case provided the narration a few years before his death and introduces us to many teammates in Washington where he played ten of his eleven seasons. He also tells as we watch Joe DiMaggio, Hank Greenberg, and Ted Williams take batting practice and Lefty Grove and Jimmie Foxx sit together in the Fenway Park dugout in 1940. We see two presidents, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, plus a weigh-in for boxing champ Joe Louis in the bowels of Griffith Stadium and a dash between Case and Olympic sprinting legend Jesse Owens (Owens wins.)

It’s the kind of history that was a matter-of-fact part of life for Case III growing up. Longtime Washington Post sportswriter Shirley Povich was a family friend. Two-time American League batting champ Mickey Vernon was Uncle Mickey (he also told Case III that he was listed in the phone book as James Vernon, saying, “Hey George, nobody knows my first name is James, not Mickey.”)

One natural question is why more people haven’t seen the bulk of this film beyond old ballplayers and their descendants, some of the chief customers. Case III said seven minutes of footage aired on HBO in 1991 and 1992, under exclusive agreement, in the first two segments of the three-part series, When It Was a Game, with his father’s narration dubbed over. He says a VHS copy of his film is in Cooperstown and he will donate a DVD too.

Case III said he called to offer Ken Burns the film for his Baseball mini-series that aired on PBS in 1994 and was in production for a number of years prior. However, Case III said he was shunted off by an assistant, and by the time Burns personally called to say the footage was exactly what he needed, the exclusive agreement had been made with HBO. (I emailed John Thorn, who served as senior creative consultant to the Baseball mini-series and spent a few years in the editing room. I asked if he knew anything about this and could offer insight. Thorn replied, “Nope.”)

I’ll close with a 16-second silent clip Case III let me use. It shows Nick Altrock, the Clown Prince of Baseball and a Senators coach, performing part of a routine with another member of the club in 1940. My friend Jose shot it with his camera phone as it played on my TV, so the footage is grainier than what’s on the DVD but I don’t think this entry would be complete without it:

[Update 6/21/10: I wrote a guest post for Seamheads.com that includes DVD-quality color footage of Williams and DiMaggio from 1940. The clip below stays for posterity.]

Different player/Different era: Ken Griffey Jr.

What he did: Griffey retired last week as one of the greatest ballplayers of his generation, so I won’t regurgitate all the statistics and stories of his greatness that have since shot around the Internet besides to say his 630 home runs, astonishing first half of his career and spotless reputation throughout make him a definite Hall of Famer. But that’s not why I’m writing these words.

This post was inspired by a Joe Posnanski article in the June 14 issue of Sports Illustrated that included a quote from baseball legend Buck O’Neil about Griffey, “He could play in any era.” It seemed like an interesting idea worth exploring more and the article subhead teased it. But the piece was mostly about Griffey’s greatness early in his career and how much more he might have achieved in his own era had injuries not taken their toll over the past decade. It’s a story many have written in the past several years. Posnanski told his story gracefully, as he often does, but I think he missed an opportunity.

Perhaps Posnanski was apprehensive about painting a broader picture of how Griffey might have fared in a particular different era, which isn’t always easy to do. I’ve heard a retired baseball scout I know named Ronnie King say more than once that the game should be judged in 10 year intervals since it changes so much. Still, this new Thursday segment is built around the idea that such comparisons can be made. I’m going to delve deeper into what O’Neil said about Griffey.

Era he might have thrived in: For our purposes, let’s forget the color barrier that barred blacks from playing prior to 1947 and look at how ridiculously well a young Griffey might have done in the 1930s.

Why: This was the Golden Age for hitters, and if Griffey played then, he might have hit .400 or won a Triple Crown or both. The 1930 Philadelphia Phillies for instance hit .315 as a team even with a center fielder named Denny Sothern hitting .280. If Griffey replaces Sothern he joins an outfield of Chuck Klein and Lefty O’Doul who hit .386 and .383 that year, respectively. Imagine that 3-4-5 in the batting order.

Griffey also gets to play his home games at the Baker Bowl, one of the few stadiums in baseball history that was more of a hitter’s park than where he spent his best years, the Kingdome. As a left-handed pull hitter, Griffey would destroy the 280.5-foot Baker Bowl right field short porch, even with its 60-foot fence. Either Griffey gets adept at hooking flies over it or he sets the record for doubles. No matter what, the man who hit .327 in 1991 soars to greater heights than ever before.

I invite anyone to take a stab at what Griffey’s numbers might have been in 1930 (I’m guessing 55 home runs, 180 runs batted in and a .395 batting average.) Better, I encourage anyone to offer their perfect era for Griffey.

Different player/Different era is a Thursday feature here that examines how a baseball player might have fared in an era besides his own.

Perfectly rare occurrences in baseball

I’m pleased to present another guest post from Joe Guzzardi, a new Wednesday contributor here. Today, he looks at last week’s near-perfect game and other rare feats in baseball history.

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When a bad call denied Detroit Tiger Armando Gallaraga a perfect game, the media made a big deal of how rare a baseball feat it is to face 27 batters and put all 27 down.

Given that there have been 18 perfect games during baseball’s modern era, a perfect game would be better labeled infrequent rather than rare.

Many other baseball oddities– too numerous to mention in this short space– are less common. For pitchers, among them are walks to the first four batters (only five times); six home runs surrendered by a starting pitcher (six times) and perfect games lost on the twenty-seventh batter (ten times).

It’s rarer then to have a perfect game spoiled by the twenty-seventh batter than it is for the pitcher to complete his flawless game!

Gallaraga’s isn’t even the most interesting of the (nearly) perfect games.

That award would go to Babe Ruth, then a pitcher with the Boston Red Sox. On June 23, 1917, Ruth walked the Washington Senators’ first batter, Ray Morgan, on four straight pitches. Ruth, who had already been jawing with umpire Brick Owens about his first three “Ball” calls became enraged and was promptly ejected.

When Ruth charged Owens and swung at him, police led him off the field. Ernie Shore relieved Ruth.

On Shore’s first pitch, Sox catcher Pinch Thomas threw out Morgan trying to steal. Morgan retired the next twenty-six batters. Since all twenty-seven outs were recorded while Shore was on the mound, the game was considered perfect for decades until the Rules Committee changed its classification to combined no-hitter.

After analyzing all the data, I’ve concluded that baseball’s most interesting rare feat involves runs scored in a single game.

On only three occasions in modern baseball has a National League team scored in every one of its half innings during a nine-inning game. No American League team has ever done it. And no two teams in either an American or National League game have both scored in each of their nine half innings.

Think of it. Hundreds of thousands of baseball games have been played since 1900. Yet, in what seems virtually impossible, in only three of them has a team scored in each of their nine at bats.

In baseball’s highest scoring single game, August 25, 1922 when the Chicago Cubs beat the Philadelphia Phillies 26-23, the Cubs scored in four innings and the Cubs in six. How did the Cubs get to 26 runs by scoring in only four frames? In the second, they scored 10 and in the fourth, fourteen.

On August 12, 2008, when the Red Sox bested the Rangers 19-17 to set the American League record for most runs in a single game each team tallied in only five innings.

In a Texas-Baltimore double header on August 22, 2008 the Rangers won both games by scores of 30-3 and 9-7. In a total of thirty-six innings played, twenty-one of them were scoreless.

Earlier this season, when the Milwaukee Brewers thumped the Pirates 20-0 in the worst loss in Pittsburgh franchise history, the Brewers were held scoreless in three innings.

Not scoring runs isn’t as headline-grabbing as perfect games. Statistically however it’s far more difficult to put up at least one run in each half inning than it is to be perfect.

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Joe Guzzardi is a fellow member of the Society for American Baseball Research and the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America. He has agreed to contribute guest posts here every Wednesday through the baseball season.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Don Mattingly

Claim to fame: Donnie Baseball, as fans knew him, ranked with Wade Boggs and Tony Gwynn as one of the premier hitters of the 1980s. He hit over .300 six consecutive seasons from 1984 through 1989, twice led the American League in hits and was the circuit MVP in 1985, on his way to a lifetime .307 average. Mattingly also won nine Gold Gloves, second-most all-time among first basemen and retired in 1995 having played his entire career for the New York Yankees, a rarity in the era of free agency.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Mattingly has appeared on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot 10 times and has five remaining years of eligibility.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Whether Mattingly belongs in Cooperstown or eventually is honored are different questions to me.

I think Mattingly parallels with Steve Garvey and Nomar Garciaparra, players who would easily make the Hall of Fame had they sustained the early pace of their careers. Mattingly struggled with injuries over his final six seasons, hitting above .300 just once before retiring at 34. Were it up to me, I probably wouldn’t enshrine him. I’ll honor players with truncated careers if there’s a compelling reason, as I wrote last week, but injuries don’t rate as such for me, unless we’re talking Sandy Koufax, and Mattingly was never that dominant.

With that said, I think there’s a better than 50 percent chance the Veterans Committee enshrines Mattingly eventually. Why? Mattingly got 28.2% of the BBWAA vote, his highest total thus far, in his first year of eligibility in 2001.

Not counting Mattingly and five other players still eligible for enshrinement through the BBWAA, 25 players peaked between 20-30% of the writers vote for the Hall of Fame in the past 75 years. Of those 25 players, 13 are now in Cooperstown, and that number could climb as men who peaked in the last 30 years begin to be honored by the Veterans Committee, which sometimes has a slow turnaround.

In chronological order of their peak, the 25 players are:

  • Mordecai Brown (HOF): Peaked at 27.0% in 1942, enshrined by Old Timers Committee in 1949; sought by Mr. Burns to pitch for Springfield Nuclear Plant (though he kicked Mattingly off the team)
  • Fred Clarke (HOF): Peaked at 24.9% in 1942, enshrined by Old Timers Committee in 1945
  • Joe McGinnity (HOF): Peaked at 25.3% in 1942, enshrined by Old Timers Committee in 1946
  • Eddie Plank (HOF): Peaked at 27.0% in 1942, enshrined by Old Timers Committee in 1946
  • Ross Youngs (HOF): Peaked at 22.4% in 1947, enshrined by Veterans Committee in 1972
  • Zack Wheat (HOF): Peaked at 23.0% in 1947, enshrined by Veterans Committee in 1959
  • Casey Stengel (HOF): Peaked at 23.1% in 1953, enshrined by Veterans Committee in 1966
  • Chuck Klein (HOF): Peaked at 27.9% in 1964, enshrined by Veterans Committee in 1980
  • Lloyd Waner (HOF): Peaked at 23.4% in 1964, enshrined by Veterans Committee in 1967
  • Mel Harder: Peaked at 25.4% in 1964
  • Johnny Vander Meer: Peaked at 29.8% in 1967
  • Billy Herman (HOF): Peaked at 20.2% in 1967, enshrined by Veterans Committee in 1975
  • Bucky Walters: Peaked at 23.7% in 1968
  • Joe Gordon (HOF): Peaked at 28.5% in 1969, enshrined by Veterans Committee in 2009
  • Arky Vaughan (HOF): Peaked at 29.0% in 1968, enshrined by Veterans Committee in 1985
  • Tom Henrich: Peaked at 20.7% in 1970
  • Bobby Doerr (HOF): Peaked at 25.0% in 1970, enshrined by Veterans Committee in 1970
  • Mickey Vernon: Peaked at 24.9% in 1980
  • Elston Howard: Peaked at 20.7% in 1981
  • Lew Burdette: Peaked at 24.1% in 1984
  • Mickey Lolich: Peaked at 25.5% in 1988
  • Minnie Minoso: Peaked at 21.1% in 1988
  • Ken Boyer: Peaked at 25.5% in 1988
  • Jim Kaat: Peaked at 29.6% in 1993
  • Joe Torre: Peaked at 22.2% in 1997

The five players besides Mattingly still eligible:

  • Dave Parker: Peaked at 24.5% in 1998
  • Dale Murphy: Peaked at 23.2% in 2000
  • Mark McGwire: Peaked at 28.2% in 2001
  • Fred McGriff: Peaked at 21.5% in 2010
  • Alan Trammell: Peaked at 22.4% in 2010

So Mattingly has history on his side, even if I’m not totally.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? is a Tuesday feature here that debuted on June 1, 2010.

A great pitcher you’ve never heard of

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He died in poverty in Chicago 40 years ago and lay in an unmarked grave before money was raised for a headstone.

His lead researcher credits 363 wins to him through 32 years of Negro League and semi-pro ball– and those are just the wins he’s certain of.

The researcher calls the pitcher he’s spent a decade studying “Satchel Paige 20 years before he was Satchel Paige.”

Meet John Donaldson, one of the greatest baseball players history forgot.

Donaldson pitched on one level or another from 1908 to 1940, crossing paths with Negro League immortals like Paige, Ray Dandridge and Buck O’Neil while also facing white players around the Midwest in semi-pro competition. But by the time his lead researcher Peter Gorton heard of him ten years ago, his story had been relegated to obscurity.

Gorton was approached by his former high school history teacher who was writing a history of black baseball in Minnesota and wanted him to pen a chapter that would include Donaldson, who once pitched in a small town near where Gorton is from. A research group calling itself the Donaldson Network has since developed, documenting the story.

“It’s been buried for almost a hundred years, and there’s a reason for that, and that is, it’s not something that’s sitting right on the top,” said Gorton, an IT worker by day who lives in Minneapolis with a wife and two small children. “You have to dig around in it and try and figure it out, which we’re trying to do.”

The history of Major League Baseball is well-documented, and sites like Baseball-Reference make information on any ex-big league player instantly accessible. It’s harder to find much on the minor leagues and Negro Leagues.

Gorton estimates his group has accounted for 60 percent of Donaldson’s career, thus far. The network only counts verified statistics and, for instance, doesn’t include 100 games where it is uncertain of his strikeout totals. “The Donaldson Network is not in the business of speculating what might have happened,” Gorton said.

Donaldson’s wife died a couple years after him, and no descendants or family histories are known of. Gorton said old newspaper accounts provide the primary source of information. Routinely, visitors to his Web site send him photocopies of articles in the mail. Gorton also said he sometimes calls strangers in towns Donaldson’s teams visited and has them look up newspaper accounts of games.

Donaldson was a marquee name, able to help teams erase debts with late-season appearances that drew thousands. “In John Donaldson’s case, in the Midwest everybody knew who he was,” Gorton said.

Film footage exists of Donaldson, included here with Gorton’s permission. A scout named John Klima who saw the film told me in an email interview that Donaldson would have been a staff ace in the majors. He called Donaldson, “A rubber arm, durable workhorse who should have been a front-end major league starter for many years.”

In later years, Donaldson worked for the Chicago White Sox, scouting a young Willie Mays in the Negro Leagues.

So why isn’t Donaldson remembered? There are a few possibilities. Some may say his statistics aren’t noteworthy since they came against a mix of competition, some of it inferior to pro ball. Gorton also said Donaldson may have had a rift with O’Neil who enchantingly recounted memories of Paige and others in the Ken Burns Baseball mini-series that aired on PBS in 1994. Assuming the rift existed, perhaps it’s one reason there’s no mention of Donaldson in the series or accompanying book (coincidentally, Donaldson and O’Neil were among 39 Negro League finalists for the Hall of Fame in 2006, though neither was inducted.)

There may be a deeper reason for the lack of recognition for Donaldson. One of Gorton’s acquaintances through his research is John Thorn, a veteran baseball author who served as senior creative consultant on the Baseball series and, like Gorton, is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research. Thorn told me in a telephone interview that baseball feels no responsibility to honor latter day players, white or black.

“Major League Baseball has made the judgment that 1/10th of 1 percent of all baseball fans cares about anything that happened prior to World War II, and they’re not going to devote very much of their resources to pleasing that 1/10th of 1 percent,” Thorn said. “You can’t argue with it as a business decision. You can argue with it as a philosophical or historical question because if baseball is an important institution, then it ought to be important to learn where it came from and how it grew.”

I’ll close with the footage of Donaldson, hand-cranked at Fergus Falls, Minnesota on August 16, 1925. Donaldson faced off that day against Joe Jaeger who made two relief appearances for the Chicago Cubs in 1920, and advertisements for the game called Donaldson “the colored wonder pitcher.”

If anyone has an opinion on Donaldson’s technique, Gorton would love to hear it.

(Postscript: More quotes from John Thorn)