Monthly Archives: July 2010

Double the fun: Early Wynn and his late 300th victory

Regular contributor Joe Guzzardi recently began penning Double the fun, which looks at a famous doubleheader every Saturday. Today, Joe examines when a pitcher reached a career milestone during a sparsely-attended doubleheader.

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When the Cleveland Indians’ Early Wynn took the mound to pitch the second game of a doubleheader against the Kansas City Athletics on July 13, 1963 only 13,565 fans were there.

Even though the teams were well on their way to disappointing seasons (both would end the year under .500 with the Indians in fifth place and the Athletics in eighth), the sparse crowd should have been larger because Wynn was seeking his 300th win.

Normally, when a pitcher goes after his milestone 300th victory, it’s a hyped up event. With Athletics’ attendance in the tank, as usual, owner Charlie Finley hoped for a better turn out. Fans generally want to be part of baseball history.

One variable, however, was beyond Finley’s control. Wynn was making his eighth attempt to rack up number 300. On September 8, 1962 while pitching for the Chicago White Sox, Wynn registered his 299th but failed in his three next starts. When the season ended, the White Sox released Wynn.

No team signed Wynn until his former Indians inked him for his 23rd major league season on May 31st, 1963. Five more failed efforts immediately followed.

When manager Birdie Tebbetts tapped a determined Wynn for the nightcap, he was 43 and plagued by chronic gout.

Watching anxiously from the dugout, Wynn saw his Indians lose the opener 6-5. The Athletics, led by the usual assortment of New York Yankee cast offs including Jerry Lumpe and Norm Seiburn, scored four runs in the first and two more in the eighth to lock up the win.

Then Wynn’s turn came. By all accounts including Wynn’s, it was ugly. Pitching the minimum five innings required for a victory, Wynn struggled before leaving the game with a slim 5-4 lead. In the bottom of the fourth, the A’s tagged Wynn for three runs on four hits: three singles by Jose Tartabull, Gino Cimoli, Ken Harrelson and a Lumpe double.

Relief pitcher Jerry Walker saved Wynn’s day when he tossed four shut-out innings and gave up only three hits.

Wynn’s line: 5 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 3 BB, 3 SO

After the game, Wynn said he was glad to be pulled because “I might have fallen on my face. I was exhausted.”

Wynn’s career topped out with 300 wins. A week later, pitching in relief, Wynn was charged with his final defeat to close out his playing days with a 300-244 record and a 3.54 ERA.

In 1972, the Hall of Fame elected Wynn on his fourth ballot in large part because of his dominant days during his first Indian tour.

Originally signed by the Washington Senators when he was 17, Wynn went to the Indians in a 1948 trade along with first baseman Mickey Vernon. By 1954, Wynn was part of one of the most effective pitching staffs in history that recorded 111 regular season Indians’ wins: Bob Lemon, Mike Garcia, Bob Feller, Art Houtteman and in the bull pen, Don Mossi and Ray Narleski.

That year, Wynn led the league with 36 starts and 271 innings pitched and tied Lemon with 23 victories. In the World Series’ second game, Wynn pitched effectively and allowed the New York Giants only four hits over seven innings. Unfortunately, one of them was a two-run homer hit by pinch hitter Dusty Rhodes.

Traded to the Chicago White Sox at age of 39, Wynn led the 1959 “Go Go Sox” Sox with a league-leading 22 wins, 37 starts and 255 innings. His performance earned Wynn the Cy Young Award and third place Most Valuable Player finish behind teammates Nellie Fox and Luis Aparicio.

By the end of the 1950s, Wynn had more strike outs (1,544) than any other major league pitcher in the decade.

Because of his competitiveness and notorious willingness to throw his blazing fastball high and tight even to, as Wynn liked to say:“his mother,” Sox manager Al Lopez summed Wynn’s importance: “If there was one game I absolutely had to win, Early would be my pitcher.”

Wynn also was a skilled batsman. A dangerous switch hitter, Wynn hit better than .270 five times with 17 home runs and 173 RBIs. Mangers often summoned Wynn to pinch hit. Once, Wynn delivered a grand slam.

Post-career, Wynn coached the Minnesota Twins and broadcast for the Toronto Blue Jays and the White Sox.  In 1999 after suffering a stroke, Wynn died in Florida.

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Joe Guzzardi belongs to the Society for American Baseball, as well as the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America. Email him at guzzjoe@yahoo.com

The 10 Most Underrated Baseball Players of All-Time

Roberto Clemente: Almost criminally underrated and had he not died heroically in a plane crash in 1972, he’d be even less remembered. Despite amassing 3,000 hits, doing his best work at the plate in the 1960s when pitchers reigned supreme, and also being an outstanding right fielder, Clemente was not included in recent books I reviewed about the 25 greatest baseball players of all-time and the 20 greatest hitters.

Honus Wagner: In five or ten years, Alex Rodriguez will retire and debate will begin anew if he was the greatest shortstop ever. Some will say his power can’t be ignored, others will say the best is Derek Jeter who caused Rodriguez to shift to third base, and a few self-righteous sportswriters will probably pen columns saying Cal Ripken Jr. was more consistent– which is funny because Wagner lasted longer than any of those men and his .328 lifetime average and 3,420 hits is better too.

Tim Raines: Raines is Rickey Henderson if he played his best years in Montreal, had a well-documented drug problem, or hadn’t set the stolen base record.

Bobby Grich, Lou Whitaker: A pair of great second basemen who were one-and-done Hall of Fame candidates, receiving less than five percent of the vote from the Baseball Writers Association of America their only time on the Cooperstown ballot, disqualifying them from future votes.

Ted Simmons: Bill James ranks Simmons, another one-and-done, as the 10th best catcher in baseball history. I have a hunch Simmons and Whitaker might be future Veterans Committee picks, but it’s no sure thing.

Kevin Brown: Fans may remember Brown’s $15 million annual contract from the Dodgers or his prickly personality or his being mentioned in the Mitchell Report after he retired. When Brown hits the Hall of Fame ballot later this year, he may become the best pitcher shunned by voters. If Albert Belle peaked with less than eight percent of the BBWAA vote, I don’t see Brown faring much better, no matter his 211 wins, string of dominance from the late 1990s, or his having one of the best Wins Above Replacement ratings of non-inducted pitchers.

Rick Reuschel: A 214-game winner who had at least 17 victories four years and made three All Star teams, Reuschel received exactly two Hall of Fame votes in 1997. This earns him the nod here over Bert Blyleven, another hurler long since underrated but one who should finally get a call from Cooperstown in January.

Jeff Reardon: I hear talk of Dan Quisenberry being a superb relief pitcher ignored by most Hall of Fame voters. Reardon has over 100 more saves, twice as many strikeouts, and played four more seasons than Quisenberry even as both men debuted in 1979. Like Quisenberry, Reardon was a one-and-done Hall of Fame candidate.

Sammy Sosa: Meet the most underrated player of the Steroid Era. Sosa was the Chicago Cubs in his prime, having a hand in more than 30 percent of their runs in 2001. The New York Times reported Sosa flunked a steroid test in 2003, making him one of many in his era who probably juiced. Then again, most did so with more protection in the batting order.

Related: A compilation of “Best Of” lists I’ve written here

Any player/Any era: Nate Colbert

What he did: Colbert hit 173 home runs in a 10-year career and was often the best player on historically bad teams. In perhaps his best season in 1972, Colbert had 38 home runs and 111 RBI for a San Diego Padres club that was a National League worst 58-95. Those Padres hit .227 as a team, had a .283 on-base percentage and scored 488 runs. I wrote here in a post last Friday that Colbert had a hand in 32.78 percent of San Diego’s runs in 1972.

Baseball was and is a team sport, and in order to thrive, players generally need help. Babe Ruth had Lou Gehrig and others, Willie Mays had Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepeda, and in recent years, Barry Bonds did a lot of his best work with Matt Williams or Jeff Kent batting near him. It’s one reason lone wolves like Colbert and Wally Berger intrigue me. If Colbert had the talent to put up good numbers with almost no help, just imagine what he might have accomplished with a solid supporting cast.

Era he might have thrived in: I played around with the stat converter for Colbert’s career numbers on Baseball-Reference.com and found his totals would have spiked on the Philadelphia Athletics, Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees powerhouses of the 1920s and ’30s. For our purposes, let’s suspend disbelief about how the color of Colbert’s skin as an African American would have kept him from the majors. On the 1929 A’s, Colbert might have soared to spectacular heights.

Why: That Philadelphia club won 104 games, beat the Chicago Cubs in five games in the World Series, and was chronicled in an August 1996 cover story in Sports Illustrated as “The Team That Time Forgot.” The story suggested that those A’s, not the 1927 Yankees were the greatest team of all-time. I’m not sure if I believe that, but I think Colbert may have done his greatest work in Philadelphia.

Other teams in history scored more runs than the 901 that the 1929 A’s had, such as the 1931 Yankees who scored 1,067, but Colbert would have been in the same batting lineup with the A’s as Hall of Famers Mickey Cochrane, Jimmie Foxx and Al Simmons. And unlike Boston and New York, which had unfriendly confines for a right-handed hitter like Colbert, the A’s home, Shibe Park, boasted a 312-foot left field short porch from 1926 until 1930.

The stat converter has Colbert from 1972 leading the 1929 A’s with 47 home runs and also racking up 160 RBI and a .296 batting average. My guess is that Colbert would have finished with better than 50 home runs and a .300 batting average if he’d learned to take advantage of that short porch. There’s no telling what his presence in the lineup could have done for Foxx and Simmons who each hit better than .350 with 30-plus home runs, surrounded by a couple of outfielders remembered today only by baseball history buffs.

Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature here that looks at how a player might have done in an era besides the one he played in.

Point-counterpoint: Should the Hall of Fame cap membership?

I am pleased to present a first-ever point-counterpoint here. Joe Guzzardi, a regular Wednesday and Saturday contributor, proposes a cap on Hall of Fame membership. I have other views. Thus, we are each taking a side.

Pro


I have a proposal that makes the Baseball Hall of Fame annual voting more interesting and would make the Hall a truly select place reserved exclusively for the game’s greatest players.

Cap the Hall of Fame membership at a specific number—let’s say 300 players.

Once membership hits 300, the total becomes frozen by position. If there are 20 first basemen, then that’s the maximum.

When the upper limit of allowable players is met, every year the Baseball Writers’ Association of America votes to elect a player, another must be voted out, to make room for the new inductee.

Here’s the crux of my plan. If writers don’t agree on who exits, then no one enters Cooperstown! Thus the Hall remains only for the absolutely best players who ever took the field.

My variation also makes the annual selection process more interesting. Who gets in? Who goes out?

Earlier this week the Hall inducted Andre Dawson. Using my standards, for Dawson to be ratified, one outfielder must go. Maybe it would be the Cards’ Chick Hafey or perhaps the Cubs’ Billy Williams?

The debate surrounding the election becomes twice as intense since two questions would be considered.

As years pass, the players remaining among the 300 would be constantly upgraded. No matter how much time goes by, the BBWAA would never kick out Babe Ruth, Ted Williams or Mickey Mantle.

Obviously, under the current system, each player added makes the Hall less exclusive. What began in 1936 as an elite club with five members is now a watered down mishmash.

Currently mentioned as Hall candidates are Roberto Alomar, Mike Mussina, Fred McGriff and John Smoltz.

All are great. But if elected, fans would agree that they represent second tier players by comparison, not worthy of mention in the same breath as Ruth, Williams or Mantle.

Don’t worry about what will become of those who have to step aside.

Their plaques would move to a Cooperstown wing constructed to honor their baseball contributions with a notation of their years as “active” HOF members.

-Joe Guzzardi

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Con


It’s true that less-than-stellar players occasionally make it into Cooperstown. Frankie Frisch helped enshrine former teammates like Chick Hafey, Jesse Haines and Ross Youngs when he was head of the Veterans Committee. For reasons that still defy logic more than 50 years later, the Baseball Writers Association of America chose to induct Rabbit Maranville in 1954 and pass on Joe DiMaggio, who needed another year to earn a Cooperstown plaque. And it seems a little odd to me that Travis Jackson and Babe Ruth have busts hanging in the same Hall of Fame.

It’s an interesting idea to consider capping membership and removing marginal Hall of Famers like Hafey, Jackson, and Maranville as space is needed for new, better members. But I’m against it. It doesn’t seem fair to the players removed, and beyond this, I ask: What’s wrong with having a large Hall of Fame?

One of the few advantages baseball still has over other major sports is its history, which goes back in competitive form to at least the 19th century. Cooperstown is a testament to that long and gloried life. Almost everything good about baseball is in the Hall of Fame.

Even as there are just over 200 players enshrined now, I don’t see anything wrong with eventually having a 1,000-player Hall of Fame if necessary, provided these men meet the subjective (and admittedly varying) standards for induction. A larger Hall of Fame will tell me baseball has that many more solid — if not great — players. I think that’s something to celebrate, not bemoan.

There’s also the human element to consider with any argument that proposes stripping old players of their honors and saying they were Hall of Famers only for a set time, even if they’re still in a token part of the museum. Being enshrined in Cooperstown may be the highlight of a man’s life. In his induction speech on July 25, former manager Whitey Herzog called making the Hall of Fame, “Like going to heaven before you die.”

What would it be like to get kicked out of heaven?

-Graham Womack

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Bert Blyleven

Claim to fame: Blyleven finished with 3,701 strikeouts, 287 wins and 60 shutouts, ninth-best in baseball history. I named Blyleven one of the 10 best players not in the Hall of Fame and included him in a poll of players yet to be enshrined. As of this writing, Blyleven is the only player with more than 75 percent of the vote in my poll, besting others like Roberto Alomar, Gil Hodges, and Pete Rose.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Blyleven has made 13 appearance on the writers ballot and has two more years of eligibility remaining.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Before I offer whether I think Blyleven belongs in Cooperstown, let me say first that I think he will almost certainly be enshrined. Blyleven is one of 12 players who have received at least 50 percent of the vote in their 13th year of eligibility from the Baseball Writers Association of America. These players are:

  • Rabbit Maranville, 62.1 percent, 1953
  • Bill Terry, 72.3 percent, 1953
  • Sam Rice, 50.6 percent, 1962
  • Red Ruffing, 70.1 percent, 1964
  • Ralph Kiner, 75.4 percent, 1975
  • Enos Slaughter, 68.9 percent, 1978
  • Gil Hodges, 60.1 percent, 1981
  • Jim Bunning, 63.3 percent, 1989
  • Orlando Cepeda, 57.2 percent, 1992
  • Bruce Sutter, 76.9 percent, 2006
  • Jim Rice, 63.5 percent, 2007
  • Blyleven, 74.2 percent, 2010

Of the group, only Hodges and Blyleven don’t have a Cooperstown plaque. I suspect Hodges might eventually, courtesy of the Veterans Committee and that Blyleven probably will get inducted on his next go-round with the writers in January.

The question is less if Blyleven gets in than when and how. The writers inducted six of the players, Maranville, Terry, Ruffing, Kiner, Sutter and Jim Rice, while the veterans tabbed Bunning, Cepeda, Sam Rice, and Slaughter. Blyleven reminds me of fellow power pitcher Bunning, albeit with better stats and less polarizing political views. Maybe that’s enough for the writers. Interestingly, Bunning got an equal percentage of the vote in his 12th year on the ballot that Blyleven got in his 13th year, on similarly weak ballots. Bunning then saw a drop in his votes, exhausted his 15 years of eligibility, and was enshrined at the first opportunity for the Veterans Committee.

Perhaps Blyleven will also need the veterans, though like I said, I think he gets in with the writers. Rafael Palmeiro is going to hit the ballot this December, he will be shunned, and the writers will need someone to honor. They may turn to Jeff Bagwell, who will be newly eligible as well and looks like a first ballot Hall of Famer. But I think Blyleven should see a boost as well.

I don’t know if I personally would honor Blyleven. Like Nolan Ryan, he lost a lot of games. It’s also hard to picture him as being dominant enough on any one team to denote him wearing their cap on his plaque. Then again, the same can be said for Dave Winfield or any number of Veterans Committee selections over the years. And he’s a better pitcher than a lot of men already in Cooperstown.

There’s something else worth mentioning here. In a classic scene in Bull Durham, Kevin Costner’s character bitterly says that the difference between a .250 and a .300 hitter is one hit a week. In Blyleven’s case, the difference between early enshrinement and where we sit now may have been about one win a year. His average full season, as listed on Baseball-Reference is 14-12 with a 3.31 ERA. If he’d averaged 15 wins, Blyleven would have 309 career victories and would have been inducted in about the same amount of time as someone like Don Sutton.

Sutton won 324 games, played on far better teams than Blyleven by and large, and still needed five tries on the writers ballot to earn his plaque. In fact, Sutton is one of several 300-game winners who were far from first ballot inductions, but ultimately no shot to be overlooked. Even in the modern game, 300 victories still usually equals eventual enshrinement, no matter what.

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

A visit to the boneyard

I grew up in Sacramento, not far from the Old City Cemetery and a parking lot across the street where a Pacific Coast League ballpark once stood. Both places have long since stoked my imagination, so I was excited to hear the local chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research would be sponsoring a baseball-themed cemetery tour on July 24. In fact, I looked forward to it for much of the summer. I expected tons of anecdotes and the chance for me to wax poetic about a graveyard with headstones dating to 1850. But the most interesting things I heard Saturday were among the living.

While we stood under the glaring sun that turns Sacramento into a microwave every summer, listening to a couple of our own talk about 19th century ballplayers buried nearby, a well-dressed woman approached. It was Susan Fornoff, our scheduled speaker for a luncheon to follow the tour. Fornoff covered the Oakland A’s for the Sacramento Bee and is most known for being the first female reporter admitted into locker rooms after games. She wrote a book some years ago, Lady in the Locker Room and said Saturday that a Hollywood producer and screenwriter are developing it and are interested in Katherine Heigl for the lead role. They’re thinking a baseball version of The Devil Wears Prada.

Before Fornoff spoke of this and more, we had the tour. The highlight for me was seeing a new headstone that Sacramento chapter member Alan O’Connor purchased for Billy Newbert, a former California League ballplayer. Newbert played for the Sacramento Altas in the 1880s, later ran a hardware store at 17th and J Street (where a record store stands today) and died in 1944. In researching his 2008 book on Sacramento baseball history, Gold on the Diamond, O’Connor discovered that Newbert lay in an unmarked Old City Cemetery grave. He paid $280 for a flat marble headstone and was later reimbursed by SABR.

Beyond that, I didn’t get much into the tour, which proved short because of our 1 p.m. deadline to be at the restaurant. I’ve been in the cemetery many times, and between the historic section and an adjoining modern half, it can be easy to lose one’s self there. We barely scratched the surface. No one mentioned the most interesting baseball anecdote I know regarding the cemetery: The old ballpark across the street, Edmonds Field was so close that children used to gather amidst the headstones to catch foul balls.

Thereafter, we adjourned to an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet walking distance from the cemetery, and Fornoff spoke. She fielded the obligatory questions about being a woman in the locker room, recounting how a man once asked her which player was most-endowed (for contrast, imagine that question being asked to a male beat reporter.) Fornoff said she refused to answer besides to say Reggie Jackson thought he was.

I noticed Fornoff seemed uneasy talking about the locker room in general, so I went in a different direction. In April 2008, I interviewed Jose Canseco, and the former A’s slugger told me his oft-repeated assertion that he was blackballed from baseball. It sounded a little improbable, so I asked Fornoff what she thought. She agreed with Canseco and said Dave Kingman was blackballed, too. Kingman was with Oakland in 1986 when he sent Fornoff a rat in the press box. The A’s let him go thereafter, no team picked him up, and he later won money in a suit against Major League Baseball. Fornoff’s take: “I think baseball can collude pretty easily.”

I asked Fornoff if she’d do an interview here if I read her book. She said she would. I have a stack of baseball books to conquer but will add this one to the queue. In a perfect world, it leads to an interview with Heigl.

Related: More posts about SABR and other clubs that I’m in

Double the fun: How to pitch a no-hitter– and lose

I’m pleased to present a guest post from Joe Guzzardi, a regular Wednesday and Saturday contributor here. Joe recently began writing Double the fun, which looks at a famous doubleheader each Saturday, and today, he examines the only time the following has happened in baseball history: a combined no-hitter, in a doubleheader, that ended in defeat.

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The first time I read the headline, I couldn’t believe it. And now reading it again forty-three years later, it’s still hard to fathom even though I know the game is etched in baseball history lore: Two Oriole Pitchers Hold Tigers Hitless but Lose, 2-1, New York Times, May 1, 1967

How was it possible for the Baltimore Orioles to lose a no hitter? And how could the Detroit Tigers score 2 runs on zero hits?

The simple and amazing answer is that in his 8-2/3 innings left hander Steve Barber, the losing starting pitcher, yielded ten walks, hit two batters and threw a wild pitch.

As St. Louis Cardinal Hall of Famer Frankie Frisch famously said after he became the New York Giants’ play-by-play announcer: “Oh, those bases on balls.”

To add fuel to the fire, slick-fielding Mark Belanger, playing second base, made his only error of the year at that position which allowed the winning run to score in the top of the ninth.

When 26,884 fans turned out at Baltimore’s old Memorial Stadium for an early season doubleheader to watch Barber and Jim Palmer match up against the Tigers’ Earl Wilson and Joe Sparma, they had no idea the screwy game they were about to witness.

On his fateful day, Barber entered the top of the ninth clinging to a 1-0 lead before the wheels quickly feel off.

Barber issued back-to-back walks to Norm Cash and weak hitting Ray Oyler.

After Wilson sacrificed the runners to second and third, Barber got Willie Horton to foul out before throwing a wild pitch that allowed pinch runner Dick Tracewski to score the tying run.

Then Barber issued his tenth and final walk of the afternoon to Mickey Stanley, a .210 hitter that year. Imagine Frisch and Oriole manager Hank Bauer pulling their hair!

Enter Stu Miller to face Don Wert who promptly lined a grounder up the middle that shortstop Luis Aparicio fielded. But Belanger dropped Aparicio’s toss which allowed another Tiger pinch runner, Jake Wood, to score the winning run.

Barber’s line: 8 2/3 IP; 0 H; 2 R; 1 ER; 10 BB; 3 SO

Barber and Miller finished with one of just nine combined no-hitters in baseball history. Of this group, only one other ended in defeat, a 2-0 losing gem by Blue Moon Odom and Francisco Barrios for the Oakland A’s against the Chicago White Sox on July 28, 1976. And just one other combined no-no came as part of a doubleheader, Babe Ruth and Ernie Shore’s 9-0 blanking of the Washington Senators on May 29, 1917.

Hours after Barber and Miller’s effort, the Orioles played their night cap and lost that game as well, 6-4. Palmer had nothing. The Tigers led by a Cash home run roughed up the future first ballot Hall of Fame inductee for six runs in the top of the fifth to send Palmer to an early shower.

Palmer’s line: 5 IP, 6 H, 6 R; 6 ER; 4 BB; 3 SO

Despite an aggregate 21 bases on balls during the two games, the playing times were a tidy 2:38 and 2:30.

Besides seeing one of baseball’s most unusual games, fans had an opportunity to watch five future Hall of Fame players. Along with Aparicio and Palmer, others included Al Kaline as well as Frank and Brooks Robinson.

By 1967, the year of his dubious contribution to baseball history, Barber’s career was on the wane. Signed by Baltimore in 1957 when he was 18, Barber eventually became a productive part of the 1966 World Series Champion Orioles when he started 22 games and went 10-5 with a 2.30 ERA.

Although my recollection of Barber is that of a journeyman who also pitched for the Yankees, Cubs, Braves, Angels and Giants, at his best he won 18 and 20 games in 1961 and 1963. Barber, who was also chosen for the 1963 and 1966 All Star Game, was the first modern day Oriole to win 20.

In all, Barber racked up 121 lifetime victories and finished in the top ten in ERA and wins during three separate seasons. Today, assuming he had a shrewd agent, those stats might earn Barber somewhere in the range of $8-$10 million annually.

Barber, an Oriole Hall of Fame member, died in 2007.

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Joe Guzzardi belongs to the Society for American Baseball Research, as well as the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America. Email him at guzzjoe@yahoo.com.

New stat: Runs Accounted For – RAF

Here’s a trivia question question that may stump even the most ardent of baseball fans and historians: What’s an offensive feat measured over the course of a season that Wally Berger, Nate Colbert, and Sammy Sosa have accomplished and Lou Gehrig, Willie Mays, and other immortals have not?

Answer: Colbert, Berger, and Sosa are among a small group of players who had a hand in at least 30 percent of their team’s runs in a season.

I call this stat Runs Accounted For (RAF) and it’s fairly easy to calculate. Just add a player’s RBI and run totals for a season, subtract home runs since those count double, and divide by the total number of runs his team scores. From there, multiply by 100 to get the percentage of runs a player accounts for.

To be clear, RAF proposes that a player has a hand in any run he bats in or scores himself. While this admittedly leads to some double counting among teammates, since one player can score on another man’s RBI, I think it’s a good way to make relative comparisons between players of different eras and compensate for those who played on worse teams than others.

RAF rates players, past and present, who were most-indispensable to helping their teams score runs. The stat also rewards good base running, an underrated offensive skill and correlates strongly to OPS, a combination of on-base and slugging percentage. In fact, I used the lists of OPS leaders to seek out possible candidates for here.

It quickly became apparent in calculating RAF that while many players have accounted for at least 25 percent of their team’s runs in a season, few have cracked 30 percent. I’m uncertain why this is. I know of 18 players who have done it a total of 29 times. They are as follows, in order of highest RAF:

Player Year RAF Runs RBI HR Team W/L Team Runs
1 Ted Williams 1942 36.53% 141 137 36 Red Sox 93-59 761
2 Honus Wagner 1908 34.02% 100 109 10 Pirates 98-56 585
3 Babe Ruth 1919 33.33% 103 114 29 Red Sox 66-71 564
4 Nate Colbert 1972 32.78% 87 111 38 Padres 58-95 488
5 Wally Berger 1935 32.52% 91 130 34 Braves 38-115 575
6 Ty Cobb 1909 32.13% 116 107 9 Tigers 98-54 666
7 Ty Cobb 1911 32.01% 147 127 8 Tigers 89-65 831
8 Nap Lajoie 1901 31.8% 145 125 14 Athletics 74-62 805
9 Chuck Klein 1933 31.795% 101 120 28 Phillies 60-92 607
10 Ty Cobb 1917 31.77% 107 102 6 Tigers 78-75 639
11 Tris Speaker 1914 31.75% 101 90 4 Red Sox 91-62 589
12 George Sisler 1919 31.71% 96 83 10 Browns 67-72 533
13 Sammy Sosa 2001 31.15% 146 160 64 Cubs 88-74 777
14 Ty Cobb 1915 30.98% 144 99 3 Tigers 100-54 778
15 Chuck Klein 1931 30.85% 121 121 31 Phillies 66-88 684
16 Joe Jackson 1912 30.72% 121 90 3 Naps 75-78 677
17 Bill Nicholson 1943 30.696% 95 128 29 Cubs 74-79 632
18 Stan Musial 1948 30.59% 135 131 39 Cardinals 85-69 742
19 Hank Aaron 1963 30.57% 121 130 44 Braves 84-78 677
20 Chuck Klein 1930 30.51% 158 170 40 Phillies 52-102 944
21 Babe Ruth 1921 30.49% 177 171 59 Yankees 98-55 948
22 Ty Cobb 1907 30.45% 97 119 5 Tigers 92-58 693
23 Dale Murphy 1985 30.38% 118 111 37 Braves 66-96 632
24 Home Run Baker 1912 30.295% 116 130 10 Athletics 90-62 779
25 Nap Lajoie 1910 30.292% 94 76 4 Naps 71-81 548
26 Ty Cobb 1918 30.25% 83 64 3 Tigers 55-71 476
27 Honus Wagner 1905 30.2% 114 101 6 Pirates 96-57 692
28 George Sisler 1920 30.11% 137 122 19 Browns 76-77 797
29 Jeff Bagwell 1994 30.07% 104 116 39 Astros 66-49 602

Several greats never cracked 30 percent, including: Barry Bonds, Joe DiMaggio, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Hank Greenberg, Ken Griffey Jr., Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, and Al Simmons, whose careers I examined year-by-year on Baseball-Reference. If anyone has a player they think qualifies, let me know, and if necessary, I’d be happy to add him here.

In general, RAF appears to favor three types of players:

  1. Lone guns on bad teams
  2. Speedy contact hitters with sizable RBI and run totals, but few home runs
  3. Those greats who would have shined no matter the era

The stat is less rewarding to a DiMaggio or a Gehrig, who had the misfortune — at least for our purposes here — to play on star-packed clubs. Gehrig may have the most runs ever accounted for in one season, with 301 in 1931, though that was just over 28 percent of the 1,067 his Yankees amassed. Most years, Ruth and Gehrig drove each others percentages down. Same thing for Foxx and Simmons, as well as Greenberg and Charlie Gehringer. Enos Slaughter and Musial each just missed accounting for 30 percent of the Cardinals’ runs in 1946.

Interestingly, Bonds accounted for more runs before he (probably) started using steroids in 1999. Bonds had a hand in more than 200 runs three times in his career: 1993, 1996 and 1998, one more reason he might have been better clean. The younger Bonds also won Gold Gloves which probably saved some runs, too.

Of the players who accounted for 30 percent or more of their teams’ runs at least once, I don’t know what’s more impressive: That Cobb accomplished the feat six times in a twelve-season stretch or that Ruth and Lajoie did it for multiple teams. More astonishing? Ted Williams’ 1942 season, where he accounted for 36.53 percent of Boston’s runs and won the Triple Crown, wasn’t enough for American League Most Valuable Player honors. The award went to Joe Gordon, who accounted for just 21.6 percent of the American League champion Yankees’ runs and didn’t even lead his team in the stat, finishing behind Joe DiMaggio and Charlie Keller.

Related: A compilation of quirky stats and big crazy ideas I’ve introduced here

Any player/Any era: Josh Hamilton

What he did: Lots of fans may know the story of Josh Hamilton, the 1999 No. 1 overall draft pick who spent many years out of baseball battling drug addiction before getting clean, returning to the game, and emerging as a legitimate Triple Crown threat for the Texas Rangers. What may get forgotten, amidst Hamilton’s .353 batting average, 23 home runs and 70 RBI, as of this writing, is that in high school, he was also an ace pitcher.

Era he might have thrived in: Suppose Hamilton came of age in a different era. In the early days of baseball, players who could both pitch and hit were often used on the mound first. This changed somewhere around the time the Boston Red Sox discovered that even though Babe Ruth pitched excellently, he was more valuable playing in the field everyday. I can only imagine the heights Hamilton may have reached if he, too, was a Deadball Era pitcher.

Why: Perhaps no other ballplayer in history had a better all-around high school season than what Hamilton accomplished his senior year. Besides being at a .556 batting average with 11 home runs, 34 RBI and just four strikeouts in 63 at-bats, Hamilton was sporting a 7-1 record as a pitcher and had struck out 83 batters in 47 innings when Sports Illustrated featured him in its May 17, 1999 issue.

At the time, Hamilton was a month away from being the first pick in the draft by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who passed on taking highly-touted second pick Josh Beckett (not to mention Albert Pujols, who went in the 13th round that year.) Hamilton’s coach told Sports Illustrated, “Can you imagine someone so good at so much that he could be a lefthander throwing 96 miles per hour—and not be wanted as a pitcher?”

It used to be if a player came up with pitching ability, he did that first. Stan Musial began as a minor league pitcher. So did Tris Speaker, who went 2-7 in the Texas League in 1906 and Ted Williams, signed as a pitcher-outfielder to the old San Diego Padres of the Pacific Coast League. Interestingly, Hamilton never pitched in the minors, and though Williams and Speaker each made a relief appearance in the majors (Speaker in 1914, Williams in 1940), Hamilton has yet to do so, not even in a blowout.

A generation before Musial and Williams, more players started out as major league hurlers before converting to position players. Besides Ruth, Rube Bressler and Smoky Joe Wood were also bright, young Deadball Era hurlers. Each blew out his arm and wound up as a light-hitting outfielder. I included Wood and Bressler in a post I wrote in May, The 10 best pitchers turned position players in baseball.

Curious about why more players pitched before becoming hitters in the early days, I emailed John Thorn, a prolific baseball writer and an expert on the game before the modern era. Thorn replied to me:

Look to Little League today, where the best player typically is the pitcher … who also bats cleanup. When the average level of playing skill was lower, as it surely was in the earliest days of the game, pitchers might be expected to be solid batters as well. Look at John Wad, Hoss Radbourn, Guy Hecker, Bob Caruthers … I could go on. Ruth’s transition was the ultimate one, of course, but it came at the tail end of a long established trend. Fewer pitchers made the conversion after Ruth than before, and with less success.

In terms of career trajectory, I most liken Hamilton to Lefty O’Doul as each man took long sabbaticals after early struggles. O’Doul struggled as a relief pitcher for parts of four seasons before leaving the majors in 1923 at 26, going to the PCL, and learning to hit. He returned to the majors in 1928, nearly batted .400 the following year and retired with a .349 batting average, fourth-best all-time.

I’m guessing Hamilton would have fared better than O’Doul, Bressler or Wood as a pitcher and that he had the raw talent to win 20 games in the Deadball Era. While I doubt Hamilton would have surpassed Ruth, who has a 2.28 career ERA, I suspect he may have amassed sufficient pitching numbers for the Hall of Fame. In fact, he might have had a better shot at Cooperstown than he has now. Like O’Doul, I think Hamilton’s career is going to be too short for Hall of Fame standards.

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

A treasure map for the Pirates

I’m pleased to present a guest column from Joe Guzzardi, a Wednesday and Saturday contributor here. Today, he looks at the famous struggles of his hometown team.

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Here’s the problem for the Pittsburgh Pirates, the team I’ve supported for more than half a century.

The Bucs, who once inspired, are closing in on their 18th consecutive losing season, and no one’s surprised anymore.

Preseason forecasts are always grim—last place. In April, its cold and kids are still in school. No one wants to freeze to death watching bad baseball.

The Pirates‘ dilemma is compounded since the successful NHL Penguins hit their stride in April on the way to its annual Stanley Cup run.

Why go to PNC Park to watch the Pirates get hammered in a meaningless game when you can stay home to watch the Penguins on your flat screen in the warmth of your living room?

As baseball begins, the Pirates drift toward the cellar fulfilling the gloomy predictions.

By May, the Pirates are the tenth story on the sport page after two or three about the Pens, a couple of items about the Steelers, the latest major golf tournament news, the Kentucky Derby and the most recent sport scandal (Tiger Woods, Lebron James, Ben Roethlisberger, or Rick Pittino—where did he go anyway?)

Early season Pirate newspaper stories heap scorn on the Bucs for their continued futility, thus further diminishing any possible fan interest.

By the All Star Game, the Pirates are 20 games under .500 and solidly in last place. All the dire spring training forecasts have come true. The Bucco season is over.

During what should be the baseball season’s height, local fans turn their attention to the Steelers and Pitt football and basketball, both projected as national Top Ten teams. Save for Pirate games that offer fireworks or concerts, no one goes.

Since .500 is at least two years away, my question is how to save the Pirates from total irrelevance while regenerating a modicum interest among the few remaining fans.

I have three suggestions:

1) Trade manager John Russell for one of the two Pirate announcers: beloved 1971 World Series hero Steve Blass or better-than-you-remember former major league pitcher Bob Walk (105-81)

Debate swirls around  Russell. Should he or shouldn’t he be fired? Some say Russell’s laid back personality isn’t right for the young Pirates while his defenders wonder what he could do with the team’s limited talent.

By trading Russell, the Pirates could see if the players respond better to other leadership. At the same time, the broadcasting booth would get Russell’s experience, i.e. “With Garrett Jones at the plate, I always…”

It’s been done before. In 1960, the perennial cellar-dwelling Chicago Cubs installed broadcaster Lou Boudreau as manager and put its then-pilot Charlie Grimm behind the microphone.

2) Take another page from the Cubs and rotate Pirate coaches monthly into the manager’s seat

After the 1960 “broadcaster for manager” move landed the Cubs in the second-division for the 14th straight year, the North Siders employed the “college of coaches” during 1961 and 1962 that switched managers on a irregular schedule.

“Managers are expendable,” Cubs owner Phil Wrigley said. “I believe there should be relief managers just like relief pitchers.”

Here’s how it could work for the Pirates: In April, pitching coach Joe Kerrigan takes the helm; in May, third base coach Tony Beasley; in June, bench coach, Gary Varsho, and so on.

3) Make a late season acquisition

Normally only contenders add a crucial veteran to their roster. But the questions facing the lowly Pirates are whether it will edge out the Houston Astros for fifth place in the NL Central or if it will fall below the Baltimore Orioles as 2010’s statistically worst team.

I’m thinking Pedro Martinez would give Corsair fans a rare opportunity to see a future Hall of Famer in Bucco black and gold. I’d expect Martinez could do double duty, namely start and serve as pitching coach to the young Pirates.

My wrinkle is that Martinez should pitch only on Sunday. In 1942, Chicago White Sox Ted Lyons became “Sunday Ted” and pitched on that day alone. Once, Lyons reeled off seven complete games in a row to the delight of his fans who packed Comiskey Park to watch the crafty Hall of Fame veteran.

Full disclosure: Only the Lyons experiment worked.

During three years of manager experimentation, the Cubs finished close to the cellar every year. Boudreau was no better than Grimm and five Cub managers couldn’t produce more wins than one.

Still, I like the idea of buzz about the Pirates during August and September. Once again, fans would be talking about baseball.

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Joe Guzzardi belongs to the Society for American Baseball Research, as well as the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America. Email him at guzzjoe@yahoo.com.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? George Steinbrenner

Claim to fame: Memorably autocratic owner of the New York Yankees won seven World Series titles after buying the team in 1973. Set a standard for excellence in New York where even a finish in the divisional playoffs could spell doom for a manager. Was death on facial hair, even if it killed Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi as we know them. Inspired characterizations on Seinfeld.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Steinbrenner can be enshrined by the Veterans Committee as an executive.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? This column was prompted by a July 13 piece by Wallace Matthews on ESPN.com arguing for a plaque in Cooperstown for Steinbrenner, who died last week at 80. Matthews referenced the upcoming Hall of Fame inductions for Andre Dawson, Doug Harvey, and Whitey Herzog, calling them all deserving inductees. Matthews added:

But I defy anyone, [New York Yankees] lovers and haters alike, to make the case that any one of them — or, in fact, all three combined — made a bigger impact on Major League Baseball than George M. Steinbrenner III.

It’s a bold statement, and I’m not sure how much I agree with where it leads. Personally, I think the abrogation of the Reserve Clause in December 1975 did more to help the Yankees return to prominence than anything Steinbrenner did. Note that after winning 83 games and finishing third in 1975, the Yankees capitalized on their sudden ability to stockpile high-priced free agents like Reggie Jackson by appearing in the next three World Series, winning two of them.

It should be noted, too, that after this return to prominence, the Yankees sucked for the better part of 20 years before rising again in the mid-1990s. Why isn’t Steinbrenner faulted for that? Why isn’t he dinged for repeatedly firing Billy Martin or alienating players like Dave Winfield? That did more to cripple the Yankees for a long time than help them.

Don’t get me wrong, Steinbrenner could have been Donald Sterling, the Los Angeles Clippers owner who ran his basketball team aground by refusing to support a large payroll, even though he was making good profits. Steinbrenner did his job as competently as any owner of a major market sports franchise should do. But that hardly places him in the pantheon. Steinbrenner was a character, no doubt, but then, so was Marge Schott.

I would induct two executives before Steinbrenner, and Matthews references both of them in his piece. They are:

  • Marvin Miller: I wrote in December about the shame of the Veterans Committee failing to induct Miller, the former executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association who led the charge to overturn the Reserve Clause. As Matthews notes, Miller fell two votes shy of the Hall of Fame last year, failing to garner much support from league executives on the committee. Miller’s 93 and will hopefully be enshrined in his lifetime, but I wouldn’t count on it.
  • Colonel Jacob Ruppert: Owned the Yankees from 1915 until his death in 1939, winning as many World Series as Steinbrenner, with seven and doing it in over ten fewer years on the job. More importantly, Ruppert helped orchestrate the purchase of Babe Ruth from the Boston Red Sox in 1920, which did more to change New York — and baseball — than anything anyone’s done before or since.

Still, as I wrote in my piece on Miller, I’m not even wild on enshrining Ruppert. With Babe Ruth under my employ, I’m pretty sure I could have won some World Series titles. Really, what’s so hard about being an owner?

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

Ted Williams vs. The Machine

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it here before, but I’m a big fan of “The Office” on NBC. I’ve seen every show, own four seasons on DVD, and am to the point I’ve watched most of my favorite episodes two and three times, minimum. In a classic episode, the fictional paper merchant depicted, Dunder-Mifflin, launches a Web site and projects that by the end of the day, it will be the company’s new top salesman. This rankles neurotic, star salesman Dwight Schrute, who scoffs he can beat a computer. Working aggressively, he proceeds to do just that.

In a similar spirit, I am about three-quarters of the way through a 1995 book, Ted Williams’ Hit List, that the Red Sox immortal co-authored with Jim Prime ranking the 20 greatest hitters of all-time. Williams compiled his book in an age before high-speed Internet and statistical repositories on the Web made such comparisons instantaneous. For being only 15 years old, the book seems from an entirely different era, when subjective analysis by writers or a legend like Williams was the best baseball fans could get. Now, anyone with a computer can be an expert.

Before I go any further, I should offer Williams’ Top 20. It is:

  1. Babe Ruth
  2. Lou Gehrig
  3. Jimmie Foxx
  4. Rogers Hornsby
  5. Joe DiMaggio
  6. Ty Cobb
  7. Stan Musial
  8. Joe Jackson
  9. Hank Aaron
  10. Willie Mays
  11. Hank Greenberg
  12. Mickey Mantle
  13. Tris Speaker
  14. Al Simmons
  15. Johnny Mize
  16. Mel Ott
  17. Harry Heilmann
  18. Frank Robinson
  19. Mike Schmidt
  20. Ralph Kiner

(Note how Williams doesn’t include himself; in the book, he puts himself at the bottom of this list with a slash mark in place of a numerical ranking.)

Before getting into the rankings, which span most of the last half of the book, Williams offers his methodology: OPS, a combination of slugging and on-base percentage. The statistic favors players who hit for a combination of average and power, and since it’s percentage-based, it pushes up hitters like DiMaggio, Foxx and Greenberg who had shorter careers. Williams refers to the stat as PRO in the book, saying he got it from John Thorn and Pete Palmer and that he relied heavily on their work, Total Baseball to determine his rankings.

If there was anyone qualified to offer judgment on hitting, it might have been Williams, who made it his mission in life to learn everything he could about batting, conferring with greats like Cobb and Hornsby, retiring with a .344 lifetime clip, and going on to write multiple revered books on the subject. But I only wonder what heights Williams’ analysis could have soared to if he’d had access to a goldmine like Baseball-Reference, which offers similarity scores between different batters and a list of the leaders for just about every recognized stat, including OPS.

Poking around the site, I saw that Williams didn’t stick hard and fast to OPS in his determinations. Otherwise, he’d have included players like Dan Brouthers, Lefty O’Doul and Hack Wilson, who were among the top-20 lifetime for OPS for inactive players in 1995 (interestingly, of those men, only Wilson is in the Hall of Fame, though that’s a post for another time.) Williams notes on page 89:

I didn’t want Ted Williams’ Hit List to be a dry statistical analysis of what I think is the most exciting and uniquely human facet of baseball, but I did want to be able to back up my insights with some hard and fast truths.

What we’re left with is a book that’s equal parts stats and Williams’ expertise and first-hand accounts of the various players. It’s not a bad compromise, and it might actually be superior to anything a computer can spit out, but a part of me wishes Williams were still around to write a new updated edition. Actually, that’s an understatement, and it says nothing of how interested I’d be to hear Williams’ views on the fact that most of the recent players who merit consideration for this list have been linked to steroids. But that’s a post for another time.

I occasionally review books for this site. A compilation of reviews can be found here.

Double the fun: The day Don Newcombe pitched twice

Regular readers may have noticed two changes in the last several weeks here: I have begun consistently posting Monday through Friday, and a fellow Society for American Baseball Research member Joe Guzzardi has contributed a Wednesday guest post. Joe recently offered to provide Saturday content as well, for the duration of the baseball season. Effective immediately, I’m pleased to offer this new bonus day of content. Joe’s Saturday column, “Double the fun,” looks at famous doubleheaders.

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In recent blogs, I’ve written about Vern Law’s titanic 18-inning starting effort, Tom Cheney’s 16-inning, 21-strikeout masterpiece, and a tribute to the long lost doubleheader.

Graham Womack, in his regular Tuesday feature, Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? chronicled the great career of Brooklyn Dodger hurler Don Newcombe.

Today, I’ll roll marathon pitching, doubleheaders and Newcombe into a single post.

On September 6 1950 in a twin bill against the Philadelphia Phillies, Newcombe started both ends. That season the Dodgers played erratically and by early September, the team trailed the Phillies by 7-1/2 games.

Although the Dodgers had the Boys of Summer line up led by Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Gil Hodges and Duke Snider, pitching was thin, to put it kindly.

Newcombe and Preacher Roe, both with 19-11 records anchored the staff. Behind them were a pot luck group that included Carl Erskine (7-6), Erv Palica (13-8), Dan Bankhead (9-4) and Bud Podlielan (5-4). Their marginal success came thanks to heavy Dodger hitting rather than pitching skill.

With the season winding down, Newk was one of the few pitchers manager Burt Shutton could count on so he tapped him to start the first game. The Phillies countered with rookie righthander Bubba Church who took to the mound with an 8-2 record.

According to the Sporting News, Newcombe and Dodger manager Burt Shotton had talked on the train to Philadelphia about the prospect of his pitching both ends.

Reporter Joe King wrote that Shotton told Newcombe, “You can do two if you pitch a shutout in the opener.” Since Newk blanked the Phillies 2-0 on three hits in an efficient 2 hours 15 minutes, he got the nod to take the mound again in the second tilt.

“I figured he was hot right then and ought to try again,” Shotton said.

As the second game warm ups began, fans noticed that Newk was down in the bullpen taking his tosses. Realizing that something special was about to begin, the capacity crowd of 32,379 gave the Dodger stalwart a loud ovation.

Newcombe pitched valiantly allowing just two runs over seven innings but left the game trailing Phillie ace Curt Simmons, 2-0. Shotton then pulled Newcombe for a pinch hitter, even though he was one of the baseball’s best hitting pitcher. The Dodgers eventually rallied for three runs in the bottom of the ninth to win, 3-2.

Newcombe’s pitching line for the day: 16 IP, H 11, ER 2, BB 2, SO 3

The Giants and the Cardinals shelled Newcombe (13 IP; 10 ER) in his next two starts. Yet the Dodgers, inspired by Newcombe’s heroic effort, played top notch baseball for the rest of the season but ultimately fell two games short.

The Dodgers wrapped up its season against the Phillies with Newcombe absorbing the loss against Robin Roberts (20-11). That game brought down the curtain on majority owner/team president Branch Rickey’s Dodger tenure. Walter O’Malley replaced Rickey and immediately fired Shotton. Chuck Dressen took over as the new Dodgers manager.

Under O’Malley and Dressen, the Dodgers won four of seven National League pennants and one World Series before leaving for Los Angeles.

Newcombe went on to become a three-time 20 game winner. In 1956, Newcombe won the Most Valuable Player award and became baseball’s first Cy Young Award recipient.

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Joe Guzzardi is a Wednesday and Saturday contributor here and belongs to the Society for American Baseball Research, as well as the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America. Email him at guzzjoe@yahoo.com.

My story on Ken Henderson is up at Seamheads.com

A few months ago, I went in early to work to print off a story I wrote on Billy O’Dell for BaseballSavvy.com. I promised the former San Francisco Giants pitcher I would mail him a copy of the “Where Are They Now?” piece he inspired, and after too many years of making these promises to sources and not following through, I’m trying to do things differently. Thus, I found myself at the office printer, waiting for my story to print, and I encountered the CEO of the company renting space to my employer. We got to talking, and the CEO said he was friends with another former Giant, Ken Henderson. A few months later, I have a story on Henderson live at Seamheads.com.

The CEO introduced me to Henderson when he stopped by the office in June, and a couple weeks later, Henderson and I did a 30-minute phone interview. Henderson was gracious enough to call me back after I went to transcribe my interview and found my tape recorder had picked up virtually nothing he said. In fact, Henderson ultimately called me back multiple times, since the first time he reached me I was working, and the second time, the batteries in my alternate recorder were dead. Henderson was one of the more patient ballplayers I’ve encountered.

I focused my story on something I had read in a Giants book I have which described how early in Henderson’s career, reporters hyped him as the next Willie Mays. Of course, that didn’t pan out. Henderson was happy to discuss this and more with me. In fact, I wound up with more good material than what made my final edit. Some good extra bits which I’ll offer here include:

  • Henderson told me two of the toughest pitchers he faced were Steve Carlton and Bob Gibson. I looked at Henderson’s career splits against both Hall of Fame hurlers on Retrosheet.org. A switch hitter who favored the left side of the plate, Henderson batted right-handed against the southpaw Carlton and only got three hits in 33 at-bats lifetime, though interestingly, two of those hits were home runs. Also, Henderson hit .304 lifetime against Gibson, though I think that may have been news to him.
  • Henderson said one of the things he learned from Mays was the importance of being in good position in the outfield ahead of time. Henderson said other outfielders may have made more spectacular catches, but that was only because they were further out of position at the start of a play and had to sprint to get to the ball. Mays knew better. A friend told me today that Andruw Jones does too.

I love doing these types of stories. On a side note, Henderson works with my all-time favorite player, Will Clark, who I missed on a chance to interview this winter. I put out to Henderson that I’d still like to talk to Clark. We’ll see where this leads.

Any player/Any era: Ty Cobb

What he did: Hit .367 lifetime. Set several longstanding records. Scared the shit out of opponents.

Era he might have thrived in: Cobb is one of the all-time greats, perhaps the best ever, and was a rare player who likely would have thrived in any era. This column looks at how well Cobb might have done on the 1995 Cleveland Indians.

Why: I have recently been reading Ted Williams’ Hit List, a 1995 book the Red Sox legend co-wrote with Jim Prime ranking the 20 greatest hitters of all-time. Cobb is sixth on Williams’ list, and before discussing this, Williams offered an interesting bit about comparisons for different eras. The Splendid Splinter wrote:

There were pressures in the dead ball era, there were different pressures when I played, and today’s players face a whole new set of problems and pressures. Some things have been made a lot easier for them and some are probably tougher too. In the end, though, a hitter still has to prove himself at the plate, and a truly great hitter would stand out in any era. You can just bet a smart guy like Tyrus Raymond Cobb would be able to make adjustments to his swing and terrorize the pitchers of 1995, just as he did those poor sods back in his own era.

Actually, to say the pitchers of 1995 would be terrorized is an understatement. Imagine if Cobb joined forces with Albert Belle and a young Manny Ramirez to create the all-time looniest outfield. These guys would hit a collective .350, minimum. I also suspect that left unguarded Cobb and Belle might kill one another or forge a common bond of insanity and go after Manny. Cobb would set records if he didn’t end the year in prison.

The stat converter for Cobb on Baseball-Reference has the Georgia Peach hitting .387 lifetime with 4,300 hits if he played his entire career on a team like the ’95 Indians. He would hit over .400 a dozen times and peak at .433 for his converted 1918 season. He’d also retire with north of 300 triples and 900 stolen bases.

I suspect Cobb would hit a higher number of home runs than the 119 career long bombs projected, which is just two more than his real total of 117. For one thing, the Indians’ home, Jacobs Field, offers friendlier dimensions to power hitters than the cavernous ballparks of Cobb’s era. The modern ball is, of course, more lively. Also, I recently reviewed an upcoming book by sportscaster Len Berman, The 25 Greatest Baseball Players of All Time. In his entry for Cobb, a seemingly obligatory choice, Berman wrote:

Here’s one about Ty’s hitting. In the later stages of his career, it bothered him that Babe Ruth had become more famous. The Babe’s home run hitting had captured the fancy of the fans, and Ty didn’t like it at all. Ty never tried to hit home runs, but in May 1925, he told reporters that he could hit home runs like Babe Ruth if he tried. Over the next two games, he had nine hits, and five of them were homers.

Cobb’s 1925 power outburst came May 5 and May 6 against the St. Louis Browns, at Sportsman’s Park. I’m guessing in 1995, there would be many more games like these.

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

What’s wrong with the All Star game? Everything

With the latest All Star game less than 24 hours old, Joe Guzzardi, a regular Wednesday contributor here, devotes his latest guest post to what’s gone awry with the mid-season contest.

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Mercifully, the All Star Game is over. Like the Sunday and holiday doubleheader about which I wrote last time, the mid-summer classic was once a highlight of the baseball season.

Now its a misguided affair that has little appeal to old school fans like me.

I’ll sum up in one word what’s wrong with the All Star Game: everything.

Among its multitude of problems are allowing twenty-five votes each to the fans, expanding rosters, issuing contractual bonuses up to $100,000 for certain participating players and awarding the World Series home field advantage to the winning league. Other quirky and constantly evolving rules and regulations keep fans in the dark from one year to the next.

During baseball’s Golden Age, which I broadly define as 1920-1960, the All Star Game provided a rare opportunity for fans to watch the greatest National League players go head to head against the American League. Often, the game generated a lifetime of memories. But with inter-league competition completed only two weeks ago, there’s nothing special about seeing Derek Jeter on the same field as Ryan Howard.

As for the State Farm Home Run Derby, the less I say, the better. Three hours of pre-derby shilling, followed by three hours of batting practice and concluding with an hour of post-derby feigned excitement by the “analysts” doesn’t do it for me.

If television wants to give its derby rating a real boost, have the players’ mothers pitch to them. The degree of difficulty would be the same!

In 1960, a made-for-television derby had some serious sluggers going at it. Among them were future Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Ernie Banks, Eddie Mathews, Harmon Killebrew, Frank Robinson and Duke Snider.

Even the second tier contestants were imposing: Gil Hodges, Al Kaline and Rocky Colavito. (See it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNxMH7xo47I)

Major League Baseball could easily rectify the errors its made over the last several years that have reduced the All Star Game’s appeal. However, the only likely changes will further commercialize the game or add to the circus-like atmosphere that already surrounds it.

Baseball was not always so slow to act when faced with an obviously flawed product.

From 1959 through 1962, two All Star Games were played. Although fans immediately criticized the idea because it cheapened the summer classic’s excitement, baseball bureaucrats pressed on.

The starting line up was chosen by a poll among players, managers and coaches with the restriction that no player could vote for a teammate. (Note to MLB: please return to this system.)

For the second of the two All Star games, squads were allowed to add three players and the managers could alter their pitching staffs.

During 1959, the experiment worked fairly well. Pittsburgh hosted the first game and Los Angeles, the second. Because the California contest had 4 P.M. PDT/7 P.M. EDT start time, the All Star Game for the first time had a truly national television audience.

But by the very next year, the two game novelty had worn off. MLB decided to play both games within a two-day break (July 11 and July 13) instead of one month apart as it did in 1959.

The second 1960 All Star game held in Yankee Stadium drew a paltry 38, 362 fans; the first in Kansas City’s Municipal Stadium had a 30, 000 capacity crowd.

By 1963, fans were so disenchanted with two times All Star Games that even when it returned to a single annual contest attendance suffered. With Cleveland as the host, only 44,000 showed up in cavernous Municipal Stadium.

During the four years that two All Star Games were held, three of baseball’s greatest players participated in both: Willie Mays, Henry Aaron and Stan Musial.

Interestingly, those eight appearances allowed the three greats to retire with a curious line in their baseball biographies.

Each played in more All Star Games that they had years in their careers.

All had 24 All Star appearances. Mays and Musial achieved them over 22 seasons; Aaron, 23.

And not surprisingly, Mays, Musial and Aaron hold the All Star records in most of the key offensive categories: at bats, Mays, 75; extra base hits, Mays and Musial, 8; hits, Mays, 23; home runs, Musial, 6; pinch hits, Musial, 3; runs, Mays, 20; total bases, Mays and Musial, 40 and triples, Mays, 3 (tied with Brooks Robinson)

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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? Thurman Munson

Claim to fame: Next to Johnny Bench and Carlton Fisk, Munson may have been the best catcher of the 1970s. He made seven All Star appearances in the decade along with winning three Gold Gloves and the 1976 American League Most Valuable Player award. He also helped revitalize the once-proud Yankees, joining a sputtering New York club in 1969 and later contributing to back-to-back World Series titles in 1977 and 1978. Munson’s career was cut short August 1, 1979 when he died in a plane crash at 32.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Munson posthumously exhausted his 15 years of eligibility with the Baseball Writers Association of America in 1995 and can be enshrined by the Veterans Committee.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? That’s a tough question. Had Munson played a full career, he’d likely have a plaque in Cooperstown by now. He’s part of a small group of players whose Hall of Fame chances were hurt by their untimely deaths. Others in this class include Ray Chapman and Urban Shocker. Of the group, Munson may come closest to enshrinement on playing merit. He hit .292 lifetime with 1,558 hits and was a cornerstone of the Yankee rebirth. I’d probably vote for him if I could.

There are a few men in the Hall of Fame whose careers ended prematurely, be it for injury, illness or death. These men include:

  • Roy Campanella
  • Roberto Clemente
  • Dizzy Dean
  • Ed Delahanty
  • Lou Gehrig
  • Addie Joss
  • Sandy Koufax
  • Kirby Puckett
  • Rube Waddell
  • Ross Youngs

Munson’s numbers fall short of the only catcher on that list, Campanella, who dominated more in fewer seasons, though I liken Munson favorably to Joss or Youngs. Joss won 160 games with a 1.89 lifetime ERA before dying of meningitis at 31 in 1911, while Youngs hit .322 in ten seasons before dying of Bright’s disease in 1927 at 30. Munson played more seasons than either player and rates comparably well or better on some of the Hall of Fame metrics. That being said, it took until the 1970s for the Veterans Committee to tab Joss or Youngs. In addition, Youngs had a teammate on the committee, Frankie Frisch, who helped get several friends enshrined. I don’t know if Munson has any such booster on the current committee.

It’s worth noting that historically, the Veterans Committee has generally rewarded players who got significant Hall of Fame vote totals from the BBWAA, and Munson was mostly an afterthought after peaking with 15.5 percent of the vote in his first year on the ballot, 1981. Even then, when Munson likely received extra votes from writers who didn’t know it was okay to vote otherwise, the Yankee catcher still finished 16th. Gil Hodges, Roger Maris and three other men who have yet to be enshrined as of this writing received more votes in 1981 than Munson. I wouldn’t be surprised if the committee considers Hodges or even Maris before Munson.

Even with a full career, Munson would face slim odds of making Cooperstown. Catchers have about as easy a time earning plaques as relief pitchers, stolen base specialists or any defensive whiz not named Brooks Robinson or Ozzie Smith. Two other fine catchers from Munson’s era awaiting enshrinement are Bill Freehan and Ted Simmons. Both had more All Star appearances than Munson by the time they were 32. In addition, Freehan had five Gold Gloves before his 28th birthday while Simmons amassed 2,472 career hits and a .285 lifetime batting average.

Interestingly, both Freehan and Simmons were one-and-done Hall of Fame candidates, meaning they got less than 5 percent of the vote their only year on the ballot which automatically disqualified them from future votes. Freehan spent his career with Detroit while Simmons did his best work with St. Louis and Milwaukee. Had Freehan or Simmons played in a comparably-sized media market to Munson or died in similarly tragic circumstances, I think their Hall of Fame bids would have received better support.

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

My first baseball game

I went camping this past weekend near Coloma, California, and on my way back to the Bay Area on Sunday morning, I stopped by my parents’ house in Sacramento and had breakfast with them. I’ve been living near Oakland for a few years, and I don’t see my folks nearly enough. It was great eating my mom’s waffles and drinking out of the Batman mug that I got when I was six. I’ll be 27 in a few weeks but I still insist on using that mug every time I’m at the house.

During breakfast, we talked baseball a bit, and my parents mentioned the Giants’ new policy of charging varying rates on tickets depending on who’s playing. It’s called dynamic pricing, and it basically dictates that the same seats that might cost $6 for a Giants-Marlins game could go for $30 when the Dodgers are in town. I’ve been a Giants fan since about the same time that I got the Batman mug, and I understand people upset about the new pricing structure, though it seems reasonable from a business perspective. Also, remembering my own experience, if I was bringing a kid to a game, I’d rather take them to see the Marlins than shell out extra for the Dodgers. It doesn’t make much difference to a kid.

For all I know about baseball now, I was pretty much clueless the first time I went to a game in August of 1987. My parents and I were visiting family in Seattle, and my Uncle Brett, my dad and I took in a Yankees-Mariners contest at the Kingdome. I had recently turned four, and every half inning, I asked if the game was over and we could go home yet. I mentioned about this in the discussion on dynamic pricing Sunday morning, and my dad said Dave Righetti got the save that game, which led me to find something more.

I’ve recently learned of a Web site called Retrosheet.org, which is considered an essential tool, like Baseball-Reference, for researchers of America’s pastime. Where Baseball-Reference offers season statistics for pretty much any professional ballplayer, Retrosheet is built around providing game info. It has box scores dating back to 1871 and can provide split breakdowns for how any hitter fared versus any pitcher, telling me for instance that Ken Henderson hit .304 lifetime against Bob Gibson (even if Henderson recently told me Gibson was one of the toughest pitchers he faced.)

Using what my dad said about Righetti, I visited Retrosheet on Sunday afternoon, looking for a day in August of 1987 where the Yankee closer got a save at the Kingdome. The only game that fit this description occurred August 18, a 4-3 win for the Yankees. Though I don’t remember, it appears I got a great first game. If I had a time machine, I know I’d enjoy watching Don Mattingly go 3-for-5 and seeing the Mariners almost tie the score in the bottom of the ninth, getting to Righetti for a run. I may not have understood it then, but I value it now.

I occasionally write posts related to my childhood. To read some of them, go here.

The zero Hall of Fame votes dream line-up

Every year, 20-30 baseball players make the Hall of Fame ballot. Generally, of these men, one or two will receive the necessary 75 percent of the votes needed for enshrinement, a handful of others will get lesser totals, and most will fall off the ballot with less than five percent of the vote. Without fail, there are usually at least a few eligible players who get no votes at all.

Most of these men don’t make it to Cooperstown for good reason, though former All Stars and Cy Young award winners sometimes are completely forgotten at Hall of Fame voting time. Here are a few men who laid zeros their only time on the Cooperstown ballot:

P – Mike Cuellar (1983): The passing of the four-time 20-game winner in April prompted me to write about one-and-done Hall of Fame candidates. Incidentally, Cuellar is not the only former Cy Young winner to receive zero Hall of Fame votes. Others in this class include John Denny, Steve Stone, and Pete Vuckovich.

C – Mickey Tettleton (2003): He hit more than 30 home runs four times and was twice an All Star, though he also struck out a lot and was a .241 lifetime hitter.

1B – Cecil Cooper (1993): A reader recently reminded me of Cooper who was a five-time All Star, two-time Gold Glove winner and two-time American League RBI champ. Overall, he had 2,192 hits with a .298 lifetime clip and hit above .300 seven straight seasons.

2B – Manny Trillo (1995): He made four All Star appearances, was a three-time Gold Glove-winner and surprisingly, nabbed two Silver Slugger awards as well.

3B – Bob Horner (1994): The No. 1 overall draft pick in 1978, Horner went directly to the majors and won Rookie of the Year. He later hit more than 30 home runs three times and put together a solid, if somewhat truncated ten-year career, wrapping up at 30 with 218 lifetime home runs. Horner may most be remembered for hitting four home runs in a game in 1986.

SS – Rick Burleson (1993): Burleson made four All Star teams, did well enough offensively to become a hitting coach for the Oakland A’s after retirement and shares the same name as an architect in the Seattle area.

OF – Amos Otis (1990): Otis was a perennial All Star and MVP vote recipient with the Kansas City Royals in the 1970s, retiring in 1984 with 2,020 hits, 193 home runs and 341 stolen bases.

OF – Andy Van Slyke (2001): Van Slyke won five straight Gold Gloves from 1988-1992 as center fielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates, twice finishing fourth in MVP voting in that span.

OF – Jim Wynn (1983): Though Wynn boasts just 1,665 lifetime hits and a .250 career batting average, the former longtime Astros center fielder may be among the most underrated players of all-time. His career Wins Above Replacement rating of 59.8 ranks better than first-ballot Hall of Famers like Kirby Puckett, Willie Stargell and Dave Winfield, among others.

All in all, the thought here is that this lineup would triumph in a grudge match against a team of overrated Hall of Famers.

I write frequently about Cooperstown-related matters and have a Tuesday feature, Does he belong in the Hall of Fame?

Any player/Any era: Albert Pujols

What he did: Pujols is building a case he belongs among the all-time greats with his remarkably consistent play. He’s had at least 30 home runs and 100 RBI every year of his career heading into this season and boasts a .332 lifetime batting average, a throwback to an era where sluggers like Babe Ruth and Ted Williams retired with clips above .330.

Pujols has won three National League Most Valuable Player awards, is a nine-time All Star and with another ten years, he might break the home run record. And if Pujols retired tomorrow, he’d still be a Hall of Famer.

Era he might have thrived in: The 1930s

Why: After my column here on Home Run Baker last week, one of my regular readers emailed me, saying he was looking forward to me writing one of these on Pujols. The reader wrote of Pujols:

To my mind, he’s the only [current] right handed hitter who stands a chance of being either the greatest, or second greatest right handed hitter of all time. Put the guy in the 1890’s and he’s Ed Delahanty. Put him in the oughts and teens and he’s Honus Wagner. In the 20’s, Harry Heilmann with close to 40 hrs a year. In the 30’s, he’s Jimmie Foxx, with thirty fewer strike outs a season.

It was an interesting idea, and I happily take requests here. This is still a relatively new enough space that I value — and need — any sign that I’m not just babbling into space. I’d welcome anyone else to get their requests in.

For our purposes, I’ll hypothesize how Pujols might have fared in the 1930s. I envision him on the New York Yankees, a feared American League slugger in the same vein as Foxx, Ruth or Al Simmons. The stat converter on Baseball-Reference says Pujols’ 2009 MVP season would translate to 50 home runs, 158 runs batted in and a .358 batting average for the 1936 Yankees. And his 2003 season converts to a .396 clip for that team.

Pujols would have fit right in on those Yankees who won 102 games and the 1936 World Series. Bill Dickey hit .362, rookie Joe DiMaggio helped fans forget Babe Ruth with 29 home runs and a .323 batting average, and MVP Lou Gehrig put up real-life versions of Pujols’ projected numbers with 49 home runs, 152 RBI and a .354 clip. Taking over for low .300 hitters like Jake Powell or George Selkirk in the Yankee outfield, Pujols most likely boosts the .300 team batting average. I’m not sure if he does anything of note on defense or if the heavier bats of the era help or hurt his cause, but I’m guessing overall, Pujols kicks ass on that team.

Of course, like Al Simmons, Pujols would probably have to Americanize his name playing in a less ethnically tolerant era. Simmons was born Aloys Szymanski. Who knows? Maybe if Pujols had played in the Thirties, we’d know him today as Al Parker.

Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature here that looks at how a player might have fared in a different era than his own.