Monthly Archives: August 2010

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Pete Browning

Claim to fame: Browning was one of the first great stars of the game with his career that spanned 1882 to 1894. Among his numerous accomplishments, Browning won three batting titles, hit .402 in 1887, and finished with a career batting average of .341. That lifetime clip is 13th best all-time, and his career OPS+ of 162 is 12th best. Browning even inspired the name for the Louisville Slugger.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Browning never appeared on the Cooperstown ballot for the Baseball Writers Association of America and can be inducted through a section of the Veterans Committee that considers players whose careers began before 1943.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? If this column has shown anything in the months since its June 1 debut, it’s that there are many outstanding baseball players not in the Hall of Fame. Pete Browning is one who should have been in 60 years ago.

A few weeks ago, I asked if it was time for the Hall of Fame to have another mass induction of old timers. In the early days of Cooperstown, the backlog of old stars was so apparent that an Old Timers Committee was created that enshrined 30 greats between 1939 and 1949, men who played primarily in the early 1900s. It’s hard to say if the committee members deliberately passed on Browning, a notorious hard drinker whose career was relatively short, though they declined to honor a number of 19th century standouts.

It could be argued that the skill level in baseball was sufficiently lower prior to the modern era that few players from those days deserve enshrinement. But 60 years on, there are things now understood in baseball research that I doubt entered the Hall of Fame conversation in the 1930s or ’40s.

Take Browning’s OPS+ ranking of 162, which is his OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) with his park and league factored in. The stat helps show how vastly superior Browning was to most of his contemporaries, at least offensively. Granted, his non-adjusted career OPS of .869 is nothing to write home about, but it’s not terrible either. In fact, it’s better than many Hall of Famers, including Honus Wagner, Roy Campanella, and George Brett.

OPS+ has been developed and embraced in the last 25 or so years, through John Thorn, Pete Palmer, and other members of the Bill James statistical revolution, and I admit I’m only just starting to grasp its importance. It’s one of many metrics today that make it far easier to rank and compare long-dead baseball greats. Were statistical analysis better understood when the Old Timers Committee was at work, I suspect Browning would be enshrined, though I also think his batting achievements should have been enough for a plaque.

All this being said, it’s not too late to honor a man who died in 1905. Browning is a darling of the baseball research community and was named the Overlooked 19th Century Baseball Legend for 2009 by the Society for American Baseball Research. I think it’s time Browning received broader recognition.

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

Remembering a good brawl

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Bob Usher is 85 and hasn’t played professional baseball in more than 50 years, but he hasn’t forgotten an infamous moment in Pacific Coast League history. On August 2, 1953, while with the Los Angeles Angels, Usher participated in a legendary brawl.

I met Usher at the 16th annual Pacific Coast League reunion, held Saturday in San Leandro, California. Usher, who lives nearby in San Jose, was one of several PCL veterans in attendance. These men experienced the glory days of the league before the Giants and Dodgers moved to California in 1958, and the PCL became more of a feeder to the majors, rather than a West Coast alternative. Many of the former players still fraternize, though their ranks are thinning.

Usher collected 259 hits over parts of six big league seasons between 1946 and 1957 and spent five years in the PCL in the middle. He told me he played for the Angels in the PCL from 1952-1955, and my mind flashed on Joe Guzzardi’s post about the 1953 brawl. Usher said it was a long story and suggested we sit down. He began:

I’ve been asked to recount the brawl between the Los Angeles Angels and the Hollywood Stars August 2, 1953. It all started earlier than that. Normally when we’d go to a series, we used to play a seven-game series starting on a Tuesday. But since the Angels were playing the Stars, we started on Monday, and the tension grew each game as we proceeded through the series.

Our first brawl was on Friday night. I can’t recall the exact details of how this occurred, but Gene Handley, a third baseman for the Stars and Fred Richards, a first baseman for the Angels got mixed up somehow, and I don’t recall the exact circumstances.

Frank Kelleher, who was an outfielder for the Stars hurt us all week, particularly Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. On Sunday, he hit a triple, and he scored on a squeeze bunt. That was the fourth inning. In the sixth inning, Kelleher came up again, and Joe Hatten, our left-handed pitcher who used to play with the Brooklyn Dodgers, threw two fastballs inside and finally hit him with a curve ball. Frank walked to the mound, normally they charge today but he walked to the mound and started beating up on Joe Hatten and that emptied the bases.

Both Joe and Frank were ejected, and Ted Beard ran for Kelleher, and I don’t recall how he got to second, he might have stolen second base, but on the next play, Ted with his spikes high came into our third baseman Moe Franklin and hit him in the chest. The umpire Joe Iacovetti called him out at first, but Moe dropped the ball, and he was then called safe. But by that time, both benches had emptied, and for the next hour, there was such a melee on the field that the police captain of Hollywood broke out 50 uniformed policemen to help restore order.

It took over a half hour to do that… We had several people facing off each other in individual fisticuffs. No one was seriously hurt, but I remember coming in from right field, Mel Queen was beating up on our shortstop Bud Hardin who suffered a lower left and was injured that way.

Once the order was restored, the chief of police ordered all the players with the exception of those playing that game into the clubhouse, off of the bench. There’s pictures showing that there are three policemen and a couple ballplayers on the bench, and I’m not sure which bench it was Hollywood or Los Angeles.

The Angels lost 4-1 in the first game. The second game, the Angels won 5-3…. And that’s pretty much about the scenario. I’m not happy to be a part of it, but I was, as part of the melee, and I remember that just like it was yesterday. If anyone is interested in looking up the writeup on the brawl, you can go to www.sportshollywood.com/starsangelsbrawl.html

I asked Usher if he fought anyone, and he replied, “I don’t remember who, but I remember hurting my hand. I must have hit somebody.”

Interestingly, this wasn’t Usher’s most memorable moment as a ballplayer. Here’s a possible winner. In 1948, while at spring training with the Reds, Usher met a terminally ill Babe Ruth. “He had a gravel voice, he came to spring training with a long camel-haired coat on with a matching tan hat, and he signed a ball to me personally, and he passed away that August in ’48,” Usher said. “I got to talk with him, shake his hand. That was one of the biggest thrills I had. I still have his baseball at home.”

Three related posts:

A color photo of Babe Ruth

Memories from a ballplayer who went to spring training with Jackie Robinson in 1947

The unusual estate sale for a past owner of the Sacramento Solons

Double the fun: King Carl Hubbell Leads New York Giants to 1933 World Series Triumph

Here’s the latest from Joe Guzzardi, a regular Wednesday and Saturday contributor. Every Saturday, Joe writes “Double the fun,” looking at one memorable doubleheader each week. Today, Joe recounts a few famous performances from Hall of Fame pitcher Carl Hubbell.

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Venue: The Polo Grounds

Date: Sunday, July 2, 1933

Teams: St. Louis Cardinals versus New York Giants

Starting Pitchers: Game One: Cardinals—Tex Carlton versus Carl Hubbell, New York; Game two: Dizzy Dean versus Roy Parmelee

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More than 50,000 fans showed up at the old Polo Grounds to watch the eventual World Series champion Giants take on arch rival foes, the St. Louis Cardinals during the Independence Day weekend doubleheader.

Both teams were loaded with future Hall of Famers and otherwise outstanding stars: for the Cards, Pepper Martin, Frankie Frisch, Joe Medwick, Leo Durocher, Rogers Hornsby, pitchers Dean, Carlton, Dazzy Vance and Burleigh Grimes; on the Giants, Mel Ott, premier first baseman and superior manager Bill Terry, Jo Jo Moore, pitchers Hubbell, Parmalee and Freddie Fitzsimmons

At the day’s beginning, the Giants held a 3-1/2 game margin over the second place Cards. But after Hubbell and Parmalee polished off St. Louis 1-0 and 1-0, the Giants pulled away for good.

In the 18-inning, 4:03 opener, Hubbell gave one of his most impressive exhibitions of mound mastery as he bested Carlton and relief pitcher Jesse Haines.

For 12 of the innings, Hubbell dazzled the minimum three batters with his fearsome screwball.

Some observers wrote that Hubbell had more command of his pitches than he did during his 1929 no-hit, 11-0 classic against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

For the first sixteen innings, Hubbell and Carlton matched each other pitch for pitch. But when Carlton gave way for a pinch hitter in the 16th inning, the Giants chipped away at 39-year-old Haines when Moore walked and catcher Gus Mancuso sacrificed him to second. Moore eventually scored on a single by Hughie Critz.

Hubbell’s daily line: IP 18; H 6; ER 0; BB 0; SO 12

After the intermission, the second game began near dusk with a light rain and fog hanging over the Polo Grounds.

Cardinal manager Gabby Street was desperate for a starting pitcher. Street tapped Dean even though he had pitched two evenings ago on Friday and coincidentally shut the Giants out, 1-0. In the Sunday nightcap, Dean hurled another gem but lost this one by the same 1-0 score.

Dean’s combined line for his two starts within three days:

IP 17; H 11; R 1; BB 3; SO 10

After the Giants’ sweep, the teams and their pitchers went in opposite directions. The Cardinals slowly fell out of contention, replaced Street with Frisch and finished in fifth place, 9.5 games off the pace.

Dean had an indifferent 20-18, 3.04 ERA.

King Carl, on the other hand, improved as the year continued. On September 1, Hubbell spun another outstanding game. At Braves Field, Hubbell notched his 20th victory and wrapped up the pennant for the Giants by besting Boston 2-0 over ten flawless innings. Coincidentally, the game was also the first of a doubleheader.

Hubbell’s line:

IP 10; H 4; R 0; BB 1; SO 6

For the season, Hubbell posted a 23-12 record, won the ERA title with a 1.66 mark and was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player award.

Then, saving his best for last, Hubbell and the Giants dominated the Washington Senators in the World Series, 4-1.

In Game One, Hubbell allowed two unearned runs while coasting to a 4-2 victory. Then, in the fourth game, on two days rest and over 11 innings, Hubbell gave up only another single unearned run.

For Hubbell’s two World Series appearances:

IP 20; H 13; ER 0; BB 6; S0s 15

During his career, Hubbell went 253-154, ERA 2.98, led the league in games won and ERA three times. Best remembered for his 1934 All-Star Game effort when he struck out in order Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmy Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin, Hubbell was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1947.

After he retired as an active player, Hubbell remained with the Giants as the team’s farm director and scout.

In 1988, at age 85, Hubbell died in Scottsdale, Arizona following an automobile accident.

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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

How the Hall of Fame could honor players who also managed

There are many paths in baseball to the Hall of Fame. A man can be enshrined as a player, a manager, or an owner, among other things. Interestingly, though, candidates who both played and managed don’t have these achievements judged together. Were rules different, a few more men might have plaques.

Currently, a backlog exists of baseball figures who both played and managed well, but perhaps didn’t achieve enough in either arena to earn a plaque. My idea is a hybrid wing of the Hall of Fame, where men could be inducted on the strength of both their playing and managerial careers. It seems reasonable that a man be considered for the sum of his contributions to baseball. This could also help the Hall of Fame honor more managers, since just 25 have been enshrined.

Here are eight men who could be inducted this way:

Charlie Grimm: One of those names I once figured was already in Cooperstown– as a player or a manager. Grimm compiled 2,229 hits and a .290 lifetime batting average in 20 seasons and was a longtime first baseman for the Cubs. He became a player-manager for them near the end of his playing career and ultimately posted a managerial record of 1287-1067 with three National League pennants.

Steve O’Neill: O’Neill had a 17-year career as a catcher and then did his best work as a manager. In 14 years with four clubs, O’Neill was 1040-821 and led the Tigers to the 1945 World Series championship. An ad on O’Neill’s Baseball-Reference.com page says he and Joe McCarthy are the only two managers to never post a losing record.

Jimmy Dykes: Dykes went 1406-1541 managing six clubs and prior to this was a longtime player with 2,256 hits, a .280 lifetime batting average, and two All Star appearances, a memorable baseball character in either capacity.

Gil Hodges: Of the men listed here, the iconic Dodgers first baseman might come closest on playing merit alone, hitting 374 home runs, making eight All Star teams, and being one of the greatest defensive players at his position all-time. I’m including Hodges because when his Hall of Fame case is brought up, people tend to invariably mention him managing the 1969 World Series champion Mets. It’s what inspired this post.

Al Dark: Like Hodges, Dark won a World Series as both a player and a manager, hitting .293 with 20 home runs for the champion Giants in 1954 and leading the A’s to a title 20 years later. In all, Dark had 2,089 hits, a .289 lifetime average, and three All Star appearances as a player, and he went 994-954 as a manager.

Dusty Baker: Baker hit 242 home runs in 19 seasons and has followed with a 17-year managerial career, winning at least 88 games eight times and compiling a 1386-1266 record. He comes nowhere close to the Hall of Fame as a player, and I suspect when he is considered as a manager, two things will doom him: 1) He hasn’t won a World Series; 2) He supposedly wrecked some young pitchers. All of this is unfortunate, because it’s time Cooperstown celebrated a modern black manager.

Felipe Alou: Similar to Baker, Alou had a long, if essentially unspectacular playing career, finishing with 2,101 hits, 206 home runs, and a .286 batting average. Nearly two decades after he retired, Alou resurfaced as the sagacious manager of the Montreal Expos and spent 14 years as a skipper in the majors, going 1033-1021.

Jim Fregosi: Early in his career, Fregosi was among the best shortstops in baseball, making six All Star teams and winning a Gold Glove. His career went downhill after he was traded for Nolan Ryan in December 1971. Fregosi served mostly as a bench player his final seven seasons before retiring in 1978, finishing with 1,726 hits and a .265 career batting average. He later was 1028-1095 as a manager, with one World Series appearance.

Related: A compilation of Cooperstown posts

Any player/Any era: Harmon Killebrew

What he did: Killebrew won six American League home run titles in an eleven-year stretch, on his way to smacking 573 lifetime bombs. He’s been supplanted on the career leader board in recent years by a variety of suspected and admitted steroid users, though Killebrew still at least rates as perhaps the greatest American League slugger of his generation, a perennial home run and RBI champ. With an ability to also hit for average, Killebrew might have been a Triple Crown winner.

Killbrew’s .256 lifetime batting average may be part of what relegates him to second-tier status in discussing all-time great hitters. It’s why Ted Williams kept Killebrew out of his list of the top 20 hitters all-time. Thing is, there are generations where Killbrew’s career batting average could have been much higher.

Era he might have thrived in: 1930s, Cleveland Indians

Why: One of my regular readers suggested teaming Killebrew on these Indians with Earl Averill and Hal Trosky, so I went to the stat converter on Baseball-Reference.

First, here are Killebrew’s actual numbers that he put up in his career with the Senators, Twins, and Royals from 1954-1975:

R H 2B 3B HR RBI AVG OBP SLG OPS
1283 2086 290 24 573 1584 .256 .376 .509 .884

And here are how Killebrew’s numbers would look if he played every year of his career on a team like the 1936 Cleveland Indians:

R H 2B 3B HR RBI AVG OBP SLG OPS
1707 2499 348 25 687 2111 .300 .429 .595 1.024

Translation: In his own era, Killebrew was a great slugger and not much else. In the 1930s, he’d have been Cleveland’s version of Hank Greenberg. The only stat Killebrew’s numbers don’t see a dramatic jump with is triples (can’t win ‘em all) and he’d rank third all-time for runs batted in, fourth in home runs and seventh in OPS. Killebrew would hit at least 50 home runs seven times and peak at 59 home runs, 182 RBI, and a .327 clip for his converted 1969 season. If his career begins early enough, say 1926, he might not even lose playing time to World War II.

It’s hard to explain why Killebrew’s numbers could vary so much between different eras, though some factors can be ruled out. Killebrew didn’t always lack for support, as he played five years with a young Rod Carew and a healthy Tony Oliva, two great hitting champs. We also can’t blame his ballpark. Killebrew’s park in Minnesota may have favored hitters more than his would-be homes in Cleveland in 1936, League Park and Cleveland Stadium. But I’m guessing the major factor here is that Killebrew played in an age for pitchers, and the 1930s was essentially opposite.

In fact, many ’60s players might have thrived in the 1930s golden era for hitters. Playing his entire career on a team like the ’36 Indians, Frank Howard would have 469 home runs, a .325 career batting average, and a 1.003 OPS. Jimmie Wynn would hit .315, a full 65 points higher than his actual lifetime batting average since he played so often in the Astrodome, which is only just smaller than Delaware. Even Ray Oyler gets in on it, the .175 career hitter (.175!) jumping to a semi-not-terrible .215. Really, it’s almost a wonder these Cleveland clubs didn’t send more players to the Hall of Fame.

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

Tom Seaver Returns Home to New York– As A Cincinnati Red

Here’s the latest from Wednesday and Saturday contributor Joe Guzzardi.

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In my August 18 post about Lou Piniella, I wrote that during the 1978 season the tumultuous New York Yankees provided me with more entertaining moments than I ever experienced as a baseball fan.

How could I have forgotten about the 1977 New York Mets?

During the summer of ’77, Mets’ ownership staggered the baseball world when, after a long simmering salary dispute between Tom Seaver and owner M. Donald Grant, it traded its future first ballot Hall of Fame pitcher to the Cincinnati Reds for four low-level prospects: pitcher Pat Zachry, second baseman Doug Flynn and outfielders Steve Henderson and Dan Norman.

The “Midnight Massacre” (as the trades became known) plunged the Mets into their darkest era. The team finished last in 1977 and lost 95 or more games in each of the next three seasons under manager Joe Torre, who would be fired after a 41-62 record in the strike-shortened 1981 season.

During the 1970s, I lived in Manhattan. I wasn’t a Mets fan but like all New Yorkers, I followed every movement, allegation and counter-allegation made by Seaver, Grant, and Grant’s pro-management tout, New York Daily News columnist Dick Young.

Seaver had been pleading with the penurious Grant to spend the necessary money on available free agent players to help lift the Mets into contention.

Further infuriating Mets fans Grant, besides dumping Seaver and his salary off to the Reds, made two other deadline trades involving key players.

Grant ordered general manager Joe McDonald to deal the Mets’ top hitter, Dave Kingman, who had also been involved in rancorous contract negotiations, to the San Diego Padres for Bobby Valentine. In a third trade, McDonald acquired utility man Mike Phillips outfielder from the St. Louis Cardinals for Joel Youngblood.

(Fun fact: In 1982, Youngblood made baseball history by getting a hit in two different cities, for two different teams, against two Hall of Fame pitchers. As a Mets in Chicago, he singled off Ferguson Jenkins. Then, traded by the Mets to the Montreal Expos, Youngblood hopped a plane to Philadelphia in time to pinch hit a single off Steve Carlton.)

To Grant’s dismay, Seaver flourished in his new Cincinnati environment. Over the balance of the 1977 season, he went 14-3 to finish his year at 21-6.

Included among Seaver’s wins was what writers dubbed the “Shootout at Shea,” that pitted “Tom Terrific” against his former teammate and friend, Jerry Koosman.

On Sunday, August 21st, a capacity crowd of 46,265 greeted Seaver with chants of “SEA-VER, SEA-VER!” while the stadium organ played “Hello Dolly, we’re so glad to see back where you belong.”

Seaver, who limited the Mets to six hits while striking out 11 in a 5-1 victory, pitched his best; Koosman (8-16), who volunteered for the thankless assignment, struggled and gave up all five runs before being knocked out in the eighth.

After the game, Seaver said, “I’m glad it’s over, very glad. I’m exhausted physically and mentally. It was no fun out there at all.”

Koosman added: “It’s tough to pitch against a superstar. You know you’ve got to be at your best. I was kind of disappointed when it got out of hand. But let’s face it. Tom Seaver is the best pitcher in baseball.”

For the Mets, the post-trade era was a disaster. Attendance at Shea plummeted and the Mets would not have another winning season until 1984.

But time heals all wounds. Seaver returned to the Mets in 1983 for one season and pitched effectively. By then, even though Seaver had a three-year stint with the Chicago White Sox and a final year with the Boston Red Sox, his best years were behind him.

Seaver retired with a 311-205 record with an ERA of 2.86 and 3,640 strikeouts. He was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1992 with the highest-ever percentage of first place votes for a pitcher.

After his career ended, the Mets retired Seaver’s number 41. In 2008, the Mets invited Seaver to Shea Stadium to throw out the final pitch before the team moved to Citi-Field where he also threw out the Opening Day, 2009 first pitch.

In a recent ESPN poll, Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal, Jim Palmer, Nolan Ryan, Bert Blyleven, Don Sutton and Carlton voted Seaver their generation’s best pitcher.

Hank Aaron adds that Seaver was the toughest he ever faced.

That says it all! See a video tribute to Seaver’s career here.

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

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Al Oliver

Claim to fame: Quietly, Oliver may have been one of the best hitters of the 1970s and ’80s, amassing 2,743 hits and a .303 lifetime batting average, hitting above .300 eleven of his 18 seasons. Oliver had perhaps his best year in 1982 when he led the National League in hits, doubles, runs batted in, and batting average, was an All Star, and finished third in Most Valuable Player voting. Mostly, though, he was a solid supporting player.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Oliver received 4.3 percent of the vote in 1991, his only year on the writers ballot for Cooperstown. Having last played in 1985, Oliver can be enshrined by the Veterans Committee.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? This was originally going to be a column about Harvey Kuenn, Bill Madlock, Tony Oliva, or Mickey Vernon, other great hitters yet to be inducted. When I began examining their stats, I noticed Kuenn and Madlock each have more than 2,000 hits and a career batting average above .300. I decided to find all the players who achieved this.

Not counting active, recently-retired players, and Pete Rose– who is ineligible for Cooperstown– there are 20 men with at least 2,000 hits and a lifetime batting average of .300 or better. A chart alphabetized by first name follows, with leading stats among the group in bold:

Player R H 2B 3B HR RBI AVG OBP SLG OPS
Al Oliver 1189 2743 529 77 219 1326 .303 .344 .451 .795
Bill Madlock 920 2008 348 34 163 860 .305 .365 .442 .807
Bobby Veach 953 2063 393 147 64 1166 .310 .370 .442 .812
Buddy Myer 1174 2131 353 130 38 850 .303 .389 .406 .795
Deacon White 1140 2067 270 98 24 988 .312 .346 .393 .740
Dixie Walker 1037 2064 376 96 105 1023 .306 .383 .437 .820
Don Mattingly 1007 2153 442 20 222 1099 .307 .358 .471 .830
Ed McKean 1227 2084 272 158 67 1124 .302 .365 .417 .781
Edgar Martinez 1219 2247 514 15 309 1261 .312 .418 .515 .933
George Burns 901 2018 444 72 72 951 .307 .354 .429 .783
Harvey Kuenn 951 2092 356 56 87 671 .303 .357 .408 .765
Jake Daubert 1117 2326 250 165 56 722 .303 .360 .401 .760
Jimmy Ryan 1643 2513 451 157 118 1093 .308 .375 .444 .820
Mark Grace 1179 2445 511 45 173 1146 .303 .383 .442 .825
Patsy Donovan 1321 2256 208 75 16 738 .301 .348 .355 .702
Paul Hines 1217 2133 399 93 57 855 .302 .340 .409 .749
Roberto Alomar 1508 2724 504 80 210 1134 .300 .371 .443 .814
Stan Hack 1239 2193 363 81 57 642 .301 .394 .397 .791
Stuffy McInnis 872 2405 312 101 20 1062 .307 .343 .381 .723
Will Clark 1186 2176 440 47 284 1205 .303 .384 .497 .880


This chart could double as a list of fringe candidates for Cooperstown. The majority of the players could have — and many have had — impassioned cases made for their enshrinement. Depending how one looks at it, Oliver might be most deserving.

Martinez is the group leader for home runs, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage, and he obliterates the others on the chart with his .933 OPS, fourth-highest among non-inducted players who have been eligible for Cooperstown. With any defensive ability, Martinez would have been a first-ballot inductee, instead of receiving 36.2 percent of the vote in 2009. As it stands, Martinez redefined the value of an excellent designated hitter and should be enshrined eventually.

Oliver has the most hits, doubles, and runs batted in of the group, and in many respects, he’s the antithesis to Martinez. Where Martinez wasn’t an everyday player until he was 27 and assaulted the offensive leader boards like a man making up for lost time, Oliver was a starter at 22 and remained consistent for the better part of two decades. He was perhaps never a star and rarely the best player on his team but generally a solid teammate, good for about 170 hits, 80-100 RBI and a .300 batting average. I suspect he made a lot of guys better.

Oliver’s Web site features testimonials from Andre Dawson, George Foster, Bob Gibson, and Willie Stargell suggesting he should be in Cooperstown. There’s also a quote from baseball researcher Bill James which ends, “It’s an injustice for him to be off the ballot. He shouldn’t be put in that category. It surprises me that he received so little support.” I don’t know if I’m surprised, but I’ll say this: The stated task of the Veterans Committee is to find players overlooked by the writers. To this end, Oliver seems an ideal candidate for them. I’d vote for him if I could.

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

Looking for a good baseball researcher

I recently got an email from a regular reader worth sharing here. He wrote:

Do you know if anyone has done any research into the effects of the strength of schedule in evaluating teams and how good or how not so good they may be and the effect it has on individual player statistics?

Think of it this way. Teams that play a lot of good clubs should have fewer wins than comparable teams playing teams with losing records. There should be a way of measuring and evaluating this, don’t you think? And to take it even further, it should be possible to rate each hitter and each pitcher vs one another to see who may have their stats either artificially inflated or deflated by the competition level they face. One guys .285/350/450 line may be significatly better than the guy who’s 320/380/535, or the pitcher who’s 12-11 may be better than the guy who went 17-8.

What got me thinking about it is that the key to winning is to play .500 ball against teams with winning records and beat up on the bad teams. With all the strange schedules and uneven matchups, it seems these should, or could be taken into account and measured, say in the same way the pythagorian formula creates simulated win/loss totals.

Look at how the scheduling this year has especially blessed the Reds and the Rangers who’ve feasted on an abundance of rotten teams and been manhandled whenever they’ve played teams with winning records or from competitive divisions. It’s probably part of the reason that Hamilton and Votto have even been mentioned as possible triple crown winners and may even be measurable as to how much it’s added to their counting numbers.

Thoughts? Worthwhile looking into?

I definitely think it merits checking out. I already believe the strength of a player’s team affects his performance. Just a few weeks ago, I ran Nate Colbert’s numbers through the stat converter on Baseball-Reference and noted the large jump he could have experienced playing on a powerhouse from an earlier era than the one he played in. It would logically follow that strength of schedule impacts individual stats, as well. I’m guessing there probably is a way to quantify this, though I’m not sure if I want to be the guy to do it.

Thus, I’m posting something here in hopes a baseball researcher may be up to the challenge. I will happily give full credit here once the results are in. Of course, please let me know if something like this already exists.

Double the fun: Pirates Sweep Three September Doubleheaders In Five Days; Close In On 1960 National League Pennant

Here is the latest edition of Double the fun, a Saturday feature here on famous doubleheaders by Joe Guzzardi.

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The Pittsburgh Pirates have baseball’s worst record. As of August 20th,the Pirates with a 40-81 record are three games behind the resurgent Baltimore Orioles and, in the National League, trail the Arizona Diamondbacks by seven.

Accordingly, we Pirate fans revert to our default position. We either look hopefully ahead or comfort ourselves by looking wistfully back.

Earlier this week, the Pirates signed two high school pitching phenoms, Jameson Tallion and Stetson Allie. But since teenage pitching prospects flame out more often than pan out, today we’ll take solace in the Pirate past, specifically the 1960 World Series champs whose 50th anniversary Pittsburgh is celebrating.

My weekly Saturday column is devoted to historic doubleheaders. Today, however, I’ll tell you about three September 1960 double dip sweeps within five days that virtually sewed the pennant up for our intrepid 1960 Corsairs.

On September 18, the Pirates took both ends at Cincinnati against the Reds, 5-3 and 1-0; September 20 in Philadelphia against the Phillies, 7-1 and 3-2 and September 22 at Forbes Field against the Chicago Cubs, 3-2 (11 innings) and 6-1.

By the time the second Cub game ended, the Pirates had eliminated the Milwaukee Braves and reduced to two games their magic number to finish off the St. Louis Cardinals.

Wilmer “Vinegar Bend” Mizell, a late May acquisition from the Cardinals in exchange for promising but expendable second baseman Julian Javier (the Pirates had Bill Mazeroski), pitched brilliantly and won two of the six games.

Mizell’s September 18 first game line: IP 9; H 3; ER 0; BB 2; K 7

September 22 second game versus the Cubs: IP 9; H 6; ER 1; BB 0; K 2

While Vernon Law won the Cy Young and Dick Groat the Most Valuable Player Award, many point to adding Mizell to the starting rotation that also included work horse Bob Friend and Harvey Haddix as the Pirates’ turning point in the  championship season.

When General Manager Joe Brown traded for Mizell, the lefty had struggled in his nine games with the Cardinals posting a 1-3 record and 4.55 ERA.

But Brown was confident that Mizell only needed a change of scenery since over his previous six seasons he had notched a 68-67 record and 3.68 ERA.

Brown, always a shrewd judge of talent, was correct about Mizell. Pitching for the Pirates for only four months, Mizell finished 13-5 with three shutouts and a 3.12 ERA.

Curiously, when the regular season ended, Mizell’s magic vanished forever.

When he started the third World Series game, Mizell was bombed. Lasting only one-third of an inning, Mizell gave up three hits, a walk and four earned runs on the way to a Yankee 10-0 rout.

By pitching two innings of scoreless mop up in the sixth game Yankee humiliation (12-0), Mizell managed to lower his series ERA from108.00 to 15.43.

In 1961, Mizell couldn’t get it back together. He went 7-10 (5.40 ERA). When 1962 started no better, in May the Pirates traded Mizell to the Mets.

Mizell failed to win a game with what would become the worst team in baseball history. When the Mets released him in August, Mizell retired.

Why Mizell had so little success after 1960 remains a mystery. Former Pirate teammate George Witt said Mizell never suffered an arm injury but that “he just seemed to lose his good hard fastball.” Mizell summed when he said: “I can’t attribute it to any one thing—just wear and tear.”

But with Mizell’s retirement came a new career. Mizell entered politics and served three terms as a North Carolina Congressman (1968-1974). Had the Watergate scandal not swept Republicans out of office during the 1974 midterm elections, Mizell might have realized his dream of becoming a United States Senator.

After Congress, Mizell served in various capacities under Presidents Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Mizell, who finished his baseball career with a 90-88 record, died in 1999.

Here’s a funny footnote to Mizell’s horrible World Series outing. Played on October 8, the game date was also Pirate manager Danny Murtaugh’s 43rd birthday.

During the pre-game pleasantries, Casey Stengel said to Murtaugh: “I knew you were comin’ but I didn’t bake a cake. I hope you have a good day except between the hours of 2 to 5.” (Author’s note: the game was played from 1:05 to 4:14.)

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

10 great baseball movies that haven’t been made

Game of Shadows: With Moneyball in production, one has to wonder what great baseball book may next become a film. My vote is the best work on the Steroid Era which documented the rises and falls of Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, and Marion Jones, while introducing characters like showboating steroid dealer Victor Conte and dumpster-diving IRS agent Jeff Nowitzky. It’s got many elements for a great movie including suspense, tragedy, and a little dark humor. Some may argue steroids in baseball are so five years ago but this movie would be no more dated than one touting Billy Beane as a genius.

Anything about the Negro Leagues: Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems there has never been a major studio release about black baseball, which is unfortunate because it offer a wealth of poetic, sometimes heartbreaking stories. There’s Rube Foster, who helped launch a league but died broken, Josh Gibson, perhaps the greatest star of black baseball who died in 1947 at 35, disillusioned because he wouldn’t get to break the color barrier in the majors, and many others like them.

The Boys of Summer, Ball Four, Veeck as in Wreck, The Catcher Was a Spy: Ball Four was incendiary in its time, a playing diary of the 1969 season that revealed players as drunks, louts, and racists. There’s more than enough great anecdotes in the more than 400 pages for a screenplay, and with a 40th anniversary edition just released, it would be timely. The Boys of Summer is another personal favorite, glorifying the Brooklyn Dodgers. I haven’t read Veeck as in Wreck or The Catcher Was a Spy, but each illuminates a memorable baseball figure: innovative owner Bill Veeck and sometimes catcher/possible World War II spy Moe Berg.

Something on Pete Rose: The life story of the all-time hits king, barred from baseball for gambling seems like a movie waiting to happen. One possibility is Field of Dreams II, where Rose convinces an Iowa farmer to plow under his corn to build a baseball field so he can come back and play ball. And bet on those games.

The Oakland Athletics of the early 1970s: If ESPN can produce The Bronx is Burning about the New York Yankees of the late 1970s, why doesn’t someone make something on a squad with more World Series titles, a wackier owner, and a more highly-evolved level of dysfunction? Sports Illustrated provided a film treatment, of sorts, with this outstanding article in 1999.

Something by the Frat Pack: When I think of Jack Black, Will Ferrell, Ben Stiller and company, I picture a movie about early 20th century baseball, when drunk, rowdy, and profane players scarcely ranked above second-class citizens. I could also see these actors in a project about another raucous club, the 1993 Philadelphia Phillies, since Black seems a clone for John Kruk, Stiller could play talented but neurotic Mitch Williams, and Ferrell, with some suspension of disbelief, could play Darren Daulton.

The Eddie Gaedel Story: This would be a short. Oh, I’m bad.

Any player/Any era: Johnny Frederick

What he did: Reading the name Johnny Frederick might make one think of a Revolutionary War hero or a punk rocker. Only baseball historians may know of the Johnny Frederick who played six solid seasons with the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1929 through 1934 and then vanished from the big leagues, never to return.

Frederick is part of a small, but intriguing class of ballplayers: those men with at least 200 hits in a season, but fewer than 1,000 in their career. I know of 22 players who did this. Nearly all of them played in the 1920s and ’30s, and no one appears to have accomplished the feat since 1950. I’m interested why this is, as well as what may have driven men like Frederick from the majors and what could have inspired them to stay.

Era he might have thrived in: 1970s to current

Why: About a month ago, a loyal reader emailed me names of a few players with at least 200 hits in a season but less than 1,000 in a career. It seemed a little quirky, and I initially didn’t pay it much attention, but on Tuesday, while researching players with lifetime batting averages above .300 for an upcoming post, I stumbled onto a few more of these men. Wednesday, I got systematic. Using Baseball-Reference, I scoured the list of players with at least 200 hits in a season.

Here’s an alphabetized list of inactive players who’ve had at least 200 hits at least one season but less than 1,000 in their careers:

Player Years Active 200 Hit Seasons Career Hits
Dale Alexander 1929-1933 215 (1929) 811
Beau Bell 1935-1941 212 (1936), 218 (1937) 806
Eddie Brown 1920-1928 201 (1926) 878
Dick Burrus 1919-1928 200 (1925) 513
Bob Dillinger 1946-1951 207 (1948) 888
Johnny Frederick 1929-1934 1929 (206), 1930 (206) 954
Chick Fullis 1928-1936 200 (1933) 548
Johnny Hodapp 1925-1933 225 (1930) 880
Charlie Hollocher 1918-1924 201 (1922) 894
Woody Jensen 1931-1939 203 (1935) 774
Benny Kauff 1912-1920 211 (1914) 961
Bill Lamar 1917-1927 202 (1925) 633
Hank Leiber 1933-1942 203 (1935) 808
Austin McHenry 1918-1922 201 (1921) 592
Ed Morgan 1928-1934 204 (1930) 879
Lance Richbourg 1921-1932 206 (1928) 806
Moose Solters 1934-1943 201 (1935) 990
Jigger Statz 1919-1928 209 (1923) 737
Snuffy Stirnweiss 1943-1952 205 (1944) 989
George Stone 1903-1910 208 (1906) 984
Fresco Thompson 1925-1934 202 (1929) 762
Dick Wakefield 1941-1952 200 (1943) 625

A few have come close to this feat in recent years. Lyman Bostock fell one hit shy of 200 in 1977 and then died at the end of the following year at 27, finishing with 624 career hits. Doug Glanvillle and Randy Velarde each had 200-hit seasons and fewer than 1,200 career hits. But the overall trend seems nothing like it was 80 years ago.

The presence of some men on the list above can be explained. McHenry died a few months after his last game in 1922, Kauff was barred from the majors at 30 because of his alleged participation in a stolen car ring, and Stirnweiss played his best ball in a talent-depleted American League during World War II. A few players listed here also had their time in the majors cut short by that war. And my reader pointed out that Alexander was unjustly labeled a poor fielder, and no team would sign him after his batting average dipped below .300.

Alexander and most of the men here went onto good stints in the minors after leaving the majors. Some opted for the Pacific Coast League, where the travel was shorter, the season longer, and the weather warmer than the majors, which did not exist west of St. Louis prior to 1958. And in the days before free agency and players like Glanville or Velarde commanding a few million dollars, a non-star could earn more playing in a place like the PCL than the majors. Some of these men also rose to great heights in lesser circuits, like Statz who Lawrence Ritter called the Pete Rose of the PCL.

Frederick hit .363 with my hometown Sacramento Solons in 1935, his first year in the PCL after the majors and followed with five more seasons for rival Portland, hitting over .300 every year. He retired with nearly three times as many hits in the PCL than the majors, and between the two, he had over 3,000. If Frederick played in the majors today, I could envision him like Paul Molitor, a regular batting title threat earning millions, a spot in the 3,000-hit club, and his place in Cooperstown.

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

Sweet Lou Piniella and the 1978 New York Yankees

Here is the latest from Joe Guzzardi, a regular Wednesday and Saturday contributor here.

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Lou Piniella may be remembered as the occasionally successful (winning percentage .518) 23-year term manager of the New York Yankees, Cincinnati Reds, Seattle Mariners, Tampa Bay Devil Rays and the unbearably pathetic Chicago Cubs.

Except for his three years at the helm of the Devil Rays from 2003-2005, Piniella led each of his teams at least once to the first playoff round. In 1990, with the Reds, Piniella swept the Oakland A’s in the World Series.

But if you are of a certain age, and especially if you lived in New York when Piniella played outfield for the Yankees, then you remember Sweet Lou as an outstanding and underrated key on the 1978 Yankees, possibly the most fascinating team in baseball history.

During the 1970s I lived in upper Manhattan, a brief subway ride to the Bronx. Late in the decade, I developed a curious relationship with the Yankees. I admired and rooted for their players individually: Thurman Munson, Chris Chambliss, Bucky Dent, Willie Randolph, Graig Nettles and pitchers Ron Guidry (25-3!), Ed Figueroa, Catfish Hunter, Goose Gossage. My favorite was Piniella who, although he batted seventh, hit a solid .314.

But because of owner George Steinbrenner’s heavy-handed, dictatorial style, I never wanted the Yankees to win. For the players to excel but the team to lose was of course impossible.

In my baseball lifetime, I’ve never experienced a season as crazy as 1978 when the Yankees’ fortunes (and misfortunes) dominated the sports’ pages.

Through April and May, the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox ran neck and neck. But in June, the Sox pulled away. Not only were the Sox, led by Jim Rice, Carlton Fisk, Fred Lynn, Dennis Eckersley and Luis Tiant playing better baseball but the Yankees to the amazement and bewilderment of its fans and the amusement of the media, begun to self destruct.

By July 19, the Yankees were buried in fourth place 14 games behind the Red Sox.

Among the whirlwind of mid-season controversies that unglued the Yankees were Reggie unsuccessfully attempting to bunt even though manager Billy Martin through his third base coach Dick Howser had given the hit sign. With much ado, Steinbrenner sent Jackson home to California as punishment for his defiance.

Then, in dizzying sequence, Martin in an alcoholic stupor called Jackson a “born” liar and Steinbrenner a “convicted” one.

Martin, in advance of being fired, resigned. Bob Lemon replaced Martin who the Yankees promptly announced would return to the helm in 1980.

Under Lemon, the Yankees gradually chipped away at the Red Sox until on September 7th, they trailed by five games.

Then came the Fenway Park “Boston Massacre,” when the Yankees swept the Red Sox by scores of 15-3, 13-2, 7-0 and 7-4.

Piniella’s line for the four games which included three doubles and a home run: AB 16; R 8; H 10; RBIs 5

As one Boston newspaper summed up in a headline: If You Need Directions to Home Plate, Fenway Park, Ask Any Yankee; They’ve All Been There

But three weeks remained. The Yankees pushed ahead by 2.5 games before the Red Sox got healthy and tied the Bombers. And when, on the final day, the Yankees couldn’t beat the last place Cleveland Indians, game number 163 ensued. (Watch Phil Rizzuto introduce it here.)

Played in Boston on a Monday mid-afternoon, October 2, no self respecting New Yorker was anywhere except in front of his television. I can’t remember what lame excuse I offered up for not being in my office but since my boss wasn’t around either, it didn’t matter.

Normally, when the Yankees’ thrilling 5-4 victory is replayed in our memory, the kudos go to Bucky Dent who hit the three-run, seventh inning homer that put the New Yorkers ahead for good.

To me, however, the turning point was a Piniella defensive gem.

Entering his third inning of relief, Gossage was barely hanging on when Rick Burleson drew a one out walk followed by Jerry Remy’s soft liner into the glaring right field sun.

Burleson, seeing Piniella struggle to locate the ball, headed for second. Then, Piniella made a typically heady play by motioning with his glove that he was about to make the catch. That froze Burleson at second instead of trying to take third.

When the ball fell in front of Piniella for a single, Lou rifled it in to third base to hold Burleson on second.

Rice came to the plate and hit a titanic fly ball to right which would have easily scored Burleson to tie the game had he advanced to third. Without Piniella’s fake out, Red Sox could have won the game in regulation or sent it into extra innings.

Instead, Goosage got Carl Yazstremski to foul out making the Yankees American League and, eventually, World Series champions.

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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? Rocky Colavito

Claim to fame: Colavito had a 14-year career from 1955 to 1968, and for about ten of those years, he was one of the best players in the American League. From 1956 through 1966, Colavito smacked 358 home runs, made six All Star teams, and finished among the top five in Most Valuable Player award voting three times. The right fielder went into rapid decline after 1966, bouncing between four teams his final two seasons, though as noted here recently, Colavito had a moment in the sun his last year in the majors, 1968, when he pitched and won a game for the Yankees.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Colavito appeared on the Cooperstown ballot for the Baseball Writers Association of America twice, receiving two votes in 1974 and one in 1975. He can be enshrined by the Veterans Committee.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? My knee jerk reaction from looking at Colavito’s career numbers is: No, he doesn’t merit a Hall of Fame plaque.

A lifetime batting average of .266, 374 career home runs and 1,730 hits don’t seem sufficient for Cooperstown, and several of the players Colavito charts most closely to offensively fall into the good-but-not-great category: Boog Powell, Norm Cash, Frank Howard. All were solid members of their teams in their day, but if every man like this were to be honored, the Hall of Fame would mushroom in size and become watered down to the point I’d be devoting columns here to whether or not Reggie Sanders deserved induction.

To me, Colavito falls into a class of players who might have been Hall of Famers had they kept up the pace from the first half of their careers, rather than falling almost completely off the map around 30. Ted Kluszewski is another player like this from Colavito’s era. Dwight Gooden and Nomar Garciaparra are more recent examples. In their primes, each may have seemed like a shoe-in for future enshrinement, but it’s a push to lobby for any of them now (though I included Gooden among the 10 best players not in the Hall of Fame.)

All this being said, it was a little surprising to me when I learned Colavito was not in Cooperstown. With his name and the great years he had, I’d have thought he received a plaque years ago (Kluszewski as well, come to think of it.) Colavito’s anemic vote totals with the BBWAA are more surprising still. Heck, the Cleveland Indians were supposedly afflicted for years with something called the Curse of Rocky Colavito following their ill-fated trade of him for Harvey Kuenn just before the start of the 1960 season. Legends usually inspire curses.

A place on the Internet devoted to Colavito’s candidacy, Rocky Colavito Fan Site notes, “Many avid baseball fans assume that Rocky is already in the Hall of Fame and are shocked when they learn that this is not the case.” The site carries a Hall of Fame petition in Colavito’s name, with a goal of making the slugger eligible this year with the Veterans Committee for enshrinement next summer. I would encourage anyone interested to check it out.

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

A color photo of Babe Ruth

In honor of the 62nd anniversary of Babe Ruth’s death today, LIFE.com is releasing unpublished color photos of the Yankee immortal taken on Babe Ruth Day, which was held just before his death. A reader alerted me to a YouTube video about these photos a few months ago, but this is the first time I’ve seen still shots.

A black-and-white photo of Ruth’s back from that day is perhaps among the greatest shots in baseball history. Here’s a color shot reminiscent of that classic:

Babe Ruth [Yankees]

A gallery of these photos can be seen on LIFE.com

Related: Pre-World War II 8 mm color footage of baseball

The original Dusty Rhodes story

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Jeff Engels is writing a book.

Engels, who writes Jeff’s Mariners Fan Blog, is the grandson of former major leaguer Gordon “Dusty” Rhodes.

This isn’t the same Dusty Rhodes who pinch hit a home run in the 1954 World Series and wound up driving a bus in the World’s Fair in New York ten years later. But the story of the original Dusty Rhodes might be more heart wrenching.

I went to Seattle this past weekend for a wedding and visited Engels, a union worker by day, at his apartment in town. He showed me two scrapbooks and various framed photos of the grandfather he never met and who his family seldom spoke of.

Engels was two when Rhodes died in 1960 at 52 in Long Beach, California, decades removed from baseball and estranged from his family. In fact, his grandmother’s second husband forbade her to speak Rhodes’ name in his house, referring to him as “that old drunken ballplayer.”

Rhodes was supposed to be a star. Born in Winnemucca, Nevada in 1907, Rhodes grew up in Salt Lake City, playing baseball, football, and basketball and able to run a 10.2 in the 100 at West High. One of his school friends said years later, “Of all our crowd, Dusty had the most potential to do whatever he wanted in life, but he accomplished the least.”

While at University of Utah, Rhodes was scouted by Bill Essick, who brought Hall of Famers Joe DiMaggio, Lefty Gomez, and Joe Gordon to the New York Yankees. The Yankees purchased Rhodes for $15,000 on July 16, 1928, in the midst of his 17-10 campaign with a 3.26 ERA for the Hollywood Stars in the Pacific Coast League.

Rhodes arrived on a Yankee club in 1929 featuring Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, and Bill Dickey. Rhodes’ daughter Suzanne Engels began researching the book on him years ago, and in 1985, she wrote to Dickey. The Hall of Fame catcher and Rhodes’ battery mate sent a one-page, handwritten reply. Dickey began, “When Dusty first reported to the Yankees you could easily tell he was going to stick around awhile.”

Richard Beverage noted in his book Hollywood Stars that the Yankees sent Rhodes back to the Stars in 1930 for further development, and he sustained an arm injury that “haunted him for the rest of his career, and he never became the great pitcher everyone expected him to be.”

His best year as a Yankee, on and off the field, may have been 1931. Rhodes went 6-3 in 18 appearances with a 3.41 ERA, the only season in the majors his ERA was under 4.00. He married Leah Riser that same year, and Babe Ruth attended the nuptials. Here’s a wedding photo, the bride standing center between Ruth and Rhodes:

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The Yankees traded Rhodes to the Boston Red Sox in August 1932 (his Yankee teammates voted him a $1,000 World Series share a few months later.) In a 1933 newspaper story, presumably ghostwritten, Babe Ruth called Rhodes, “the prize hard luck pitcher of the league.” Ruth was referencing several early-season outings for his former teammate though Rhodes didn’t have great luck in where he played after New York, either.

Rhodes was on the Red Sox just before owner Tom Yawkey made them contenders again, with Rhodes going 12-15 for a 63-86 club in 1933 and 12-12 for a 76-76 team the following year. Rhodes dipped to 2-10 with a 5.41 ERA in 1935 and was traded to the Philadelphia Athletics that December as part of a package for Jimmie Foxx.

A May 14, 1936 news clipping noted, “Rhodes recently paid (A’s manager Connie) Mack the compliment of saying that this was the first time in the majors that he has had a free mind, for he felt that Connie would give him every opportunity to make good.”

It was his final season in the show, a 9-20 campaign with a 5.74 ERA for the A’s, who lost 100 games and came in last. Rhodes finished with a 43-74 lifetime record and played in the minors until 1939.

Drinking may have contributed to Rhodes’ shortcomings. Beverage told me Rhodes “had a reputation as a very heavy drinker.” Pacific Coast League historian Mark MacRae, who sold memorabilia to Rhodes’ family, said alcohol affected many players in the era. “It was the drug of choice, and it was readily available at every stop along the way,” MacRae said.

Less is known about Rhodes’ life after baseball. Engels thinks his grandparents divorced while Rhodes was still playing. Rhodes married twice more and also served in World War II, earning a Bronze Star. At some point late in his life, Suzanne Engels spotted her father on a bus in Long Beach, though he refused to look at her, presumably out of pride. Rhodes was working in a hotel and broke when he died.

He hasn’t been forgotten. He was inducted into the Utah Sports Hall of Fame in 1982, and his daughter Suzanne Engels began researching the book around this time. After Suzanne Engels died on Labor Day 2008, her son Jeff took up the project, joining the Society for American Baseball Research last year. He’d love to talk to anyone who saw Rhodes play.

A ballplayer himself, still active in softball at 52, Engels missed knowing his grandfather.

“It was a hole, and that’s part of the reason I’m doing this research and writing,” Engels said. “Because I never got to just see him or hear him. Because I know how at the end me and my mom clicked, and we are the same sort, and we have the same perspective. And I believe that kind of came from him, that way of looking at things. So we were one and the same.”

Double the fun: The Mets’ Long Day’s Journey Into Night

I’m pleased to present the latest from Joe Guzzardi, a regular Wednesday and Saturday contributor here.

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When 57,037 New York Mets fans filed into Shea Stadium for the May 31, 1964 Memorial Day doubleheader against the San Francisco Giants, not a single one could have remotely anticipated what awaited them that Sunday afternoon.

Ten hours and twenty-three minutes later, including an intermission, and after 32 innings, fans had seen a dazzling display of baseball oddities during the Giants’ sweep, 5-3 and 8-6.

The opener went a regulation nine innings in a relatively speedy 2:29. The night cap, however, was another story altogether. The second, played over 23 innings, took 7:23, the longest game in major league history measured by time.

The end came mercifully in the bottom of the 23rd at 11:35 P.M. when Mets’ second baseman Amado Samuel flied to left. The two batters who preceded Samuel, Chris Cannizzaro, and John Stephensen, had struck out.

By that time, only about 8,000 remained. But those brave souls had seen 41 players battle it out.

The 40th player, Giant pinch hitter Del Crandall, was the difference maker.

In the top of the 23rd, Jim Davenport lined a triple to the right field corner. Then when Mets’ manager Casey Stengel ordered third baseman Cap Peterson walked intentionally, the Giants’ countered by sending Crandall to the plate to face Galen Cisco. Crandall promptly doubled Davenport home and put Peterson on third.

The Giants iced the game when Jesus Alou beat out a chopper that Cisco couldn’t field. Peterson dashed home for the Giants’ eighth and final run.

Over the marathon afternoon and evening, fans witnessed baseball rarities like a two-man triple play executed by Roy McMillan and Ed Kranepool, twelve pitchers who shared two strike out records—36 in one game and 47 in one day.

Another out of the ordinary occurrence: Willie Mays made one of his two career appearances at shortstop but failed at bat going only one for 10.

Perhaps the most unusual of all is that the winning and losing pitchers, the Giants’ Gaylord Perry (3-1) and the Mets’ Galen Cisco (2-5) pitched the equivalent of complete games but in relief roles.

Perry’s line: 10 IP; 7 H; 0 ER; 1 BB; 9 K

Cisco’s line: 9 IP; 5 H; 2 ER 2 BB; 5 K

For Perry and Cisco, history repeated itself. Exactly two weeks earlier in San Francisco, Perry (2-0) pitching in relief of Juan Marichal beat the Mets and Cisco, also out of the bull pen.

As the season played out, losing the doubleheader didn’t make much difference to the Mets. Led by cast offs like McMillan, Frank Thomas and Frank Lary, who earned the team’s highest salary at $30,000, the Mets were terrible from start to finish.

The 1964 Mets went 53-109 (.329) and finished 10th. The team won only thirteen more games than the infamous 1962 Mets. (“Meet” them here.)

Nevertheless, New York loved the Mets. The attendance of 1,732,597 put the Mets second in the league.

From 1965 through 1966, the Mets were baseball’s biggest joke and finished ninth or tenth each year.

But in 1969, the Miracle Mets shocked baseball by winning not only the National League pennant but also the World Series.

Take the subway out to Shea here:

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Joe Guzzardi belongs to the Society for American Baseball Research, as well as the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America and writes Double the fun, a column which looks at one famous doubleheader every Saturday here. Email Joe at guzzjoe@yahoo.com

My interview with Hank Greenwald

Former San Francisco Giants announcer Hank Greenwald left a comment on this site Thursday. The 75-year-old Greenwald, who broadcast Giants games from 1979 to 1986 and again from 1989 to 1996, read my review of Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story and commented that greats like Sandy Koufax and Hank Greenberg were beloved for their playing ability rather than their faith.

Greenwald didn’t mention his former occupation in his comment here, though I recognized his name and emailed him, asking if he’d be up for an interview. He obliged. Here are excerpts from our half hour phone conversation Thursday evening.

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Me: What motivated you to leave a comment?

Hank Greenwald: Well, of course I read the blog, but I think also some of comments from others probably inspired me to want to add my own two cents. I’m a person who doesn’t really like to get caught up in religious matters when I don’t know that they’re relevant to the subject, baseball players. That was what inspired me to comment, as I did, that the players who were featured in the film or whose names were mentioned should be thought of as baseball players, first and foremost.

Me: Did you see the movie?

Greenwald: No, I did not.

Me: Okay, just curious. Did you see The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg?

Greenwald: Yes I did.

Me: What were your thoughts on watching that movie?

Greenwald: Well, I was glad that somebody did a story about him. I was a kid in Detroit when Hank Greenberg played, and I saw him play. I even took my nickname from him. My real name’s Howard, and I hated being called Howie, so I said Hank’s grown up and more of a natural thing.

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Me: With Jon Miller (Greenwald’s replacement in San Francisco) getting inducted into the Hall of Fame, is there a part of you that wonders if you’ll be inducted?

Greenwald: There’s not a part of me. I think its people around me who wonder. That’s what friends are for, I suppose [laughs.]

You know, when you start out in this business, the Hall of Fame is not what you’re thinking about. You think all you want to do is make it to the major leagues. That’s your goal, and that’s your ambition as a broadcaster, just as it is with playing. You don’t really think about those things. I made it to the major leagues. I was up here for the better part of 20 years so I have no complaints. I’m a very content person. Jon Miller is in (Cooperstown), and that’s the way it should be.

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After his first tenure with the Giants ended in 1986, Greenwald spent two years as an announcer for the New York Yankees. I asked him about an infamous quote he offered on George Steinbrenner upon leaving New York, and I asked Greenwald if his thoughts on his former boss had changed following his recent death.

Greenwald: What I actually said was, “He’s everything you’ve ever heard and more.” You can take it any number of ways, but that inference most people drew was correct. He truthfully did not bother me. It bothered me the way he treated other people, especially the lower echelon workers in the Yankee office who I think he terrorized. You could tell immediately.

We had to walk through the Yankee office to get to our broadcast pen. Everyday, my partner Tommy Hutton and I would walk through the Yankee office, and we knew immediately from the looks on their faces whether George was in town that day or not. And this was not a good thing. I thought it was probably a far cry from what I was used to being in San Francisco and certainly with the Dodger organization when the O’Malleys owned the Dodgers and the way those two organizations, Giants and Dodgers, treated their employees. It was just a very tension-filled place.

As far as the announcers, he never bothered us. I always told people, I don’t think he really knew who I was. Whenever he saw me, as I think I said in the book, I could tell he didn’t know who I was because my parents didn’t name me Big Guy. That’s what he always called me because he didn’t know my name. I think he might have thought I worked in the accounting office.

Me: I know there’s been a lot of people in the media who’ve been pushing over the last few weeks for him to basically be immediately enshrined in the Hall of Fame. What are your views?

Greenwald: Well, I’ll say this for him. My summation about George is that he made the Yankees relevant again, and they had not been for a good many years. So I tip my hat to him for that.

Me: Do you think he belongs in the Hall of Fame?

Greenwald: Oh goodness, I don’t know. That’s a hard one. That really is a hard one. It depends what criteria one uses for the owners, and I’m not really privy to what kind of criteria is used in that respect, so I don’t know… He certainly is the most talked about, for better or for worse, of all the owners, having a tremendous impact on the game, but I’m not sure it was the greatest. His greatest impact is that he spent more money than anybody else.

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Me: What do you do to stay busy?

Greenwald: I like to tell people that I finally found something I’m really good at, and that’s retirement. I was cut out for this.

I still go to games. I enjoy going to the ballpark, it’s a beautiful ballpark, San Francisco. It’s always nice to go out there and see old friends. And now, I’m sort of like the modern day pitchers. I’m on a pitch count now, and about after 70 pitches, I can leave.

Any player/Any era: Sandy Koufax

What he did: For the first half of his career, Koufax was a mediocre reliever and sometimes starter for the Dodgers. Then, in spring training 1961, he got a tip on control from catcher Norm Sherry. Koufax proceeded to win 18 games in 1961 and followed with a five-year stretch from 1962 through 1966 where he went 111-34, amassed three Cy Young awards, and one MVP.

But then, just as quickly as it began, it was all over for Koufax. Suffering from arthritis, the southpaw retired after the 1966 season at 30. He was a first ballot selection to the Hall of Fame six years later, and some may consider Koufax the greatest lefthander of all-time. Still, one can only wonder what he might have achieved with a full career. The question here is if there’s an era that might have afforded Koufax this opportunity.

Era he might have thrived in: Early 1990s, Atlanta Braves

Why: I attended a screening in San Rafael on Sunday for a documentary, Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story, which included the story of Koufax’s brief but brilliant career. Three things were reinforced to me:

  1. Koufax signed out of college as a bonus baby and thus had to stay in the majors his first two years
  2. He struggled for several early seasons until receiving sage advice from a mentor, Sherry
  3. He burned out as a result of overuse and the general ignorance of teams in those days concerning proper use of pitchers

So the challenge here is to find an organization where Koufax would still receive great advice, but also have time to properly develop and not be worked into early retirement. Enter the Braves, who in the 1990s shaped several young hurlers like John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Steve Avery (who was briefly great before turning 24) and Jason Schmidt. Even Greg Maddux had just entered his prime when he hit town prior to the 1993 season and did his best work as a Brave.

Imagine Koufax among that bunch, in place of fellow lefthander Avery. Smoltz, Glavine, Maddux, and Avery won 75 games in 1993 and relegated my San Francisco Giants to a 103-59 second-place finish. With Koufax in tow, that number of victories might rise to 85, or more, since the stat converter on Baseball-Reference says a 27-year-old Koufax is good for a 24-9 finish with a 2.51 ERA for Atlanta in 1993.

There’s no telling if the input of the renowned Braves pitching coach in those years, Leo Mazzone, would supersede Sherry’s advice, boost his stats, or help him pitch beyond 30, though I’m thinking it might. Being part of a staff with Glavine, Maddux, and Smoltz could lighten Koufax’s load too, as the trio probably surpassed the talent of Koufax’s rotation mates in Los Angeles, Don Drysdale, Don Sutton, and others.

Needless to say, in this arrangement, my Giants don’t come anywhere closer to the 1993 World Series. From 1963 through 1966, Koufax helped keep the Giants from the postseason every year, going a combined 10-5 against San Francisco, with a 2.35 ERA and 141 strikeouts in 141.2 innings in these seasons. Koufax might not have been the greatest Giants killer, but with the Braves, he strikes San Francisco again.

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

Babe Ruth Was A Better Pitcher Than Walter Johnson– For Two Years, At Least

Here is the latest from Joe Guzzardi, a regular Wednesday and Saturday contributor here. Today, Joe looks at Babe Ruth as a pitcher.

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For two seasons with the Boston Red Sox, Babe Ruth was a better pitcher than the Washington Senators’ Walter Johnson, the Hall of Fame hurler with 417 wins and career 2.17 ERA that many historians consider the best ever.

Even though Johnson would eventually rank second on the all-time list in wins (417), ninth in strikeouts (3,508) and hold the MLB record for shutouts (110), most strikeout titles (12) and is tied for the most shutouts titles (7), Ruth pitching in his prime outdid “The Big Train” In eight head-to-head match ups, Ruth bested Johnson six times.

During 1916 and 1917, Ruth compiled won-lost records of 23-12 and 24-13 with ERAs of 1.75 and 2.01.

In 1916, Ruth led the league in ERA and shut outs (9) and in 1917, in complete games (35).

Johnson put up some eye-popping numbers, too. But his statistics weren’t as good as Ruth’s. Over the same two years, “The Big Train” was 25-20 and 23-16 with ERAs of 1.89 and 2.30.

Of course, in 1920 the Red Sox traded Ruth to the New York Yankees where he became the most feared slugger in baseball. And he often faced his old pitching rival, Johnson.

In the September 1920 issue of Baseball Magazine, Johnson wrote an article titled “What I Pitch to Babe Ruth—and Why”

Johnson’s analysis provided great insight into how one immortal confronted another.

Johnson wrote:

Babe Ruth is the hardest hitter in the game. There can be no possible doubt. He is a tremendously powerful man. He uses an enormous bat so heavy that most players would find it an impossible burden. To him however, it is just the thing.

He hits a ball farther and drives it longer than any man I ever saw. I certainly hope he never drives one straight at me for while I know my pitching days have to end sometime, I don’t want them to end quite so suddenly.

Johnson’s career was ending as Ruth began his slugging rampage. And Johnson was aware that he always had to be his very, very best when facing Ruth.

Concluded Johnson:

Ruth is still a young fellow with his best years ahead of him. There is no pitcher who can stop him or prevent him from making his long hits. As a veteran pitcher with most of his career behind him and a rather uncertain future ahead of him, I can only say that every time I am called on to face Ruth, I shall do my best to get an extra hop on my fastball. Whatever happens, I wish Babe Ruth the best of luck.

Oddly, Boston and Washington played a role in Ruth’s final pitching appearance.

Although the Yankees won 91 games in 1933, they would finish seventh behind the Senators. So the Yankees advertised a special for the season’s last day.

Ruth would start against his old team where he had done his best pitching, the Boston Red Sox.

Then 38, Ruth knew that he didn’t have his good fastball so he relied on off-speed pitches and let his infielders do the work.

Thanks in large part to Ruth’s fifth inning 34th homer (has a pitcher ever hit clean up before or since?) into the right field bleachers and a two run single by Lou Gehrig, the Yankees led 6-0 after five innings.

In the sixth, Ruth ran out of gas, surrendering four runs on a walk and five hits. The Red Sox scored another single tally in the top of the eighth.

Despite his uneven performance, Ruth (1-0) barely hung on to get the credit for the 6-5 complete game victory.

His line: 9 IP, 12 H, 5ER, 3 BB, 0 K

After the game, Ruth announced that he would never pitch again. His lifetime record was 94-46 with an ERA of 2.28.

How good was Johnson?

Ruth, Ty Cobb, and Joe Jackson considered him the best ever. Johnson’s career strikeout record lasted for half a century. No one has ever come close to his 110 shutouts. Johnson’s Senators’ teams were so bad that the only way he could win was to keep his opponents from scoring.

Off the field, Johnson was considered one of the finest men who ever played baseball. Long time Senators’ announcer Arch McDonald described Johnson as “a gentleman and a gentle man.”

Here’s Johnson pitching to Ruth during a 1942 exhibition game long after both had retired:

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Joe Guzzardi is a member of 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? Mel Harder

Claim to fame: Harder went 223-186 with a 3.80 ERA in a 20-year career spent entirely with the Cleveland Indians, spanning 1928 to 1947. He twice won at least 20 games in a season, made four All Star teams, and finished with a career Wins Above Replacement rating of 42.50, better than Chief Bender, Burleigh Grimes, and Bob Lemon among other Hall of Fame hurlers. Out of many solid pitchers not in Cooperstown, Harder might rank among the best.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Harder appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot for the Baseball Writers Association of America 11 years, peaking with 25.4% of the vote in 1964. He exhausted his eligibility in 1967 and can be enshrined by a section of the Veterans Committee that considers players whose careers began 1943 or earlier. The committee will next meet before the 2014 election.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? This column was suggested by reader Clay Sigg, who helped me research last week’s post on Cecil Travis. Sigg is writing a book on players who spent their entire career on the same club, and he sent me something on Travis before I started writing. After my article went live, Sigg provided his work on Harder, adding in an email to me, “He’ll grow on you.”

I read over the roughly 900-word biography on Harder, who I admittedly have confused with Mel Parnell before (I think it’s the baseball equivalent of mistaking Upton Sinclair for Sinclair Lewis.) I was impressed with Harder’s stats and durability as both a player and longtime pitching coach after he retired. Sigg noted that Harder is “the lone star to have played 20 years for a single franchise that is not in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.”

It’s an interesting idea, enshrining a player on the basis of his contributions to a franchise, though I’m not sure if it’s enough to merit enshrinement for Harder. There are a few pitchers I would honor first.

Not including active, recently-retired or pre-modern era hurlers, I count nine pitchers with more wins than Harder who are not in the Hall of Fame. In order of victories, these pitchers are:

Pitcher Wins ERA WAR
1 Tommy John 288 3.34 59.00
2 Bert Blyleven 287 3.31 90.10
3 Jim Kaat 283 3.45 41.20
4 Jack Morris 254 3.90 39.30
5 Jack Quinn 247 3.29 49.7
6 Dennis Martinez 245 3.70 46.90
7 Frank Tanana 240 3.66 55.10
8 Luis Tiant 229 3.30 60.10
9 Sad Sam Jones 229 3.84 30.1


I would definitely enshrine Blyleven and Tiant before Harder, and I might even make a case for Martinez, one of the more underrated hurlers in recent decades whose 3.2% of the Hall of Fame vote in his only year on the ballot, 2004, remains somewhat baffling to me. I know Morris and John have their boosters too, as each has received some support on the writers ballot for Cooperstown.

Of the nine pitchers listed above, Harder has a higher WAR ranking than just three:  Kaat, Jones, and Morris. And some of the Hall of Fame hurlers Harder ranks just above for this stat are part of the lower echelon of Cooperstown: Jesse Haines, Catfish Hunter, and Herb Pennock. There are also many non-Hall of Fame pitchers with fewer wins but better WAR than Harder including Vida Blue, David Cone, and Bret Saberhagen.

Harder is certainly a player worth celebrating, and it makes sense his spike in Hall of Fame votes came in the initial election after teammate Bob Feller’s first ballot induction. As an underrated hurler confined to some abysmal Cleveland clubs, Harder paved the way for Feller and others to enjoy great individual success and multiple World Series trips with the Indians. One can only wonder what Harder might have accomplished playing 20 years in a different era or with a better franchise.

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