Monthly Archives: September 2010

Any player/Any era: Bob Caruthers

What he did: During a Baseball Think Factory forum discussion about my piece on Shoeless Joe Jackson last week, a member referenced Caruthers. The member wrote:

I wish this guy would do Parisian Bob Caruthers. A modern World Series, before the expanded playoffs, would have suited him down to the ground; he could have been Reggie Jackson and Jack Morris in the same series. Obviously in a regular season he’d have to pace himself and so would be less spectacular, but in a short series he might well be uniquely responsible for his side’s victory.

In his career spanning 1884-1893, Caruthers went 218-99 as a pitcher, leading the American Association with 40 wins two times. He also hit .282 lifetime as a sometime outfielder, twice hitting better than .330 and even stealing 49 bases and hitting 11 triples in 1887. As I told the member, I’m happy to feature Caruthers.

Era he could have thrived in: One of my regular readers pointed out that at 5’7″ and 130 pounds, Caruthers might not make the majors today. But with the 2002 World Series champion Anaheim Angels, I think Caruthers could have been an outfield equivalent of another 5’7″ player, David Eckstein. Only Caruthers might add pitching ability to the mix.

Why: Offensively, Eckstein is everything Caruthers could hope to be, a little guy undrafted out of high school and a walk-on in college who’s put together a 10-season career with a .281 lifetime average. Eckstein’s proof ballplayers needn’t always be 6’2″ and 200 pounds, though I’m guessing Caruthers might bulk up to somewhere around Eckstein’s 175 pounds. Each man also boasts reasonable speed.

Pitching-wise, I figure Caruthers was good enough in his day to qualify for at least a bullpen spot or occasional start today. Granted, the 1880s offered vastly inferior talent, particularly in the American Association where Caruthers did best, so I don’t know if he would win 20 today or how his velocity would project. But it seems illogical a man could be an ace in one era and not even big league material in another (the forum member likened Caruthers to Eddie Plank in an email he sent me.) I’d venture the Nationals, Pirates, and Royals have done worse than Caruthers in recent years. If they had a time traveling phone booth, à la Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and plucked Caruthers off a latter day mound, they might improve.

The question remains: Would Caruthers provide World Series heroics? Eckstein did. After modest success in the 2002 divisional playoffs and American League Championship Series, Eckstein hit .310 in the series, scoring six runs as the Angels triumphed. Could Caruthers compare? While I don’t know much about Caruthers beyond his stats, his Baseball-Reference bio mentions he pitched the winning game in the 1886 equivalent of the World Series, after posting mixed results in earlier games. So who knows. I will say that I think clutch ability is one of the few things in baseball that projects no matter the era. If Caruthers had it then, he’d have it now.

There’s one other thing worth mentioning. John Thorn, a prolific baseball author and an expert on baseball’s early days, mentioned Caruthers in an email exchange we had in July about players who pitched and hit. In preparing for this post, I emailed Thorn on Monday, and he replied, “If you like Bob Caruthers, you’ll love Guy Hecker. Check him out.”

At 6’0″ and 190 pounds, Hecker had size, and at quick glance, he might be the only player besides Babe Ruth to lead the league in both ERA and batting average. In the modern era, I suppose Hecker might eclipse Eckstein and Caruthers.

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

Others in this series: Albert Pujols, Barry Bonds, Dom DiMaggio, Fritz Maisel, George Case, Harmon Killebrew, Home Run Baker, Johnny Frederick, Josh Hamilton, Ken Griffey Jr., Nate Colbert, Pete Rose, Rickey Henderson, Sandy Koufax, Shoeless Joe Jackson, The Meusel Brothers, Ty Cobb

Baseball’s Most Fortunate Player: Matt Capps

Here’s the latest guest post from Joe Guzzardi, a regular Wednesday and Saturday contributor here. Today’s post centers on a notoriously terrible ball club. To any members of the Pittsburgh Pirates reading, Joe offers a prayer on how to get to another team and what happens when prayers are seemingly answered.

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Exactly a year ago, Matt Capps was a reviled relief pitcher on the Pittsburgh Pirates. Capps, along with the rest of the Bucs, had suffered through a miserable season that ended with 99 losses. But since Capps was the closer and underperformed with a 4-8, 5.80 ERA, he was subjected to more than his share of fan abuse and media scorn.

Then, in the off season, a miracle befell Capps. When the Pirates didn’t tender Capps, he signed with the Washington Nationals.

Capps, whether revitalized because he was lifted from the heavy burden of playing for the Pirates, overjoyed to be reunited with former Pirate refugees Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett or whether he simply regained his earlier skills (2006: 9-1; 3.78, 2007: 4-7; 2.28, 2008: 2-3; 3.02) isn’t clear.

Whatever the reason, Capps (3-3; 2.74 with 26 saves) was the only Nat named to the All-Star Game. Then, just as Capps must have been thinking that he was the luckiest player alive to have escaped Pittsburgh and suddenly become a member of the baseball elite, an even bigger miracle took place.

The cellar dwelling Nats traded Capps to the then-pennant contending and now American League Central champion Minnesota Twins, an odds-on favorite to reach and possibly win the World Series.

Capps has proved his worth. Since arriving in Minnesota, he’s 1-0, 2.25 ERA with 15 saves.

Imagine: in less than a year, Capps went from the 18-consecutive losing seasons Pirates to a post-season World Series contender!

I’m happy for Capps. During the baseball season, I’m a PNC Park tour guide for the Pirates. Capps tirelessly signed autographs for the school kids when they visited the park. He graciously signed their shirts, shoes, baseball cards, backpacks. In fact, all the Pirates are great with the fans.

But imagine the impact on the less lucky, remaining Pirates when they see their teammates like Capps, former National League batting champion Freddy Sanchez, Javier Lopez, Nate McLouth, Adam LaRoche, Jason Bay and others land on first division teams.

I imagine them every night on bended knees praying to be traded before their productive playing days end.

Anywhere they might land is a step up.

The Baltimore Orioles, for example, were the American League East’s punching bag for the season’s first months. Under Buck Showalter, the Orioles are reborn.

Consider the Astros. They spent April, May and the first week of June looking up at the Pirates and the rest of the National League Central Division. Since June 4, the Astros have won almost as many games–54– as the Pirates have all season (55).

The Cincinnati Reds trailed the Pirates for a large part of 2009 before pulling away at the end of the season to finish 78-84. On the final game of the year, the Reds shut out the Pirates, 6-0.

The Pirates and Reds picked up in 2010 exactly where they left off: the Reds climbed all the way to first place and division champion and the Pirates plunged down to the worst team in baseball.

Only five games remain in the 2010 season until the Pirates go their separate ways.

They’ll head home, possibly with a detour to their local church, where they’ll offer this plea: “Please, Lord, I promise a lifetime of good works if you get me out of Pittsburgh.”

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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? Joe Carter

Claim to fame: Never someone with many dimensions to his game, Carter did one thing consistently well: hit for power. In a given year, he was generally good for 30 home runs and at least 100 RBI, on his way to 396 home runs in 16 seasons. The five-time All Star is perhaps best known for hitting the Game Six home run that won the 1993 World Series for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Carter was a one-and-done candidate his only year on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot for Cooperstown in 2004, receiving 3.8 percent of the vote. He will be eligible for enshrinement by the Veterans Committee in 2018.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? If we look on a simple statistical basis, the answer is no. Resoundingly.

There are many reasons Carter doesn’t belong in Cooperstown, from his .259 career batting average, to his .306 on-base percentage, to his 105 OPS+. He never walked more than 50 times in a season, he finished with just more than 2.000 hits for his career and he hit .300 but once. If elected, his OBP would be second-lowest of any man enshrined as a position player, better only than Bill Mazeroski (.299), who unlike Carter played crack defense and might have had a more thrilling World Series-winning home run.

Carter’s also the kind of player that Wins Above Replacement was seemingly devised to mock, one of those Albert Belle or Dante Bichette types who could drive in more than 100 runs and still have a WAR rating below 3.0. Carter averaged about 1.0 WAR per season, finishing with 16.5 lifetime, and for his final six years, he had a negative aggregate rating. That means in those seasons, he theoretically cost his team wins an average player might have accounted for. In WAR, there are no winners named Joe Carter.

The equation changes if Carter is enshrined primarily for his World Series heroics. Months ago, I suggested a short-time Hall of Fame, for players who shined in brief intervals. Carter could head up a postseason section. The image of him joyfully galloping around the bases after that home run is one of my favorite baseball memories of the 1990s. Carter could be joined by men like Bobby Thomson, who hit the “Shot Heard Round the World” to win the 1951 National League pennant, and Don Larsen, who pitched a perfect game in the 1956 World Series. Maybe they don’t deserve a Hall of Fame plaque, but their moments bring out the best in the game. Baseball could do well to honor these men.

Interestingly, Thomson and Larsen lasted much longer on the Hall of Fame ballot than Carter. Larsen, who had an 81-91 career record, 3.78 ERA, and no All Star appearances, went the full 15 years of eligibility with the writers, peaking at 12.3 percent of the vote in 1979. Thomson, an outfielder with better numbers than Carter for batting average, OPS+ and WAR, hung on the ballot for 14 years, never receiving more than 5 percent of the vote. Even Cookie Lavagetto, who had 945 career hits and is best remembered for breaking Bill Bevens’ no-hitter in the 1947 World Series got four votes in 1958, the same as future Hall of Fame catcher Ernie Lombardi.

It’s surprising Carter didn’t get more consideration from the writers, and I wonder if the veterans will look to honor him, as they did Mazeroski in 2001.

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

Others in this series: Al Oliver, Albert Belle, Bert Blyleven, Cecil Travis, Chipper Jones, Dan Quisenberry, Dave Parker, Don Mattingly, Don Newcombe, George Steinbrenner, Maury Wills, Mel Harder, Pete Browning, Rocky Colavito, Steve Garvey, Thurman Munson, Tim Raines

Great pennant races in San Francisco Giants history

I’m pleased to present a guest post by Rory Paap of www.PaapFly.com. Rory emailed me after reading my interview with Joe Posnanski and offered to write something. Being a fellow Giants fan, I asked Rory to compare this year’s contenders to a few Giants playoff teams. The post is longer than what’s typically here. Rory explained to me that his writing is “Posnanski-ish, i.e. Curiously long.”

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1951  — THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT!

The 1951 Giants pulled off quite possibly the most stunning comeback in baseball history, coming back from 13 games behind the Brooklyn Dodgers in August and winning 50 of their final 62 games to force a three game playoff. This culminated in the greatest call in sports history, the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” with Bobby Thomson hitting a three-run walk-off home run off Ralph Branca to give the Giants the National League pennant.

The Giants (run differential +140 against the Dodger’s +183) were sparked that year by rookie Willie Mays (3.5 WAR), who debuted May 25 and went on to win the NL Rookie of the Year award. Giants fans will also recall Monte Irvin (6.3 WAR) – whose number was recently retired by the club – as he led the league with 121 RBI.

The Giants of today could have learned a lot from their 1951 counterparts. Wes Westrum (3.4 WAR), for example, despite hitting just .219, had an OBP of .400. This was because he drew 104 walks. Their second baseman, Ed Stanky (4.8 WAR), drew 127 walks. They had solid contributors throughout the team: AL Dark (5.2 WAR), the Scottish hero Bobby Thomson (4.8 WAR).  They also had excellent defenders in both the outfield and infield and had large contributions from starters Sal Maglie (6.1 WAR) and Larry Jansen (5.8 WAR).

Despite all the theatrics, the Giants lost the World Series in six to the New York Yankees.

1962 — JustThisClose

The 1962 season was another that had great promise but ended in disappointment.  Their lineup included McCovey, Mays (10.6 WAR) and Cepeda (3.1 WAR) to name a few.

Mays was absolutely sensational on defense (and offense) and led baseball with 49 HR. But he was also jobbed.  Somehow – and this is ludicrous – Maury Wills (6.1 WAR) won the National League Most Valuable Player award with a .720 OPS (100 OPS+, i.e. league average hitter).  This was likely because he stole 104 bags, but he wasn’t even the best player on his team. Tommy Davis had a 6.8 WAR by seasons end for the Dodgers.

The Giants had several solid contributors: Jim Davenport (5.0 WAR), Felipe Alou (5.4 WAR), and equitable pitching performances for the season: Marichal (3.6 WAR), Billy O’Dell (3.4 WAR), Jack Sanford (3.5 WAR). The Giants had the leagues best run differential at +188 versus the Dodgers’ +145, but once again needed a three game playoff to decide the pennant.

The Giants would again come out victorious but, once again, lose to the Yankees in the World Series, this time in seven.

1989 — Bay Bridge Series

The 1989 Giants will always be one to remember for Giants fans.  After the Loma Prieta earthquake struck just prior to game three of the first and only Bay Bridge series, the Giants were all but sunk, but there were so many tremendous memories along the way.

Kevin Mitchell (7.7 WAR) was NL MVP by hitting .291 (.388 OBP, .635 SLG, 1.023 OPS) and leading the league with 47 HR and 125 RBI. Will Clark (9.4 WAR) was even better, but didn’t have the gaudy power numbers. He hit .333 (.407 OBP, .546 SLG, .953 OPS) while knocking out 23 HR with 38 doubles and 9 triples. The Giants also had huge contributions from Robby Thompson (6.0 WAR).

They were built on offense with the biggest pitching contributors being Rick Reuschel (2.8 WAR) and Scott Garrelts (3.7 WAR). They took down the Padres down the stretch in a pretty weak division, as their run differential was +99 to the Padres +16. They finished a good but not great 92-70.

But, perhaps the story of the year was a guy who only pitched 13 innings. Dave Dravecky came back from a tumor in his pitching arm that was discovered the previous year to pitch the Giants to a 4-3 win over Cincinnati on August 10, 1989. It was truly inspiring. This was just 10 months after having a tumor removed along with 50% of his deltoid muscle. In his next start, his arm snapped in half on a pitch to Tim Raines – causing Dave to fall to the ground in agony – ending his career and ultimately costing him his arm. After it was remarkably broken again during the pennant clinching post game jubilation, a doctor once again discovered a mass in his arm.

2010 –Expect the Unexpected

The 2010 Giants have been very good overall, but they’ve done it in the most unexpected ways. I think the idea was to pitch brilliantly like they did in 2009, and behind their ace Tim Lincecum (2.8 WAR), but he’s only been good and not great. Matt Cain (4.1 WAR). Jonathan Sanchez (3.1 WAR), brilliant closer Brian Wilson (3.0 WAR) and in only 106 innings Madison Bumgarner (2.1 WAR) have actually been better than he.

Offensively, the idea was basically to surround Pablo Sandoval with enough offense to be considered average. They’re average, but with out-of-nowhere contributions. Andres Torres took over the CF job and posted 4.1 WAR before going down with an appendectomy. He’s done this by playing breathtaking defense and being a spark plug at the top of the lineup. Aubrey Huff (5.3 WAR) has experienced resurgence on his first winning team. He was in the MVP picture before fading of late while playing 3 positions for the Giants when he was ridiculed– by me included– for being a DH.

Burrell was dumped by the Rays and has been nothing but fantastic for the Giants with a 2.6 WAR while providing desperately needed power and patience. Management took far too long to bring up the phenom Posey, but he’s got a chance at RoY and has posted a 2.9 WAR in just 99 games. Uribe (1.6 WAR) was supposed to be a utility man, but instead has hit 22 HR while playing mostly shortstop. As for Sandoval, who was supposed to be the ballast of the lineup, he’s posted a 0.2 WAR just barely above replacement.

At the start of the weekend, the Giants had nine games to play and led the division by 1⁄2 game. Their +106 run differential is third best in the league and best in the division. They are in great position to play in October for the first time since 2003, but whether they do or don’t, don’t be surprised if something goofy happens.

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This guest post was written by Rory Paap, who founded www.PaapFly.com in 2009. For a more complete Giants pennant history, read his post Gotham to Golden Gate, Generation to Generation on his blog.

(All WAR figures come from BaseballReference.com)

Double the fun: Koufax Delivers the 1966 Pennant to the Dodgers, Then Retires

Here’s the latest guest post from Joe Guzzardi. Every Saturday, Joe writes Double the fun, looking at a notable doubleheader in baseball history. Today, he writes about one that occurred near the end of a legendary hurler’s career.

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After the 1966 season ended, Sandy Koufax shocked the baseball world when he announced his retirement.  Koufax, only 30, pitched 323 innings and posted a 27-9, 1.79 ERA that season.

To the casual fan, he seemed at his peak. But well known inside the Los Angeles Dodgers clubhouse was that Koufax suffered from an arthritic left elbow that made pitching excruciating. Rather than continue taking pain medication for his inflamed elbow and risk permanent damage, Koufax walked away.

For the six years leading up to his retirement, Koufax may have been the most dominant pitcher in baseball history. From 1961 through 1966, Koufax went 132-47, won five straight ERA titles, tossed four no-hitters including a perfect game, won three Cy Young Awards, each time unanimously, led the league in strike outs four times, fanned 18 batters in a game twice, was voted onto seven All Star teams and was the National League MVP in 1963.

The last regular season game Koufax pitched, the night cap of a crucial October 2 double header against the Philadelphia Phillies, reflected all of his skills.

The Dodgers, locked in a close race with the San Francisco Giants and needing to win at least one of two on the season’s last day, sent their aces Don Drysdale and Koufax to the hill. In the opener, the Phillies behind Chris Short (20-10), knocked the Dodgers off, 4-3. The Phillies first batter John Briggs homered off Drysdale who was gone by the third inning.

Now it was up to Koufax, pitching on two days rest, to deliver the pennant.  Even though the game was meaningless to the fourth place Phillies, 19-game winner Jim Bunning got the nod. The game marked the first time two pitchers who had tossed perfect games went head-to-head. (Watch Koufax pitch the ninth inning of his September 9, 1965 perfecto against the Chicago Cubs here.)

Koufax pitched a masterful complete game giving up two earned runs and striking out ten while coasting to a 6-3 win. The Dodgers had led 6-0 going into the ninth.

The Dodgers then advanced to the World Series where one more start awaited Koufax.

In the series opener Drysdale, pitching poorly once more, gave up four runs in two innings and was yanked. The next day Koufax, again on short rest, allowed one earned run over six innings. But he was no match for the Orioles’ Jim Palmer who shut the Dodgers out, 6-0.

The Dodgers were also held scoreless in games three and four, losing 1-0 and 1-0, as the Birds completed a four-game sweep.

Koufax’s post-playing career has had ups and downs. In 1967, Koufax signed a ten-year contract with NBC for $1 million ($6,516,000 in current dollars) to broadcast the Saturday Game of the Week. But Koufax quit after six years.

Six years later, the Dodgers hired Koufax to be its minor league pitching coach. But Koufax’s uneasy relationship with then-manager Tommy Lasorda led to his 1990 resignation.

In 2003, Koufax temporarily ended his Dodger relationship when the New York Post (which, like the Dodgers, had become part of Rupert Murdoch’s corporate empire) published a story suggesting that he’s gay.

During his post-retirement period, Koufax’s personal life was as unsettled as his professional one. He married and divorced twice.

Happier news: the Hall of Fame elected Koufax in his first year of eligibility (1972) with 87 percent of the vote. The Sporting News named him #26 on its 1999 list of “The 100 Greatest Baseball Players”

Although he makes few public appearances, Koufax threw out the first pitch at Dodger Stadium on Opening Day 2008 to commemorate 50 years in Los Angeles.

Currently, Koufax serves on the advisory board of the Baseball Assistance Team, a charitable organization that helps needy former Major League Players.

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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

In a Regular Season Game, 59-Year-Old Satchel Paige Dominates the Red Sox

Here’s the latest from Joe Guzzardi. Joe generally contributes guest posts Wednesday and Saturday, but due to personal circumstances is offering his first post on Friday this week.

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One of the greatest challenges baseball historians face is evaluating the true accomplishments of the great Negro National League stars.

Record keeping was sporadic. The games weren’t covered by the main stream media but rather by weekly newspapers published for African-American readers that carried scant statistical information.

Anecdotes make up a large part of the Negro National League’s lore. For example, historians speculated for years that Josh Gibson hit 800 or more home runs. But recent research found that Gibson hit many of those homers in unofficial games against inferior competition, often makeshift barnstorming teams.

Most now agree that Gibson’s more accurate home run total for regulation games against comparable Negro National League teams is between 150 and 200.

A certain aura based on hearsay also surrounds Satchel Paige who pitched for seven Negro League teams as well as various minor league, Dominican and Mexican clubs. Who can say if Paige, as he claimed, really pitched 50 no hitters?

But, when Paige finally reached the major leagues in 1948 to pitch for the Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Browns and the Kansas City Athletics, an official scorer documented his achievements. Paige’s record (28-31; 3.29 ERA) is beyond dispute.

His brief time in the majors includes what may be the most remarkable feat in baseball history.

In 1965 at the age of 59 years, two months and eight days, Paige pitching for Charles O. Finley’s Athletics, started a late season game against the Boston Red Sox and hurled three scoreless innings.

Maverick owner Finley conceived the idea to sign and start Paige as a lark to boost the Athletics’ sagging attendance. That year the team, 59-103 and playing in front of an average of 3,000 fans, finished tenth. Paige inked a $3,500 contract and immediately declared: “I think I can still pitch and help this club.”

Finley, with considerable assistance from Paige, hyped the game masterfully. Before warming up, Paige sat in a rocking chair placed next to but not in the A’s underground bullpen. Paige said: “At my age, I’m close enough to being below ground level as it is.”

More theatrics: A white-uniformed nurse stood beside Paige to massage his arm before the game while a personal water boy handed him cool drinks.
Paige’s six children looked on; his wife Lahoma, expecting a seventh child, stayed home.

When the game began, Paige dominated. He recorded nine outs on only twenty-eight pitches and allowed just one hit, a double by Carl Yastrzemski. Ironically, during a Long Island semi-pro game a generation earlier, Yaz’s father had hit against Paige.

Relying on pinpoint control, Paige walked no one. According to teammate Ed Charles, Paige took only ten warm up tosses before “he proceeded to go out on the mound and shove the ball right up their you know what. Most of the kids on our team were saying: ‘What’s this old man doing? He should be in a retirement home.’”

Bill Monbouquette, Paige’s mound opponent and Satchel’s last strike out victim, said: “Satchel had better swings off me than I had off him.”

At the top of the fourth, Paige strode to the mound. But, as he had planned all along, manager Mel McGaha took Paige out so he could leave to a standing ovation.

Shortly after Paige reached the locker room, McGaha summed him back to the field where idolizing fans in the darkened Municipal Stadium flicked matches and lighters in his honor. To top it off, they sang “The Old Grey Mare” (For more details about the game and Paige’s career, read Larry Tye’s biography, Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend. See Tye’s interview that includes photos of Paige rocking in his chair here.)

The Los Angeles Times, one of the many major newspapers that turned out to cover the game, best summed Paige’s effort. In its recap, the Times wrote: “A gimmick yes. A joke, no.”

Certainly no major league hitter, including the likes of a brash, young slugger Tony Conigliaro or a seasoned veteran like Felix Mantilla, wanted to be shown up by a pitcher more than twice their ages.

The evening wasn’t a total success. The game drew only 9,289 fans. The A’s, with Don Mossi (5-7) in relief absorbing the defeat, lost 5-2 as Monbouquette (10-18) pitched a tidy (2:14) seven hit complete game.

After two more miserable seasons playing before empty stands, the Athletics pulled out of Kansas City to head for happier days in Oakland.

In its seven year history, the Kansas City Athletics most memorable, moments were the three innings that Paige dominated the Red Sox.

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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

Any player/Any era: Shoeless Joe Jackson

What he did: The man nicknamed Shoeless Joe is one of the all-time greats. Say what you will about his involvement in throwing the 1919 World Series, which cost him a spot in the Hall of Fame, but Jackson hit for average, fielded impeccably, and even ran the bases well, stealing at least 20 bases five times and peaking with 41 steals in 1911. The only thing Jackson couldn’t do was hit for power. In another era, he might have hit more than 54 home runs lifetime. In fact, I think Jackson could have been a Triple Crown winner.

Era he might have thrived in: Jackson is probably one of those few legends who would have stood out at pretty much any point in baseball history. With the Red Sox in the late ’30s and early ’40s, Jackson could have been Ted Williams with greater speed and fielding ability. In the ’50s and ’60s, Jackson might have been a five tool player comparable to Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle. And with the current Texas Rangers, I would liken Jackson to another sweet-swinging lefty and Triple Crown threat, Josh Hamilton.

Why: I see Hamilton and I can’t help but think of Jackson. In many ways, Hamilton seems his modern equivalent. Both are Southerners. Both were exiled from baseball, Hamilton temporarily to deal with drug problems, Jackson permanently because of the Black Sox Scandal. In terms of playing ability, both hit similarly sweet from the left side and possessed supreme talent. I think if Jackson were playing today, Hamilton is the player he might resemble most closely.

Hamilton returned to the game in 2007 with the Reds, was traded to the Rangers before the following season and blossomed into a star. Texas has been his promised land. Considering Hamilton’s .395 home batting average this year, I can only imagine what Jackson would hit there. I’m thinking his home batting average might approach .500. After all, Jackson hit better than .350 six seasons, peaked at .408 in 1911, and hit .356 lifetime, third-best all-time behind Ty Cobb and Rogers Hornsby. And Jackson did that against Deadball Era pitching.

So I think Jackson’s batting average today would be just as good, if not better. I also think he’d have better power numbers, playing with a livelier ball and in a park like Texas. I think the park would have the same effect on Jackson it’s had on Hamilton and that Shoeless Joe would have similar slugging stats: maybe 30 home runs and a ton of RBI. Of course, if Jackson had stayed in baseball, a spike in his numbers may have come in his own era.

Jackson posted career highs of 12 home runs and 121 RBI in 1920, his last year before being banned. That year, Babe Ruth topped 50 home runs for the first time and helped revolutionize baseball, with the number of home runs in the American League increasing nearly 50 percent by 1925. Mike Lynch of Seamheads.com told me recently that in a What If-style book he wrote on the 1919 White Sox, Jackson posted a slugging percentage ranging between .512 and .591 from 1921 through 1924. One can only wonder what might have been.

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

Others in this series: Albert Pujols, Barry Bonds, Dom DiMaggio, Fritz Maisel, George Case, Harmon Killebrew, Home Run Baker, Johnny Frederick, Josh Hamilton, Ken Griffey Jr., Nate Colbert, Pete Rose, Rickey Henderson, Sandy Koufax, The Meusel Brothers, Ty Cobb

Roy Halladay and others who won 20 games their first year in a new league

[Editor’s note: Joe Guzzardi’s usual Wednesday guest post will appear on Friday this week.]

Upon hearing news that Roy Halladay won his 20th game on Tuesday, I began to make a list. Halladay is the latest addition to a small club: pitchers who won 20 games their first year in a new league after playing in the other circuit. Making a quick run of Baseball-Reference.com, I found ten men who have accomplished this in the National or American League since the founding of the second league in 1901.

These pitchers are:

Roy Halladay: The newcomer here, Halladay looks like the odds-on favorite for National League Cy Young this year, as he’s now 20-10 with a 2.53 ERA. Halladay received an American League Cy Young and six All Star nods over his 12 seasons with Toronto before coming to the Phillies in a December 2009 trade.

Fergie Jenkins: The future Hall of Famer won 20 games six straight years for the Cubs early in his career then faltered in 1973 to 14-16 with a 3.89 ERA and was dealt in the offseason to the Rangers. Jenkins proceeded to go 25-12 with a 2.82 ERA in 1974, winning the American League Cy Young.

Gaylord Perry: The Giants packaged Perry and another player for five-time strikeout champion Sam McDowell in November 171 and it haunted them. McDowell went 10-8 with a 4.33 ERA in 1972 and was gone from San Francisco within another year, while Perry won 180 more games in his career and two Cy Youngs. The first of these came with the Indians in 1972 when Perry went 24-16 with a 1.92 ERA.

Mike Cuellar: A promising pitcher for the Astros and an All Star in 1967, Cuellar became an a powerhouse with his trade to the Orioles in December 1968. Cuellar won 20 games his first three seasons in Baltimore and shared the 1969 Cy Young with Denny McLain.

Carl Mays: Despite going 208-126 with a 2.92 ERA, Mays was notorious for throwing the pitch that killed Ray Chapman in 1920 and for allegedly fixing games in the 1921 and 1922 World Series, as recounted by longtime sportswriter Fred Lieb in his 1977 memoir, Baseball As I Have Known It. Lieb wrote of how the Yankees asked for waivers on Mays following the 1923 World Series and how Yankee skipper Miller Huggins wrote to Mays’ new manager, Garry Herrmann of the Reds, “I may be sending you the best pitcher I have, but I warn you that Carl is a troublemaker and always will be a hard man to sign.” Mays went 20-9 in 1924 for Cincinnati, had one more good season, and was effectively done.

Jack Chesbro: Chesbro’s 21 wins for the New York Highlanders in 1903 were seven less than what he posted for the Pirates the year before, though he more than made up for it by going 41-12 with a 1.82 ERA for New York in 1904. The win total is a record in the modern era.

Cy Young, Joe McGinnity, Chick Fraser, Clark Griffith: I group these pitchers together as they were the men who won 20 games the first year of the American League, 1901, after they jumped over from National League clubs.

Related: Fantastic finishes: Pitchers who won 20 games in their final season

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Tim Raines

Claim to fame: In the 1980s, Raines may have been the National League’s answer to Rickey Henderson. Raines led the league in stolen bases 1981-1984 and had 578 of his 808 career steals in the decade. He also made seven consecutive All Star teams and, together with Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, and others, helped make the Montreal Expos contenders. Raines declined in the ’90s and was a role player by the end, though he remains popular among baseball researchers.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Raines has made three appearances on the Cooperstown ballot for the Baseball Writers Association of America, reaching a high of 30.4 percent of the vote this year. He has 12 more tries with the writers.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? In a word, yes. Together with Lou Brock and Henderson, Raines rates among the best base thieves ever. I devoted one of these columns in June to another stolen base champ, Maury Wills, and I said that before Wills goes in, Raines must be honored first. After all, Wills is 19th on the career steals list while Raines is 5th and has the most steals of anyone not in Cooperstown.

Raines also scored the fourth-most runs of any eligible ballplayer not enshrined, and he finished with 2,605 hits and a .294 batting average. Imagine if instead of sitting the Yankee bench in later years, Raines started for a lesser team and made 3,000 hits. He’d have been a first ballot selection, no question– since 1952, no eligible player with 3,000 hits has failed to make it on his first try.

Who knows when Raines will get a plaque, though? Tom Verducci wrote in a Sports Illustrated piece in January that ’80s stars like Dale Murphy, Jack Morris, and Raines may lose their opportunity as many recent greats become eligible.

Verducci wrote:

In 17 years I never have voted for a player who did not eventually make the Hall of Fame. I fear Raines might be the first. He was the greatest offensive weapon in his league in his prime, once scoring an NL-record 19.6 percent of his Montreal team’s runs. He was a better player than Lou Brock (easily; look it up) and reached base more times and scored more runs than Tony Gwynn. He stole bases nearly at will — succeeding on 85 percent of 954 attempts. He is harmed as a candidate by issues that have nothing to do with his greatness: a low profile in Montreal, part-time roles in New York and Chicago, and two player strikes, especially in 1981, when his rate of stolen bases (71 in 88 games) put him on pace for the glory Rickey Henderson received the next year for smashing Brock’s record of 118.

Raines’ candidacy also was probably hurt by a drug problem. Ken Burns noted in his Baseball series that Raines said he “always slid headfirst because he didn’t want to break the cocaine vials he kept in his pants pockets.” As I wrote about Dave Parker, if a minority player is perceived to have character issues, his chances of making Cooperstown plummet.

Raines certainly has support. I named him one of the 10 most underrated players, and Raines is in Baseball Think Factory’s Hall of Merit. In a forum discussion, one member wrote in 2007:

I’ve thought for a while that Raines is a guy who, maybe more than any other upcoming Hall of Fame candidate, would benefit from some sabermetric types with a bit of mainstream exposure talking up his credentials, similar to what has happened with Bert Blyleven.

History would suggest Raines has slim odds with the writers. Of the 67 players the BBWAA has enshrined since modern voting procedures were instituted in June 1967, Raines received more votes his third year on the ballot than just seven men: Luis Aparicio, Lou Boudreau, Ralph Kiner, Bob Lemon, Joe Medwick, Duke Snider, and Bruce Sutter.

Then again, Blyleven got 17.4 percent of the vote his third year and didn’t crack 30 percent until his seventh year. Something has happened since, and it appears Blyleven may get a call for Cooperstown in January. So perhaps Raines has a chance. But I’m guessing Raines’ honors will come from the Veterans Committee, which has tapped many players with inferior career numbers and far less support from the BBWAA.

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

Others in this series: Al Oliver, Albert Belle, Bert Blyleven, Cecil Travis, Chipper Jones, Dan Quisenberry, Dave Parker, Don Mattingly, Don Newcombe, George Steinbrenner, Maury Wills, Mel Harder, Pete Browning, Rocky Colavito, Steve Garvey, Thurman Munson

Clash of the titans

For anyone who hasn’t seen it, this site was mentioned by Mike Lynch in an article at Seamheads.com on Friday. Back in August, Bobby Aguilera posted a roster of good ballplayers not in the Hall of Fame. I responded with an opposing lineup and suggested a one-game playoff. Lynch used the Lineup Analysis Tool on Baseball Musings to see who’d have the batting advantage.

Here’s what Lynch determined:

Aguilera’s Nine Womack’s Nine
Name POS AVG OBA SLG Name POS AVG OBA SLG
Tim Raines LF .294 .385 .425 Maury Wills SS .281 .330 .331
Edgar Martinez DH .312 .418 .515 Roberto Alomar 2B .300 .371 .443
Reggie Smith CF .287 .366 .489 Joe Jackson LF .356 .423 .517
Dick Allen 1B .292 .378 .534 Albert Belle DH .295 .369 .564
Dwight Evans RF .272 .370 .470 Dave Parker RF .290 .339 .471
Joe Torre C .297 .365 .452 Don Mattingly 1B .307 .358 .471
Bobby Grich 2B .266 .371 .424 Thurman Munson C .292 .346 .410
Ron Santo 3B .277 .362 .464 Pete Rose 3B .303 .375 .409
Bill Dahlen SS .272 .358 .382 Spottswood Poles* CF .327 .401 .405
Expected R/G 5.96 Expected R/G 5.63


Basically, Lynch found that perhaps I don’t know what I’m talking about, which really isn’t news (some of my friends have known this for years) though it still surprised me that my squad might not win a one-off battle. I conceded my guys had lesser career numbers, but I figured the talent level was higher, meaning more in the short term. That was kind of my point in doing this, to suggest that players like Bobby Grich, Reggie Smith, and Ron Santo aren’t necessarily the best guys not in Cooperstown simply because they spent more years in the majors and amassed better Wins Above Replacement ratings. Maybe I should give more thought to WAR and similar metrics.

Lynch did some tweaks and discovered I could gain an eighth of a run by batting Spottswood Poles in the lead-off spot, hitting Shoeless Joe Jackson second, and using Ted Simmons in place of Thurman Munson. I’m happy to have Poles lead off, and I’d substitute Cecil Travis for Maury Wills at short. I’m still reluctant to take Simmons over Munson, as I think Munson was better in his prime. His offensive averages aren’t much worse than Simmons, and Lynch noted that Munson was far better defensively. I also think Shoeless Joe would provide better slugging numbers in the modern era and be an excellent third hitter.

In the comment section for his post, Lynch said if I sent a full pitching staff, he’d set up a best-of-seven series on his computer. I provided a four-man rotation of Deacon Phillippe, Jack Morris, Dwight Gooden, and Eddie Cicotte, with Urban Shocker as an extra starter and long reliever. We’ll see where this goes. Regardless of how the series comes out, I may come out of this still not really knowing what I’m talking about. That’s fine– I’ve been wrong many times in life. Among the highlights:

  • I once insisted the Giants trade Tim Lincecum, right before he started winning Cy Youngs, for Alex Rios
  • I once predicted the 49ers would win the NFC West and then watched them go 2-14
  • Right before I graduated from Cal Poly, I passed on a chance to work a day behind the scenes at the Michael Jackson trial to go on a bike ride

Double the fun: Ralph Kiner’s Historic 1947 Doubleheader: Bombs Away!

Here’s the latest guest post from Joe Guzzardi

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Last Sunday, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette sports page story about the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 10-inning 5-4 loss to the Cincinnati Reds was on page 14. Preceding it were accounts of high school and college football, the Steelers, the Penguins, the U.S. Open tennis tournament, the upcoming basketball season, horse racing, Reggie Bush, lacrosse and assorted other minor events.

In Pittsburgh, “Dog days” has a different meaning. The phrase refers to the season’s last month when Pirates baseball mercifully ends.

Today’s Buccos remind lifelong fans of the horrible 1950-1955 Pirates known as “Rickey’s Rinky-Dinks,” a play on general manager Branch Rickey’s name and the teams under his direction.

That’s not entirely fair to Rickey since the Corsairs were National League cellar dwellers for years before he arrived on the scene. The one bright spot who kept Pirates fans glued in their Forbes Field seats even as the losses mounted: Ralph Kiner

During his first seven seasons, Kiner led or tied for the National League in home runs, an unmatched feat.

Kiner also achieved a still-standing major league record when in 1947 he hit eight home runs in four consecutive games. Four of them came during a September 11th double header. During the preceding month, Kiner previewed his prowess when he hit seven home runs during a similar four game stretch.

Kiner started his tear on September 10th against the New York Giants when his two home runs off Larry Jansen (18-5) accounted for the Bucs only runs in 3-2 defeat.

During the next day’s double dip, with the Boston Braves in town, Kiner hit one in the opener off losing pitcher Johnny Sain (19-10) to help lift the Pirates to a 4-3, 13 inning triumph. In the nightcap, Kiner slugged two more off starter Bill Voiselle and another off losing pitcher Walt Lanfranconni (4-4) for a 10-8 Pirate sweep.

Kiner wrapped up his power-packed four days when on September 12th, he blasted two more off Red Barrett (11-12) to propel the Bucs to a 4-3 victory.

Kiner’s four-day line: AB 16; R 8; H 10; HR 8; RBI 12

Over his ten-year career, Kiner hit 369 home runs for an average of one every 14.11 at bats, eighth best all-time. Historians calculate that if Kiner had played in a more hitter friendly park than the monstrous Forbes Field and had not also lost nearly three seasons serving in World War II, he would easily have hit 500.

From 1948 through 1953, Kiner played in six consecutive All Star Games before being ignominiously dumped off to the Chicago Cubs for the proverbial bunch of broken bats, namely Toby Atwell, Bob Schultz, Preston Ward, George Freese, Bob Addis, Gene Hermanski and $150,000 cash.

Kiner and Rickey had been locked in a salary dispute all season before the notorious cheapskate famously told the slugger: “We finished last with you and we can finish last without you.”

Although Kiner hit 50 home runs during his season and a half with the Cubs and another 18 with the Cleveland Indians in 1955, his most productive years were over.

In 1961 Kiner began a new career as a Chicago White Sox broadcaster before moving to the New York Mets where he joined Lindsey Nelson and Bob Murphy. One of the most popular features of Mets’ broadcasts was “Kiner’s Korner” where Kiner might call Darryl Strawberry “Darryl Thornberry” or say: “If Casey Stengel were alive, he’d be spinning in his grave.”

Kiner, although ailing, still appears from time to time making him the only Mets’ announcer to be part of the broadcast team since the Mets first game.

Post-career, Kiner has received many accolades. In 1975, the Hall of Fame elected Kiner. Twelve years later, the Pirates retired his number 4. The Sporting News placed Kiner on its 1999 “Top 100 Greatest Player’s” list.

Just inside the entrance to PNC Park, which opened in 2001, a statue of Kiner’s hand holding a bat honors his seven leading home run seasons. Then, in 2007, the Mets held “Ralph Kiner Night” with Tom Seaver giving a commemorative speech. Also present were Bob Feller, former Met manager Yogi Berra and the late Ernie Harwell. (See it here.)

Billy Meyer, one of Kiner’s Pirates managers, had only good things to say about his star outfielder: “During all the time I managed the Pirates, there was never a time that Kiner didn’t do everything I asked him to for the general good of the club. No matter what I said it was perfectly okay with him.”

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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

A Rose by any other name– other players barred from baseball

Last weekend, Pete Rose got a one-day reprieve from his lifetime ban from baseball so he could celebrate the 25-year anniversary of breaking the all-time hit record. It was a nice gesture from Major League Baseball, though too little, too late for a player punished cruelly. Rose got banned in 1989 for betting on baseball and is among a small group of players formally barred. Every so often, a ballplayer is informally shunned as well.

Here are four men who were never officially banished, but effectively may have been:

Mike Marshall: In March 1981, Jim Bouton issued a follow-up to his bestseller, Ball Four. In it, he wrote of his former Seattle Pilots teammate who had been released by the Twins at the end of the 1980 season and not yet picked up by another team. Bouton wrote:

Why would the Twins release a guy they still had to pay for two more years, who had won or saved 31 games for them as recently as 1978? And why hasn’t any other team signed this 39-year-old physical fitness expert who could probably pitch for another five years?

Well, because baseball hasn’t changed that much. Everybody but the Baseball Commissioner suspects the owners want to keep Marshall, a militant leader, out of the Player’s Association. His release keeps him off the very important joint study committee working on the question of free agent compensation. Also, Marshall has been heard to say that when Marvin Miller retires, he would like a shot at Marvin’s job. If there’s anyone the owners fear more than Marvin, it’s Mike.

Marshall finally found a team to sign him for 1981 on August 19, weeks after the strike that year ended. It doesn’t seem coincidental to me that Marshall was team-less before, which likely kept him out of strike negotiations. Despite going 3-2 with a 2.61 ERA for the New York Mets for the rest of the season, Marshall was released in October and gone from baseball.

Carl Furillo: In another baseball classic, The Boys of Summer, Roger Kahn detailed the lives of former Brooklyn Dodger greats, about a decade beyond their careers. Kahn located the former rightfielder installing elevator doors in the old World Trade Center, then under construction.

The Dodgers released Furillo at 38 in 1960, and he sued because he was injured at the time and the club refused to pay the balance of his contract, which violated its terms. While the legal matter was pending, Furillo wrote to 18 teams in the spring of 1961 offering to pinch-hit or play. No one signed him.

Kahn wrote:

If one thinks of blacklist in terms of the old McCarthyism when the three television networks in concert refused to employ writers or actors with a so-called radical past, then Carl Furillo was not blacklisted. As far as anyone can learn, the owners of the eighteen major league clubs operating in 1961 did not collectively refuse to hire him. What they did was react in a patterned way. Here was one more old star who wanted to pinch-hit and coach. He could have qualified marginally, but once he sued, people in baseball’s conformist ambiance decided he was a ‘Bolshevik.’ Hiring him at thirty-nine was not worth the potential trouble. Walter O’Malley was no Borgia, plotting to bar Furillo from the game. Only Furillo’s decision to hire lawyers was at play. The existential result was identical.

Dave Kingman: I heard Susan Fornoff speak at a SABR meeting in Sacramento in July. Fornoff helped get female reporters admitted into locker rooms in the 1980s, and she said at the meeting that Kingman sent her a rat in the press box. The A’s released Kingman subsequently, he never played again in the majors, and he later sued Major League Baseball for collusion and got some money. Fornoff told us, “I think baseball can collude pretty easily.”

Rafael Palmeiro: Several players connected to steroids have seemingly been excised from the game, from Jose Canseco to Barry Bonds to Roger Clemens. Perhaps no one had as much left as Palmeiro, who played just seven games after an August 2005 suspension for a positive steroid test. Palmeiro hit .266 in 2005, was starting until the time of his suspension, and would have been 41 to start 2006. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to think he could have been a designated hitter for another year or two.

Related: Time for baseball to call an amnesty on Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe

Any player/Any era: Barry Bonds

What he did: If ever a baseball superstar played in precisely the wrong era for his skill set and temperament, it was Barry Bonds. Sure, one could glance at his power numbers after he probably started taking performance enhancing drugs and think they helped him. He might not have broken the single-season and career home run records unaided. But as Bonds approaches his fourth year under federal indictment, it seems like no ballplayer has lost more because of steroids, needlessly.

Bonds was one of the best in baseball clean, a rare player who could hit for average and power, run fast, and field well.  According to Game of Shadows, Bonds started using after watching Mark McGwire’s record-breaking 1998 season. Steroids inflated Bonds’ average and power, but they also added bulk, limiting his speed and defensive range. They also set him up for legal problems.

Imagine if Bonds played in an era where he never would’ve been presented with the decision to use, where there would have been no artificially bulked-up sluggers to envy, where weightlifting hadn’t even entered the game. Imagine if Bonds played before steroids.

Era he might have thrived in: Legions of Giants fans supported Bonds at his peak. I know another time this might have occurred: In the early 1920s, with the New York Giants (assuming we suspend disbelief about Bonds’ skin color keeping him from playing.)

Why: With his talents, Bonds could have shined in many eras. In the 1960s, he’d have rivaled his godfather Willie Mays. In the Deadball Era, he might have hit close to .400 or racked up gaudy stolen base totals. But I like the idea of him on the Giants of the early ’20s for a few reasons.

First, as the film Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story noted, those Giants wanted an ethnic slugger to rival the Yankees and Babe Ruth. In 1923, they signed a Jewish right fielder named Mose Solomon, who appeared in two games, got into a salary dispute, and never played again. Like Solomon, Bonds would have appealed to a large potential fan base. The Polo Grounds was near Harlem, and by the ’20s, the neighborhood was largely black. Bonds could have been one of its heroes.

Granted, I don’t know how Bonds would have interacted with his manager in New York, John McGraw, given that Bonds and Jim Leyland had some epic shouting matches in Pittsburgh. I’m also not sure how Bonds would coexist with the New York media. But there are other reasons this could work.

Like Solomon, Bonds hit left-handed and could have exploited the right field short porch at the Polo Grounds, which ran 258 feet to the foul pole. The vast expanses over the middle of the outfield could have provided Bonds with massive numbers of triples and a few inside-the-park home runs. And for a player who sometimes worked with little lineup protection, Bonds would have been on a 1923 Giants club that hit .295 and lost to the Yankees in the World Series.

A regular reader sent me converted stats from Baseball-Reference for Bonds playing every season of his career on a team like the 1923 Giants. While I discount the converted later seasons, since I believe those are a reflection of steroid-aided numbers, I think Bonds’ totals from his early seasons are telling. The stat converter has the Bonds of 1992 and 1993 posting back-to-back years with at least a .350 batting average, 40 home runs, and 120 RBI for New York.

I’m guessing Bonds would be good for 30-40 home runs annually with roughly the same career longevity, 20 or so seasons. That comes out to about 700 home runs. Legitimate ones.

Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature here that debuted June 3 and looks at how a player might have done in an era besides his own.

Bring Back the High Hard One: Remembering Sal Maglie

Here’s the latest guest post from Joe Guzzardi, a regular Wednesday and Saturday contributor.

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For years, I’ve listened to Pittsburgh Pirates’ announcers Steve Blass and Bob Walk urge Bucco hurlers to pitch fastballs inside. Although Blass and Walk were accomplished major league starters with more than 100 career wins, their advice is ignored—and not just by the Pirates.

Pitching inside is baseball’s lost art. Whether the commissioner’s office, umpires or pitchers and their coaches have decided that taking the inside of the plate is not politically correct, the fact remains that the high hard one is as rare as a complete game. Baseball is the poorer for it, too.

The name synonymous with inside pitching is Sal “the Barber” Maglie whose reputation as a headhunter dwarfs his outstanding career statistics.

On the mound, Maglie with his gaunt appearance, grim expression and stubble cut a fearsome presence that contributed to his reputation as a rough customer.

In 1958, Maglie spoke to Sports Illustrated reporter Roy Terrell for the first installment in a series titled “Big League Secrets.” Maglie’s chapter, in which he described his philosophy and nickname, was titled “The Art of Pitching”

Said Maglie: “You can’t let anyone run over you, for example. O.K., so they hit you a little. Right then is when you have to show them who’s the boss. Every batter is a challenge. I’ve been accused of giving some close shaves in my time and I guess I have. I don’t throw at hitters but I won’t deny that I make pretty sure that they aren’t digging in on me. I know I have to keep them loose.”

Maglie listed the three attributes necessary for a pitcher to succeed: 1) control of his pitches and himself, 2) confidence and determination and 3) knowledge and experience.

“The Barber” practiced what he preached. I count three back-to-back-to-back seasons when if it had existed, Maglie could have won the Cy Young Award. With the New York Giants from 1950 through 1952, Maglie posted records of 18-4 (2.71), 23-6 (2.93) and 18-8 (2.92). By 1956, the award’s first year, Maglie (13-5, 2.87) finished second to Don Newcombe in the Cy Young and Most Valuable Player voting.

In 1951, during the Giants famous end of season pennant run against the Dodgers, Maglie rolled off eleven straight victories and earned the All-Star Game win.

During his ten seasons, Maglie had a 110-62 record (3.15 ERA). Had Maglie not been banned by baseball from 1945 until 1950 for playing in the outlaw Mexican League, he may have reached the Hall of Fame. If you assume 15 wins during each of Maglie’s lost years, his average from 1950 through 1954 after he returned, that would put his win total at 185. Given that Maglie played an important role on championship Brooklyn Dodgers and Giants and earned the admiration of the baseball writers, he might have made Cooperstown.

Maglie holds two further distinctions. Maglie is the last player to be a member of all three New York teams, the Dodgers, Giants and New York Yankees. And infamously Maglie, despite pitching masterfully, lost to the Yankees’ Don Larsen in his 1956 perfect World Series game.

After Maglie’s career ended in 1958, he coached pitching for the Boston Red Sox (his star pupil was Jim Lonborg) and the Seattle Pilots.

Just how tough a cookie Maglie was in real life is debatable. Maglie’s first wife Kathleen, who died in 1967, couldn’t understand the fuss. According to her, “He isn’t tough at all. He lets his beard grow before a game so he’ll look fierce. I used to wonder what people were talking about when they said he scowled ferociously at the batters. Then I stayed home one day and watched him on TV. I hardly knew him.”

Watch this classic video from the old “What’s My Line?” television program with Maglie as the mystery guest and Phil Rizzuto appearing as a panelist. Notice Maglie’s neatly folded breast pocket handkerchief.

Then decide for yourself whether Maglie, out of uniform, was a good guy or a bad guy.

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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? Dan Quisenberry

Claim to fame: Quisenberry entered the majors in 1979 at 26 and played just 12 seasons, though early on, he may have been baseball’s best closer. Between 1980 and 1985, Quisenberry led the American League in saves five out of six seasons and finished among the top three in Cy Young voting four straight years. Nearly all of his 244 career saves came in this span.

After 1985, Quisenberry’s production declined dramatically, and he was out of baseball within five years, an afterthought for Hall of Fame voters, and an early death to brain cancer in 1998. Since then, his Cooperstown bid has gained support.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Quisenberry received 3.8 percent of the Cooperstown vote from the Baseball Writers Association of America his only year on the ballot in 1996 and can be enshrined by the Veterans Committee.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? I go back and forth on whether I believe Quisenberry deserves a plaque in Cooperstown, though many in the baseball research community praise him. One of his supporters is Joe Posnanski.

I interviewed the Sports Illustrated writer and baseball blogger last Thursday, and our 55-minute discussion produced more good material than could fit in my post. My piece here mostly contained Posnanski’s advice for young writers and his non-baseball interests, which I felt was original and humanizing. But for the first 15 minutes, Posnanski and I talked baseball. I considered doing a follow-up post, but I’m electing to space the remaining anecdotes out over the next few weeks, like Thanksgiving leftovers.

At one point early in our conversation, I read the names of a few players to Posnanski, asking if they belonged in the Hall of Fame. We discussed Rocky Colavito, who did his best work in Cleveland where Posnanski grew up. Posnanski said that while he didn’t think Colavito merited a plaque, he was essentially the same player in his prime as Jim Rice, who was enshrined in 2009.

I also asked about Quisenberry, who Posnanski knew. Posnanski told me:

“To me, Quiz’s career, while very different from Bruce Sutter’s was precisely the same in value. He was every bit as good a pitcher as Bruce Sutter, if not better. He pitched exactly the same number of innings. Sutter picked up some cheap saves at the end of his career. He’s got that saves advantage (with 300), but his ERA is higher. His ERA+ is higher. Quiz did it his way where he didn’t walk anybody…. He just got the most out of his ability. Sutter was obviously dominant with the splitter and everything. But I think at the end of the day, they’re the same.”

“It’s the same situation with Rice. I didn’t vote for Bruce Sutter for the Hall of Fame, so I don’t know that him going in changes the mind. But I really do think that Bruce Sutter being in the Hall of Fame, and Dan Quisenberry never really having had the discussion– him falling off the ballot that first year– I think that’s kind of an injustice.”

From there, we discussed how early relievers in general have been overlooked as save numbers have skyrocketed, partly as a result of the save becoming more of an emphasized stat, Posnanski noted. I would add that the same thing happened with stolen bases and home runs. What was once impressive now seems pedestrian.

It will ultimately be up to the Veterans Committee to make sense of everything, to determine which early relievers are Hall-worthy. I recently named Sparky Lyle my closer for a lineup of non-inducted greats, and I might make a case for Mike Marshall. Without a doubt, I think Quisenberry at least deserves the committee’s consideration.

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

Fantastic finishes: Pitchers who won 20 games in their final season

A regular reader emailed me recently with a question. He wrote: Besides Henry Schmidt (only season) and Mike Mussina, can you think of any other major leaguers who won 20 games in their last season?

The answer is yes, though it’s a small club. I found nine pitchers who’ve managed this feat and only two who have done so since 1920. This is because most hurlers, even future Hall of Famers, don’t bow out gracefully. Most are lucky not to wind up like Steve Carlton, bouncing from team to team or Roger Clemens, in disgrace or Nolan Ryan, whose ESPN highlight his final season might have been putting Robin Ventura in a headlock during a brawl.

Occasionally, a pitcher finishes well. Here are nine men who won 20 games their last year:

Mike Mussina: It’s a wonder Mussina didn’t keep playing after his 20-9 season in 2008. Mussina quit just shy of his 40th birthday with 270 wins when he might have stuck around to win 300. In fact, I think he could still be pitching if he wanted. Or Mussina could go the route of Jim Palmer and try an ill-conceived comeback in a few years.

Sandy Koufax: Has a pitcher ever done better his final season? This may be the standard. Koufax went 27-9 with a 1.73 ERA and 317 strikeouts in 1966, winning the Cy Young and leading the Dodgers to the World Series. Afterward, Koufax retired at 30 because of his arthritic arm and later was the youngest man inducted into Cooperstown. He’s also the only Hall of Famer here, at least until Mussina gets in.

Jim Devlin, Eddie Cicotte, Lefty Williams: Devlin went 35-25 in 1877 and, late in the season, participated in baseball’s first game-fixing scandal, costing his team the pennant and earning a lifetime ban. Decades later, Williams and Cicotte were rotation-anchoring hurlers for the Chicago White Sox who played crucial roles in throwing the 1919 World Series. Williams and Cicotte pitched again for Chicago in 1920 and won a combined 43 games but were barred before the 1921 season.

Henry Schmidt: Perhaps my favorite on this list, Schmidt went 22-13 as a 30-year-old rookie for Brooklyn in 1903 and then wrote the club a note saying he didn’t like playing on the East Coast. He never pitched in the majors again. Brooklyn had a hard time keeping pitchers in those days, losing another promising starter the year before, Jim Hughes, for similar reasons.

Charlie Ferguson: Ferguson won at least 20 games each of his four seasons in the majors, but died at 25 in 1888 after contracting typhoid fever. Overall, he went 99-64 with a 2.67 ERA and also hit .288 as an outfielder and second baseman.

Toad Ramsey: Going 23-17 in 1890 didn’t turn this Toad into a prince, at least not for the St. Louis Browns of the American Association who released him that September. Ramsey was done in professional baseball and so was the nickname Toad, which probably left the game for good reason.

Hank O’Day: Another pitcher who won at least 20 games in 1890 but didn’t play thereafter, O’Day’s 4.21 ERA that year and .227 batting average as an occasional outfielder perhaps doomed him. O’Day later became an umpire and was the official who ruled Fred Merkle out at second on the infamous Merkle’s Boner play on September 23, 1908 that helped the Giants lose the pennant.

Did I miss anyone? Let me know.

Results of the great Hall of Fame poll

About six months ago, I posted a first-ever poll on this site. I offered a list of 29 great baseball players not in the Hall of Fame, and restricting visitors to one vote per IP address, I asked them to choose up to 10 players.

Six months on, I’m ready to close the poll and prepare a new feature to take its place. More on that later this week. For now, I thought it might be interesting to show the vote tallies.

In all, 68 visitors to my site participated in the poll. Were they the voting class for Cooperstown, Bert Blyleven would have his plaque, Pete Rose would have almost 70 percent of the vote, and another banned player, Joe Jackson would have better than 50 percent.

Which of these players belong in the Hall of Fame? (choose up to 10)
Selection
Roberto Alomar 39 votes
Bert Blyleven 53 votes
Will Clark 6 votes
Hal Chase 2 votes
Dom DiMaggio 11 votes
Steve Garvey 17 votes
Bobby Grich 6 votes
Stan Hack 7 votes
Gil Hodges 26 votes
Joe Jackson 39 votes
Bill Madlock 1 vote
Roger Maris 23 votes
Carl Mays 7 votes
Mark McGwire 23 votes
Thurman Munson 13 votes
Dale Murphy 17 votes
Don Newcombe 5 votes
Lefty O’Doul 9 votes
Tony Oliva 15 votes
Dave Parker 13 votes
Deacon Phillippe 1 vote
Pete Rose 46 votes
Ron Santo 38 votes
Urban Shocker 0 votes
Ted Simmons 24 votes
Riggs Stephenson 4 votes
Alan Trammell 23 votes
Lou Whitaker 15 votes
Maury Wills 9 votes
other 13 votes
68 voters
pollcode.com free polls

Double the fun: Frank Robinson: September 13, 1971; Game One #499; Game Two #500

Here’s the latest from Joe Guzzardi, a regular contributor. Every Saturday, Joe offers “Double the fun,” recounting a memorable doubleheader.

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In 2007, the Washington Nationals offered Frank Robinson, its former manager, a special day during a May 20th game against his old team the Baltimore Orioles.

Robinson refused. After all the Nats, who claimed that Robinson “retired,” had pushed him out the door in 2006 in favor of Manny Acta.

Said Robinson: “I don’t feel like this organization has extended an open arms welcome to me even though they said they want to honor me. It doesn’t make me feel like it would be pleasant to have me around for a day.”

That’s Frank Robinson for you. He’s never been one to sugar coat things!

Although Robinson’s talents in his early days as a Cincinnati Reds put him in the same category as his widely admired peers Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, he had few baseball friends.

Even his teammates couldn’t warm up to him. When the Los Angeles Dodgers traded Don Newcombe to the Reds, the big pitcher said: “I try to get along with all the guys but, even though he’s my teammate, I can’t take Robinson. That guy is out there trying to maim people.””

Around the National League where Robinson was quick with his fists and his spikes, he was known as “the black Ty Cobb,” a player who would do anything to beat you.

Robinson summed his hard-nosed philosophy up this way: “Baseball isn’t a popularity contest. Some players are afraid of losing friends. Not me. I’m not out there to win friends. Just ball games, and I’ll do that any way that I can.”

In 1956, Robinson got off to a torrid start on his Hall of Fame career. Robinson hit 38 home runs, batted .290, led the National League with 122 runs scored, drove in 83 runs, was named to the All-Star team and was the Rookie of the Year. He also led the league in being hit by pitched balls, 20, on his way to a career total of 198 that places him eighth on the all time list.

Robinson’s 38 homers were the first among his career 586. He hit his historic 500th playing for the Baltimore Orioles during a 1971 double header against the Detroit Tigers.

How Robinson became an Oriole is a chapter from the “Worst Baseball Trades in History” book. On December 9, 1965 the Reds swapped Robinson for Orioles’ pitchers Milt Pappas and Jack Baldschun and outfielder Dick Simpson. In his six seasons as an Orioles, Robinson hit .300 with 179 homers and 545 RBIs. For their new teams, Pappas went 30-29, 4.04 ERA (three seasons); Baldschun, 1-5, 5.25 (two seasons) and Simpson, .246, 5 homers and 20 RBIs (two seasons).

To appease irate fans, Reds’ general manager Bill De Witt called his slugger “an old 30” But that was far from the case as Robinson proved six years later.

On September 13th, the Tigers faced off in a double dip against Baltimore. Although the two teams finished in first and second place, the Orioles had all but formally wrapped up the pennant by that Monday afternoon.

In game one, Dave McNally (18-4) faced Mike Kilkenny (4-4); game two, Pat Dobson (17-7) versus Joe Niekro (6-7). Robinson went two for four in the first game with three RBIs, all of which were accounted for in the first inning on his 499th home run. The Orioles won 9-1.

In the nightcap, won by Detroit 10-5, Robinson hit number 500 in the bottom of the ninth.

After Robinson retired as an active player, he became baseball’s first black manager (Cleveland Indians) and piloted the San Francisco Giants, Orioles as well as the Nats.

The consensus among baseball experts is that Robinson, the manager, was not nearly as effective as Robinson the player. In 2005 and 2006 polls conducted by Sports Illustrated among 450 MLB players, Robinson was twice selected the worst manager in baseball.

But it is not as a manager that fans remember Robinson. Among his many on the field achievements are his Most Valuable Player awards in both leagues (with the Reds in 1961 and the Orioles in 1966 when he won the Triple Crown), Robinson ended up 57 hits shy of the 3,000-hit club but with, in addition to his 538 homers, a .294 batting average, .389 on-base percentage, .537 slugging and .926 OPS.

Last week, I saw Robinson at the U.S. Tennis Open, taking in the matches and looking very good for a 75-year-old. Interviewed by fawning Baltimore native Pam Shriver who called Robinson her “childhood hero,” Robinson was gracious.

Of course, he wasn’t wearing cleats.

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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

An interview with Joe Posnanski

As an aspiring sportswriter, there are certain writers I look up to, idolize, and wonder how they got where they did. One of these writers is Joe Posnanski, the two-time Associated Press sports columnist of the year and Sports Illustrated writer. In addition to his professional duties, Posnanski maintains arguably the best baseball blog known to man, and during a visit to it last week, I noticed there was a person I could contact to see if Posnanski would be up for an interview. This led to an epic phone call yesterday.

If I were to type the full transcript of the 55-minute, wide-ranging discussion I had with Posnanski on Thursday afternoon, it might top 10,000 words, which I realize would be a fitting tribute to a writer whose blog bears the tagline, Curiously Long Posts. In honor of Posnanski, here is perhaps the longest entry I’ll ever post on this site. Highlights from the interview are as follows:

Me: I’m somebody who can stay in on a Friday night and spend hours on Baseball-Reference. Are you the same?

Posnanski: Oh absolutely, absolutely. I love to look at the numbers. Just today, I woke up this morning and was thinking about the American League Cy Young, and I thought, ‘You know, I would love to kind of break down start-by-start, C.C. Sabathia and Felix Hernandez, just take a look at those two guys and see how they did in each start and who had the better start. You know, Start 1, Start 2, all the way up to today.’

So I did it. I did that this morning. It’s so easy now. We have such great access to these numbers. I was able to do that, and I’ll turn it into a blog post. I definitely find great comfort and great joy in looking up things and seeing how things worked out through history.

Me: What do you love about baseball research?

Posnanski: To me, I think it really plays on my imagination. I love baseball, love the history of the game. There’s no way for me to go back and see Babe Ruth play or see Lou Gehrig play or Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle, these guys. But I can go look at their numbers. I can really try to kind of break down and see what it was that drove them, how they compare with other people. Obviously, there are so many researchers out there, statisticians out there, sabermetricians out there that are just a million times smarter than I am and have done all this incredible research which I’d love to look at.

But part of it for me is just the fun of going and looking at the numbers and trying to kind of figure out, ‘Okay, what does this mean? And how does this work? And what are we missing?’ I think for a long time there was just a sense of watching the game for the pure enjoyment of the game, which I still love. But now, part of me, I’ve seen enough baseball and written enough about baseball that I really want to know how it works or at least try to get a little closer to how it really works, and I think the numbers give us a great opportunity to do that.

*                              *                           *

Me: Is it ever strange to you that you’ve gotten so popular?

Posnanski: Only on a daily basis is it strange to me. Obviously, I never expected any of this to happen. I was somebody who just really went for it as a kid. I wanted to play second base for the Cleveland Indians, that was pretty much my entire goal, and when it became clear at a very young age that wasn’t gonna happen, I just sort of committed to other things.

I went to college to study accounting and had no real sense this was going to be my life. Through a wonderful series of coincidences and good fortune and people helping me, I kind of ended up in this field. Then, everything has been just sort of this big, wonderful surprise. It’s been so great. It’s been this way forever. It’s been this way since I started writing at the Charlotte Observer, then I wrote for the Augusta Chronicle in Georgia, and I went to the Cincinnati Post and then came to Kansas City. And all those places were terrific for me.

Then, this blogging thing happened, and I was pretty late to the party. I mean a lot of people had been blogging long before I got around to it. And that just took it to this whole other level. Then of course, Sports Illustrated, which is just the dream of any young sportswriter. So it’s been constantly, constantly shocking to me. It still is. And that’s good. I wouldn’t want to ever take it for granted. People have been so good to me, and people have been so supportive of me, even when they disagree, even if they don’t like it. I think people have come to appreciate how much I love what I do and how hard I work at it. I think that comes through, I hope that comes through, and the rest of it is just pure luck.

Me: Starting out as a writer, did you ever feel you weren’t any good or people weren’t reading?

Posnanski: Yeah, absolutely… throughout my entire childhood and into college I never once had a single person tell me I had any talent for writing. It wasn’t out of meanness or anything. I don’t think that it was there. I never had a teacher say, ‘Oh, this is a well-written assignment, you might want to think about writing.’ It never happened. So when I started to have this idea of being a sportswriter, I just constantly wondered, I’m no good at this. Why in the world would I even do this? Why would anyone pay me to do this? Those things were with me all the time.

After awhile, you start to figure a few things out here and there, but I still—you can ask any editor I’ve ever worked with, they’ll say to me when a story’s done, ‘What did you think of it?’ I’ll say, ‘Well, it’s done.’ I never feel good about it. I never feel good about anything I write. When it’s over, I just feel like that was the best I can do. Some days, I’ll go back and read it, it’s like, ‘Oh okay, well that wasn’t too bad.’ I never feel too great about what I do. Other people, I know, do. Other people in this business, they’ll write something, and they’ll just, they’ll immediately know, ‘Wow, this is terrific, I really wrote a great story here.’ And I’ve never had that feeling. It’s not to say I’m down on what I do. I know that I’m working as hard and doing the best I can, but I’ve never had that feeling.

So if you ask me did I ever worry about not being good enough or whatever, I don’t know that that feeling has ever changed for me. I’ve always felt like that what I really bring to the table is that I’m going to work really, really, really hard, and I’m really committed to what I do, and I love what I do, and hopefully that passion comes through and hopefully that’s what people are going to see.

*                              *                           *

Me: I spend a lot of time on blogging myself, and of course, I don’t also write for Sports Illustrated. How many hours a week do you think are consumed writing about sports or researching or reading about them?

Posnanski: I’d probably be scared to add them up… I spend a ton of time at the computer, writing, tapping out ideas, thinking about stuff. People always say to me, ‘Wow, your blogs are so long. You’re crazy how much you write.’ I don’t want to tell them how many stories I’ve written that I don’t put on the blog because I didn’t think it was quite good enough or the idea didn’t quite yield the [results.] So I’ve got this long, long list of—

Me: You know, you could send me some of those posts if you want.

Posnanski: To me, it’s like those unfinished songs that great artists will do. You’ll think, ‘Oh, I really want to hear it,’ and then you’ll hear it, you’ll be like, ‘Oh, I know why they didn’t finish this.’ So I think that would probably be your reaction.

*                              *                           *

Me: What’s one piece of advice you would give an aspiring sportswriter?

Posnanski: I always say this with a caveat that I wish there was one piece of advice that would work for everybody. I wish there was something I could say that would get somebody a job of their dreams tomorrow.

Not really having that piece of advice, I always say that, to me, it starts with reading. This is something I tell high school kids, college kids, people trying to get into the business, that it’s just so much about reading. Read, read, read. So much of everything else falls into place when you just do a ton of reading.

It works on so many different levels. When you’re reading, obviously, it gives you the knowledge, the background and that sort of thing. But also it helps you, I really believe, form words in your mind. It gives you an idea of how things need to be written, it gives you style points. There’s just so many things, some of them very much below the surface.

I read a lot. When I’m not at the computer, and I’m not with the family, I’m reading. I read very widely. I don’t read very much sports. I read fiction and non-fiction and history and mysteries and read with very much an open mind to what I can get out of this…. It’s important to write a lot, it’s important to have a good editor and listen to good advice. There’s so many of those basic things. But to me, the magic really comes out of the reading.

*                              *                           *

Me: I was reading some stuff that you’ve talked to Bill James before. How much of an influence has he been?

Posnanski: He’s a very good friend, so he’s been a huge influence. His writing has been a huge, huge influence on everything that I think about with baseball and writing. Bill is just a terrific, terrific writer beyond baseball stuff. He’s a thinker. He has strong opinions, but the opinions are built out of these great questions that he asks. He really is unique. Getting to know him and becoming friends, we get together for lunch and dinner. He’s still a huge influence on me. He’s one of a kind.

I think he should be in the Hall of Fame. I think that he changed the way people see the game for the better.

He’s still as sharp as ever, he’s still thinking along some interesting lines, and he’s just a lot of fun. I think it’s easy to miss that part of him…. He’s a tremendous, tremendous amount of fun. He’s very, very funny and very, very thoughtful. He’s just a good friend and definitely a huge influence on me.

*                              *                           *

Me: I took a look at your wife’s blog. Being that you and your wife both write, do you expect either of your daughters to do so also?

Posnanski: I don’t know. Our oldest daughter just turned nine, and she’s been talking more and more about wanting to be a writer… Both of our daughters are very creative in school, they love reading, they love storytelling, so that’s cool.

The great thing for me as a dad is, while I’m obviously forceful in certain areas of their lives, I really want them to do whatever they want to do. I want them to be what they want to be. I’ve kind of gotten to watch them find their own ways, just in little things, what are they interested in, what do they like. I really haven’t spent a lot of time trying to influence them. I haven’t tried to force anything on them. It’s been pretty cool to watch.

I don’t know if they’ll become professional writers, but I really do hope, and I do believe that they’ll both write, whether it’s for fun, whether it’s for their own little blog, whatever it may be…. What I didn’t know as a kid is how much fun it is to write, because to me writing always meant assignments. Writing always meant papers that were due. What I didn’t realize is how much fun it is to write. I just hope they know that, and that’s one thing I would love to be able to instill in them is how much fun, and how rewarding, and how much writing reveals about yourself.

*                              *                           *

Me: I was reading that your youngest daughter was born in February 2005. I’m curious, did she just start kindergarten?

Posnanski: She did, she did. She’s in her first month of kindergarten.

Me: Oh whoa, how’s that going?

Posnanski: It’s going great. She loves it, and it’s good for her because her older sister, she’s been watching her. We have this little game we would play every morning while Elizabeth, the older one, was going to school. We’d have this game where we’d look out the window and see which one’s the first one of us to see the bus coming out the window. So she’d been doing that for three years, and finally the bus was coming for her, and she was really, really excited about that.

It’s very cool… They’ll get older, and there will be times that school won’t seem all that cool anymore, and there will be days they won’t want to go, and all that. But she’s at that stage where she pops up in the morning, and she’s ready to go to school, and that’s pretty cool to see.

Me: Right on. It sounds like she knows how to read already.

Posnanski: She knows how to read some. She likes to read along while we read to her. But she’s always kind of had a little head start because of her sister and all that. She’s definitely working on it. We’re working on counting to 100, we’re working on all those kindergarten things. She’s had a good appreciation for words for quite some time.

*                              *                           *

Me: I noticed you interviewed Michael Schur for your blog. I know Michael both as ‘Ken Tremendous’ from Fire Joe Morgan and also as Mose on The Office. Are you a fan of The Office by chance?

Posnanski: I’m a big, big fan of The Office and a fan of Parks and Rec [Schur has written for both shows.] I’ve gotten to know Michael a little bit. We actually went out for drinks just a couple weeks ago when I was in LA. Great guy. Just a really, really great guy, brilliant guy who, pretty much, he’s as funny in real life as he was in the Fire Joe Morgan thing.

Me: I wish that site was still going. It was awesome in its heyday, and I only found out about it afterward.

Posnanski: Yeah, but it’s still fun to go back and read the archives of it.

Me: I read in the interview with Schur that you love Rashida Jones. Do you ever wish that Jim wound up with Karen?

Posnanski: No, no, I love Pam, so definitely, the Jim and Pam thing had to happen. Of course, once it does happen, then they’re not as interesting anymore. That’s sort of the whole concept behind the original Office is you couldn’t get them together until the last show….

The really cool thing about The Office is that you love all the characters, even the characters you aren’t supposed to love. That’s a pretty rare thing for a television show, especially a show that has such an ensemble cast. The characters are distinct, defined, and they’re all just really cool on their own merits. It’s a pretty well written show.

Me: Oh, God, I think it’s incredibly well written. It seems they have a lot of classic Simpson’s people, at least Greg Daniels.

Posnanski: Yeah, yeah absolutely. It’s definitely a great show, and Parks and Rec has a lot of the same characteristics too.

Me: It’s funny. I haven’t gotten into Parks and Rec yet. I think I’ve seen every episode of The Office, the British series as well, but I haven’t checked out Parks and Rec yet.

Posnanski: It’s fun. It’s a different thing in some ways, because obviously, its whole concept is somewhat different, but it has a lot of The Office in it. It’s very, very funny on its own merits.

Me: This is a goofy question, but if you’re one character from The Office, who are you?

Posnanski: Every guy wants to say they’re Jim, right? I mean, I’m not Dwight, and I certainly hope I’m not one of the accountants.

Me: Yeah, I was going to ask Kevin.

Posnanski: I hope I’m not Kevin. I mean, no offense to Kevin, he’s a great character. But I hope I’m not in the back, just eating donuts.

I remember the episode Jim put himself in Second Life as a sportswriter, so I’m thinking Jim has some sportswriting dreams. So I think I’d be him, as much I am anybody.

*                              *                           *

Me: From here on out for the rest of your career, do you have any goals of things you haven’t accomplished yet that you’d like to accomplish?

Posnanski: Yeah, I mean there’s tons of stuff I haven’t accomplished. I think there are books I want to write and stories I want to tell and all of that. I certainly don’t feel like I’ve accomplished much of anything at this point, so yes. But I don’t know if there’s anything specific.

I’ve never been particularly a goal-oriented person in that way. I’ve never been like, ‘Well, I hope at thirty I’m this, and at forty I’m this.’ To me, if I ever had goals, they were to become a columnist at a newspaper and that happened and then it was a columnist at a major metropolitan daily paper and that happened. And I think I was perfectly content with that, and then Sports Illustrated comes along, so now I’m already playing with house money.

I definitely want to keep writing, and definitely, every single day, more ideas come about things I want to do as a writer. But no there are probably not any specific goals.

Me:  Let me see, anything else I could ask you—this is awesome by the way, I really appreciate you taking the time.

Posnanski: Of course.

Me: I guess the last question I’d leave you with is, I’m 27 right now, and I’m a writer who’s basically trying to start out. Do you remember what that was like? Does it feel like it was all that long ago?

Posnanski: It doesn’t feel that long ago to me. It definitely doesn’t. I went to Augusta when I was 24, and I just remember thinking, Boy, this might not work. I’m going to this place I’ve never been, this relatively small town in Georgia. I don’t know, people might hate me, and this totally might not work. That’s a scary feeling. But I think that the way you respond is just—it gets back to the basics—I think you have to keep working. You just work really, really hard.

I think if there’s one thing that I’ve said that I think has connected to people… people talk about Writer’s Block, and I always say, ‘My dad worked in a factory for 40 years, my dad’s never had Factory Block.’ He went to work every single day because that was his job.

I think as a writer some days it comes out pretty easy, some days it comes out really hard, and some days it doesn’t come out at all. You just gotta fight through it all and just keep working at it. There are no guarantees. But I think the people that work the hardest in this profession are very often successful, and I think that’s the best way to attack.

Any player/Any era: Rickey Henderson

What he did: Henderson might be the greatest lead-off hitter ever. The first ballot Hall of Famer and career stolen base champ could be relied on in his prime for 20 home runs, a .300 batting average and 60-80 stolen bases, minimum. Henderson is an all-time great ballplayer and certainly one of my favorite athletes in any sport, a legendary competitor and character. I love that he started playing independent ball in his 40s when no big league team would sign him and that he went on ESPN in 2003 to ask for another shot in the majors. I love that it worked.

Some might say Henderson played in the perfect era for his skill set, as he debuted in 1979, less than 20 years after speedsters like Maury Wills and Lou Brock helped bring the steal back. I wonder, though, how Henderson might have fared in an era before steals were valued, when he could have hit in the middle of the order. If he did this, he could have showed off a facet of his game that may have been underutilized in the lead-off spot: His power.

Era he might have thrived in: With the Boys of Summer Brooklyn Dodgers in the early 1950s.

Why: The Dodgers of those years were stacked, perennial contenders who had taken advantage of Major League Baseball’s slowness to integrate by pilfering the Negro Leagues in the late 1940s. Interestingly, though, despite scoring Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe and others, Brooklyn never had a Willie Mays-type five tool superstar. Henderson might have been Brooklyn’s answer to the Say Hey Kid.

Running Henderson’s career numbers through the stat converter on Baseball-Reference.com, he finishes with 350 home runs and a .936 OPS if he’d played every season on a team like the 1953 Dodgers. The converter has him hitting above .350 six times and smacking at least 30 home runs twice, something he never did in a season. I think the power numbers are conservative, and I question if the converter can account for the difference Henderson would experience hitting in the middle of the lineup. Henderson was a master of the lead-off home run. Imagine what he could do on a team that hit well and put men on-base.

Those Dodgers hit .285 as a team, went 105-49, and lost to the Yankees in the World Series, as they did often in those years. Adding Henderson might well have been mutually beneficial. Despite having Carl Furillo in right field and Duke Snider in center, the Dodgers were perpetually getting new left fielders in those years. A regular reader pointed out to me that Robinson and Jim Gilliam even spent time at the position. With Henderson, there would be no more stopgaps and perhaps a few more championships.

My guess is that Henderson would hit 35-40 home runs regularly for Brooklyn and also be good for at least 30-40 steals and a .330 batting average every season. Since he’d be playing in a time where a man only needed 30 steals to lead the league, I think Henderson could probably still be a regular stolen base champ. Would he have supplanted Brock or Ty Cobb in the record books? Possibly not. But he might have a greater legacy today.

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