Monthly Archives: October 2010

The Bullpen Two-Step

I’m pleased to present a bonus guest post from Gerry Garte, who recently volunteered to contribute here every other Friday. Gerry sent this post early because it references the World Series, which heads to Game 4 this evening.

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Manager Buck Showalter said it before Game 2 of the World Series: Bullpens do not belong on the field of play.

Amen.

A fielder in full pursuit of a fly ball — while looking upward to track it – can find himself in foul territory amid an obstacle course of pitching mounds.

Is there a rule restricting bullpens from the field of play? No.

But the challenge presented to fielders is significant, and the hazard as obvious as a pile of dirt.

Although bullpens on the field of play were common in the game’s earlier years, as new parks were built most stadiums placed the bullpens behind a fence and off the field of play.

This issue arises again because AT&T Park, home of the National League champion San Francisco Giants, is one of only five current Major League stadiums that have on-field bullpens.

The curious point is that the beautiful Giants’ ballpark was built only 10 years ago, and baseball has known for many years that on-field bullpens can be an impediment to play.

The other ballparks with on-field bullpens are Wrigley Field (Cubs, 1914), Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum (A’s, 1968), Tropicana Field (Rays, 1998) and Petco Park (Padres, 2004).

We can understand Wrigley Field being on the list, and maybe Oakland, too. But those other three ballparks are much newer.

A point can be made that the tarpaulin, used to cover the infield, can also be a hazard because in many stadiums they are stored on the field of play. But unlike tarps, warm-up mounds are much smaller and harder for a fielder to negotiate as he attempts to catch a ball.

It may be that these newer stadiums wanted to re-create the feel of an older ballpark. Or, more likely, the ball club wanted to find more seats for paying customers, and made a choice between income and field integrity.

Umpiring and Cameras

As a life-long baseball fan, the issue of using TV cameras to improve umpiring calls is hard to ignore. I am from the sect of baseball fans that believes in getting the call right.

The NFL has led the way in this department. Coaches are offered three challenges per game. TV cameras provide many views — sometimes it’s a clear view of a missed call.

Making corrections to referee errors is accepted and often appreciated by football and its fans. Cameras enhance the quality of calls; hence, the integrity of the game.

How can a limited-use of TV cameras be bad? We’ve all seen many poor umpiring calls the past few years.

The technology is available to improve the Major League product. Getting the call right – through competent video assistance — should be baseball’s overriding concern.

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Email Gerry Garte at garte@comcast.net

The World Series 2010 Games One and Two, Or: Can’t Anyone Here Play This Game?

I’m pleased to present the latest guest post by Doug Bird, who began contributing Sunday articles last week. Today, Doug offers a recap of the first two games of the World Series, written before Texas’s 4-2 victory in Game 3 on Saturday.

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Game 1: Giants 11, Rangers 7

Yeah, this was the pitcher’s duel everyone had anticipated. Cliff Lee, the more than formidable playoff pitcher who silenced the Tampa Bay Rays and the New York Yankees and was undefeated over two playoff seasons against the National League Cy Young winner of the two previous seasons, the little guy with the big stuff, Tim Lincecum. This game was definitely going to be 1-0 for someone and it would
take about fourteen innings to complete. Lee and Lincecum would go ten or eleven innings, striking out twelve each leaving it to the formidable bullpens of each team to decide the outcome. The Rangers would probably win on a homerun by someone, unless Cody Ross decided another game. But, as they say somewhere, that’s why they play the game.

Game 1 was a very sloppy affair with Bruce Bochy over managing his bullpen, Tim Lincecum looking as if it was his first day in Little League, Freddy Sanchez running the bases as if it was his first day in Little League, Vlad Guerro seemingly afraid of the baseball in the field and the Rangers taking too many sleeping pills the night before and forgetting their scouting reports back at the hotel.

Tim Lincecum seemed lost not only in his pitch selection but failed to cover first base on a routine play and then, instead of a routine throw to third after having a runner hung up on third base, inexplicably held onto the ball and got no one out. Bochy used five pitchers after the Giants went out in front 8-2. Five. Two good signs for the Giants- Freddy Sanchez is now officially healthy, hitting three hard doubles, and Juan Uribe doesn’t hit often but when he does, hit the ball hard and in the clutch.

Cliff Lee couldn’t get any of his normal movement on his fastball, had an ineffective curveball, and located both pitches too much and too often, over the plate. The Rangers still continued to throw fastballs to Cody Ross although more on the outside part of the plate and held him to one hit in five tries but should certainly know better. Ron Washington, in a sign of things to come, used Mark Lowe, a
non-roster pitcher before the start of the World Series, Mark Lowe, in a crucial spot.

Game 2: Giants 9, Rangers 0

Matt Cain and C. J. Wilson righted the World Series ship and after seven innings the Giants were holding a slim 2-0 lead. This promised to be one of those classic World Series games at last. Cain was especially impressive with a nasty fastball and pinpoint location. Wilson, while not as spectacular, allowed only two runs and made the clutch pitches when he had to. It seemed that the bullpens would decide this game. Ironically, at least from the viewpoint of the Texas Rangers, they did.

In the eighth inning everything unraveled and the blame must be placed squarely on manager Ron Washington. Post-game interviews did little to clarify the situation and I would like to believe that Washington was managing under circumstances unknown to those of us who watched the disaster unfold which might shed some
light on his unexplainable misuse of his bullpen. It was painful and embarrassing to watch a manager who apparently had never witnessed let alone managed a major league game before this October night.

The reaction of co-owner and Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan led me to believe that it was the latter, and not the former, which was responsible for one of the most embarrassingly mismanaged innings in World Series history. Righty Darren O’Day struck out the first two batters then allowed a single. Two out and no Giant base runners. So far, so good. The Giants lefty Nate Schireholtz was due up next , a defensive replacement outfielder and a non-factor as a hitter. Darren O’Day is cruising. Washington brought in lefty, Derek Holland, who while effective over the 2010 season, has little post season experience. Holland walked the next three batters on thirteen pitches.

Inexplicably, no one was up in the Ranger bullpen even after the three walks on thirteen pitches. Now the bullpen gets active. However, Washington brings in a not sufficiently warm Mark Lowe– a walk, a two-run single, and the Giants lead 6-0. It was obvious that Lowe wasn’t sufficiently– even barely– warmed up. More than obvious. Things simply got worse and the Giants scored three more times in the inning. Darren Oliver was just sitting there. Neftali Perez and his 40 regular season saves was just sitting there there. Ron Washington just sat there. I just sat there. A head shake just won’t do it.

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Email feedback to Doug Bird at d.bird@rogers.com

Baseball’s Fortunate Son, Part II: Freddy Sanchez

With the World Series heading for Game 3 this evening, I’m pleased to present the latest guest post from Joe Guzzardi on a key player for one of the teams.

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In my final regular season blog, I identified Minnesota Twins pitcher Matt Capps as baseball’s fortunate son. Capps went from a maligned Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher in 2009 to the 2010 American League Central Division champion Minnesota Twins’ closer. Making his year even sweeter, Capps had a detour in Washington where he was the Nationals’ only All Star representative.

Unfortunately, Capps’ season came to an abrupt and unglamorous end. The New York Yankees swept the Twins in three straight first round playoff games. Capps appeared in only one and gave up an earned run in the single inning he pitched.

As it happens, baseball has an even more fortunate son. Freddy Sanchez, Capps’ 2009 Pirates teammate, is now playing an unerring second base for the National League champion San Francisco Giants and, in the opener, became the first player ever to hit three consecutive doubles in his first three World Series at bats.

Unlike Capps with whom fans grew unhappy because of his poor clutch pitching during his final Pirates season, Sanchez is one of the most popular players in Pirates’ history.

Bucco fans love Freddy for a lot of reasons. During his five and a half years in Pittsburgh, Freddy was one of the few reasons to root for the Pirates. A three-time All Star and the 2006 National League batting champion (.344), Sanchez with his boyhood friend Jack Wilson made up one of baseball’s best double play combinations. Sanchez and Wilson, both native Californians, once played summer league ball together although Jack then a second baseman and Freddy, a shortstop.

Given the media’s fascination with hard luck stories in sports, I’m amazed that more hadn’t been previously written about the personal adversity that Sanchez overcame.

Doctors gave Sanchez, born with a club right foot, little chance to walk. Every night, his mother Michelle removed his cast, hoping to eventually see a straightened foot. Yet despite the long odds against him Sanchez, who attributes his recovery to faith and hard work, became an outstanding major league baseball player.

In the Pittsburgh suburb of Cranberry, Sanchez helped build Miracle Field where disabled kids play baseball. In June, when the Giants came to Pittsburgh, Freddy was out at Miracle Field taking in a game.

Although being traded to the Giants is the best baseball thing that ever happened to Sanchez, his road in San Francisco has not been smooth. Sanchez had left knee surgery in September 2009 followed four months later by an operation on his left shoulder. Just a month before the playoffs started, Freddy’s right rotator cuff strain made it nearly impossible for him to throw the ball to first base.

As the World Series moves to Texas, Sanchez has been one of the Giants unsung heroes. Sanchez says: “You want to be up with everything on the line. You don’t always come through, but all you can ask for is the chance.”

Given the chance, Sanchez hit .292 this season— .330 from August 1 on— and .360 when the Giants beat the Phillies in six games. After two World Series games, he’s hitting .400 and handling the keystone flawlessly.

Anyone who watched the first post-game Sanchez interview saw his graciousness. While talking about how thrilling it is play in the World Series, Sanchez had this message for long-suffering Pirates fans: “That’s the one regret I have, that we didn’t get it done for those fans. Pirates fans are so great, and they stand behind their team. They deserve a winner there.” (Watch Sanchez during his midseason return to Pittsburgh praise the Pirates fans here.)

Whenever a deserving, good guy like Sanchez stars in the national spotlight, all of baseball is the better for it.

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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

Winning the MVP battle, but losing the WAR

With Wins Above Replacement being a relatively new stat in baseball, gaining acceptance only in the past decade, it makes sense many awards historically bear loose correlation with the WAR totals from their respective years. In fact, sometimes it’s been off by a wide margin.

I bring this up because with the San Francisco Giants looking like they could win the World Series, I think there’s a chance the following National League Most Valuable Player scenario occurs: Carlos Gonzalez, Albert Pujols, and Joey Votto cancel one another’s Triple Crown-esque seasons among voters and Aubrey Huff, the best player on a starless Giants team wins MVP. This despite Huff trailing Pujols in WAR 5.9 to 7.2.

Here are some other times an MVP winner didn’t have the best WAR ranking:

Roger Peckinpaugh, 1925 (2.4): Perhaps the worst MVP in baseball history, Peckinpaugh hit .294 with four home runs and 64 RBI in 1925 and was buried on the WAR charts, even strictly among his AL champion Washington Senators. Teammate Goose Goslin had 18 home runs, 113 RBI, .334 and a 6.6 WAR that was just below AL leader Harry Heilmann at 7.1. Goslin even did better in the World Series than Peckinpaugh, hitting .308 with three home runs and six RBI.

Mickey Cochrane, 1934 (4.3): Another MVP vote that, in hindsight, seems insane. Of course, WAR didn’t exist in 1934 to show Lou Gehrig triumphing in WAR with 10.7, but his Triple Crown season amidst Babe Ruth’s decline should have secured him the MVP. And on the AL champion Detroit Tigers, 23-year-old first baseman Hank Greenberg meant more than veteran catcher/manager Cochrane. Greenberg bested Cochrane in WAR at 6.7, batting average (.339 t0 .320), home runs (26 to two) and RBI (139 to 76), among other things.

Joe Gordon, 1942 (8.4): It’s not that Gordon wasn’t outstanding, hitting .322 and posting the second-best WAR in the league for the AL champion New York Yankees. But the man in front of him in WAR at 11.0 and second in MVP voting, Ted Williams, won the Triple Crown with 36 home runs, 137 RBI and a .356 batting average. In fact, Williams wasn’t MVP his other Triple Crown season, 1947 or in 1941 when he hit .406. Williams lost both of those years to Joe DiMaggio but once again led the AL in WAR each season.

Dick Groat, 1960 (5.7): Joe Guzzardi wrote here on Wednesday that Roberto Clemente considered teammate Don Hoak the true NL MVP in 1960. The honor also could have gone to Willie Mays, who overcame a thin Giants team to post an NL-best 9.7 WAR, with 29 home runs and 103 RBI.

Maury Wills, 1962 (6.1): Here’s another year Mays got robbed, which happened routinely in the ’60s. Mays amassed 10.6 WAR, 49 home runs, 141 RBI, a .304 batting average, and a Gold Glove for the NL champion Giants in 1962. He represented the winning run in Game Seven when only a phenomenal catch of a McCovey line drive by Bobby Richardson kept San Francisco from its first championship. Wills broke a longstanding stolen base record.

Ken Boyer, 1964 (5.6): As in 1960, Mays led the NL in WAR, at 10.2 (as well as home runs with 47) but came nowhere close to MVP. While it’s understandable writers would honor a member of the world champion St. Louis Cardinals, they could have tabbed Bob Gibson who posted a higher WAR, at 6.2 and went 2-1 with a 3.00 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 27 innings in the World Series.

Jeff Burroughs (3.6), Steve Garvey (5.1), 1974: Mike Schmidt had twice as much WAR as Garvey, with an NL-best 10.5, and the NL champion Dodgers also got superior WAR from Ron Cey, Andy Messersmith, and Jimmy Wynn. Burroughs put up good numbers for a Texas Ranger club that made a dramatic jump in the standings, going from 57-105 to 84-76; but in WAR, Burroughs ranked far below AL leader Gaylord Perry at 8.2, Reggie Jackson who posted a 6.7 WAR to go with 29 home runs for the world champion Oakland Athletics, and Rod Carew who had 6.4 WAR and a .364 batting average for the Twins.

Jim Rice, 1978 (7.0): Rice was fourth in WAR, trailing Ron Guidry, who put up an AL-best 8.5 WAR and went 25-3 with 1.74 ERA for the world champion Yankees. I emailed one of my regular readers while writing this post, and he replied, “I think that Rice winning was one of the worse miscarriages of all time. If Guidry has a special season and goes 23-4, there’s no playoff. If he loses the playoff and ends 24-4, they go home. He has an all time historic season and still loses out. Without him, the Yankees don’t win the pennant, let alone the World Series.”

Ken Caminiti, 1996 (7.9): It’s not so much that Caminiti revealed in 2002 that he used steroids during this season– Caminiti rates a mention here because Barry Bonds, the NL leader in 1996 in WAR at 10.8, turned in a 40-40 season that year but finished fifth in MVP voting.

Related: The seven greatest seasons for pitchers since 1950

Bonus: Joe Posnanski replies to my Jackie Robinson piece

For anyone who missed it, I posted something this morning imagining Jackie Robinson on the “Big Red Machine” Cincinnati Reds of the 1970s. In putting together my piece on Wednesday, I contacted Sports Illustrated writer Joe Posnanski, who I interviewed in September and who wrote a 2009 book on those Reds. Posnanski got back to me this morning with a long, thoughtful email (I assume he was busy yesterday evening with Game 1 of the World Series.)

In its entirety, Posnanski’s email is as follows:

Graham,

Well, it goes without saying by me that Jackie Robinson had the most remarkable individual career in baseball history. No other player — not Ruth, not Williams, not even Larry Doby — faced and overcame like Jackie Robinson.

But, it seems to me you are right — people forget just how good a player Jackie Robinson really was. I’m in the midst of doing a competing list of the “32 most complete players in baseball history” — that is the 32 players who could do EVERYTHING well — and, not to give anything away, Jackie Robinson is one of the few to make both lists.

But one question that has always fascinated me is this one: How much of Jackie Robinson’s greatness came BECAUSE of the conditions he faced. That is to say, Robinson was one of those rare players who thrived on his circumstances, who played with a fury, who almost seemed to need a cause. It’s famously known that baseball was his third best sport in college; it seems unlikely to me that with the Olympics out there and with the NFL in full force that Robinson even would have chosen baseball in 1964 the way Morgan did.

And if he had chosen baseball, I wonder if he would have or even could have been as driven a player. This is an impossible question to answer, but a fascinating question to consider. Robinson was absolutely a player with similar talents to the great Joe Morgan. He hit for average better than Morgan, he walked, he hit for power, he was a legendary base runner (maybe the best of all time) and he was terrific defensively wherever the Dodgers put him.

But don’t underestimate Morgan. He played in a harder hitters era and he played in less of a hitters ballpark. And in his six-year prime with the Reds (1972-77) he hit .301/.429/.495 with a 159 OPS+ — higher over that whole period than Robinson ever managed for a single season. His six year WAR was an almost unbelievable 57.2, which is pretty close to what Robinson did over 10 seasons.

I do think Robinson, had he started in baseball younger, had he played in an era where he did not have to carry that great burden and all that, would have had a chance in some ways to be an even greater player. But in other ways, he would have been a different player too. It’s fun to think about. But as great as people think Joe Morgan was, it seems to me he was probably even better than they think.

Any player/Any era: Jackie Robinson

Editor’s note: To read Joe Posnanski’s take on this piece, go here.

What he did: Robinson is an all-time hero for breaking baseball’s color barrier in 1947, though I’ve noticed something talking to people about him. I’ve heard it suggested Robinson wouldn’t have made the Hall of Fame without being baseball’s first black player in 83 years. Certainly, he was enshrined with minimal service time, 10 seasons, and dozens of non-inducted players have more hits than Robinson with 1,518. But to say Robinson wasn’t Hall of Fame-caliber seems misguided, if not racist.

First off, I think Robinson did enough as a player to justify enshrinement, from hitting .311 lifetime to compiling 63.2 WAR to having six consecutive seasons with an OPS above .900. Just imagine what Robinson could have done with a full career. If he’d played at any other point since 1947, Robinson’s statistical case for the Hall of Fame would be ironclad. In the right circumstances, he might even still be a first ballot selection.

Era he might have thrived in: With the “Big Red Machine” Cincinnati Reds in the 1970s

Why: I look at Joe Morgan, a first ballot Hall of Fame selection in 1990 and the Reds second baseman during their heyday, and I see what Robinson might have accomplished had segregation not kept him from baseball until age 28. Only Robinson would offer greater power and a competitive streak to rival Pete Rose.

Let’s assume Robinson still attends UCLA out of high school, signs with the Reds following graduation in say, 1964, spends the obligatory year or two in the minors, and arrives in the majors around 1966 at 24 (since this is fantasy, I’m not having Robinson toil his first few years in Houston as Morgan did.) This would give Robinson maybe 17 seasons in the show. I’m guessing he easily surpasses Morgan’s 2,517 hits, maybe even gets close to 3,000; and since Robinson compiled 63.2 WAR in 10 seasons, I think he could also best Morgan’s 103.5 WAR with a full career.

In real life, Robinson quit at 37, though I’m assuming he’d play longer in my scenario. First, near the end of his career when the Big Red Machine would be dismantling, Robinson could join the American League to DH, perhaps with the California Angels near where he grew up in Pasadena. The designated hitter position would be a perfect final job for a player whose all-or-nothing style of play would have taxed him in any era. The advent of free agency in the 1970s would also give Robinson greater incentive to play longer.

In any event, Robinson would play his prime years for a team to rival his own. What the Brooklyn Dodgers were to the late 1940s and 1950s, the Cincinnati Reds were to the 1970s: A star-studded club usually in contention. Robinson would have fit in with greats like Rose, Johnny Bench, George Foster, and Tony Perez, perhaps a better supporting cast than Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese, Gil Hodges, and Roy Campanella. It’d be a treat to see Rose and Robinson as teammates. If Rose doesn’t break Ray Fosse’s collarbone in the 1970 All Star game, Robinson would. Perhaps they could form a tag team.

The Reds would benefit too, since Robinson’s career slugging percentage of .474 trounces Morgan’s .427. Robinson also averaged nearly 20 more RBI per 162 games. I don’t know how Morgan and Robinson stack up defensively, though it’s worth noting that Morgan has negative defensive WAR for his career.

Some might say the Reds would miss Morgan on the base paths. Morgan stole three times as many bases lifetime as Robinson, but Robinson did his stealing years before it became popular. Consider that in 1949, Robinson’s career-high 37 steals represented 10.2 percent of all stolen bases in the National League, while Morgan’s career-high 67 in 1975 were just 5.7 percent of the NL total. I’m guessing that with the Big Red Machine, Robinson would have some 50-70 steal seasons.

Perhaps all this would be enough to delay the exodus that commenced in Cincinnati not long after the Reds won the 1976 World Series. In a perfect world, Robinson even keeps Morgan out of the ESPN commentator booth.

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

If You Ask Roberto Clemente, Don Hoak Was the Pirates 1960 MVP

Here’s the latest guest post from Joe Guzzardi which looks at one of the more controversial MVP votes in baseball history: 1960, when Dick Groat strangely triumphed over Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente and Willie Mays, among others. Joe has another player in mind who could have won.

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One of the lingering debates among Pittsburgh Pirates historians is whether the 1960 Most Valuable Player award should have been given to shortstop, team captain and National League batting title winner Dick Groat.

During the Pirates’ championship year, Groat played a crucial role. Whether it was to make the spectacular fielding play, hit and run, hit to opposite field, put up a sacrifice fly or lay down a bunt, Groat did whatever needed to be done to win a ball game.

Yet, understandably, eyebrows raised when the MVP balloting placed Groat first with 262 votes and Roberto Clemente a distant eighth with 62 votes.

Their statistics compared side by side don’t justify the voting disparity.

Player BA HR OBP SLG
Groat .325 2 .371 .394
Clemente .314 16 .357 .458


When reporters questioned Clemente about the voting results, he correctly implied that he was a victim of racism directed at him by the all-white media. But Clemente later added that the one player the Pirates could not have won without was third baseman Don Hoak, a U.S. Marine and former professional boxer affectionately known as “Tiger” who finished second in the MVP race.

By baseball standards, Hoak was a journeyman. Over his eleven year career, he played for the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Chicago Cubs, the Cincinnati Red and the Philadelphia Phillies. But during Hoak’s four years with the Pirates (1959-1962), he played the toughest, most hard-nosed baseball in the National League.

Hitting in the number seven hole for most of the 1960 season, Hoak played in every game and hit .282. Groat and Clemente played in 138 and 144 games, respectively.

Hoak’s career was relatively brief but fascinating. After suffering seven consecutive knockouts, Hoak traded his boxing gloves for a fielder’s mitt and hoped a plane to Cuba to play winter ball for Cienfuegos during the 1951-1952 season. One of his first mound opponents was Fidel Castro, a promising left-handed pitcher and then a University of Havana law school student. In a 1964 Sport Magazine article titled “The Day I Batted Against Castro,” Hoak confirmed that the dictator-in waiting had promise– ”with a little work on his control.”

By 1954, in Brooklyn, Hoak shared third base with Jackie Robinson and Billy Cox. During the classic seventh 1955 World Series game when the Dodgers finally beat the New York Yankees, Hoak—not Robinson or Cox— anchored the hot corner. That was the only World Series game Robinson ever sat out.

To Hoak’s disappointment, during the off season the Dodgers traded him to the Chicago Cubs. Hoak’s dismal 1956 performance (.215, 5 HR, 37 RBI) and a horrendous May 2 game against the visiting New York Giants which saw Hoak strike out six times against six different pitchers led to his 1957 trade to Cincinnati.

Productive if not spectacular (.279; 35 HRs; 139 RBIs) during his two seasons as a Redleg, Hoak nevertheless was traded along with Harvey Haddix and Smokey Burgess and became one of the key players on the 1960 champions. During his four years as a Corsair, Hoak hit .284 with 41 home runs and 253 RBIs.

Considered by many of his teammates as the Pirates’ inspirational leader, Hoak had the habit of calling for the new ball thrown out by the umpire after an opposing batter’s home run. Hoak would walk to within 20 feet of the mound to fire the ball at his pitcher to demonstrate his disgust

Hoak’s post-Pirates day were less successful and ultimately tragic.  By 1963 when the Pirates traded Hoak to the Philadelphia Phillies, he was 35. After two lean years with the Phillies (.228; 6 HR and 24 RBIs), Hoak broadcast the Pirates’ games and managed two Bucs’ minor league franchises to first-place finishes. Although Hoak had his eye on the Pirates’ managerial spot that opened up in 1969 when the Pirates didn’t ask interim manager Alex Grammas back, the Bucs rehired Danny Murtaugh. In an unrelated incident, the day Hoak learned he had been passed over, he collapsed from a heart attack chasing a thief who had stolen his brother-in-law’s vehicle.

At the time of his death, Hoak was married to singing star Jill Corey. To this day, their daughter Claire maintains that Hoak’s cause of death was his broken heart when he didn’t get the Pirates’ pilot job.

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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? Larry Walker

Claim to fame: Walker could be the first Colorado Rockie in the Hall of Fame. In his prime, he offered Triple Crown-caliber batting, Gold Glove fielding, a rifle arm, and even impressive speed– lifetime he stole 230 bases to go with 383 home runs and a .313 career batting average. His career OPS of .965 is 16th-best all-time, and Walker even played well his only appearance in the World Series, hitting .357 with two home runs for St. Louis in 2004. Problem is, Walker spent his best years in Denver and they came at the height of the Steroid Era.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Walker becomes eligible for enshrinement in 2011 which means that the Baseball Writers Association of America will be voting on him for the first time in the next few months.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? This is going to be a tough call and part of an interesting election for newly-eligible players. Rafael Palmeiro will almost certainly be the first member of the 3,000-hit club since Paul Waner in 1952 not to get into Cooperstown on his first ballot, since he flunked a steroid test. Jeff Bagwell didn’t, but being a slugger in the Steroid Era could hurt his bid too. Larry Walker could represent something else: the first deserving player not enshrined because he played his prime years at Coors Field at the exact wrong time in baseball history.

In another era, Walker would have nothing to worry about. He’s near or above on most Hall of Fame metrics, and his career WAR of 67.3 is in line with other Cooperstown members. If he’d played in the 1930s, his stats would have placed him alongside greats like Chuck Klein, Joe DiMaggio, and Johnny Mize, and Walker would have had his plaque long ago. For some reason, even though the 1930s and the late 1990s parallel each other as two of the gaudiest eras for hitters in major league history, numbers for great hitters from the 1930s aren’t dismissed like those of sluggers from the 1990s.

Granted, there’s no doubt playing in Denver helped Walker’s career. His lifetime batting average as a Rockie of .334 is about 50 points higher than how he fared with his other two teams, the Expos and the Cardinals. In fact, the batting averages he posted between 1997 and 2002 are so out of whack with the rest of his career it’s almost comical, and the fact many ballplayers in those years may have been on everything short of horse tranquilizers doesn’t help Walker’s cause.

The reality, though, is there’s no proof Walker used steroids, and even in Montreal early in his career, he looked like something special. I recall an ESPN highlight of him gunning down Tim Wakefield at first from right field. That doesn’t happen too often. I also doubt that outside of Denver, Walker would have been much worse than fellow outfielders Duke Snider, Andre Dawson, or Jim Rice, among others. Those three men got into Cooperstown with the writers. Walker should too.

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, Jack Morris, Joe Carter, John Smoltz, Keith Hernandez, Maury Wills, Mel Harder, Pete Browning, Rocky Colavito, Steve Garvey, Thurman Munson, Tim Raines

Former Oakland Oaks catcher Billy Raimondi dies at 97

Raimondi
Billy and Francis Raimondi with daughter June, courtesy of Mark Macrae

Billy Raimondi didn’t have World Series rings, millions of dollars in career earnings, or a single day of Major League Baseball service. What Raimondi had, when he died on October 18 in Alameda, California at 97, was family: A wife of 72 years, a sister, three children, eight grandchildren, and 13 great-grandchildren. Raimondi’s love of his family defined him, and it may be one reason he ranks among the best catchers in Pacific Coast League history and has a spot in its Hall of Fame.

Raimondi had been in declining health for some years. His son William E. Raimondi of Alameda said in a phone interview on Sunday that his father was admitted to the hospital on August 25 with internal bleeding, was released two days later, and was admitted the following week with a respiratory problem. He was sent home on hospice care and spent his final seven weeks bedridden. “His mind stayed strong but his body just couldn’t last,” Raimondi said.

Asked what he’d remember about his father, Raimondi said, “The most important thing is probably the devotion he had to his family and to his mother and brothers. He had a very close family, and I think one of the reasons he was very happy to never play in the big leagues was that he was able to play in Oakland where his family was.”

Born William Louis Raimondi on December 1, 1912 in San Francisco, Raimondi grew up in Oakland and attended McClymonds High. When Raimondi was 17, his father was struck and killed by a motorist, making him a breadwinner for the family. He signed with the Oakland Oaks of the PCL in 1931 and played 21 seasons in the league, all at catcher. Lifetime in the minors, he hit .276 with 1,937 hits, and the book Gold on the Diamond said Raimondi was an All Star 16 times and played more seasons in the PCL than any other field player in league history.

Retired MLB scout Ronnie King saw Raimondi play in the 1930s when he was the visitors bat boy for the Sacramento Solons. King told me, “When he caught, he never dropped the ball, he threw people out, and he called a good game.” Bob Usher played with Raimondi on the Los Angeles Angels in 1952 and 1953 and called him a “great teammate and [an] inspirational ballplayer. He kept the clubhouse going pretty well and was a friend to everybody, and all the teammates loved him.”

At different points, Raimondi played with three of his brothers, Al, Walt, and Ernie (who died in action in World War II.) PCL historian and memorabilia collector Mark Macrae met Raimondi in the 1970s at get-togethers for the Oakland Old-Timers Association. In a phone interview on Sunday, Macrae said, “I think Dick Dobbins put it best in his book when he compared the Raimondi family to the DiMaggio family, and how he did that was he said, what the DiMaggios were to San Francisco baseball, the Raimondis were to Oakland baseball.”

A natural question is why Raimondi never played in the majors. About six months ago, I interviewed Raimondi at his home in Alameda, with his wife Francis and their daughter June, for a book I’m researching on his former PCL teammate, Joe Marty. I learned that Raimondi had a couple of chances to go to the big leagues, including with the New York Yankees in 1936, though he never left the PCL. King told me that many players in those days opted for the PCL where the season was longer and the pay often better. And prior to 1958, the majors did not exist west of St. Louis which would have kept Raimondi away from his family longer.

Raimondi’s son offered another possible reason his dad never made the jump.

“He had some doubt because he wore glasses, and in the big leagues they have more night games, and they have the higher stands where even the day games would have those shadows which made it difficult,” William E. Raimondi said. “But I’m pretty confident he would have (been able to play in the majors) because many of the people he played with made it to the big leagues, and many of them have told me that my dad could have played.”

The Oakland Tribune stated that services for Raimondi will be held on October 30, at 11 a.m. at St. Philip Neri Catholic Church in Alameda.

The MLB Playoffs: No Day Games Commercials Between Pitches And Four Hour Games, TBS vs. Fox

I’m pleased to present a guest post from Doug Bird, who has offered to write a regular Sunday post here.

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TBS hasn’t forgotten that the game is the star and not the announcer, Fox still hasn’t replaced the man with the golden voice with someone who actually cares about and pays attention to the game on the field, happening right before his eyes,   the replay afficiados are still screaming to be heard on virtually every play and the games on Fox are passing the midnight hour, no weekend day games in sight.

The coverage on TBS, as in past years, has been markedly better than that of Fox for several reasons.  The focus, despite the over-talk of Ron Darling, is on the game itself. Now, Darling has a pretty good broadcasting voice as far as that goes  and seems to know what he is talking about but seems to be of the opinion that no one listening has watched a baseball game before. The third man in the booth, John Smoltz, began his career in the over-explanation mode, but quickly realized that the odd insightful comment was much more valuable and in tune with the flow of the game and has become one of the few interesting ex-players to listen to during the game.

I do wish that TBS had used Atlanta Braves broadcaster, Joe Simpson, on its telecasts, a man who’s broadcasts are always insightful and interesting. But that is a small criticism. TBS does not run incessant commercials between pitches, nor do they fill the screen with bars and bars of information.  Unless you are one of those who own a gigantic television screen, it makes it difficult to actually see the events unfolding on the field at any given time. Most of us, and certainly the regular fan, are able to keep track of the number of outs, the score, the pitch count and how many runners are on base. For those who have just tuned in for whatever reason, a quick and non distraction to the ongoing game, would certainly suffice. TBS seems to realize that the game is for the fan, not for their corporate sponsors.

The opposite, sadly, has been true of Fox baseball coverage for many years now and four hour plus games have become the norm instead of the exception. I tuned in the other night an hour after the start time and the game was still in the second inning. Surely there must have been a long rain delay or a score of 10-10.  No, the score was 2-2 and there been no rain delay. As I continued to watch the game, there were commercials, and many commercials, between pitches.  These were not of the full thirty-minute variety, (fortunately), but a quick ten-second or so verbiage by Buck, with the company logo filling up half the screen.  There were also instances of missed first pitches because the commercial break had run too long.

Buck often finds it difficult to concentrate on the game, talking about anything else or engaging in what I’m certain he considers to be, witty dialogue with partner Tim McCarver.  Tim attempts to steer the conversation back to the on filed action but generally with little avail. I often feel McCarver would like to leave the booth and sit in the dugout or stands where he could hear relevant baseball conversation. Who could blame him? Fox often advertises other show during the game, either network shows or the upcoming Sunday NFL match. It seems to be a chore for the Fox network to even broadcast baseball games. With the Giants now in the World Series, the games will feature two teams which Fox rarely, if ever, have shown on their Saturday broadcasts.  How they must be crying in their collective soup now that neither their beloved Red Sox or Yankees will be on the biggest stage of all.

There should be day games on weekends.  No, a 4 p.m. start is not a day game– 1 p.m. is. Again, Fox is to blame although surely major league baseball shouldn’t pander to the Fox executives despite having greedily signed  on the dotted line.  Late October and early November weather is cold, especially at night.  Cold is not the optimum condition in which to play baseball.  It also gives no leeway in case of inclement weather, (see 2008 World Series).  The Little Leaguers of America, always given lip service by major league baseball executives, are not likely to be awake past 11 p.m., forcing them to miss the latter part of the games.

Baseball playoffs, on weekends, should be played in the warmth of the afternoon sun, not the cold frost of the evening. There should be no commercials between pitches. Announcers should discuss the ongoing events on the field, not everything but those happenings. The game should be first, foremost and last. I could do without everything else. Sadly, Fox will be covering the World Series again this season and with the conclusion of the American League playoffs, no more TBS.

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Email Doug Bird at d.bird@rogers.com

I officially know nothing

Last Saturday, shortly after I got home from watching Game 1 of the National League Championship Series, I logged into Twitter and saw a Tweet from Rob Neyer, saying he would be on ESPN Radio shortly, taking questions. After a few tries, I got through, and I asked Neyer his thoughts on if there could be a Rangers-Giants World Series. He said he thought there was a good chance, and while it made me smile, I remained skeptical. I’ve been skeptical all season, and I suspect I may be a skeptic at heart. Thankfully, I now officially know nothing: The Giants triumphed 3-2 over the Phillies this evening and will face the Rangers in the Series.

It’s an improbable match-up to cap improbable seasons for both teams. I read Rangers team president Nolan Ryan saying at the start of the year that he thought his squad was good for 92 wins, and that sounded like crazy talk. Granted, Sports Illustrated predicting great things for the Mariners on the basis of obscure defensive metrics sounded– and proved– crazier still (even if I went along with it at the time) but I would not have picked Texas to so much as win the AL West. None of the teams appeared good enough really, and the fact that one is now playing for the championship defies logic, conventional wisdom, and definitely sabermetrics.

The Giants were another story. While I told people from the outset of this season that the Giants looked like a 90-win club, I figured they wouldn’t do much beyond win the NL West. They just didn’t seem to have the offensive star power. In fact, when San Francisco dipped to around .500 at the beginning of July, I feared this was only the latest in a long line of laughably inept predictions, like when I said the Niners would win the NFC West in 2004 and watched them go 2-14, or when I thought Barack Obama should be Hillary Clinton’s VP in 2008. Heck, even after San Francisco triumphed over the Padres on the last day of the season to win the division, I wrote a post here that ran along the lines of, Well, that was nice but nothing much will happen for the Giants in the postseason.

It never felt so good to be wrong.

Cliff Lee Meet Deacon Phillippe!

I’m pleased to present the latest guest post from Joe Guzzardi on a brilliant pitcher likely forgotten by all but baseball historians. As Joe writes, Deacon Phillippe is most known for his outstanding work in the 1903 World Series, though he’s also a distant relative of actor Ryan Phillippe (who named his son Deacon for him) and he won 20 games six times. In 2005, Tom Verducci included the Deadball Era hurler in SI.com’s list of the 10 best players not in the Hall of Fame.

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Here’s a World Series quiz for readers. What starting pitcher who excelled in post season play said: “It’s a cold day when I get three balls on a man.”

If you have been listening to baseball analysts these past few days, you might think it was the stingy Cliff Lee, all but crowned as the greatest October pitcher of all time. Others mentioned by the talking heads, although somewhat dismissively, include Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, Mariano Rivera and Whitey Ford.

The correct response is not Lee, however, but the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Deacon Phillippe (pronounced Phil-uh-pee) who in 1903 against the Boston Americans pitched five complete World Series games, two on back-to-back days, and won three of them. In what was then a nine game World Series format, Phillippe out dueled Boston’s Cy Young in the opener while striking out 10 and walking none.

Here’s Phillippe’s aggregate five game line for the 1903 World Series, won by Boston 5-3:

IP- 44; H-38; R-19; ER-16; BB-3; SO-23

Three walks in 44 innings averages less than one per game, lower than Phillippe’s career average of 1.2 walks per start and, moreover, lower than Lee’s 2.2 per nine inning career mark.

Although Phillippe’s Herculean performance did not lead the Pirates to a world championship that year, Pittsburgh fans showed their appreciation by presenting him with a diamond horseshoe stickpin and owner Barney Dreyfuss rewarded him ten shares of stock in the club.

The secret of Phillippe’s pitching success was, according to an interview he gave to The Sporting News, “keeping batters guessing. I study the batsman in every way: his position in the box, his general attitude, the way he holds the bat, and any other individual characteristics he may have.” Lee, more than a century later, learned Phillippe’s lesson well.

Phillippe’s five complete game decisions are a World Series record that will stand forever unless the fall classic reverts to the best of nine. If that happens, we’ll be watching baseball and eating turkey on the same day.

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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

Hit By Batter and a Present Danger

I’m pleased to present a guest post from Gerry Garte, who sent me the following piece on Thursday. I encourage anyone who’s interested in writing for this site to do likewise.

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Shattering bats are causing injuries and havoc on the baseball diamond.

Some bats being produced today are splintering and separating long-ways. From time to time, the flying wood has become a threat to players on the infield.

The most difficult of these injuries came on September 19 at Sun Life Stadium in South Florida.

Cubs Tyler Colvin was running third to home, watching the flight of a ball hit by Cubs Welington Castillo. As Colvin watched, a large piece of splintered wood hit him in the upper chest. The wood bounced off, but it had punctured his chest. Colvin was recovering the last two weeks of the season.

A few days after Colvin was hurt, ace pitcher Cliff Lee of Texas was struck behind his ear by a piece of shattered bat from Oakland’s Jack Cust. Light bleeding, but Lee was able to continue.

How close do we need to get to a critical injury or fatality?

Major League Baseball is well aware of the situation, and seems to be moving in a positive direction. Timeliness is the concern. With safety as a priority, new standards for bats should be in place well before next season. In the event that something isn’t done to correct splintering bats before next season, I have concocted a Plan B: Hit By Batter (HBB).

When a batter loses grip of his bat or the bat breaks and then hits a defensive player, on that defensive player’s next at bat (or his position in the batting order), he will be awarded first base. This is Hit By Batter (HBB). This award of first base, like Hit By Pitch (HBP), will not be an official at bat. However, it will be different in one regard, the batter will have an option:

  • Being awarded first base with no at bat
  • Accepting an official at-bat

If he accepts the HBB, he reports to the home plate umpire and is directed to first. Players on base would advance one base if forced, as if the batter had been walked. If a batter wishes to accept a plate appearance and risk an out– and this would depend on game situation– he will inform the umpire and immediately step in the batter’s box.

With the implementation of HBB, a team would be less likely to support the use of a bat made of material more likely to shatter/break.

If a lost/broken bat incident is somehow determined to be intentional by Major League Baseball, a suspension would be strongly considered.

On the other hand, if the defensive player makes no move to avoid a tumbling bat, the defensive player’s next at bat (or his place in the batting order) could be ruled an out in advance by the umpiring crew.

Only baseball could consider such an unlikely event as reason to establish a new rule.

But a new rule, Plan A, is needed.

A thorough, updated investigation by Major League Baseball to determine the exact types of bats causing the most problem has been warranted for several years. We’re discussing player safety.

In two-year-old data, it was noted that maple bats were used by more than half of the players in MLB.

As baseball has added rules requiring batting helmets, an updated safety standard on the wood in bats is overdue.

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Email Gerry Garte at garte@comcast.net

Any player/Any era: Jimmy Wynn

What he did: If ever there was a player hurt by his era, it’s Jimmy Wynn. The power-hitting center fielder played from 1963 to 1977, spending much of his prime in an age dominated by pitchers, in perhaps the least-friendly park for hitters since the Deadball Era, the expansive Houston Astrodome. Wynn finished with a .250 lifetime batting average and 291 home runs and did not receive any Hall of Fame votes the only year his name appeared on the ballot, 1983. In an era better suited for hitters, Wynn might have been a Hall of Famer.

Era he might have thrived in: Playing at pretty much any other point in baseball history since the Deadball Era, Wynn would have added another 30-50 batting average points and 50-100 home runs lifetime. Assuming we suspend disbelief about the color of Wynn’s skin keeping him from the majors prior to 1947, he could have done some of his best work in the American League in the 1930s.

Why: Baseball-Reference.com has a tool to convert a player’s lifetime numbers, so I took the 15 seasons of Wynn’s career and looked at how he might have done on a few different clubs. A reader suggested the Houston Astros in the late 1990s, when they had a hitters team and ballpark. I thought of the New York Giants in the 1920s and ’30s when I figured Wynn might have been the Giants’ answer to Joe DiMaggio (he wouldn’t, as I found.) I then realized Wynn may have soared higher on the Detroit Tigers in the 1930s, when hitters ruled baseball.

Here’s a chart with Wynn’s lifetime stats for each team, with numbers calculated on a one-one basis. For the Giants, I converted 1963 to 1923, 1964 to 1924 and so on. It took awhile, since I had to do it myself, but I think it offers a fairly accurate look.

AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA
Actual numbers 6653 1105 1665 285 39 291 964 225 1224 1427 .250
Giants 1923-1937 6628 1282 1873 325 42 329 1120 256 1384 1359 .283
Tigers 1927-1941 6773 1460 2018 347 45 362 1270 272 1488 1359 .298
Astros 1993-2007 6825 1321 1919 330 42 339 1152 258 1429 1398 .281


Basically, on all three teams, Wynn saw a jump, and with the Tigers in the 1930s, he may have had enough for Cooperstown. I didn’t run conversions for the Indians, Red Sox, or A’s in the 1930s, all places Wynn may have put up even better numbers, though I like him in Detroit for two reasons. First, he would have had a bandbox of a park, Tigers Stadium. He also would have been a part of Detroit’s World Series-contending clubs led by Hank Greenberg. With Wynn’s ability to get on base 40-50 percent of his plate appearances and his superior WAR to Detroit center fielder, Jo-Jo White, the Tigers may benefited too.

Here’s a breakdown of how Wynn’s career would have converted, season for season:

YEAR AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB BA
1927 (’63) 252 41 72 12 6 5 35 5 35 .286
1928 (’64) 215 23 53 8 0 6 22 6 26 .247
1929 (’65) 575 116 189 36 8 27 93 53 102 .329
1930 (’66) 422 86 126 25 1 21 86 15 48 .299
1931 (’67) 604 140 180 35 3 45 147 19 89 .298
1932 (’68) 565 131 190 30 7 34 104 14 117 .336
1933 (’69) 507 139 163 21 1 41 107 28 182 .321
1934 (’70) 549 93 171 35 2 29 100 26 116 .311
1935 (’71) 396 46 90 18 0 8 54 11 61 .227
1936 (’72) 589 172 197 39 4 39 132 22 137 .334
1937 (’73) 477 111 121 16 5 23 67 16 104 .254
1938 (’74) 550 143 179 21 5 39 148 23 133 .325
1939 (’75) 425 107 130 21 0 23 78 9 140 .306
1940 (’76) 454 92 116 24 1 21 81 20 159 .256
1941 (’77) 193 20 41 6 2 1 16 5 39 .212
TOTAL 6773 1460 2018 347 45 362 1270 272 1488 .298


As I’ve written before, there are some things I suspect the stat converter can’t account for, like the confidence one would get playing for a winner rather than a loser. Success begets more success, and I’m guessing Wynn wouldn’t experience the surreptitious drop in numbers in 1935, which would surely get him dropped from the Tigers on their march to the World Series title that year. It also wouldn’t surprise me if Wynn finished with 400 home runs and a .300 lifetime batting average.

Even at 362 home runs, though, Wynn would have been fifth in baseball history upon his retirement in 1941, trailing only Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, and Mel Ott. Those men are all baseball legends. In another era, Wynn might have been one too.

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 PujolsBarry Bonds, Bob CaruthersDom DiMaggioFritz MaiselGeorge CaseHarmon KillebrewHome Run BakerJohnny FrederickJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr.Nate ColbertPete Rose, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Clemente, Sam Thompson, Sandy KoufaxShoeless Joe JacksonThe Meusel BrothersTy Cobb

Lamenting Barry Zito

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

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I first saw Barry Zito, the struggling San Francisco Giant pitcher, during the summer of 2000.

On a perfect California evening Zito, then with the AAA Sacramento River Cats, was going through his unique pre-game stretching yoga exercises in a secluded corner of Raley Field. A handful of young women spotted Zito. They raced out to left field, hung over the wall and cried out at the single, eligible Zito, “Barry! Barry! Up here, Barry!”

Zito smiled at them. But he stayed on task, getting ready to pitch in another minor league game that would take him one step closer to his inevitable arrival in the American League where he would immediately become a standout in the Oakland A’s pitching rotation.

That was ten summers and $126 million dollars ago when Zito’s life was much simpler. In 2000 everything pointed straight up for Zito, a first-round draft choice from the University of Southern California. Rivercats fans knew we had to appreciate Zito while we could. Scouting reports predicted that his curve ball would soon devastate big league sluggers.

So it did. By October Zito, a long way from Sacramento, won game 4 of the American League Division championship series for the A’s in New York against the Yankees. And in 2002, Zito reached his apex when his 23 wins helped him capture the Cy Young Award. By that time, I had adopted Zito as one of my favorite players—and not just because he fooled the hated Yankees when they fished for his breaking ball.

I admire Zito because he was then—and remains now—a thoroughly likeable player in a (steroid) era when the game has too few of them.

As a Zito fan, I’m still troubled when I hear the criticism directed at him, valid though it may be. To be sure, Zito’s results since signing what was then the largest contract in baseball’s history are disappointing. This year Zito has hit bottom. Despite an encouraging start to his season, the Giants left him off its postseason roster.

The booing unsettles me too. In 2007, I traveled to AT&T Park from my home in Lodi to watch Zito pitch against and lose to the hapless Pittsburgh Pirates. When Zito walked the first three batters in inning one, the raspberries started.

As bad as Zito’s outing was, a 2008 game I also attended was even worse. On an otherwise magnificent April Sunday afternoon, Zito gave up six earned runs to the Cincinnati Reds in the top of the first. According to the San Francisco Chronicle when manager Bruce Botchy went to the mound the first time, he implored Zito to get someone out so that he wouldn’t have to yank him mid-inning and face a barrage of hissing. Laboring for each of the three innings he lasted, Zito gave up eight earned runs in a 10-1 Giant loss that put his record at 0-6.

Zito, fortunately for him, has qualities that may help him weather the tribulations that engulf him. He’s active in dozens of charities including his own Strike Outs for the Troops. Founded in 2005, the organization has raised well over $1 million.

Refreshingly Zito, unlike so many superstars, doesn’t take himself seriously. He loves skateboarding, surfing, playing his guitar and once dyed his hair blue. Twice, Zito danced in the Oakland Ballet’s “Nutcracker” benefit. When asked why he bids on eBay for his own autographed baseball cards Zito answered: “Because I know they’re authentic!”

For all this and more, in 2006 the Sporting News voted Zito baseball’s number one “Good Guy” award.

Zito is as troubled by his poor pitching as any fan or teammate. But he takes criticism in stride. Baseball fans, as Zito knows, can be merciless even toward the greatest players in the game.

In 1986, before the tax evasion and gambling scandal, Reds’ fans brutally hooted one of their most beloved players, Pete Rose, when his average slipped all the way down to .219.

What’s in Zito’s future is uncertain. A comeback at 32 is hard to imagine. But other slow balling left handers have had stand out seasons late in their careers. At 35, the New York Yankees’ Eddie Lopat posted a 16-4 record and won the ERA crown with a 2.42 average. The following year, Lopat went 12-4.  When he was 36 and 37, Jim Kaat won 20 games back to back for the Chicago White Sox, 21-13 and 20-14.

Pitching coaches say that to be successful, Zito must pitch lower in the strike zone. That’s easier said than done. The biggest question is whether Zito will get another chance.

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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? John Smoltz

Claim to fame: I just wrote about Jack Morris, and now, it seems only fair to feature his opponent from Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. John Smoltz’s line– 7.1 shutout innings, six hits, four strikeouts– doesn’t get talked about like Morris’s 10-inning shutout, but it may rank among the best losing-end efforts in postseason history. It’s up there with Sal Maglie’s complete game in Don Larsen’s perfecto in 1956 and Bill Bevens, who lost a no-hitter, and the game, with two outs in the ninth in 1947, and it got me reviewing Smoltz’s stats. Turns out besides being a great starter and closer, Smoltz was perhaps the best playoff pitcher of his generation.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Smoltz retired following the 2009 season and will be eligible for enshrinement in 2015 through the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? In short: Yes, though I wonder when Smoltz will receive his plaque in Cooperstown (and if it could hang with his stellar Atlanta Braves teammates Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux, though that may be discussion for another time.)

Smoltz is going to be an interesting case for the writers, since he went to the bullpen after a catastrophic injury mid-career and lost a few years of starting and perhaps 50 wins. His career line of 213-155 with a 3.33 ERA and 3,084 strikeouts is Hall of Fame-caliber for a starting pitcher, but it’s at the lower end of the spectrum. His top 10 list of pitchers he’s most similar to based on stats include three Hall of Famers, Jim Bunning, Catfish Hunter, and Don Drysdale, and none were first ballot choices. Bunning was a Veterans Committee pick, Hunter got in on his third try with the writers, and Drysdale made it, barely, on his tenth.

Still, if there’s justice among the BBWAA, the full range of Smoltz’s achievements will be considered, from the 154 saves he amassed mid-career to his lifetime postseason record, which looks more like a Cy Young season.

Andy Pettitte has more postseason wins in his career than Smoltz– 19 to 15– though in a series-deciding game, there’s no question who I’d rather have on the mound. In almost every statistical category, Smoltz trounces Pettitte.

Here’s a chart with their career postseason records:

W L ERA G GS CG SHO IP ER SO WHIP
Smoltz 15 4 2.67 41 27 2 1 209 62 199 1.144
Pettitte 19 10 3.83 42 42 0 0 263 112 173 1.304


There’s one other thing worth mentioning, and while I doubt it will matter to voters, I think it should. Early in his career, Smoltz had clear emotional problems, and after starting the 1991 season 2-11, he began seeing a sports psychologist and righted course. This is rare. I’ve written about aces like Dontrelle Willis or Steve Blass who encountered issues of their own. Generally, once a hurler starts down this road, it’s the point of no return (with one exception aside from Smoltz being Zack Greinke, who overcame an anxiety disorder to win the 2009 American League Cy Young Award.)

It’s one more way Smoltz was in rare company as a pitcher.

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, Jack Morris, Joe Carter, Keith Hernandez, Maury Wills, Mel Harder, Pete Browning, Rocky Colavito, Steve Garvey, Thurman Munson, Tim Raines

2010 NLCS: More than I usually watch

I mentioned here on Friday that I would have something for today about the Phillies and Giants and the National League Championship Series, and sure enough, I watched the first game on Saturday, a thrilling 4-3 victory for San Francisco.

Here’s my confession: It was the first baseball game I’ve watched all year.

It’s funny to admit this, seeing as I probably spend at least 10-15 hours each week reading, writing, and talking about baseball, imploring others to be as passionate about its history as I am. For some reason, I just don’t care that much to watch games on television.

I have a few ideas why this is.

  1. I have a limited attention span: Baseball is a slow game, and I’m not always patient. I’m someone who will sit down to read a book and want to do something else after a page or two. The thought of sitting for 2-3 hours and watching a game seems impossible sometimes.
  2. My friends aren’t fans: I often tell friends or acquaintances I have a baseball blog, and their response is typically something like, “That’s nice. I’m not really into baseball.” Thus I usually have the prospect of watching games alone or trekking to a sports bar, neither of which much appeals to me.
  3. Television issues: My favorite team’s the Giants, most of their games air on cable, and I canceled my service long ago for financial reasons. And ever since the mandated digital conversion, I’ve had crappy, pixelated reception on regular channels, so if I were to watch a game, it means that the picture might cut out at a key play. Occasionally, I’ll listen to part of a game on the radio, but that generally doesn’t do it for me, either.
  4. Steroids: Maybe I’m being unfair to baseball, but I still wonder how many players are on steroids or on HGH. It’s hard to marvel at players I suspect may be chemically-enhanced. I doubt I’m the only fan who feels this way.
  5. I prefer watching baseball in person, and I’m broke: I love going to ballparks. For me, sitting in a seat is an almost spiritual experience. It soothes my soul, and I even like going alone. If I had the money, I think I’d have gone to at least a couple A’s or Giants games this year, but the economy still sucks, and I’m working odd jobs to make ends meet.
  6. Maybe I’m just not that into baseball: I’ve begun to think that more than being a baseball fan, I’m a history fan, and baseball is what I know the history of. It could be this way about the military or classic cars– anything really– provided I started reading about it at a young age as voraciously as I did with baseball. After all these years and so many thousands of pages, I think I like the story of baseball more than the game itself.

I’m glad I broke rank on Saturday to get together with a group of guys and watch San Francisco triumph over Philadephia. It was the best game I’ve seen in years, even if I haven’t taken in that many. Here’s hoping I watch a few more games the rest of the postseason.

An Afternoon at the Forbes Field Wall: Remembering the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates

Here’s the latest guest post from Joe Guzzardi, a regular contributor here.

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On October 13, I was one of about 2,500 Pittsburgh Pirate fans who gathered at a small remaining section of the Forbes Field wall. Our shared mission: to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Buccos stunning 1960 World Series upset over the hated New York Yankees in the seventh game.

Every year fans unite at the wall to listen to a radio replay of the game while mixing and mingling to relive every precious moment. Some fans have small containers of dirt they dug up after the game. Others like me have old pennants or score cards that they have somehow held onto for all these decades. One fan had a 1960 yearbook along with the tickets stubs from games one and seven to prove he was there. I asked him how he had the foresight to save his stubs. He told me his mother, recognizing their historic value, stashed them away.

Everybody shares where they were at exactly 3:36 P.M. five decades ago when Bill Mazeroski hit his bottom of the ninth inning home run on a 1-0 count off Yankee relief pitcher Ralph Terry to win the game, 10-9. I was a New Jersey high school junior, the only Pirate fan in a room full of Yankees rooters.

Most years, players who live in the Pittsburgh area show up to happily talk with you or sign autographs. Among them are team captain and 1960 National League Most Valuable Player Dick Groat, now the color announcer for the University of Pittsburgh basketball team, premier relief pitcher Roy Face and workhorse starter Bob Friend.

Unfortunately, because of the large crowd, security personnel kept fans from interacting with the players.

This year, because the Forbes Field event was followed by a black tie dinner at PNC Park to honor the 1960 Bucs, the Pirates flew players in from across the nation. Included were stars like Vernon Law but also lesser lights like Joe Christopher, Bob Oldis and George “Red” Witt, a personal favorite of mine since I saw him play for the Hollywood Stars.

In 1957 Witt, a fire balling California right hander, notched an 18-7 record with a 2.24 ERA for the Stars. Unfortunately, arm trouble limited Witt to an 11-16 career mark with the Pirates, the Los Angeles Angels and the Houston Colt .45s. During the 1960 World Series, however, Witt appeared in three games and held the Yankees scoreless over 2.2 innings.

Much of the buzz among the fans was about the discovery of the Game Seven video tape thought to be lost forever but found in Bing Crosby’s wine cellar at his longtime home near San Francisco. The tape features the Yankees’ Mel Allen and the Pirates’ Bob Prince calling the game.

The MLB Network will televise the discovered Game Seven, with Bob Costas hosting, during the offseason. Player interviews will be included as part of the broadcast.

As for the special day at Forbes Field, I’ll note that although many cities have been the home team during historic World Series finales, Pittsburgh is the only city to stage an annual honorary day.

Forbes Field is long gone, replaced by the University of Pittsburgh School of Business. Many students have no idea a wonderful old ball park once stood where they now crack their books. Few have heard of Mazeroski. Some of the freshmen weren’t even alive the last time the Pirates had a winning season, 1992.

On October 13, none of that matters to those of us who remember that great 1960 year capped off by baseball’s most unforgettable game.

_________________

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

Should the Hall of Fame honor teams?

One of my regular readers emailed me and another blogger earlier week. The reader wrote:

Gentlemen,

We know the HOF honors indivdual players, but has anyone thought about having a way to honor great teams? Maybe select no more than one or two teams per decade from each league perhaps? If there aren’t any teams that measure up in any decade, then you don’t have to enshrine any.

I like the idea. While much of the rest of the blogosphere is writing about the playoffs (and expect something here on Monday about the Giants and Phillies– I’m just waiting for first blood) I thought I’d offer some thoughts on teams that could be enshrined in Cooperstown.

The following is purely subjective, as my posts about the Hall of Fame often are. This is merely a starting point, and I invite others to expand upon it.

Here are my picks:

1901-1910: Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Giants: What a difference a century makes. The Bucs won at least 90 games eight out of the first ten years of the 20th century and appeared in two World Series, winning in 1909. The Giants were perhaps baseball’s worst team at the start of the decade but transformed into contenders after John McGraw became manager in 1903. Interestingly, both these teams got great raiding others: Pittsburgh plucked Honus Wagner and others from the Louisville Colonels and McGraw brought much of the old Baltimore Orioles roster with him when he joined the Giants. Nefarious perhaps, but it worked brilliantly.

1911-1920: Philadelphia Athletics, Boston Red Sox: Connie Mack’s first dynasty produced three World Series appearances and two titles in the first four years of the decade, led by players like Hall of Fame pitcher Chief Bender. The Red Sox are here because they won four World Series in the decade (including three times with young ace Babe Ruth) and because the last title was followed by an 86-year championship drought.

1921-1930: New York Yankees, Philadelphia Athletics: Some people regard the Murderers Row Yankees as the best team in baseball history, though Sports Illustrated put out a cover story some years back suggesting they were rivaled by Mack’s second dynasty that gelled at the end of the ’20s.

1931-1940: St. Louis Cardinals, New York Yankees: The Gashouse Gang produced two World Series championships, 1931 and 1934. It marked the triumph of St. Louis general manager Branch Rickey and his brainchild: the farm system. Meanwhile, the Yankees in the ’30s had, at different times, an aging Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Joe DiMaggio turning in productive years. It helped for a staggering five World Series titles between 1931 and 1940, with no worse than a third place finish any year of the decade. Four times in club history, the Yankees have scored more than 1,000 runs in a season. These years were 1930, 1931, 1932, and 1936.

1941-1950: St. Louis Cardinals, Brooklyn Dodgers: Stan Musial missed most of World War II, and it helped the Cardinals become a dominant team once more, winning three World Series between 1942 and 1946. The Dodgers would be on here even if they were a terrible team in those years (they weren’t) as they broke baseball’s color barrier with Jackie Robinson in 1947, another Branch Rickey idea.

1951-1960: New York Yankees, New York Giants, Brooklyn Dodgers: New York was again baseball’s capital in the 1950s, with every World Series between 1951 and 1958 featuring a New York team. So many of baseball’s icons played at least a year in New York in the ’50s from Robinson and Duke Snider on the Boys of Summer Dodgers to DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle on the Yankees to Willie Mays on the Giants.

1961-1970: St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers: Baseball was all about pitching in the 1960s, and these two teams exemplified this. The Cardinals were a machine led by Hall of Fame hurler Bob Gibson, who delivered Game Seven victories in the 1964 and 1967 World Series and then amassed a modern era-record 1.12 ERA in 1968, only to fall to the Tigers in the World Series. The Dodgers also won two World Series and made it to another behind ace Sandy Koufax.

1971-1980: Oakland Athletics, Cincinnati Reds: Two of baseball’s more colorful clubs, the Mustache Gang A’s and Big Red Machine accounted for every World Series title between 1972 and 1976. Perhaps no two teams in the same decade were so filled with characters– and talent. Oakland and Cincinnati also signified another thing in baseball in the ’70s: the abrogation of the Reserve Clause which led to both clubs losing core players.

1981-1990: No one: Perhaps the Dodgers deserve recognition, seeing as they won the World Series in 1981 and again in 1988. But compared to most of the other teams written of here, these LA clubs seem nowhere near as memorable. In general, this was a decade defined by teams I don’t care to celebrate: the steroid-addled A’s, the coked-out Mets. Why should Cooperstown lionize that?

1991-2000: New York Yankees: The Yankees resurrected themselves from a decade-long slump in the mid-1990s and became a powerhouse once more, winning the World Series in 1996, and again in 1998, 1999, and 2000. The ’96 club was even somewhat likable, a collection of non-superstars like Paul O’Neill and Bernie Williams, led by everyman manager (everymanager?) Joe Torre.

2001-2010: Boston Red Sox: What’s the best way to shake off close to a century without a World Series title? By hiring a crack young general manager, assembling a contender, and winning everything twice in four years. In a decade where eight teams have won the World Series, Boston is the only club with multiple titles.

Any player/Any era: Sam Thompson

What he did: Thompson was a great 19th century hitter, batting above .370 four times, just missing the Triple Crown in 1895, and finishing with a .331 career batting average, good for an eventual spot in the Hall of Fame. He came up this week in a forum on Rob Neyer’s site, Imagine Sports. A member linked to my piece on Roberto Clemente, and a brief discussion ensued. One person remarked:

frank howard and sam thompson could have used different eras

I mentioned Howard in a column on Harmon Killebrew. Like Killebrew, Howard did some of his best work in the 1960s when pitchers ruled. In a hitters era, Howard might have been a Hall of Famer. Using the converter on Baseball-Reference.com, I found if Howard played every season of his career on a team like the 1936 Cleveland Indians, he may have hit .325 lifetime with 469 home runs, far better than his actual totals of .273 and 382 homers (Killebrew converted to .300 with 687 homers.)

With Thompson, though, I’ll take a different approach than usual here. My thought is Thompson played in the best possible era for himself. In fact, in a different time, he might have had less of a chance at Cooperstown.

Era he might have thrived in: Thompson probably could have put up comparable numbers in two modern periods defined by hitters: The 1930s or the late 1990s. Still, he had a pretty sweet deal with the Phillies in the mid-1890s.

Why: On the 1894 Philadelphia Phillies, Billy Hamilton, Ed Delahanty, and Thompson comprised the only .400-hitting outfield in baseball history. I used to think the 1930 Phillies were the best-hitting team ever. They have nothing on their 1894 counterpart, which hit .350 as a club and still finished fourth, consequences of a 5.63 ERA as a team, I suppose.

That was part of a long run of great-hitting Phillies teams that Thompson played on. I don’t know if it was his era or his teammates, but more times than not, Thompson’s teams hit at least .280. When Thompson hit well, so did his teams generally. Here’s a chart listing how their batting averages compared:

Year Team League Team Batting
Thompson AB
1885 Detroit Wolverines NL .243 .303 254
1886 Detroit Wolverines NL .280 .310 503
1887 Detroit Wolverines NL .299 .372 545
1888 Detroit Wolverines NL .263 .282 238
1889 Philadelphia Quakers NL .266 .296 533
1890 Philadelphia Phillies NL .269 .313 549
1891 Philadelphia Phillies NL .252 .294 554
1892 Philadelphia Phillies NL .262 .305 609
1893 Philadelphia Phillies NL .301 .370 600
1894 Philadelphia Phillies NL .350 .415 451
1895 Philadelphia Phillies NL .330 .392 538
1896 Philadelphia Phillies NL .295 .298 577
1897 Philadelphia Phillies NL .293 .231 13
1898 Philadelphia Phillies NL .280 .349 63
1906 Detroit Tigers AL .242 .226 31

Not many teams in baseball history hit like the clubs Thompson starred for in the mid-1890s. I found a list on Retrosheet.org of the greatest-hitting teams in the modern era. The 1930 Phillies hit .315, with Chuck Klein and Lefty O’Doul each hitting above .380– the converter shows Thompson hitting .335 lifetime for them, only a few points better than his actual average. On the 1921 Detroit Tigers, who hit .316 and boasted Ty Cobb and Harry Heilmann hitting .389 and .394 respectively, Thompson’s lifetime batting average would drop to .310. Even with the 1930 Yankees who hit a modern-best .319, Thompson would hit .314 for his career.

About the only noticeable jump for Thompson’s stats was with the 1999 Rockies, who hit .288 and boasted four 30-home run hitters. Playing every year of his career on a team like them, Thompson would hit .341 lifetime with a 214 RBI season for his converted 1887 totals. But I suspect this might get him accused of steroid use. In real life, it took more than 50 years beyond Thompson’s death to get him inducted into the Hall of Fame. He might have an even harder time making it now.

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 PujolsBarry Bonds, Bob CaruthersDom DiMaggioFritz MaiselGeorge CaseHarmon KillebrewHome Run BakerJohnny FrederickJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr.Nate ColbertPete Rose, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Clemente, Sandy KoufaxShoeless Joe JacksonThe Meusel BrothersTy Cobb