Monthly Archives: November 2010

Join the “Stand for Stan” Campaign

I’m pleased to present the latest guest post from Joe Guzzardi, about one of the oldest living baseball legends.

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On November 21, Stan Musial will turn 90. Recently, ESPN named Musial as one of history’s most underrated baseball stars.

I’ve studied Musial’s 22-year career statistics dozens of times. Yet every new review leaves me in awe as if I were analyzing them for the first time.  If you haven’t checked Musial’s numbers out lately, look here.

For those of you pressed for time, I’ll condense Musial’s batting feats: 3,026 games played, .331 average, .417 on-base percentage, .559 slugging percentage, 3630 hits, 725 doubles, 177 triples, 475 homers, 1949 runs, and 1951 RBIs. Musial is the only player to finish his career in the top 25 in all these categories and owns or owned a number of records. In a testimony to his steady production, Musial had 1,815 hits at home and 1,815 on the road; in St. Louis, he hit .336; on the road, .326

Musial won three MVPs, finished twice four times, in the top ten 14 times and appeared in 22 All Star games. In what may be the most remarkable of Musial’s achievements, he was never ejected from a game.

My purpose today is not to rehash Musial statistics that may already be well known to you but rather to make you aware of the St. Louis Cardinals’ effort to have the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, awarded to “Stan the Man”. Details, including how to sign the Cardinals’ “Stand for Stan” petition and write a letter in Musial’s support to President Barack Obama are here.

Other baseball winners include Ted Williams, Jackie Robinson, Joe Di Maggio, Roberto Clemente, Buck O’Neil, Henry Aaron and Frank Robinson.

To refresh your memory about the worthiness of Musial’s credentials, watch a video tribute to Musial here. And read the August 10, Sports Illustrated article by Joe Posnanski that explains what Musial’s “small kindnesses” and “quiet dignity” means to St. Louis and to baseball fans everywhere.

Here’s a brief list of what Musial’s contemporaries say about his hitting ability:

Joe Garagiola: “He could have hit .300 with a fountain pen.”

Vince Scully: “How good was Musial? Good enough to take your breath away.”

Preacher Roe: “I throw him four wide ones, then try to pick him off first base.”

Carl Erskine: “I’ve had pretty good success with Musial by throwing him my best pitch, then running to back up third.”

Warren Spahn: “Once Musial timed your fastball, you’re infielders were in jeopardy.”

Sources in St. Louis say Musial is in failing health, not surprising for a 90-year-old. His public appearances are few and often because of his limited mobility in a golf cart.

If you’re inclined to join the campaign for a Musial Medal of Freedom, today would be a good time to get going. In the meantime, if you’re concerned that Washington D.C. bureaucracy may work too slowly, you can send a birthday card to Musial c/o the St. Louis Cardinals, 700 Clark St, St. Louis, MO 63102.

Stan would be delighted to hear from you.

[Postscript: On November 17, the White House announced that Stan Musial will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.]

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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? Ron Guidry

Claim to fame: Guidry was among the best pitchers of the 1970s and ’80s, going 170-91 with a 3.29 ERA in his 14-year career. Playing solely with the New York Yankees, Guidry won 20 games three times, took home five Gold Gloves, and swept the American League Cy Young Award in 1978 with his 25-3, 1.74 ERA season. His career was short by Cooperstown standards, with just six seasons with at least 30 starts, though Guidry made the most of his time: His home page on Baseball-Reference.com lists his 162-game averages as 17-9, a 3.29 ERA, nine complete games, and three shutouts.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: The Hall of Fame announced on Monday that Guidry is among 12 candidates for the Veterans Committee to consider at the winter meetings in December. Guidry appeared on the Cooperstown ballot for the Baseball Writers Association of America from 1994 through 2002, never receiving more than 10 percent of the vote.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Before I start, let me offer something to anyone reading from Baseball Think Factory expecting a column on Rafael Palmeiro. I announced in a forum discussion following my piece on Will Clark last week that I’d write about Palmeiro today, but that was before I knew the Veterans Committee would have an announcement. After reading it, I knew the Dirty Dozen would delay Palmeiro at least a week.

Besides Guidry, the 11 other candidates are:

  • Vida Blue
  • Dave Concepcion
  • Steve Garvey
  • Pat Gillick
  • Tommy John
  • Marvin Miller
  • Al Oliver
  • Ted Simmons
  • Rusty Staub
  • George Steinbrenner

Looking at the list, I think two men have a strong shot of getting in, whether it’s deserved or not: Steinbrenner, who died earlier this year and should get a boost in the sympathy vote; Garvey, for reasons I explained in June. Martin and Miller should get in, but probably won’t, at least not this year– they’re too polarizing of figures. I could possibly make a case for John, but I’ll hold off on that for now.

The accomplishment for Blue, Concepcion, Gillick, Oliver, and Staub is making the ballot. Same goes for Simmons, who’s revered in the baseball research community but hasn’t gotten his due elsewhere. It’s not to say these players are undeserving (in fact, I recently said I’d vote for Oliver) they just don’t seem like the best players not in Cooperstown. That may be because, under new rules, this election is strictly for those players, the press release notes, “whose most significant career impact was realized” between 1973 and 1989. It’s why Dick Allen, Gil Hodges, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva, Ron Santo, and many others are nowhere to be found on this ballot. The stipulation seems arbitrary and contrary to the committee’s official goal of helping overlooked players, but I’m not sure the old methods were better.

But if this is what it takes to get Guidry on the ballot, perhaps it’s okay. His short career could get him pushed aside amidst bigger names, which may have been what happened to him on the writers ballot, though Guidry’s career compares favorably to Dizzy Dean, Sandy Koufax, and Rube Waddell, other aces who shined briefly. Guidry’s also probably better than most Yankee pitchers in Cooperstown, for whatever that’s worth. His career WAR of 44.4 might seem unimpressive, but for pitchers this committee could have considered, only John (who played twice as long), Jerry Koosman, Steve Rogers, and Luis Tiant rank higher. I think Tiant deserves a nod too, but that’s for another time.

So Guidry has my vote. It will be interesting to see how many he gets.

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

Others in this series: Al OliverAlbert BelleBert BlylevenCecil TravisChipper JonesDan QuisenberryDave ParkerDon Mattingly,Don NewcombeGeorge SteinbrennerJack MorrisJoe CarterJohn SmoltzKeith HernandezLarry WalkerMaury WillsMel HarderPete BrowningRocky ColavitoSteve GarveyThurman MunsonTim Raines, Will Clark

Some baseball blogs I follow, Version 2.0

About six months ago, I wrote an entry here, Some baseball blogs I follow, where I offered a short list of Web sites I read. In the months since I made that entry, I have kept learning of or remembering sites worthy of inclusion.

Here are a few:

Joe Blogs: My biggest omission or forgotten great the first time around, let me say that the blog for Sports Illustrated writer Joe Posnanski sets the standard for all baseball blogs. It is consistently entertaining, well-written, and informative, among other things. More than that, Posnanski is a wonderfully nice guy who took time for an interview with me in September and also recently responded to an email I sent.

Cardboard Gods: With perhaps the best-written baseball blog I know of, Josh Wilker writes with all the grace one would expect of an MFA, waxing poetic and philosophical about old baseball cards and life. In May, I reviewed Wilker’s well-deserved first book that resulted from this blog.

SweetSpot Blog – ESPN: Holy moley– my Posnanski interview got linked to by this blog, by longtime baseball writer Rob Neyer, and it brought nearly 2,000 people to my site. As an added bonus, Neyer is connected with a group of fantasy baseball Web sites whose forum members have said some positive things about my Thursday series, Any player/Any era. Here’s proof that an Internet forum dedicated to baseball research and history need not teem with pompous blowhards, that it can in fact be positive. Web sites like these are a step in the right direction.

Seamheads.com: Same story here– a step in the right direction for baseball history and the Internet. Seamheads is a beautiful-looking Web site filled with writers who love the game, including yours truly. They even have a weekly podcast that I got to guest-host a couple months ago. I haven’t contributed anything there in awhile, and I imagine that will change sometime soon.

PaapFly.com: I relate to this guy, a fellow named Rory, quite a bit. We both offer text-heavy, analytical, and relatively new Web sites and are working to make names for ourselves. It’s no easy task on the sometimes unforgiving, fickle Internet where an independent blogger can easily be doubted or dismissed outright. I know I’m reassured whenever I learn someone like Rory’s out there. He reminds me I’m not in this alone. I would add Rory’s done a couple of guest posts here, which have been excellent, and I invite any like-minded individuals to seek me out.

That being said, today’s post almost certainly won’t be the last one of this sort that I do. To any fellow baseball bloggers, if you feel I missed you, please feel free to contact me for the next time around or leave a comment here. I consider myself a fairly reasonable guy and generally have no problem adding someone to my blogroll or considering letting them guest post.

Thanks to everyone who’s a part of this site and helps make it what it is.

The Little Giants Who Could

Unofficially, it’s been San Francisco Giants Week here at Baseball: Past and Present. For anyone who wants to relive the Giants’ championship one more time, I am pleased to present this guest post from Doug Bird.

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It was a 56-year wait for the city by the Bay-not long by Cubs standards, but a lifetime for many San Franciscans . Position by position, with the exception of starting pitching, the Giants simply didn’t stack up to the Texas Rangers and had little, if any chance to win the 2010 World Series. They would have to beat the unbeatable Cliff Lee, not once, but twice to get the trophy. They had spent $28 million for players either off the roster, (Barry Zito), or on the bench, (Aaron Rowand), would have to stop the speed of Elvis Andrus and the power of Josh Hamilton, Vlad Guerro and Nelson Cruz. They would have to beat the Philadelphia Phillies and then defeat a team which had eliminated the Tampa Bay Rays and the New York Yankees.

They would do it in only five games and with a player who had effectively been benched most of the season, (World Series MVP Edgar Rentaria) , replaced a season long slum ridden third baseman who had hit over .300 in 2009, (Pablo Sandoval), with a utility infielder who hit only .231 with nothing at stake but became a major RBI factor with games on the line, and valued defense over everything else. They counted on a twenty-one year old rookie starter, (Madison Bumgarner), to put them up three games to one and not let the Rangers back into the hunt and they took advantage of every Ron Washington/Cliff Lee mistake, (which in Washington’s case were many), and proved to all that baseball is indeed a twenty five man team game.

The Texas Rangers had a couple of advantages in this series, and while neither team seemed heavily favored over the other, could definitely be seen as a disadvantage for the Giants. The first advantage was the obvious one-Cliff Lee. A slightly better than average but solid starter during the regular seasons, Lee had become a force to be reckoned with during the playoffs over the past season two playoff seasons. This year’s playoffs against the Rays and Yankees once again showcased his invincibility in the most pressure filled of games. To become the World Series champions, The Giants would have to defeat Cliff Lee not once, but twice. Tim Lincecum would face him at least twice and would have to
be near perfect each time. Even that might not be enough. Lincecum would have to pitch at least nine innings of shutout baseball each start. Even that might not be enough.

Lee was very hittable in game one, throwing a flat fastball and struggling to locate his curve ball in game one, a game which turned out to be the sloppiest of sloppy affairs for both teams. Lee was back on track in the fifth and final game with Lee and Lincecum turning major league hitters into helpless spectators for six innings. Lee’s only mistake- a hanging cutter out over the plate to Edgar Rentaria, three run homerun, series over.

The second advantage for the Texas Rangers was a solid, everyday lineup. The Rangers had been able to put the same lineup on the field for the 2010 season, a lineup which featured power, speed and defense Rangers featured Josh Hamilton, batting champ and possible MVP, a revitalized and healthy Vlad Guerro, always potential batting champ Michael Young, the powerful Nelson Cruz (one of the few oft injured Rangers), and sensational rookie shortstop Elvis Andrus. Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy had been forced to jigsaw puzzle his weak offensive lineup often during the regular season and throughout the playoffs.

The Texas Rangers had two seemingly insurmountable advantages. The Giants had Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and dirt on their uniforms. Turned out that was more than enough.

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Email Doug Bird at d.bird@rogers.com

Suggestion for the Pittsburgh Pirates: Name Ross Ohlendorf Player-Manager

I’m pleased to present the latest guest post from Joe Guzzardi, which presents a novel solution for the woes of the Pittsburgh Pirates: the return of the player manager.

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Although a month has passed since the Pittsburgh Pirates abruptly but unsurprisingly fired manager John Russell, no successor has been named.

Does this mean that the job of piloting the Pirates is so thankless that no one is intrepid enough to assume the challenge? Or does it mean that Pirates’ brass is in the process of such a through deliberation that no stone will be left unturned.

Last year, when it became obvious that Russell wouldn’t survive to manage a fourth season, I endorsed 90-year-old Ralph Houk as Bucco skipper.

Since Houk managed the New York Yankees, the Detroit Tigers and the Boston Red Sox for a total of twenty years, he had plenty of experience. Not only did Houk win two World Series and an American League championship, he served as an Army Ranger in World War II, participated in the Normandy invasion, fought in the Battle of the Bulge, won a Silver Star and retired as a major. Houk would have been just the right guy to kick some Pirates’ butt should the need arise, as it often does.

An added Houk bonus is that he had the smarts to forge non-Yankee championship teams. In 1986, Houk became the Minnesota Twins’ Vice President and put together the 1987 World Series champion.

Unfortunately, Houk died last July thus permanently eliminating himself.

To date, the Pirates’ have interviewed Eric Wedge, Bo Porter, Tony Pena, Carlos Tosca, Jeff Bannister and John Gibbons. Bannister and Clint Hurdle, the Texas Rangers hitting coach, are still in the running.

I took an informal poll among some lifelong Pirates’ fans to measure their enthusiasm for any of the above candidates. Each name that I ticked off was met with a colossal yawn.

What the Pirates’ administration should consider during their managerial search is that they need to create a buzz so that fans will have something exciting to talk about going into 2011.

Appointing an obscure major league bench coach or unheard of minor league manager and introducing him as “a sound fundamental baseball tactician” or “a proven leader whose strength is teaching young players” just won’t cut it.

In my July blog, I suggested that any of the Pirates’ broadcasters—Steve Blass, Bob Walk or Kent Tekulve—would make an excellent manager. They’re all former Pirates and beloved in the Pittsburgh community.

That idea went nowhere. Undaunted, today I offer another seemingly radical solution but also one that would energize fans. The Pirates should name pitcher Ross Ohlendorf the new manager.

Ohlendorf would become the fourth Pirates’ player-manager following Fred Clarke, Honus Wagner and Pie Traynor. In its history, baseball has had more than 225 player-managers, the last of which was Pete Rose twenty-five years ago.

Why would I pick Ohlendorf?

First, he’s an articulate Princeton University graduate who could interact effectively with the media, one of Russell’s shortcomings. Ohlendorf majored in Operations Research and Financial Management; his thesis analyzed the baseball draft in which he examined the top 100 picks from 1989 to 1993, then tracked the progress of each player for a 12-year period to determine the value of the picks. By weighing the original signing bonus against the financial return the player provided the team, Ohlendorf determined whether the team drafted wisely.

Ohlendorf’s paper was so impressive that Sigma XI, the Scientific Research Society, awarded him an associate membership.

Second, Ohlendorf is popular in the club house. Former Pirates shortstop Jack Wilson said that Ohlendorf takes the kidding about his intelligence in stride.

Third, despite a sorry (1-11, 4.07 ERA) 2010 season, Ohlendorf is a hard throwing pitcher who along with other young Buccos like Neil Walker, Andrew McCutcheon, Pedro Alvarez and Jose Tabata, could contribute to a Pirates turn around

Although Ohlendorf is only 27, his age doesn’t preclude success. In 1942, the Cleveland Indians’ picked 25-year-old Lou Boudreau as its manager. By 1948, under Boudreau’s direction, the Indians won the World Series over the Boston Braves.

In 1924 Bucky Harris, also 27 but younger than two-thirds of his players, led the Washington Senators to a World Series victory by beating the New York Giants.

Obviously, neither Boudreau nor Harris had any previous managerial experience.

I’m sure only a few readers will take my Ohlendorf suggestion seriously. Even I’m not totally convinced that’s it’s a good idea. What I know is this: desperate times call for drastic measures.

As the Pirates face its nineteenth consecutive losing season, the times in Pittsburgh are nothing if not desperate.

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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

Former San Francisco Giants reflect on the 2010 World Series victory

San Francisco Giants team president Larry Baer said it. The Santa Rosa Press-Democrat reported that at a ceremony following the team’s championship parade in San Francisco on Wednesday, Baer told the crowd:

The men sitting on our stage over here, the 2010 Giants, honor not just our city and not just our remarkable 2010 Giants fans. They pay tribute to the 1,500 men who wore the San Francisco Giants uniform before them, from Willie Mays to Dirty Al Gallagher, from Willie McCovey to Felipe Alou, from Will Clark to Barry Bonds, from Orlando Cepeda to Jim Davenport to Gaylord Perry to Juan Marichal to Murph (clubhouse manager Mike Murphy) … You guys brought it home for them. Thank you.

The championship was about many things for a team that hadn’t won a World Series since 1954. It was about Billy O’Dell, who won 19 games for the 1962 team that nearly won the World Series. It was about Gallagher, who played on the 1971 Giants club that lost in the National League Championship Series. It was about his teammate Ken Henderson, who was to succeed Willie Mays, departed after eight inglorious seasons in 1972, and rejoined the organization this year. It was about announcer Hank Greenwald, who spent more seasons in San Francisco than any current Giant.

O’Dell, Gallagher, Henderson, and Greenwald share one thing in common, beyond their ties to the Giants organization: Each appreciated the championship and, in their time in San Francisco, endured frustrations.

For O’Dell, it was sitting on the bench in Game 7 of the ’62 Series with two outs in the ninth inning, the potential tying and winning runs on second and third, and Willie McCovey at bat. When McCovey smoked a line drive, O’Dell said in an interview in May, he assumed the Giants had won the title, but Yankees second baseman Bobby Richardson snared the ball and ended the game. On Wednesday, I called O’Dell, now 77 and asked if he could have guessed the Giants would need nearly 50 more years for their championship.

“I never thought it would take them that long, because they had some pretty good ball clubs,” O’Dell said. “But I was glad they finally did it. They deserve it.”

Greenwald broadcast games for a couple of those Giants clubs in two stints in San Francisco totaling 18 years. I asked Greenwald how these Giants compared to the ’89 team that was swept by the Oakland Athletics in the Battle of the Bay World Series. He said the depth of pitching on the 2010 club was much stronger. I also asked the 75-year-old Detroit native — who I previously interviewed in August — how the feeling from this year’s World Series compared to 1945 when his hero Hank Greenberg led the Tigers to a championship.

“Of course, 1945 was the first one,” Greenwald said. “I was 10 years old and the impressions were much stronger at that particular point. You’re a 10-year-old kid, and boy, this was Christmas, this was Disneyland if there was one at that time, it was everything rolled into one. I don’t think you ever forget the first World Series that you actually go to or are able to follow it, especially in your hometown.”

Gallagher knows that feeling all too well. The San Francisco native grew up in the Mission District, started going to Giants games at Seals Stadium in 1958, and remembers the ’62 World Series. A first round draft pick by San Francisco in 1965 and a three-year veteran of the team, the 65-year-old Gallagher rooted for these Giants from his Texas home. “I couldn’t be happier that the Giants won the pennant,” Gallagher said.

For Henderson, it was something more. Following his retirement from baseball in 1980, Henderson spent many years in the corporate world, occasionally wondering what might have been in his playing career. The 64-year-old Henderson took a job with the Giants in March selling luxury corporate boxes, bringing him full circle in baseball, in more ways than he could have anticipated.

“I could have gone back to the organization four years ago or I could have come back next year or the year after,” said Henderson, who was at every game of the World Series. “Not to say that we won’t win it next year, but I came back during a year that we actually won it all, and, you know, I think somebody was looking out for me. It’s just very special. I kind of get broken up when I think about it actually.”

Any player/Any era: Joe DiMaggio

What he did: In 13 seasons between 1936 and 1951, all with the New York Yankees, the Hall of Fame centerfielder hit .325 with 361 home runs and three American League Most Valuable Player awards. Had DiMaggio not lost three prime years to World War II, battled injuries, or retired at 36, he may have had 500 home runs and 3,000 hits. Regardless, he’s an all-time great.

Era he might have thrived in: DiMaggio probably would have thrived playing whenever. In fact, he may have been good enough to succeed where few did: Candlestick Park in the 1970s and ’80s, with his hometown San Francisco Giants.

Why: I was motivated to write this column after the Giants clinched their first World Series since 1954. A reader recently sent me an email with the header, “Joe DiMaggio Lucky to be a Brownie,” suggesting DiMaggio could have raked on some abominable, but good-hitting St. Louis Browns teams of the 1930s and ’40s. I agree DiMaggio could have boosted his lifetime numbers playing for bottom-barrel clubs in St. Louis. In San Francisco, though, he may have helped toward a greater good.

I’m preparing something for Friday on players and personnel affiliated with the Giants near-miss clubs over the years, and on Wednesday, I talked to Hank Greenwald who broadcast for San Francisco from 1979 through 1986 and again from 1989 through 1996. I asked Greenwald what kept the Giants from a championship, and he suggested Candlestick, saying the park factors cost the team a few wins a season.

With its fierce winds, persistent chills, and vast confines, Candlestick surely got the best of most Giants hitters with few exceptions. Essentially, from Willie Mays’ departure in 1972 to Will Clark’s arrival in 1986, Candlestick was the place would-be successors went to die. DiMaggio might have been the bridge. I ran some conversions, and if DiMaggio played his entire career in San Francisco, say 1975 through 1990, it would have been fairly similar in trajectory and lifetime numbers to Jim Rice, another star who struggled with injuries and retired at 36.

Here’s a chart with DiMaggio’s converted numbers and Rice’s actual stats:

AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA
DiMaggio 8091 1415 2423 426 142 399 1569 34 869 447 .299
Rice 8225 1249 2452 373 79 382 1451 58 670 1423 .298


Since the Baseball Writers Association of America inducted Rice on his fifteenth try, I’m guessing DiMaggio would make it sooner. He wouldn’t be a first-ballot pick, but then, he wasn’t in real life.

On a side note, I gave DiMaggio credit for the 1943-45 seasons he lost playing in World War II and used those for his 1982-84 years with the Giants. I took DiMaggio’s 162-game averages if he’d played every year of his career on the 1982, 1983, and 1984 Giants and then converted the stats to 117-game seasons, the average number of contests DiMaggio got in during his actual career. My method isn’t perfect, I realize, but it gives a general idea of how DiMaggio may have fared and what those years may have added to his lifetime totals.

The big winner here is the Giants, who get good work from DiMaggio at the right times (plus excellence at plenty of rotten times– his 1941 season converts to 28 home runs, 108 RBI and a .330 batting average for the 75-86 1980 Giants.) DiMaggio’s 1948 season, which I used for San Francisco’s 1987 NLCS club would equal 39 home runs, 150 RBI and a .309 batting average, good perhaps for a Giants’ championship and a DiMaggio MVP. He’d decline in 1988, along with his team, but rebound in 1989; his 1950 season converts to 29 home runs, 100 RBI, and a .271 batting average. Clark and Kevin Mitchell would be the bigger stars by then but it would be a great final year in the sun for DiMaggio, perhaps enough for the Giants to beat the A’s in the Battle of the Bay.

DiMaggio’s numbers drop again in San Francisco for his possible final season, 1990, but in this era, he might capitalize on his ’89 season and go to the American League as a free agent to DH another few years. Perhaps DiMaggio would get 3,000 hits and close to 500 home runs. DiMaggio might not have the reputation he still enjoys, even in death, but he’d be a player worth celebrating– perhaps more so.

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 Baker, Jackie Robinson, Jimmy Wynn, Johnny FrederickJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr.Nate ColbertPete Rose, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Clemente, Sam Thompson, Sandy KoufaxShoeless Joe JacksonThe Meusel BrothersTy Cobb

2010 and 1954 Share Two Winning Formulas: Off Season Acquisitions and Shrewd Managing

I’m pleased to present the latest guest post from Joe Guzzardi, which offers a historical look at the San Francisco Giants’ 2010 World Series victory.

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I’m old enough to remember watching the 1954 World Champion New York Giants beat the Cleveland Indians on television. And as a native Californian who lived close to AT&T Park and attended numerous San Francisco Giants games, I see several parallels between the two clubs that brought both to baseball’s pinnacle.

The 1954 Giants, much like its San Francisco stepchild, won the World Series in large part because of key offseason acquisitions and brilliant managing throughout the year, especially in the post season. Both Leo Durocher and Bruce Bochy made all the right moves even when they seemed wrong.

The Giants had come off a dismal, fifth-place 1953 season that was hampered by poor pitching. From the starting rotation of Ruben Gomez, Larry Jansen, Sal Maglie, Jim Hearn and Al Worthington, only Gomez finished above .500

In February 1954, Durocher approached owner Horace Stoneham to urge him to trade for southpaw Johnny Antonelli, an inexperienced and indifferent (17-22) Milwaukee Braves’ starter.

Durocher knew that Willie Mays would soon return from a 21-month absence spent serving as a U.S. Army private and suggested offering extra outfielder Bobby Thompson straight up for Antonelli. Although Stoneham had a sentimental attachment to Thompson because of his 1951 pennant winning home run heroics against the Brooklyn Dodgers, he reluctantly approved the trade.

As was so often the case, Durocher’s insights proved correct. Antonelli anchored the National League’s best staff, went 21-7, led the league in shut outs (6) and ERA (2.30). Over his career with the New York and San Francisco Giants, Antonelli was a six time All Star.

By mid-July, the excitement surrounding Mays’ return was at a feverish pitch. Mays had 36 homers and was on pace to break Babe Ruth’s record. Nevertheless, Durocher insisted that Mays change his batting stance by coming out his crouch and moving his feet closer together. Although Mays only hit five more home runs, he batted at a .379 clip for the rest of the season to finish with a league-leading .345 average, 110 RBIs and 45 homers and wrap up the Most Valuable Player award.

When the Giants unexpectedly got to the World Series, the team was a prohibitive 8-5 underdog against the 111-game winning Cleveland Indians. Odds against a Giants four game sweep were 22-1. The reasons: Bob Lemon (23-7), Early Wynn (23-11), Mike Garcia (19-8), Bob Feller (13-3) and Art Houteman (15-7) with the lefty-righty tandem of Don Mossi (6-1) and Ray Narleski (3-3) waiting in bullpen. In the unlikely event of a complete collapse, Hal Newhouser (7-2) could be summoned by manager Al Lopez. The Indians, with four future Hall of Famers on their pitching staff, looked unbeatable.

All that changed during Game One. The Indians sent ace Bob Lemon to the mound to face the crafty veteran Sal Maglie. With the score tied 2-2 in the bottom of the eighth, Maglie gave up a walk to Larry Doby and a single to Al Rosen. Durocher called for lefty Don Little to replace Maglie.

The next batter, Vic Wertz, then hit his titanic 420 foot fly ball to deep center field– commonly referred to as “The Catch”– where Mays ran it down. (See “The Catch” here.) Now with runners on second and third but only one out, Durocher returned to the mound to make another pitching change.

Durocher’s obvious bull pen call would be to Giants’ closer Hoyt Wilhelm (12-4, 2.10 ERA and seven saves). Instead he tapped 36-year-old Marv Grissom, in his first full year as a reliever. Grissom struck out pinch hitter Dave Pope and, to end the threat, retired catcher Jim Hegan on a harmless fly ball.

Grissom pitched 2-2/3 scoreless innings to get the 5-2 win after pinch hitter Dusty Rhodes hit a three-run bottom of the tenth homer.

When questioned after the game about his strategy, Durocher explained that still fresh in his mind was the eighth inning of a September 10 game when four Wilhelm knucklers got past catcher Ray Katt. With the potential winning runs on second and third, Durocher didn’t want to risk a passed ball.

After the shocking Giants’ first game victory, the Indians folded in the next three contests.

Comparing the two series upsets side by side, the 1954 Giants’ sweep was a ten on the baseball Richter Scale. As heartwarming as the 2010 Giants’ upset is, it registers only a 5. Everyone knew that the Giants have outstanding pitching and that in a best of seven series, anything is possible.

The Giants’ victory parade begins on Market Street in San Francisco today at 10 a.m. local time. As far as Giants fans are concerned, this morning and for many mornings to come a 5 is as good as a ten.

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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? Will Clark

Claim to fame: With the World Series between the San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers in the books, I thought I’d devote a column to one of the best Hall of Fame-worthy players not in Cooperstown who played for both teams. With apologies to Bobby Bonds, Kenny Lofton, and Bill Madlock, who could each merit consideration, I’m referring to former All Star first baseman Will Clark. Here’s a photo from Monday night of Clark celebrating the Giants’ first title since 1954.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should say Clark is my all-time favorite player. I loved the black under his eyes, his Ted Williams-esque swing, and his ra-ra demeanor, but more than anything, I loved the fact he was it for the Giants when I was growing up in Northern California. My best friend Devin and I idolized Will the Thrill; Devin once had his picture taken with a cardboard cutout of our hero at Candlestick Park, and Devin’s mom told me Clark had stopped by the house. Man was I envious.

All this being said, I think Clark had a Hall of Fame career on merit, a career that’s gone largely unrewarded since it was curtailed by injuries and took place during the Steroid Era.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Clark received 4.4 percent of the vote in 2006, his only year on the Cooperstown ballot for the Baseball Writers Association of America. Clark will be eligible for enshrinement through the Veterans Committee in 2020.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? My quick answer is: Yes, of course. It’s my blog, and Clark’s my guy. But I realize I should say more.

Some may ask why I didn’t write about Clark as soon as I had the chance. I’ve held back for a few reasons. First, I didn’t want to seem like a homer, someone who pulls relentlessly for their home team or star; I strive to be objective and try to write for a national audience. Also, I wanted my Clark column to be perfect (which this isn’t.) Finally, for a long time, I didn’t understand Clark’s case.

When Clark was wrapping up his career in 2000– heck, when he was in his last year with the Giants in 1993, a forgotten man during Barry Bonds’ first MVP season in San Francisco, I could only wonder what might have been. Clark seemed on-track for Cooperstown early on before derailing around 30, yet another Don Mattingly or Rocky Colavito or any number of other would-be legends. Clark’s career lines of 284 home runs and 2,176 hits seemed pedestrian, especially for his era.

A decade on, the number of star players from the 1990s who were on steroids continues to rise, and Clark’s lifetime numbers look better (assuming he was clean, of course), like his .303 batting average and .880 OPS. Other stats that have gained significance like his 137 OPS+ and his 57.5 career WAR seem to place Clark on the fringe of Cooperstown, a Veterans Committee candidate better than many enshrined. Clark was also a crack defender, had the throwback personality, and this 2007 Beyond the Boxscore post noted his five-year prime was better than Hall of Famers like Eddie Murray, Willie McCovey, and Harmon Killebrew.

At least to me, Clark represented many things right with baseball in a troubling time in its history. Call me biased, but from his era, Clark is one of the few players I want to remember or whose Hall of Fame plaque I would care to look at.

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, Larry Walker, Maury Wills, Mel Harder, Pete Browning, Rocky Colavito, Steve Garvey, Thurman Munson, Tim Raines

Could Nolan Ryan pull a Satchel Paige?

Before Game 3 of the World Series, fans got a treat. Cam Inman of Bay Area News Group reported:

Nolan Ryan’s ceremonial first pitch was a 68 mph fastball – not bad for a 63-year-old man wearing a dress shirt and necktie. It also was low and wide, but catcher Pudge Rodriguez, another Rangers legend, made it OK by scooping the ball out of the dirt.

It makes me wonder what Ryan could do with proper attire and a little training. Like fellow 60-something Sylvester Stallone in the latest Rocky film, I think Ryan could face younger adversaries if he wanted. With some effort, Ryan — who was arguably one of the most durable pitchers all-time during his career — might top 80 mph in a scoreless inning or two of relief against a weak-hitting team like the Pirates or Nationals. I’d certainly pay to see it.

Ryan wouldn’t be the first man to pitch again following a long break. Here are six pitchers who showed their stuff years after retirement:

Satchel Paige: Ryan can look to Paige for inspiration if he decides to pitch again. Paige may have been older than Ryan is now when he made a start for the Kansas City Athletics on September 25, 1965. Officially 59 but perhaps as old as 65 — depending on the source — the Negro Leagues legend had last pitched in the big leagues in 1953. Paige pitched scoreless ball in his return, though his relief lost the game. In September, Joe Guzzardi wrote a fine recap of the game.

Dizzy Dean: The same team that had Paige on its pitching staff in the early 1950s, the St. Louis Browns, gave their broadcaster Dean a start on September 28, 1947. The 37-year-old future Hall of Famer, who quit playing in 1941 due to injuries, said on-air he could pitch better than nine out of 10 Browns. Dean backed up his talk with four scoreless innings before hitting a single and pulling a muscle rounding first. His reliever gave up five runs in the ninth inning and lost.

Chief Bender: Tom Swift wrote in his biography of the Deadball Era hurler about how in July 1925, as a 41-year-old coach for the Chicago White Sox, Bender made a relief appearance in a 6-3 loss to Boston. Swift wrote of Bender retiring the first three batters he faced before surrendering two runs on a walk and home run.

Jim Palmer, Jim Bouton: I wrote of these pitchers in September 2009 and again in February, about how Palmer had an aborted comeback in 1991, and Bouton pitched five games for the Atlanta Braves in September 1978, eight years after he published Ball Four and quit playing.

Sandy Koufax: The Dodgers Hall of Fame southpaw never pitched again in the majors after retiring at 30 in 1966, but Koufax brought the heat at Dodger batting practices and camps into the 1980s. Jane Leavy wrote in her biography on Koufax:

It was at one of those Dodger Fantasy Camps that he first met Dave Wallace. Wallace watched from the third base coaching box the transformation in the aging left-hander when his mettle was questioned. “He was in throwing shape because he had thrown batting practice in the summer for the minor league teams. And you’re throwing the ball and having a little fun and some wise-ass fantasy camper walking up to the plate says, ‘Goddamn, Koufax, is that all you’ve got?’”

“I mean to tell you, his eyes changed like that. He threw four or five pitches there’s no doubt in my mind were on the verge of ninety miles an hour. ‘Take that, you smart-ass sonofabitch.'”

Ryan’s not the only pitcher who could join these ranks. For what it’s worth, here are five retired pitchers I believe could pitch again: Mike Mussina, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling.