Monthly Archives: December 2010

Stepping Back and Ahead

The following article was written by Gerry Garte

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Two unexpected visitors met at the World Series last season. The Giants and Rangers made it an amazing year. Roy Halladay and Josh Hamilton were exceptional. The pitching was no-hit strong.

It will be tough to match the excitement of the 2010 season. But add your team — Giants not included — to the top of the mix in ‘11, and the excitement doubles.

Many Major League records were set in 2010. Here are my favorites:

  • Most consecutive seasons of 30 or more HRs at the start of a career, 10 seasons, Albert Pujols
  • Most consecutive seasons of 100 or more RBI at the start of a career, 10 seasons, Albert Pujols
  • Most consecutive  seasons with 200 or more hits at the start of a career, 10 seasons, Ichiro Suzuki
  • Most pinch hit home runs in a career, 23, Matt Stairs
  • Most consecutive hits in an inning, 11, 8th inning, Colorado Rockies

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Baseball is the greatest of games, but it’s the administration of the game that’s been a work in progress. Putting dollar signs aside, here are two recommendations to improve the game:

o   Let kids enjoy more of the World Series

When I was a kid, Madie Ives Elementary School knew the importance of the World Series, particularly on a school day. The people in charge figured it’d be a good idea to turn on the two cafeteria TVs for the kids and teachers having a late lunch. We’d watch pre-game and part of the first inning before heading back to class. When the final bell rang, I was either biking or running home. I got there about the fifth or sixth inning. It was great, and the TV was all mine. The parents were at work, and my sister was out. Life was good. Series games in the daytime were outstanding. Then TV made its play, and by the late ‘80s World Series games were played exclusively at night, running well past many bedtimes.

What I’d like to see in 2011: Baseball deciding in the near future to play two of the first four World Series games during daytime. Opening game of the World Series would become a significant daytime event. When the Series shifted, either Game 3 or Game 4 would be a day game. It will bring more of the best baseball to more youngsters.

o   Raise standards for the wood in bats

I’m repeating myself, but it’s worth repeating. Shattering and splintering wood bats have been a growing health hazard to pro ballplayers the past few years. Last season, 2010, included a sobering moment on a Major League diamond. It happened when Tyler Colvin of the Cubs was impaled by a shattered bat in Miami. The wood pierced his upper chest and fell to the ground. It was not life-threatening, but he missed the last two weeks of the season. A few days later, Cliff Lee of the Rangers was nicked behind the ear by a splintered bat. It drew little blood, but it was a very close call.  I took it as another warning to baseball to establish stricter standards for the wood in bats, and the bat-making process. How many issues can be more important than player safety?

What I’d like to see in 2011: New standards to reduce shattered bats by 80% in the first year.

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My first game: July 1962, 11 years old, my parents, sister and I were in Dorchester, outside Boston, visiting my grandparents. The New York Yankees were also in town. So my Dad got tickets and took me. Funny thing, not so funny, he left one of the two tickets on top of the TV set in my grandparents’ apartment. We found this out at the Fenway Park gate. Out of my view, the issue was resolved, and my Dad smoothly took us to our seats in right field. My first look at a Major League field was majestic. There was a bright green below — spreading to the leftfield monster – and clear blue above. The baseball diamond, at any playing age, was gladly familiar. There were many home runs in the game. The one I remember was by Mickey Mantle to right center. By age 30, Mantle was a legend. The Yankees won the game, 12-4.  It was a wonderful first Big League experience.

–Gerry Garte (Dad:  Sam Garte, age 93)

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This article was written by Gerry Garte

Any player/Any era: Bob Watson

What he did: File Watson with Jimmy Wynn, Frank Howard, and Nate Colbert as another player who might have been a Hall of Famer in a different era. Watson hit .295 with 184 home runs and a lifetime OPS+ of 129 in 19 seasons from 1966 to 1984, playing his best seasons in a time and ballpark that favored pitchers. His name came up in a Baseball Think Factory forum discussion this week on Cooperstown. Someone mentioned George Kelly, noting, “His closest BBREF cop is, as Bill James pointed out, Bob Watson, who played his prime in the Astrodome and actually out OPS+s Kelly by 20 points.”

Playing his prime seasons in an inversely stronger era for hitters, Kelly put up roughly the same offensive stats as Watson. Kelly’s .297 career batting average, 109 OPS+ and 24.3 career WAR rank him as one of the weakest players in Cooperstown, and were it not for Frankie Frisch lobbying to get several of his teammates into the Hall of Fame while he served as head of the Veterans Committee, it seems unlikely Kelly would have a plaque. So, I must ask: what if Watson got the same opportunities as Kelly?

Era he might have thrived in: Kelly played 16 seasons between 1915 and 1932. Were Watson to play these years, his numbers might compare to Charlie Gehringer or Earl Averill: batting average about .320, 200 home runs, and an OPS+ around 130. Not every 1920s and ’30s player with these general stats is enshrined, but many are. Watson, a two-time All Star who got 0.7 percent of the Hall of Fame vote his only year on the ballot, would probably have received at least far greater consideration had his career occurred fifty years earlier.

Why: The past 40 years has seen a revolution in baseball research led by James. We know now that a .330 batting average from 1932 when hitters ruled is far different than the same clip from 1968 when pitchers dominated. But for all the research advances, voting for Cooperstown is only slightly more enlightened. It’s better with the writers than with the Veterans Committee which recently favored Dave Concepcion over statistically-superior candidate Ted Simmons, but voting still generally lacks context. The Hall of Fame doesn’t deal in hypotheticals, in what might have been had circumstances been fairer.

What still remains the greatest Hall of Fame determinants are traditional stats, and Watson would rack them up playing in the greatest offensive period in baseball history short of the steroid era. He’d clean up playing on a Giants team packed with future Hall of Famers like Bill Terry, Mel Ott, and Frisch, not to mention all the men Frisch later enshrined. I also doubt the cavernous Polo Grounds would be anything Watson hadn’t already encountered playing in the Astrodome, which I assume is now being used to park jets in the absence of baseball.

To give an example of what Watson missed with his era, his 1976 season with the Astros would convert to 1925 with the Giants here. His stats from each of those years are listed below as well as Kelly’s 1925 numbers:

G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG
Watson ’76 Astros 157 585 76 183 31 3 16 102 3 62 64 .313 .377 .458
Watson ’25 Giants 149 593 97 211 36 3 18 129 3 71 61 .356 .423 .518
Kelly ’25 Giants 147 586 87 181 29 3 20 99 5 35 54 .309 .350 .471


Basically, if in some baseball version of “Freaky Friday” these men got to switch places, Watson would have a few more seasons like these, buttressed with most of his other ones above .300 and be later toasted by Frisch at a Hall of Fame dinner. Kelly would get to follow his nondescript career with a stint as general manager for George Steinbrenner and the Yankees, if he was lucky. And if Kelly was simply acting out the film version of “Freaky Friday,” he’d be Lindsay Lohan and preparing to ring in the new year at the Betty Ford Center. Some men have all the luck.

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

Others in this series: Albert Pujols, Bad News Rockies, Barry Bonds, Bob Caruthers, Bob Feller, Dom DiMaggio, Frank Howard, Fritz MaiselGeorge CaseHarmon KillebrewHome Run Baker, Jack Clark, Jackie Robinson, Jimmy Wynn, Joe DiMaggio, Johnny FrederickJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr., Lefty O’Doul, Nate ColbertPete Rose, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Clemente, Sam Thompson, Sandy KoufaxShoeless Joe Jackson, Stan Musial, The Meusel BrothersTy Cobb, Willie Mays

Happy New Year, Humm Baby

In February, Humm-Baby will turn 81. I don’t want 2010, the year of the San Francisco Giants, to end without a tribute to Roger Craig who piloted the team from 1986 to 1992.

Under Craig’s direction and propelled by Will Clark (.333, 23 HRs and 111 RBIs) and Kevin Mitchell (.291, 47, 125), the 1989 Giants won the National League pennant.

But despite his managerial achievements, Craig is best remembered as a pitcher—particularly a pitcher for the early, pathetic New York Mets.

In the original expansion draft held on October 10 1961, Craig was a first pool, $75,000 pick. Despite being called “first pool,” the best players available were actually the “premium” level which cost the new franchises $125,000.

But since Craig had posted two decent seasons with Los Angeles in 1959 and 1960 (11-5, 2.06; 8-3, 3.27) by relying on the pitch he developed, the split fingered fastball, the Mets’ felt he was worth a shot.

In a sense, the Mets’ gamble paid off. During the Mets’ first two seasons Craig, as the staff’s “ace,” gave his team plenty of innings. In 1962 and 1963, Craig started 64 games and relieved in another 24 for a total of 469 innings pitched.

Unfortunately, since Craig toiled for the Mets’, he also racked up back to back seasons of 10-24 and 5-22. Craig became the first National League pitcher to lose 20 games in back to back seasons since Paul Derringer in 1933 and 1934 and the first New York hurler to have the same misfortune since Brooklyn’s Harry McIntyre in 1905 and 1906.

In 1963, Craig lost 22 consecutive games. On April 29, Craig beat the Dodgers for his second win of the young season. Craig didn’t win again until August 9 against the Chicago Cubs.

Sadly, despite trying everything including changing his uniform number from 38 to 13, Craig couldn’t catch a break. Of Craig’s 22 losses, five came by 1-0 scores. Finally, Craig got lucky. With the Cubs game tied at 3-3, a bottom of the ninth grand slam home run by Mets’ third baseman Jim Hickman took Craig out of his misery and put his record at 3-20.

Immediately, Craig’s sour luck returned. To put his season total at 22 losses, Craig was out dueled in his next two starts by the Houston Colt .45s’ Don Nottebart and the Dodgers’ Sandy Koufax by scores of—you guessed it—1-0.

When last heard from, Craig had retired to his horses at the Humm Baby Ranch in the Laguna Mountains northeast of San Diego. If you’re looking for Craig, just drive to the intersection of Humm Baby Way and Roger and Carolyn Place. Who knows? When you find him, maybe Craig will show you how to throw a split fingered fast ball.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Juan Gonzalez

Claim to fame: Gonzalez was one of the best power hitters of the 1990s, smacking 339 of his 434 home runs in the decade. He didn’t have the most homers in the ’90s, thanks to Mark McGwire who had 405, though Gonzalez topped 40 homers five seasons, led the American League in dingers twice, and also drove in runs at a machine-like pace, averaging better than one RBI per game in 1996 and again in 1998. Compiling these numbers in an earlier era, Gonzalez would be a cinch for induction. As it stands, he looks like a long shot. In fact, he could be one of the best one-and-done candidates.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Having last played in 2005, Gonzalez joins Jeff Bagwell, Larry Walker, and Kevin Brown as a first time candidate this year on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot for Cooperstown. Gonzalez needs 75 percent of the vote to be enshrined and will be disqualified from future writers ballots if he gets less than 5 percent of the vote. Crazier things have happened. Just ask Will Clark, Bobby Grich, Lou Whitaker and so many other solid players overlooked by the writers their only time on the ballot.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? No, of course not, though I suspect people will be grouping Gonzalez in the “I wouldn’t enshrine him, but he deserved a little more consideration” camp of players before too long.

He already has some supporters. Gonzalez recently tied for 61st place out of more than 300 players in a poll I conducted to determine the 50 best baseball players not in the Hall of Fame. After I published the results of that project, one person went so far as to publicly shame us for not ranking Gonzalez higher. I was a bit of an ass in my response to his comment, though I don’t like being condescended to, and I believe we were more than fair in our voting. Frankly, I think Gonzalez got a much higher percentage of the vote with us, 23.8 percent, than he’ll get with the writers. I’ll be astonished if Gonzalez tops 20 percent with them.

Why am I against enshrining Gonzalez? Simple. I, like a lot of other fans, writers, and baseball folk (such as Gonzalez’s owner, Tom Hicks and his teammate Jose Canseco) think he used steroids. I’m willing to excuse Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez, and any other elite player who may have juiced, since I believe they would have put up Hall of Fame numbers clean; Gonzalez on the other hand, not so much. Throw in the fact that Gonzalez played his best years in Texas, was effectively done at 32, and would have one of the worst career defensive WAR ratings at -8.8 of any enshrined position player and honoring him starts to seem a little crazy.

If we’re going to do crazy, let’s do crazy right. Let’s induct Canseco, whose Hall of Fame speech I would pay to see.

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

Others in this series: Al OliverAlbert BelleBert Blyleven, Billy Martin, Cecil TravisChipper JonesDan QuisenberryDave ParkerDon Mattingly, Don NewcombeGeorge Steinbrenner, George Van Haltren, Jack MorrisJoe CarterJohn SmoltzKeith HernandezLarry WalkerMaury WillsMel HarderPete Browning, Phil Cavarretta, Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar, Rocky Colavito, Ron Guidry, Steve Garvey, Ted Simmons, Thurman MunsonTim Raines, Will Clark

Fredrico’s starting lineup of players not in Cooperstown

I got a Christmas Day email from a reader, Fredrico Brilhart regarding a post from September, Clash of the titans. I had offered a starting lineup of some of the best baseball players not in the Hall of Fame to compete against a lineup created by Bobby Aguilera for Seamheads.com.

I assumed my lineup would reign supreme, since Aguilera mostly picked players with high career WAR totals while I opted for big names who had shorter careers but, I figured, better peak value. Michael Lynch, the founder of Seamheads.com input the lineups Aguilera and I created into a run generator and determined Aguilera might have the advantage.

Fredrico went another direction. His lineup brims with names probably familiar to supporters of the Hall of Merit on BaseballThinkFactory.org, but obscure if not completely foreign to most fans. In fact, I hadn’t heard of most of them until I became aware of the Hall of Merit earlier this year, and I still don’t know much beyond names. Fredrico’s email begs the question: Could a team of veritable unknowns, at least to me, annihilate my squad? Might I be wrong again?

Fredrico writes:

I am only using one player that appears on either of those teams and that is Spottswood Poles, whom I have ranked in my listings as the 2nd most qualified for the Hall of Fame, not in the Hall of Fame, that is eligible. A personal favorite of mine….

For a team of this nature, I will value peak value over career value and therefore some might have earned the right for induction into the Hall of Fame in my thinking, before some on my peak value team that is listed here. I have tried to keep position integrity intact, but will make some logical shifts to make the team stronger.

I think this team would crush either the Aguilera or Womack teams in a seven game series or in a 162 game season.

Fredrico’s batting order
1- Spottswood Poles – CF B-L
2- Dick Lundy – SS B-B [ he is Ozzie & Aparicio with a 60 to 80 + higher BA ] King Richard is my choice for the greatest plaer not in the HOF that is eligible
3- Dobie Moore – 2B [ he was a SS, but is moved to get him in the line up ]
4- John Beckwith – 3B [ can also play SS, 1B & would be the 3rd string C ]
5- platoon at DH > Lefty O’ Doul B-L vs RHP … Frank Howard vs LHP
6- platoon in RF > Chino Smith B-L vs RHP … Rocky Colavito vs LHP
7- Mark McGwire – 1B ( steroid use should void him from going into the HOF )
8- platoon in LF > Tony Oliva [ he was a RF, but is moved ] B-L vs RHP … Minnie Minoso vs LHP
[ Joe Jackson would most likely be considered for the top choice here, but Womack had already taken him ]
9- Katsuya Nomura – C
I have not crunched the numbers, but my guess is that this team is a seven, eight or nine + runs a game offense.

The pitchers
1- John Donaldson – LHP
2- Dick Redding
3- Hippo Vaughn – LHP
4- Smokey Joe Wood
5- Spud Chandler
closer – Will Jackman ( submarine flame thrower )
RP- Webster McDonald ( submarine junk ball artist )
RP- Harry Brecheen – LHP

Bench
Alejandro Oms – OF B-L
Bill Monroe – 2B – 3B – SS
Max Bishop – 2B B-L
Omar Linares – 3B
Elston Howard – C

LET THE GAMES BEGIN !!!!!!

Fredrico seems highly knowledgeable about Negro League and other non-big league ball, and he was the person who prompted me back in June to write a post on Donaldson. I appreciate him speaking up here and encourage anyone who’s interested to do likewise.

Viewing a Memorable Trade with 20-20 Hindsight

I’m pleased to present another first guest post, this time from Brendan Bingham, a regular reader and fellow member of the Society for American Baseball Research. Brendan recently offered to write something here, and I had no idea his approach would be so analytical, research-driven, or thorough. Enjoy.

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Trades in baseball are made looking forward but judged looking backward.  The MLB Network recently broadcast a program listing the 40 most memorable trades in major league history. Brock-for-Broglio, Robinson-for-Pappas, and the multi-player deal that sent Joe Morgan to Cincinnati were among the famous trades profiled. Absent from the top-40 list was a transaction that has always fascinated me, the February 1972 trade between the Cardinals and Phillies that sent Steve Carlton to Philadelphia in exchange for Rick Wise. That deal featured two solid starting pitchers at a time when both were involved in contract negotiations. The trade greatly affected the fortunes of both men and both teams.

Career stats through 1971
Player Age W L ERA WAR
Steve Carlton 28 77 62 3.10 22.6
Rick Wise 27 75 76 3.57 13.6


Carlton had better career numbers at the time. As a result, perhaps the deal looked a bit one-sided, although not nearly as one-sided as it turned out to be. Carlton, having posted one 20-win campaign in his five full seasons with St. Louis, was a very good pitcher, but did not have the look of someone on the fast track to Cooperstown. Everything changed when he got to Philly, where he thrived, earned the nickname Lefty, and anchored the pitching staff of the team that became frequent NL East winners in the late 70s and early 80s and World Series champions in 1980.

Evaluating this trade from Philadelphia’s point of view is simple. Carlton accumulated 63.5 WAR with Philadelphia from 1972 to 1986 before a late-career shuffle among four teams for which he mostly underperformed. Meanwhile, Wise accumulated 21.5 WAR after being traded for Carlton. Not bad career numbers when coupled with Wise’s pre-1972 WAR, but as far as the trade goes, it’s big advantage to Philly at +42 WAR. Viewing the trade from the Cardinals’ side of the fence, the picture is more complicated. The numbers are not merely reversed. No, they’re much worse than that; the post-trade WAR discrepancy between Carlton and Wise greatly underestimates just how badly things turned out for St. Louis.

The Cards saw a limited benefit from Wise (8.4 WAR), as he spent only two seasons in St. Louis before being packaged with Bernie Carbo in a trade with the Boston Red Sox for Ken Tatum and Reggie Smith. Tatum did not play for St. Louis before being traded early in the ’74 season, and Smith played only three years in St. Louis, contributing 8.1 WAR to the team, before being traded to the LA Dodgers for Joe Ferguson and two other players. Much like Wise, both Carbo and Smith still had some productive years ahead of them when they left St. Louis.

In the mid-70s, the Cardinals forged a total of nine transactions involving Wise, Smith, and the players acquired for them (15 players in all, collectively the “progeny” of the Carlton trade). In the end, however, Wise and Smith were the only acquisitions from whom St. Louis derived any measurable benefit. All others either never played for the Cardinals or played only briefly and contributed only fractional (and mostly negative) WAR values.

The Cardinals’ cost-benefit summary is shown in the table below. Please note that the positive post-St. Louis WAR of Carbo and Mike Vail are included in the calculation as costs, because these players were St. Louis property traded away in multi-player deals, bundled with Carlton progeny. However, this calculation still provides a conservative estimate of the cost of the trade to St. Louis, because the post-Cardinal WAR values of Wise, Smith and the other Carlton progeny do not figure in the analysis, since these players were traded for players of equal value (at least in the eyes of the Cardinal front office) whose St. Louis WAR values do figure in the analysis, grouped under “Others.”

Carlton-Wise WAR Benefit (Cost) to St. Louis
Player Acquired Years with STL WAR with STL
Rick Wise 1972-1973 8.4
Reggie Smith 1974-1976 8.1
13 Others (0.7)
Player Dealt Years post-STL WAR post-STL
Steve Carlton 1972-1988 (61.8)
Bernie Carbo 1974-1980 (8.0)
Mike Vail 1975-1984 (2.0)
Net (56.0)


For those who prefer a more qualitative and less sabermetric recap, the Cardinals’ situation can be summed up like this: future Hall of Famer Carlton was traded for a significantly lesser player in Wise. Wise was traded for Smith, which might have been okay if it had been a 1-for-1 deal, but it wasn’t; St. Louis gave up a valuable player in Carbo. Smith was then given away in exchange for players that on balance were no better than the ones that could have been called up from the minor leagues.

The WAR stats suggest that the Cardinals missed out on 56 team wins as a result of having traded Carlton. Squandering not only Carlton’s future value, but also that of Wise, Carbo, Smith, and Vail provides a negative, if narrow, view of the Cardinal organization’s ability to evaluate talent during the 1970s. I would hope that there must have been other deals that turned out better. However, it is perhaps no coincidence that the late 70s were an uncharacteristically low period for the Cardinals, an organization that typically experiences more success than failure.

As the table below indicates, though, missing out on Carlton’s contributions did not cost the Cardinals any championships during the late 70s, since they finished far enough off the pace each year from ’75 through ‘80 that even Lefty’s pitching talents would not have been enough to land them in the NLCS.

Year Carlton-Wise WAR Benefit (Cost) to STL STL finish in NL East
1972 (6.7) 21.5 gb
1973 0.2 1.5 gb
1974 (0.6) 1.5 gb
1975 (4.4) 10.5 gb
1976 (2.7) 29 gb
1977 (8.4) 18 gb
1978 (3.5) 21 gb
1979 (3.8) 12 gb
1980 (10.3) 17 gb
1981 (5.0) 2 gb*
1982 (5.5) Won by 3
1983 (6.0) 11 gb
1984 (1.9) 12.5 gb
1985 (1.2) Won by 3
1986 2.1 28.5 gb
1987 0.7 Won by 3
1988 1.0 25 gb
Total (56.0)
* Split season


The 1980s tell a different story. The Cardinals (with one WS championship and two other NL pennants) rebounded to become one of the two dominant MLB teams of that decade (along with the Dodgers and their 1981 and 1988 World Series championships). If St. Louis had not made the Carlton-Wise deal, they might have seen even greater success during the 80s. In both ’85 and ’87, the Red Birds lost seven-game World Series. At that late point in his career it is questionable whether Carlton could have improved the Cardinals’ chances, but perhaps even a few well-timed late-inning outs from an aging Lefty might have tipped the balance in one or both of those series.

Somewhat less speculative, however, is the value that Carlton could have brought to the 1981 Cardinals. In that strike-altered season, the Cards failed to make the playoffs despite their having the best combined record in the NL East. St. Louis finished a game and a half back in the first part of that quirky split season and a half game back in the post-strike session. Carlton’s 5.4 WAR in 1981 would have served the Cardinals very well indeed. Looking backward, had St. Louis (with Steve Carlton on board) made the playoffs in 1981, they might have had the opportunity to knock off the Dodgers, something that would only have cemented their later claim on team of the decade.

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This was a guest post written by Brendan Bingham. Email Brendan at Brendan@calibertherapeutics.com

Any player/Any era: Lefty O’Doul

What he did: My SABR chapter has organized a letter-writing campaign to get O’Doul into the Hall of Fame, which makes sense seeing as we’re the Lefty O’Doul Chapter. We know there’s little chance of getting O’Doul inducted as a player, since he played just 970 games (though he got some support in my recent project to find the 50 best players not in the Hall of Fame.) We want to get O’Doul honored as an ambassador to baseball, for his work promoting the game in Japan.

I’m reminded of this since there’s another O’Doul currently on the Hall of Fame ballot, Edgar Martinez. I see many parallels. Both were ineffective early on, O’Doul as a pitcher, Martinez as a third baseman. Each found success around 30 as a hitter. Each made his mark in top hitters parks, O’Doul in the Baker Bowl, Martinez in the Kingdome. Each thrived in a time when hitters ruled baseball.

I think Martinez will eventually make Cooperstown. Though he debuted at 36.2 percent of the vote last year, his numbers seem too good to ultimately ignore, from his .300/.400/.500 splits to his .933 career OPS to his 66.9 WAR. More than that, Martinez redefined the value of a designated hitter, was one of the best bats in baseball at his peak, and seems to have played enough, at 2,055 games, to merit induction. Barring any steroid revelations, he seems like a mid-late ballot selection.

So I got to wondering: What if Lefty O’Doul had a spot in the same Mariners lineup as Martinez?

Era he might have thrived in: We’re taking O’Doul back to the Mariners of the early ’90s, before pitcher-friendly Safeco Field, before Ken Griffey Jr, Alex Rodriguez, and Randy Johnson blew town. Even if Martinez were to DH, O’Doul could play passable defense and be the left fielder Seattle never really had. He also might hit .400 with this bunch, and, with the right set of circumstances, earn his Hall of Fame plaque.

Why: O’Doul had a couple of things working against him early on. First, he came up in 1919 as a pitcher in the days before baseball had a farm system, and he debuted with a contender, the New York Yankees. In the current game, O’Doul’s strengths would likely be identified and honed long before his first day in the big leagues. If he were a top prospect, a club like the Yankees would also probably ship him to a team like the Mariners for a veteran, as New York did with Jay Buhner for Ken Phelps in 1988.

O’Doul needed a chance to play as a young, failed pitcher, and he got it in the Pacific Coast League, where he hit a combined .369 from 1924 through 1927. He re-emerged in the majors in 1928, hitting .319 with the Giants before becoming a star the following year with the Phillies. O’Doul hit .398 in 1929, and converting that season to the 1996 Mariners, O’Doul would hit .390 with 258 hits, 33 home runs, and 122 runs batted in. I’m proposing this wouldn’t be his first year in Seattle either, that like Griffey and Buhner, O’Doul would start early in the outfield.

The defense wouldn’t be pretty, though looking at O’Doul’s career defensive WAR, I was surprised to see it was only -1.1. Buhner racked up -7.7 defensive WAR playing mostly right field, and Martinez finished with a career defensive WAR of 0.3, largely because he played only 34 games in the field his final ten seasons. O’Doul wouldn’t win any Gold Gloves, but I doubt he’d be costing the Mariners many victories in the field. He’d win at least a few with his bat, since he had 21.1 WAR from 1929 to 1932.

O’Doul was back in the PCL by 1935 at 38 so he could manage his hometown San Francisco Seals. With the Seals defunct and the Giants not in a hitters park or in a league where O’Doul could DH at the end, I don’t know if he leaves Seattle. That’s how Martinez closed things out, and it worked just fine.

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

Others in this series: Albert Pujols, Bad News Rockies, Barry Bonds, Bob Caruthers, Bob Feller, Dom DiMaggio, Frank Howard, Fritz MaiselGeorge CaseHarmon KillebrewHome Run Baker, Jack Clark, Jackie Robinson, Jimmy Wynn, Joe DiMaggio, Johnny FrederickJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr.Nate ColbertPete Rose, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Clemente, Sam Thompson, Sandy KoufaxShoeless Joe Jackson, Stan Musial, The Meusel BrothersTy Cobb, Willie Mays

Baseball at Christmas (In Australia)

Several years ago at Christmas time, I’ve traveled to Australia. Since I loved their beaches, bohemian attitudes, friendly manner and love of sports, I developed an immediate kinship with Australians.
But cricket, Australia’s national sport, posed major challenges for me even though I made what I considered a serious effort to unravel its mysteries. Since the continent is gripped in cricket mania and the pubs jammed with rabid fans, I was disappointed that I couldn’t join in the fun more enthusiastically. In the end, I concluded that Americans are genetically incapable of understanding cricket.

But I took exception to my traveling partner’s comment: “Cricket is just like baseball—only more boring.”

Luckily for both of us, I could prove her wrong. I took her to see the Sydney Blues play the Perth Heat.
During Christmas in Australia, baseball is in full swing, so to speak. For the decade between 1989 and 1999, the Australian Baseball League played a relatively short season (about 60 games) but with a format similar to Major League Baseball. Regular season winners advanced to the playoffs with an eventual champion crowned.
The ABL used the designated hitter and aluminum bats for non-MLB contracted players whose participation in the league was strictly limited. But the ABL had an innovation that might help add excitement to MLB games as well as move them along faster. Under its rules, once a catcher reached base, a pinch runner could be substituted without having to take the field during the following inning. Having watched Benjie Molina glue up the base paths for years, I’m all for it.

Sadly, the ABL was short lived. Baseball just couldn’t compete with cricket for the fans’ dollar. But after twelve years of wrangling since the ABL folded in 1999, Australians, in partnership with the MLB, launched a new league in November. With baseball more global and with more extensive television and media coverage than existed the last time around, hopes are high. On the other hand, the ABL will have to compete not only with cricket but also soccer and the newly formed iiNet National Basketball League.

A final, non-baseball thought about Christmas in Australia. No matter what you’ve heard about the joys of a white Christmas or how odd it is to be in a warm weather climate during the Yule season, don’t believe a word of it. Relaxing on Bondi Beach on December 25th was fine with me. And the next morning I could read the box scores just summers back home.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Phil Cavarretta

Claim to fame: Cavarretta, who died Saturday at 94, was Mr. Cub before Ernie Banks, debuting in 1934 at 18 and playing 20 years at Wrigley Field before spending his final two seasons with the White Sox. Along the way, the first baseman made three All Star teams, hit .293 lifetime, and was National League MVP in 1945 when he hit a circuit-best .355 and led the Cubs to the World Series. Interestingly, at the time of his death, Cavarretta was the last man to have played in a game with Babe Ruth, which occurred May 21, 1935 when a bloated Bambino hit his 711th home run to help the Boston Braves to a 4-1 victory.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Cavarretta was on the Baseball Writers Association of America’s ballot for Cooperstown 12 years, peaking at 35.6 percent of the vote his final year, 1975. He can be enshrined by the Veterans Committee, through its Pre-Integration Era subcommittee for players who made their largest impact between 1871 and 1946. The subcommittee will next vote in two years, with any inductions slated for the summer of 2013.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Year in, year out, Cavarretta was good for about a .280 or .290 batting average and, when he was healthy and starting, upwards of 150 hits, and 80 or 90 runs batted in, with light power numbers and outstanding on-base percentages for his era. This may not place him close to Cooperstown, though he’d be a first ballot inductee for the Hall of Very Good or Hall of Very Interesting. Cavarretta had a career and life worth remembering even if his stats place him distantly behind a number of non-enshrined first basemen like Dick Allen, Will Clark, and Mark McGwire, among others. Cavarretta’s grandson Jeffrey Brown told the Associated Press, “We’re full of sorrow, but he lived a full, wonderful life.”

Born July 19, 1916 in Chicago, Cavarretta might have been the baseball equivalent of Kevin Bacon– he connects to a lot of people. Without checking, I wouldn’t be surprised if Cavarretta played with or against more Hall of Famers than any player. Because he played so long and in the years he did, 1934 to 1955, Cavarretta crossed paths with everyone from Ruth to Jackie Robinson to Willie Mays, and by virtue of his time in the American League at the end, Bob Feller, Mickey Mantle, and Ted Williams. Cavarretta faced Hank Greenberg, both in the 1945 World Series where he hit .423 and in 1947 when Greenberg was closing out his career with the Pirates.

Cavarretta even played a game of ping pong against actress Betty Grable in 1935 at spring training on Catalina, telling an interviewer in 2007, “And you know what, she was pretty good! I had to really concentrate to beat her, so all the guys wouldn’t get on me. But I was tricky when I played — I’d put a little slice on the ball, give it some ‘English’ — it was the only way I could stay close to her! But that was the last time I saw her.”

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

Others in this series: Al OliverAlbert BelleBert Blyleven, Billy Martin, Cecil TravisChipper JonesDan QuisenberryDave ParkerDon Mattingly, Don NewcombeGeorge Steinbrenner, George Van Haltren, Jack MorrisJoe CarterJohn SmoltzKeith HernandezLarry WalkerMaury WillsMel HarderPete Browning, Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar, Rocky Colavito, Ron Guidry, Steve Garvey, Ted Simmons, Thurman MunsonTim Raines, Will Clark

Is it time to revamp HOF voting procedures?

I’m pleased to present a guest post written by Matthew Warburg. Matthew contacted me after reading my recent post, The 50 best baseball players not in the Hall of Fame. Thus, it’s not surprising that Matthew’s debut post here is about Cooperstown.

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First of all, as this is my first contribution to this Web site, let me introduce myself. My name is Matthew Warburg, I’m 41 years old, born and raised in San Francisco, currently living in Beijing, and a life-long Giants fan. Let it be noted that the only thing worse than having to wait umpteen years for your team to finally win the World Series, is having them finally do it when you are living halfway across the world.

But I’m not writing today about the Giants, but rather, another of my passions: the Hall of Fame. Let me start by saying I think it’s too easy to get in there. I don’t think players should have fifteen shots at being voted in. I also think getting in with only one ballot of 75 percent is too low a barrier. And I don’t think the Veteran’s Committee should enshrine players. For me, the Hall of Fame should be reserved for the true greats of the game, not the merely very good. Therefore, I think it’s time to revamp the HOF voting process. I believe it should be more difficult to get in, though still fair.

I’ll begin by making a simple assertion: We know, for the most part, which players are HOF-worthy and which are not the minute they retire. Among the recently retired, for example, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez, Barry Bonds and Mike Piazza are without question HOF-worthy. We don’t even need to look at the numbers. We just know in our guts. On the other hand, there are players like Mike Mussina and Rafael Palmeiro who despite having gaudy numbers are not worthy, at least in my eyes. I just know it. Truth be told, there just aren’t many players who fall into the gray area of requiring serious debate. Most players are either one of the greats of their era (i.e someone who made opponents shiver in their spikes) or not. No discussion necessary. Thus, I think giving candidates fifteen shots at making their case rather ludicrous.

Therefore, my first suggested revamp would be to reduce the number of times a player is on the ballot to six: in the 5th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 17th, and 20th years after their retirement. This would still allow candidates to be in front of the voters for the same 15-year period between their 5th and 20th seasons of retirement as the current system, but it would make it much more difficult for them to get in through endless years of campaigning in that they would only appear on the ballot every third year.

My second suggested revamp would be to raise the thresholds for both remaining on the ballot and for gaining entrance. Nobody should be able to stay eligible after three years under 20 percent and six years under 30 percent like Bert Blyleven has or gain entrance like Jim Rice did by sneaking over the line with just over 75 percent on his last shot after fourteen rejections. So my first suggestion would be to raise the threshold for remaining on the ballot to 25 percent and to add a three strikes provision stipulating that if you receive less than 50 percent on three separate ballots you lose your eligibility. On the other side of the coin I would make enshrinement tougher by forcing candidates to earn either 75 percent of the vote three times, 80 percent twice, or 90 percent once. Definite HOFers would still get in just as easily with more than 90 percent on their first ballot, but the good but not great players whom I feel are diluting the overall quality of the Hall of Fame would have a higher hurdle to overcome.

If you want an idea of how things would have turned out over the last five years had this system been in place, note the following. Using just the new voting thresholds, only three returning players would be on the 2011 ballot: Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin, and Edgar Martinez. Bert Blyleven would have lost his eligibility in 1998 after receiving only 17.4 percent of the vote, Jack Morris in 2000 after receiving 22.2 percent of the vote, and Lee Smith in 2005 after his third ballot with less than 50 percent, and Tim Raines in 2008 after receiving only 24.3 percent on his first ballot.

Among the recently elected, Rickey Henderson, Tony Gwynn, and Cal Ripken, would still have been first ballot electees, Bruce Sutter would have lost his eligibility in 1994 after receiving 23.9 percent of the vote on his first ballot, Jim Rice would having lost his eligibility in 1997 after his third ballot with less than 50 percent, Goose Gossage would have lost his eligibility in 2002 after his third ballot with less than 50 percent, and Andre Dawson would still be eligible, needing two more ballots of more than 75 percent to get elected.

Note that if players were only on the ballot every third year instead of every year, as I have suggested, Gossage would still be eligible, needing one more ballot of 80 percent, and Rice would have remained eligible for all fifteen years without being elected. The bar for the good but not great players would be a little higher, but not insurmountable.

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This was a guest post written by Matthew Warburg. Email him at mattwarburg@hotmail.com

Nostalgia and Happy Thoughts About MLB

I’ve been as guilty as the next guy these past few weeks whining and griping about the money being shelled out for free agents, the leadership of commissioner Bud Selig, the haves getting richer and the have nots getting poorer, and a bunch of not so happy other baseball stuff. M Nor am I normally a nostalgic person but something about the cold weather, the snow, living in a hockey mad country and getting older has given me pause for thought recently. Despite my often quick to criticize attitude, I dearly love the game of baseball.

It began when I was six years old when the only game of the week was every third Saturday and was always the Yankees and always in French. A friend of mine was moving to Germany and he had an extensive collection of baseball cards which he, for reasons best known to him, decided that he would give to me. Those images leapt off the tiny pieces of cardboard, the statistics a foreign language to me. I would remove my baseball cards from their boxes and gaze longingly at the pictures of my heroes and imagine their exploits as only a child could. Baseball magazines were few and far between then, especially during the long offseason, and the local paper, such as it was, were want to cover baseball during the season, let alone the cold winter months.

Baseball was something that seemed to be mine and mine alone and my little insignificant transistor radio was my lifeline to the sounds if not the sights of major league baseball. The World Series was in October then and during the day, making my school days especially impossible to focus as I knew I was missing the games and could only imagine from newspaper accounts what they really looked, felt, sounded and smelled like. I had no idea if what I imagined was anything like the real thing but that was all I had to sustain me. I felt like the kid who loved jazz and didn’t like the rock and roll that all of his friends listened to each night-baseball was my secret almost forbidden pleasure.

Then the most wonderful thing possible happened in 1969, the Montreal Expos came into existence. Montreal was only a two hour drive and my father, God bless his soul, acquiesced a few times a year to my constant pleadings and while he wasn’t a fan and didn’t enjoy the game, would give me bus fare, some money for a bleacher seat, hot dogs and a drink, and send me on my way. My first major league game I was able to see only the centre fielder, (Adolpho Phillips), and the Cubs defeated us 10-9. I have that old tattered scorecard somewhere I think but every play is still in my mind and my first major league hot dog tasted better than anything I have eaten before or since. I wasn’t in heaven; I was in a place well beyond and above.

Each subsequent game saw my arrival at least four hours before the game began, (often the gates weren’t open yet but I always found a sympathetic security guard who would let me in as long as I was quiet. Sometimes I was able to see the players arrive on the team but but I was too much in awe to even think of asking for an autograph. There was so and so in street clothes-it never occurred to me that baseball players wore anything but their uniforms or that they ate or drank like the rest of us mere mortals. They didn’t walk on water it seemed, but put one foot in front of the other as we did.

Many years later I had the opportunity to cover the Triple A Ottawa Lynx for a website in Baltimore and then a website in Philadelphia. After each game it was my “job” to conduct clubhouse interviews and ask pertinent baseball questions to professional baseball players. I would return home after each game looking once again as the game before, “Like a six year old who had been given free reign of the local candy store”. My wife would shake her head but I knew she understood.

The Ottawa Lynx and Montreal Expos are no more and I can manage only a once or twice yearly visit to Syracuse or Pittsburgh. Those visits are more than special to me. Investors and card companies have taken the joy out of collecting of baseball cards but I still have a few boxes in the closet, digging them out on a cold winter’s day to sort them and look at them once again. MLB tv.com has come to my rescue for the past three season, allowing me to watch the game(s) of my choice from March 1st until the end of the World Series.

My little transistor radio has long disappeared and I still seldom meet someone to just sit and talk baseball. I think maybe that’s what writing about the love of my life is really all about, a subconscious connection to my baseball past and a chance to keep living that impossible dream.

Johnny Lindell: Pitcher Turned Slugger Turned Pitcher

Growing up during the 1950s in pre-Dodgers Los Angeles and rooting for the old Pacific Coast League Hollywood Stars, my baseball heroes were different from kids in New York, Chicago or St. Louis.
They pulled for the great Gotham center fielders, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Duke Snider, the Cubs’ Ernie Banks or the Cards’
incomparable Stan Musial.

My favorites didn’t leave quite the same lasting impression on baseball historians. Still, at my early age, the Stars’ were good enough for me.

One favorite had an interesting if not spectacular major league career. Johnny Lindell, the Pacific Coast League’s Most Valuable Player in 1952, broke in with the Yankees in 1941 as a 24-year-old, knuckleball specialist. Before his career ended 13 years later, Lindell shifted to the outfield and then back to the mound. In addition to the Yankees, Lindell also played for the Cardinals, the Pirates and the Phillies.

Although Lindell’s pitching career started out promisingly in Newark where in 1941 he posted a 23-4 record for the Bears, Yankee manager Joe McCarthy wasn’t convinced that a knuckleballer could be effective in the bigs.

By 1943, McCarthy switched Lindell to the outfield where he put together back-to-back seasons leading the league in triples and, over the next six years hit .275 or better four times. In 1944, Lindell’s best season, he hit .300 with 18 home runs and 103 RBIs. During the 1947 World Series
against the Brooklyn Dodgers, Lindell was nothing less than spectacular. Starting in six of the seven games in left field, Lindell lead all series regulars by hitting .500

Then, abruptly, Lindell’s bat went cold. By 1950 the Yankees, understandably unimpressed with Lindell’s .190 average shipped him to the Cardinals who promptly sold him to the Stars. Once in Hollywood, Lindell played sparingly in right field and hit .247.

Then Fred Haney, the Stars’ manager, to give Lindell another go on the mound. In two late season
appearances, Haney saw enough to give Lindell’s conversion back to the hill a full chance during the 1951 spring training.

The experiment’s results exceeded Haney’s wildest expectations. Lindell, relying almost exclusively on his knuckleball, posted a 12-9 record and a 3.03 ERA. Haney also used Lindell as a substitute outfielder, first baseman and pinch hitter. The Stars voted Lindell, who hit an impressive .292 and slugged nine home runs, the team’s Most Valuable Player.

During his league MVP year in 1952, the Stars’ won the PCL title by five games over the second place Oakland Oaks. Lindell went 24-9 with a 2.92 ERA and led the league in strike outs with 190.

Although his batting average slipped to .203, Lindell remained such a threat at the plate that Haney occasionally inserted him in the clean up spot in the order even when he was pitching.

Lindell credits his catcher, Mike Sandlock, for his success. Even though official scorers charged Sandlock with 20 passed balls, Lindell was convinced that no one could have done better with his dancing knucklers.
And Sandlock, who averaged an assist a game had an outstanding arm. His .286 average earned him a promotion to the parent Pittsburgh Pirates in 1953 even though he was 38.

Lindell was also called up; Haney resigned to take the Pirates’ helm. Most observers correctly thought that the Stars were a better team than the abysmal 1953 Pirates.

Moving to Pittsburgh was an unhappy experience for all three. Lindell went 5-16 (4.71), although the company he kept did him no favors. Traded to the Phillies in midseason, Lindell went 1-1 before
hanging up his cleats for good. Sandlock hit .231 and was also out of baseball the following year.

Haney stuck it out with the Pirates until 1955. During his three seasons at the Pirates’ helm, the Buccos had a winning percentage of .353 and finished deep in last place each year.

Then, in what must have seemed to him like a miracle from heaven, Milwaukee (Henry Aaron, Eddie Matthews, Warren Spahn, Joe Adcock etc) tapped Haney to pilot the Braves. In Haney’s four seasons, the Braves finished second twice (1956 and
1959), won the National League pennant (1958) and the World Series (1957)

Lindell promptly returned to Southern California’s Newport Beach paradise where he played golf and fished until, at age 68, he died from lung cancer.

Possible Future: Weak Division Winners Will Miss Postseason

[Editor's note: As a different picture may indicate, we're trying something new around here. Starting today, regular contributors will have their own pictures. Today's post is by Gerry Garte, who has been contributing articles every other Friday for the past couple of months.]

The following could be a story from the future.

Major League Baseball approved a policy this week that would require a division winner to finish at least one game over .500 in the regular season to advance to the division playoffs.

Should a division winner hold an 81-81 record or worse, that team would win the division, but would not be eligible to play in the postseason. To fill this vacancy, the league’s next best record would advance to the playoffs with a chance at the pennant.

Motivation for this rule quickly developed toward the end of this past season. Arizona had won in the NL West Division with a losing record of 80-82, while Houston, second in the NL Central Division, ended the season 90-72. Although the Astros were 10 games better than the Diamondbacks, their season was over. The D-Backs eventually lost in division play.

No team in Major League Baseball had ever won its division at .500 (81-81) or lower in a full, 162-game season, going back to when division play was established in 1969.

From 1969-93, each league was split into two divisions. The worst record by a division winner in a full season belonged to the 1973 Mets, who finished 82-79 (.509), not needing to make-up the final game.

After the leagues split into three divisions in 1994, the closest any division winner had previously come to a .500 record was the 2005 San Diego Padres, who finished 82-80 (.506).  The ’05 Padres’ season was my inspiration for this scenario.

As the past season ended, a mild uproar grew within the baseball community that an injustice had been done to the Astros. The D-backs understood. Many fervent fans and retired players supported a policy change.  It was well-covered by the media.  Union concerns in the matter were few and minor.

Many baseball people, including Hall of Famers, favored a winning record to a weak division winner. Their message was clear: only a winning record deserves a spot in the postseason.

Major League Baseball and its president, George Bailey, got the message.  The MLB rules committee of long-time baseball people offered their conclusion, as did and a separate executive panel. Eventually, it was determined that success would by measured only above the .500 standard. Mr. Bailey concurred, saying no one wanted a repeat of last season. The new policy is effective Jan 1.

Although a division winner with a .500 record or worse may not come along again for another 50 years, in the end, it appears that baseball set aside division history to embrace a higher standard.

We can dream.

Any player/Any era: Bob Feller

What he did: Feller, who died Wednesday at 92, won 266 games in a Hall of Fame career that spanned 18 seasons. I count him, along with Lefty Grove and Carl Hubbell, as one of the few great pitchers from the 1930s. More impressive, Feller missed nearly four full seasons in the middle of his career serving in World War II (and unlike many ballplayers who rode out the war playing on USO-organized teams, Feller saw combat.) After the war ended, he returned in peak form, winning 20 games his first two full seasons back in the majors. Impressive as all this was, in a different era, I think Feller may have won 300 games.

Era he might have thrived in: I’ve heard Feller might have benefited from the extended hiatus mid-career, that as a young flame thrower who won 107 games by age 23, he could have burnt out early had he played through the war. Therefore, I’m declining to place Feller in the Pitcher’s Golden Age of the 1960s, since Sandy Koufax flamed out throwing the 300-plus innings a year required then. Instead, as I wrote for Koufax, I’m putting Feller in a supportive atmosphere where he might be nurtured as a young hurler. He’s joining Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz on the Atlanta Braves of the early ’90s. This way, Feller gets his 300.

Why: There are two major reasons Feller would thrive, namely that he’d get his four seasons lost to World War II back, and he’d probably play at least a few more seasons at the end of his career. Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz all played into their 40s after spending their prime years with the Braves. I’m guessing Feller would follow suit, or at least last somewhere beyond age 37 as he did in real life. In fact, Feller was effectively done at 35, winning just four games his final two seasons. I don’t see that happening here. Getting to play a 162-game schedule instead of the 154 games he played during his career wouldn’t hurt his numbers either.

There’s no telling what World War II took away from Feller’s numbers, though considering that he won 20 games the three seasons before and 20 his first two full years after (with five wins tacked on at the end of 1945) he may have missed out on 80-100 wins easily. Sure, he may have blown out his arm sooner with no break, but if he didn’t, he might have had 350 wins. And Feller played his first six seasons before this in an era that strongly favored hitters. Just imagine what he’d do in a league and time where pitchers had the advantage.

Of course, in a more recent era, there’s no way Feller would have started in the majors at 17, as he did in 1936. Nobody wants the next David Clyde. My idea is that Feller signs out of high school, spends a few years in the minors (get this: in real life, he never played a day there) and then breaks in at 22, playing 20 or so years. Barring injury, I don’t see any way he falls short of 300 wins or 3,000 strikeouts.

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

Others in this series: Albert Pujols, Bad News Rockies, Barry Bonds, Bob CaruthersDom DiMaggio, Frank Howard, Fritz MaiselGeorge CaseHarmon KillebrewHome Run Baker, Jack Clark, Jackie Robinson, Jimmy Wynn, Joe DiMaggio, Johnny FrederickJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr.Nate ColbertPete Rose, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Clemente, Sam Thompson, Sandy KoufaxShoeless Joe Jackson, Stan Musial, The Meusel BrothersTy Cobb, Willie Mays

Baseball in Minnesota: The Millers versus the Saints

I’m pleased to offer the latest article from regular contributor Joe Guzzardi, which offers a look at former minor league baseball club, the Minneapolis Millers.

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The 2010 Minnesota Twins came and went from the playoffs so quickly that I didn’t have an opportunity to fit in the blog I wanted to post about its predecessor, the Minneapolis Millers.

The Millers were the minor-league team that played before the Washington Senators moved its franchise to Minneapolis in 1961 as part of baseball’s first expansion. Originally (1884) the Millers played in the Northwestern League which had teams in Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana as well as Minnesota.

In 1902, the Millers became part of the new American Association. Then in 1915 when the neighboring St. Paul Saints also joined the American Association, the Millers and Saints’ legacy began.

Over the 59 years the Millers played in the Association, they compiled the best won-lost record of all the teams in the league. The second-best record over that span belonged to the St. Paul Saints who, in 1920, posted a 115-49 (.701) record. The Saints finished first in the American Association nine times and won the Little World Series in 1924.

Only seven miles separated the Millers’ Nicollet Park from the Saints’ Lexington Park which helped fuel the great rivalry between the teams.

Season high points were the holiday doubleheaders that featured morning-afternoon games with one in each park. These were known as “street car” doubleheaders since the fans would take a trolley across the river to watch the second game.

Throughout its history, the Millers had many great stars.

Seventeen members of the Hall of Fame– 15 players, one coach and one manager– passed through Minneapolis. They are: Roger Bresnahan (1898-99), Jimmy Collins (Player-manager 1909), Rube Waddell (1911-13), Urban (Red) Faber (1911), Bill McKechnie (1921), Zack Wheat (1928),George Kelly (1930-31), Ted Williams (1938), Billy Herman (Player-manager 1948), Ray Dandridge (1949-52), Hoyt Wilhelm (1950-51), Willie Mays (1951), Monte Irvin (1955), Orlando Cepeda (1957), Carl Yastrzemski (1959-60), Dave Bancroft (Manager 1933) and Jimmie Foxx (Coach 1958).

For the Saints, Charlie Hall pitched 16 straight wins in 1915 while he was backed at the plate and in the field by third baseman Chuck Dressen; Lefty Gomez, Ben Chapman, Everett Scott, Elmer Miller and Dusty Cooke all became New York Yankees while Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, Ralph Branca and Larry Sherry were all groomed for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Both the Millers and Saints folded when the Twins came to Minneapolis. But in 1993 a reincarnated Saints team started play and has, despite its proximity to the Twins, fared well. Much of its success is attributed to Mike Veeck, son of Bill, and his colorful promotions.

The most well-known promotion featured a bobblehead doll known as Count von Recount that portrayed Minnesota Senate challenger Al Franken on one side and incumbent Norm Coleman on the other. Fans were asked to spin their dolls so that their preferred candidate would be facing an attorney who would tabulate their votes. Veeck was poking fun at the extended 2008 recount between Franken and Coleman.

My Minnesota friends who have seen the Chicago Cubs play the St. Louis Cardinals and the New York Yankees go against the Boston Red Sox say nothing topped the excitement generated when the Millers faced the Saints.

As they recalled it for me, anything could and most often did happen including fights that pitted player versus player, player versus fan, and fan versus fan. In one account, Millers’ manager Gene Mauch climbed into the stands in St. Paul to confront a fan whose remarks were “a bit too personal.”

Of course, the rivalry’s is easily explained. For more than a decade in the 1940s and 1950s, the Saints and Millers were the top farm clubs of the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants, respectively.

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

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? George Van Haltren

Claim to fame: Van Haltren hit .316 with 2,544 hits, 1.642 runs, and 583 steals in a career that spanned 1887 to 1903. Like other early greats, Van Haltren also pitched, going 40-31 with a 4.05 ERA, and he was unsurprisingly also known for his strong arm as an outfielder. I don’t know if Van Haltren’s been a serious candidate for Cooperstown since a campaign was waged for him in the early days of the museum, though his candidate page for the Hall of Merit lists him as one of the three best center fielders of the 1890s.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Under revised Veterans Committee rules that took effect in July, Van Haltren can be considered for enshrinement as a member of the Pre-Integration Era, for players who made their mark between 1871 and 1946. The committee will hold its next vote in two years, with inductions occurring in the summer of 2013.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Personally, I’m partial to Van Haltren, partial enough that he was one of my picks in a ballot I cast for a recent project here, The 50 best players not in the Hall of Fame. Van Haltren received 10 votes, out of 63 ballots cast, tying him for 89th place with Jose Canseco, Charlie Keller, and Carl Mays among others, a disparate group, kind of the Gilligan’s Island of our results page.

We wound up with just one 19th century player in the top 50, shortstop Bill Dahlen, and I’m not sure if this bothers me, since I think the skill level was lower in baseball before 1900. Nevertheless, I voted for six players who had at least one season in the 1800s: Dahlen, Van Haltren, Pete Browning, Bobby Mathews, Deacon Phillippe, and Deacon White. I mostly went with names I knew, though Van Haltren seems to offer the complete package for a non-enshrined, 19th century great. I like his stats, the fact he pitched and hit, and his involvement in the Players League of 1890, an early, failed attempt by players to organize their own circuit.

In putting this post together, I emailed the other people who voted for Van Haltren, curious to hear their reasons. They told me a lot of what’s been said here. One voter pointed out that Van Haltren favorably compared to enshrined contemporaries Joe Kelley, Jim O’Rourke, and Fred Clarke. Joe Williams, chair of the chair of the Overlooked 19th Century Baseball Legends Project, Nineteenth Century Committee, for the Society for American Baseball Research, also sent me a newsletter on greats from the 1800s that I’d be happy to forward to anyone interested.

I’d heard before that Van Haltren was very similar to Jimmy Ryan, who played roughly the same years, also hit for good average, stole a lot of bases and had an OPS+ rating in the 120 range. I emailed Total Baseball author John Thorn, an expert on baseball before the modern era. I asked Thorn to help me differentiate between Van Haltren and Ryan and if he thought they belonged in Cooperstown.

Thorn replied:

Van Haltren and Ryan were both very good if not great ballplayers. A case can be made that either or both belong in the Hall of Fame. All the same, I believe that nineteenth century players– apart from perhaps Jim Creighton and Deacon White– are adequately represented in Cooperstown. The great area of neglect is in the pioneer group, as modern research has revealed several individuals to be of far greater importance to the development of the game than some who were mistakenly identified as primal figures– (Alexander) Cartwright principally, but also (Morgan) Bulkeley.

Whatever the case, I doubt my voters and I are the only people who may have overlooked early baseball greats.

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

Others in this series: Al OliverAlbert BelleBert Blyleven, Billy Martin, Cecil TravisChipper JonesDan QuisenberryDave ParkerDon Mattingly, Don NewcombeGeorge SteinbrennerJack MorrisJoe CarterJohn SmoltzKeith HernandezLarry WalkerMaury WillsMel HarderPete Browning, Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar, Rocky Colavito, Ron Guidry, Steve Garvey, Ted Simmons, Thurman MunsonTim Raines, Will Clark

Remembering Art Mahan

Mahan

On paper, Art Mahan had a bad year in 1940. In his only season playing Major League Baseball, Mahan hit .244 with two home runs, 39 runs batted in, and an OPS+ of 73, abysmal numbers for a starting first baseman. His team, the Philadelphia Phillies, stocked with end-of-the-road veterans and players who would be minor leaguers for better clubs finished 50-103, 50 games out of first place. When it was over, Mahan would be sent back to the minors in Little Rock, Arkansas, never again to approach the majors. But 1940 was a good year for Mahan.

I interviewed Mahan in February for a book I’m researching on another Phillie from 1940, Joe Marty. At the time of our interview, Mahan was 96 and one of three living teammates of Marty, who played for the Chicago Cubs and the Phillies from 1937 to 1941. For an enchanting, somewhat surreal two hours, I spoke by phone with Mahan and his son Ed. It has to be one of my all-time favorite interviews, and I know it’s one I’m grateful I got. Mahan died last Tuesday at 97 of congestive heart failure at his daughter’s home in Rydal, Pennsylvania.

Mahan spent most of his life and his final years surrounded by what he got out of 1940: family. He met his wife Helen that year, a month into his big league career on a blind date arranged by a friend from Villanova, where he graduated from in 1936. Mahan and his wife had nine children and were married 54 years until her death in 1996. It helped the Somerville, Massachusetts native not regret missing his chance to play for the Boston Red Sox.

“Growing up in Somerville, which is just practically right outside the ballpark everybody wanted to be a Red Sox,” Mahan told me during our interview. “And so… I wanted to be a good ballplayer and play for the Red Sox. Unfortunately for me, just before I got out of college the Red Sox signed Jimmie Foxx. And there was probably at that time, no better hitter than Jimmie Foxx. And I’ll always say personally, if I had signed with the Red Sox, I would have never have met or married my wife and had the children.”

There were other benefits Mahan got from being a Phillie. His son Ed explained that as his dad was young and single in 1940, he sent much of his $6,000 salary back to his family, helping his brothers make down payments on their houses. He got to play with his best friend and roommate from the minors, Bobby Bragan. Mahan also played with Wally Berger and future Hall of Fame outfielder Chuck Klein.

“Chuck Klein, when I was going to high school and everything else, he was a great hitter,” Mahan told me. “And then when I was in high school also, a new rookie came up to the Boston Braves, Wally Berger, and then of course, years later, I just couldn’t believe that I’m sitting in the same dang dugout with Wally Berger and Chuck Klein. I’ll never forget that, and I still treasure it today.”

After spending 1941 in the minors, Mahan enlisted in the Naval Air at the outset of World War II. He didn’t see combat, spending most of the war as a physical fitness instructor in Rhode Island. After the war ended, 32-year-old Mahan became player-manager of a semi-pro club in Providence for the 1946 season. Thereafter, he moved his family back to Philadelphia, took a job as the baseball coach at Villanova in 1950, and was made athletic director in 1960. He worked in the latter position until his retirement in 1978.

I asked Mahan if he looked back fondly on his big league career.

“I loved playing,” Mahan said. “Even though it was one year, I loved every second of it.”

Still The Haves vs. The Have Nots In MLB

Here’s the latest article from Doug Bird, a Sunday contributor here.

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The unsuccessful teams get the high draft picks, stock the farm system, and if they have chosen wisely (and with a bit of luck) eventually improve. This happened with the Atlanta Braves in the 1990s, the Oakland A’s, and more recently, the Tampa Bay Rays. But this success doesn’t always last as the draft picks become stars and often leave for greener pastures. The Bud Selig claims of parody is continuing to be nothing more than a bad pun. I contend that this is really the old smoke and mirrors and that any accountant worth his salt can make two plus two equal five.

Yes it’s true there are fewer and fewer repeat Major League Baseball champions, something which Selig claims is a true indicator of a level playing field and hope for fans irrespective of which team they are cheering for– almost every team since the implementation of the luxury tax has a legitimate chance at World Series glory.  Based on the last few seasons, and especially the 2010 season, who can really argue with him? But, two plus two always equals four, and everything comes out in the wash eventually.

The Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez pickups by the Boston Red Sox are the poster boy, double edged sword proof that, once again, all is not well in baseball and no one seems willing or able to come up with a formula which might finally make things right. Teams such as Boston  simply throw money at the problem. To be fair, Boston has a farm system filled with young minor league players who are attractive to teams like San Diego whose owners are unwilling to pay exorbitant prices to retain a franchise player. Paying such a high salary in order to keep him on the home team wouldn’t really get these small market clubs to the promised land anyway the logic being: If we can’t win with him, why keep him? But such a situation should not be a necessity of conducting business. Even paying fare wages does not allow these teams to compete with the Red Sox and Yankees.

Teams such as Tampa Bay are losing players as though they are conducting a giant fire sale, players who they groomed and nurtured through their formative years.  Teams such as Tampa Bay cannot afford to make mistakes with their draft picks, yet the success of said draft picks is only fleeting at best. Teams such as Tampa Bay sign players knowing that they have a very narrow window of opportunity for success and with success the risk of losing such players only increases. Success becomes unsustainable for these franchises as players who have enjoyed and been a vital part of winning teams usually bolt for greener money pastures.

Teams such as Boston or New York can afford such player defections because there are always those out on the open market who are nothing more than hired guns whose loyalty is only to the almighty dollar. These teams can simply up the ante as the situation dictates with little or no worry about the consequences and can simply outbid anyone else. Teams such as Boston or New York are also not bound by any rules other than the almighty dollar, a change in the rules which might level the playing field on international drafting. If they lose a valuable prospect, they have the means to simply go out and buy another.

I’m not knocking their organizations nor singling them out as both teams have impressive farm systems. Fixing the problem, however, shouldn’t be merely a matter of how much money you can throw at it to make it go away. Upping the ante merely at your discretion shouldn’t be the way to do business in a supposedly competitive field.

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Email Doug Bird at d.bird@rogers.com

Why I’d Vote “No” on Bert Blyleven

Here’s the latest article from regular contributor Joe Guzzardi. One thing I like about Joe is that he is unafraid to take on unpopular ideas. We’re kind of kindred spirits in that regard. Here’s an idea that may have been accepted truth 10 years ago but places Joe in a distinct minority now.

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Bert Blyleven just finished first on this Web site’s list of the 50 Best Players Not in the Hall of Fame. The 287-game winner is the favorite among baseball writers to be enshrined in 2011. Blyleven is even his own personal choice. A few years ago, he established a Web site to sell autographs but, more importantly, to lay out his case for Cooperstown.

Blyleven has steadily gained support in his 13 years on the Hall of Fame ballot for the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot, starting out at less than 20 percent of the vote his first three years, then improving almost annually, rising to a peak of 74.2 percent last year.

But if I were a BBWAA member, I wouldn’t vote for Blyleven. Here’s why. In his 22-year career, Blyleven finished with an under .500 record five times; .500 twice and one game over .500 three times. Sorry, spending roughly half a career without a winning record doesn’t cut it for me.

Another thing: Blyleven never finished higher than third on the Cy Young Award ballot and in 18 of his 22 seasons never ended among the top candidates. How can a pitcher who at no time in his nearly quarter of a century long career was never deemed to be the best pitcher in baseball for a single year be included among the best of all-time? My answer: He can’t.

The Hall of Fame simply cannot have pitchers as disparate in their talent as Tom Seaver and Blyleven as part of the same institution. I compare it to establishing a Millionaire’s Club, then giving membership to someone who only has $500,000.

I can hear the excuses now. Blyleven pitched on lousy teams, had terrible run support, and was injured, blah, blah, blah. Or Blyleven’s strike outs (3,701) and shutouts (60) rank fifth and ninth all-time. That’s impressive—just not impressive enough when included in his total body of work.

The other argument that always comes up in defense of marginal candidates: If so and so is in, then this guy has to be in, too.

Again, I’m apologizing. I evaluate each candidate against my own standards. If ESPN’s Buster Olney chooses to elect Blyleven or, frighteningly, Barry Bonds as he has promised to do that’s his business. You wouldn’t catch me doing it, though.

Would I want Blyleven in my starting rotation? Yes, I would. Is Blyleven a good guy? Yes, he is. His Web site also promotes finding a cure for Parkinson’s Disease and he’s an affable Minnesota Twins’ announcer. Is Blyleven Hall material? No, he’s not.

When it comes to the Hall of Fame, I’m an avowed, unapologetic restrictionist. In July, I proposed on this site that Cooperstown should permanently cap membership at 300 players, removing lesser enshrined players each year as new, better ones become eligible. Click here to see my presentation of this idea to the Forbes Field Chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research.

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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

Hall of Fame project follow-up

It’s been an incredible week around here. For anyone just happening by, on Monday evening, I posted a voter-determined list of the 50 best baseball players not in the Hall of Fame. Since then, ESPN.com and Baseball Think Factory have linked to the story, and I’ve been deluged with comments and emails. I’m stoked to see the project having such an impact, and I want to thank everyone who voted and everyone who’s had a kind word to say.

I want to do a brief follow-up to address some questions that have arisen since publication. After that, I’ll offer a brief look at where I see this thing going in 2011. As mentioned before, there will definitely be another one of these projects.

First, the questions:

Why aren’t there any old-timers here? A few people have commented about the near total absence of 19th century ballplayers, save for Bill Dahlen. Pete Browning was involved in a four-way tie for 49th place with Dave Concepcion, David Cone, and Billy Pierce, though Concepcion and Cone won out in a run-off. I have mixed feelings. While I was bummed to see Browning fall, he was one of the few pre-1900 ballplayers I had on my personal ballot save for Dahlen, Bobby Mathews, Deacon Phillippe, George Van Haltren, and Deacon White. I simply didn’t think the skill level was as high back then. I also think a lot of us voted based on our personal biases, on the players we’d seen and the ones closest to our hearts. I don’t think that’s egregious for a Hall of Fame-related vote.

Why wasn’t there a ranking system? It would have complicated an already intense project. Originally, I was going to ask for 100 players, but I cut it down to 50, partly because I needed votes in under two weeks, and I felt 100 was asking too much. I also thought it was too much to ask people to determine rankings. I’d also say that a ranking system creates inequity, since a 50-point vote, say for first place, could counteract a ton of lower scores. I like all votes counting equally.

Players not on the ballot: The list of notables now stands at Eric Davis, Bob Johnson, Darryl Kile, Kevin Mitchell, Camilo Pascual, Vic Power, Double Duty Radcliffe, and J.R. Richard, plus all the write-in players. I invite anyone to tell me who else I missed.

Where do we go from here? I think this was an awesome debut for this project, but clearly, there’s plenty to improve on. First off, I plan to start the 2011 voting a lot sooner. I have this crazy idea to kick things off at the upcoming Society for American Baseball Research convention, in Los Angeles next July and stump for votes all weekend. We’ll still shoot for a December results post, but my idea is to allow more time for a stronger return rate on ballots and to get more people voting. The more people that vote, the fewer the ties, the better the rankings. Also, I’d like to get former players voting. If anyone has ideas on how to go about this, I’m game.

Thanks again to everyone who participated!