Monthly Archives: February 2011

My 10 favorite baseball books

1. The Glory of Their Times by Lawrence Ritter: When this book was updated in 1985, a reviewer wrote, “This was the best baseball book published in 1966, it is the best baseball book of its kind now, and, if it is reissued in 10 years, it will be the best baseball book of 1995.” I don’t know how any baseball book can top this one. Ritter spent five years interviewing roughly two dozen former ballplayers from the Deadball Era and beyond. More than providing unique historical perspective, their stories are entertaining, funny, and inspiring to a writer like myself. There must be more of these stories out there.

2. Baseball by Ken Burns and Geoffrey Ward: I got this book for Christmas in 1994, a few months after watching the accompanying PBS special, and I still open it occasionally. I don’t know if I’ve read every word, but some of the stories I’ve read countless times. So much of my ethos and knowledge base as a writer and baseball historian comes from this book, which covers more than a century of the game’s history. I’ve even used the bibliography, a veritable who’s-who of great baseball books, to gauge how much of the sport’s essential literature I’ve gotten to.

3. Ball Four by Jim Bouton: Bouton wrote this diary of the 1969 season, and while many of the then-groundbreaking revelations seem tame by today’s standards (players in the book pop amphetamine pills and womanize), I still get great replay value from it. Bouton’s writing was fresh, honest, and entertaining in 1970, it doesn’t seem dated today, and it’s almost weird some of the book’s players have passed, like Greg Goosen whose death was announced Sunday.

4. Cardboard Gods by Josh Wilker: Wilker’s memoir is told through his childhood baseball cards, and as someone who collected almost obsessively as a child, it could well have been my life story. It helps that Wilker’s writing is vivid, humorous, and well-influenced. When I emailed Wilker in preparing a review of his book, he told me he drew inspiration from one of my favorite writers, Tobias Wolff.

5. Summer of ’49 by David Halberstam: Halberstam brought the approach of a Harvard graduate and Pulitzer Prize-winning Vietnam reporter to the story of the 1949 American League pennant race, interviewing almost every living member of that year’s Red Sox and Yankees when he wrote this book in the 1980s. Seemingly, only Joe DiMaggio stiffed Halberstam, though Ted Williams provided wonderful material.

6. The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn: I like The Boys of Summer a little less than Summer of ’49, because Halberstam was able to remove himself more from the work. But that’s also part of the magic with Kahn’s work, as much a memoir of his time as a young reporter covering the Brooklyn Dodgers as it is a chronicling years later of the players in retirement. Duke Snider’s death on Sunday reinforced the historical value of Kahn’s efforts, as did the deaths of fellow Brooklyn greats Pee Wee Reese, Gil Hodges, and Jackie Robinson.

7. The Lost Ballparks by Lawrence Ritter: While not on the same magnitude as Ritter’s first work here, this is a fun book which has been in my collection since childhood. It features the Polo Grounds, Ebbets Field, Shibe Park, and many more bygone parks, telling how they stood, when they were demolished, and what remains of them today. My grandparents own a ranch near Tracy, California, and I used to enjoy exploring some of the derelict old buildings on their property as a kid, wondering what remnants of the past I could find. That part of me finds books like this fascinating.

8. Baseball As I Have Known It by Fred Lieb: Lieb published this book in 1977, approaching his 90th birthday, recounting everything in his baseball writing career from its beginnings in 1911. There’s so much baseball history here that Lieb witnessed, from the death of Ray Chapman to the career of Babe Ruth to the illness and death of his friend, Lou Gehrig. This is another one-of-a-kind book from a writer with a unique life. The only sportswriter I can think of who worked longer was Shirley Povich who wrote for the Washington Post from 1923 to 1998.

9. Game of Shadows by Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada: Williams and Fainaru-Wada built this book out of their reporting for the San Francisco Chronicle on the BALCO steroid scandal which implicated Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, and Gary Sheffield among others. I don’t know of a more sober, comprehensive look at baseball’s biggest scandal in 20 years.

10. The Last Boy by Jane Leavy: I’ve been remiss on posting something here about this book, which I received a review copy of in the fall and finished last month. I should hopefully have a longer piece up in the next few weeks. For now, what I’ll say is Leavy set the standard for baseball biographies with this book, taking five years to interview more than 600 people connected to Mantle and craft an evenhanded look at the controversial Yankee center fielder.

Baseball topics I’m sick of

My last couple of columns have been feel good about baseball things.

It was, as always, getting to be a long offseason and baseball withdrawal was setting in and getting the better of me. With the smell of another spring fast approaching, my thoughts tended to drift towards the nostalgic and naive times of my youth (Editor’s note: That’s a common theme on this site.)

The anticipation of a new season was growing stronger with each day, knowing I was one step closer to the joyful cry of “play ball” once again. My email from MLBtv.com would find my in basket any day now, announcing the renewal of my subscription. Before the end of this week, I’d be watching split squads and college players, guys with numbers in the high 90’s and names I’ve never heard of and might never again.

Maybe finally, those columnists lucky enough to be syndicated could begin to focus on the game itself. Granted, the pressure to come up with something relevant and interesting each day can be intimidating.

I’ve been put in that position myself in the past and the tendency to drift off into tabloid-like writings and ramblings can become difficult to avoid.

With all that in mind, here are some topics I would like to see put to bed:

Myth 1.  Albert Pujols Needs $30 Million Per Season for Eternity

No he doesn’t. End of discussion-end of topic. Stop asking. The St. Louis Cardinals don’t have to do anything with Pujols as he is already under contract for this season. If he doesn’t get his money at a later date the union will decry collaboration and the owners will have to pay a fine somewhere down the line for, on this occasion anyway, being sensible. There is no team out there with an opening at first base who could afford to gut their farm system in a trade for Pujols  let alone pay him what he wants.

Myth 2.  Derek Jeter Cares More About His House Than Winning

Well you have to admit, it looks like a very nice place to live.  I’ve never lived there but an apartment in New York, no matter how nice, doesn’t seem to match up very well. Granted, there are probably more corner stores and McDonalds in New York but plan ahead for those late night snacks. I don’t need to read anything else about it. Besides, we all know the Steinbrenners are nut cases anyway.

Myth 3. Michael Young Thinks The Texas Rangers Are Stupid

I can’t disagree with you on that one Mike. The Rangers, in order to improve their team, didn’t resign Cliff Lee or Vlad Guerrero because for some reason he was uncomfortable in World Series competition as their right fielder, signed Adrian Beltre ignoring the fact that he seldom makes any effort until the walk year of a contract, and alienated a hard-nosed, very productive, face of the franchise player, by moving him to third, then DH, then utility man. Management was surprised when Young publicly complained and asked to be traded.

Myth 4.  Two of Baseballs Zillionaire Owners Are Having Problems

Yeah well so am I, and I’m thinking I’m not alone. Greedy and crooked investments and marital problems seem to have the baseball writing world all in a tizzy. But not to worry-the owner’s best friend and compatriot, Bud Selig, will step in and make it all go away. You will be able to keep your mansions and yachts and condos and women-all in the best interests of baseball, and continue to complain about your publicly funded stadiums, luxury boxes and player salaries. You won’t have to take public transit or sit in the $20 bleachers, eat $6 hot dogs or drink $10 beer. I promise.

Can we please now just get on with it?  Thank you.

An Unusual Alliance: Rogers Hornsby, Stan Lopata and Alex Cora

In 1954 Stan “Stash” Lopata, the hard-hitting Philadelphia Philles’ catcher, was stuck in a prolonged slump. When the Phillies were in Cincinnati, Lopata’s teammate Johnny Wyrostek bumped into Rogers Hornsby, one of baseball’s most respected hitting experts as attested to by his .358 lifetime batting average and his .424 mark in 1924. Wyrostek had played parts of 1952 and 1953 with the Reds when Hornsby was manager.

Wyrostek asked Hornsby what his friend Lopata was doing wrong. Hornsby said: “Well, I’ve seen him on television and he swings and he misses the ball too often.” Hornsby’s message was to get a piece of the ball every time you swing the bat—not necessarily a hit but at least a foul ball.

Hearing Hornsby’s advice, Lopata adopted a crouched stance to more easily follow the pitched ball and banged out a couple of hits.  Then, spurred on by his initial success, the next day Lopata tried a more radical crouch, saw the ball even better, and got another handful of hits. By the year’s end, Lopata hit a solid .290, up from his 1953 .239 average.

Whether or not Alex Cora has ever heard of Hornsby is not known. But Cora certainly is a living example of the Rajah’s wisdom.

On May 4, 2004 when the Los Angeles Dodgers faced the Chicago Cubs, Cora had an 18-pitch at-bat against the Cubs starting pitcher Matt Clement. Facing a 2–1 count, Cora fouled off 14 straight pitches before finally hitting a two-run home run.

The next day the Dodger club house was abuzz over Cora’s 14 minute epic confrontation against Clement. When Cora came to the plate, Clement had thrown 86 pitches. When he was pulled after Cora’s home run, his total ballooned to 104.

Said Dodger manager Jim Tracy: “I’m still in somewhat of amazement with that at-bat I saw last night. I’ve never seen a better at-bat against a pitcher of that caliber, the way he was throwing the ball. It’s not easy to foul 14 pitches off in a row, I can tell you that.”

The next day Cora said, “I was very relaxed and I didn’t rush myself. I was very calm and just got the result.” Since his classic at-bat, the Puerto Rican-born Cora has played for the Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox, New York Mets and Texas Rangers. On September 10, 2010 the Rangers released Cora.

No one will ever confuse Cora and his lifetime .244 career batting average with Hornsby. But the Rajah would have been delighted with Cora’s performance and attitude on that historic day.

The Great Friday Link Out VIII: When it rains in San Francisco, it Snows

We’re going to do things a little different this week. Generally, I provide a brief intro and then link to some posts. My first link, however, requires some back story.

A few weeks ago, I got an email from Daniel Greenia, a reader, occasional commenter, and voter in my project to find the 50 best players not in the Hall of Fame. Daniel told me J.T. Snow wouldn’t be on this year’s Cooperstown ballot despite last playing in 2006 because he signed a ceremonial one-day contract with the Giants in September 2008. In a post for BaseballThinkFactory.org, Daniel offered more details, and while Snow isn’t a serious Hall of Fame candidate now and won’t be whenever he’s on the ballot, what Daniel said bears mention here.

Daniel wrote:

For Snow himself there is a downside to his final bow. He actually last played in a MLB game for Boston on 6/18/06. Normally this would allow him to appear on the HOF ballot in 2012, the upcoming election. However, because his appearance in 2008 is technically a Game, the Hall of Fame has indicated that Snow cannot appear on the ballot until 2014. This decision seems a little at odds with Rule 3.C of the BBWAA Election Rules which says: “Player shall have ceased to be an active player in the Major Leagues at least five (5) calendar years preceding the election….” Snow didn’t try to work himself into game shape in 2008; his intent was never to actually be an “active player”, but to be honored in a Giants uniform.

Rule 10.20 is actually inconsistent with another rule. Rule 10.23(c) tells us that Snow’s Game in 2008 is not sufficient to continue a consecutive-game playing streak. For that he would actually have to play a half-inning on defense or complete a time at bat. Well, why not use that same rule to define what constitutes a continuation of a career? Add this sentence to Rule 3.C of the election rules: Unless a player plays at least one-half inning on defense or completes a time at bat, in the regular season or the post-season, he will not be considered to be an active player in that season for purposes of HOF eligibility.

I also suggest that MLB should modify Rule 10.20 and credit a player with a Game played only if they are in the game when something happens. I think that precipitating a pitching change or some other managerial move by your announced presence does not constitute “being in the game when something happens.” A Game played should be credited when a player is in the game and on the field when either 1) one pitch is thrown, 2) one fielding chance occurs, or 3) a base is gained.

Makes me wonder who else could be effect under current rules….

Other good stuff:

Any player/Any era: Ralph Kiner

Editor’s note: For anyone who likes this column, be sure to check out my debut piece at The Hardball Times.

What he did: Last week, I wrote how Mike Schmidt might have hit 600 home runs on the Pittsburgh Pirates of the 1920s and ’30s, playing in a better era for hitters. A reader suggested this might have been unrealistic at Forbes Field, that the vast dimensions of the old Pirates ballpark may have given the speedy Schmidt many doubles and triples but taken away homers. It made me pause and wonder if there had ever been a great power hitter at Forbes, and then I remembered Ralph Kiner.

Selected to the Hall of Fame in 1975, Kiner may have been the best slugger in the National League for several years after World War II. He led the circuit in homers his first seven seasons, had the top OPS+ three times, and just missed the Triple Crown in 1949 when he posted a league-leading 54 home runs and 127 RBI to go with the fifth-best batting average, .310. Because his career was relatively brief, 10 years, his 369 homers rank distantly down the leader boards, though Kiner’s rate of one homer for every 14.11 at bats is eighth-best ever.

More impressively, Kiner thrived on mostly losing clubs. Imagine how he’d do in better environs and in an era where more runs were scored per game and hulking sluggers ruled.

Era he might have thrived in: Since we had Schmidt at Forbes Field, we’ll put Kiner in Schmidt’s home park, Veterans Stadium. It’s not much of an upgrade to Forbes, but it’s the price to get Kiner on a far better team than he ever had in Pittsburgh. Playing in 1993, Kiner might have been the strong bat Philadelphia lacked after Schmidt retired in 1989 and particularly needed in the World Series.

Why: There’s an unusual stat about the ’93 Phillies. They scored 877 runs, a fairly high total historically, but had no player with 30 home runs, being led in homers by Darren Daulton and journeyman Pete Incaviglia with 24 each. This is rare.

Of the 105 other teams since 1900 that scored at least 877 runs, 82 had a 30-home run hitter. Just 11 modern teams with as many runs scored as the ’93 Phillies had a lesser home run champ, and since the late 1930s, there have been only two such clubs: the 1949 Brooklyn Dodgers who scored 879 runs and were led by Gil Hodges and Duke Snider with 23 home runs each; and the 1996 Minnesota Twins who scored 877 runs and were led in homers by Marty Cordova with 16.

There’s some temptation to place Kiner on those Twins, and the stat converter has his 1949 season converting to 62 home runs, 154 RBI, and a .332 batting average for Minnesota in 1996. But the Twins finished 79-83 because even as they scored 877 runs, they allowed 900. The season was bittersweet, the first after Kirby Puckett’s retirement, and while Kiner might have been another great plodding slugger for a franchise that’s featured Harmon Killebrew, Kent Hrbek, and Jim Thome, I couldn’t see him changing things much for Minnesota.

But Kiner could be the difference in Philadelphia in 1993. His 1949 season converts to 54 home runs, and he’d add new dimension to a lineup with .300 hitters Lenny Dykstra and John Kruk, but no player with a .500 slugging percentage. In the World Series, only Dykstra offered much clout, hitting four of his team’s seven homers, and Philadelphia lost to Toronto on Joe Carter’s walk-off. Perhaps with Kiner, the World Series never would have lasted that long.

Kiner would benefit here, too. In naming Kiner one of the 20 best hitters all-time, Ted Williams noted how Kiner often played on losing clubs, frequently being pitched around and getting 100 walks six times. Pirates general manager Branch Rickey famously told Kiner upon his trade to the Cubs in 1953, “We finished last with you and we can finish last without you.”

Of course, in 1993, Kiner wouldn’t have Kiner’s Korner, the Forbes Field quirk that kept the left field fence 30 feet closer to accommodate him as a right-handed hitter. And he wouldn’t have Hank Greenberg, who was traded to Pittsburgh for his final season, 1947. Greenberg recounted in The Glory of Their Times, “Ralph had a natural home run swing. All he needed was somebody to teach him the value of hard work and self-discipline. Early in the morning, on off-days, every chance we got, we worked on hitting.”

Kiner noted in an essay years ago that Greenberg changed his stance, moved him up closer at the plate, and lobbied for him not to be sent down during an epic slump. Kiner recovered and, late that season, hit eight homers in four games. Kiner wrote of Greenberg, “His friendship and his example had an indelible effect on my life. He taught me how to live ‘the right way.'”

Greenberg was a Hall of Famer as a hitter and as a cultural icon, the first great Jewish ballplayer and a World War II stalwart to boot. But I like to think there’s a Greenberg in every baseball generation, at least someone who can step up, if needed. Perhaps in the early ’90s, that man could have been Schmidt, who’s serving as a spring training instructor for the Phillies as we speak.

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, Bob Watson, Denny McLain, Dom DiMaggio, Frank Howard, Fritz MaiselGeorge CaseHarmon Killebrew, Harry Walker, Home Run Baker, Ichiro Suzuki, Jack Clark, Jackie Robinson, Jimmy Wynn, Joe DiMaggio, Johnny FrederickJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr., Lefty O’Doul, Michael Jordan, Nate Colbert, Paul Derringer, Pete Rose, Prince Fielder, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Clemente, Sam Thompson, Sandy KoufaxShoeless Joe Jackson, Stan Musial, The Meusel BrothersTy Cobb, Willie Mays

Stan Musial, the Mexican League and $$$ Left on the Table

In my last post I lamented the ugly negotiations between Albert Pujols and his St. Louis Cardinals employers.

The unpleasantness was interrupted for one day only when Cardinals great Stan Musial received his well deserved Presidential Medal of Freedom.

I couldn’t help but wonder what Musial thinks of the salary goings-on given that they are light years away from conditions that existed during his playing days.

Once there was a time, back in 1946, when Musial was fresh out of the U.S. Navy, married and with a growing family but earning only $13,500 despite being along with Ted Williams one of baseball’s best hitters.

Nevertheless, “The Man” turned down a ten-fold increase in his salary to stay put with the Cardinals. In those days, the Reserve Clause kept players tied to their team. They had no union and no retirement benefits. Veteran players, especially those who had given up their peak playing days to serve in World War II, grew angry.

At that moment when the players were the most vulnerable Jorge Pasqual, a Mexican importer-exporter who owned the Mexican League decided to offer Musial a $125,000 five-year guaranteed salary sweetened by a $50,000 signing bonuses. Musial turned Pasqual down flat. In today’s dollars, Musial turned down about $7 million for the entire deal.

Of course, the era was different and the Mexican League was inferior to the Major League, and anyone who played there faced a lifetime ban (rescinded a few years later) from the majors upon leaving. But the circuit wasn’t without its stars. The Mexican League had Negro greats Satchel Paige, Cool Papa Bell, Martin Dihigo, Ray Dandridge and Willie Wells.

Still, Musial left a ton of money on the table to stay with the Cardinals, something Pujols is apparently unwilling to do despite his statements to the contrary.

What bothers me most is that Pujols overriding concern is that he wants to be baseball’s highest paid player, an understandable but not particularly admirable goal. I’ve lived long enough to know that there’s always someone out there who can one up you at whatever you think you’re best at whether it’s hitting, making money, or driving faster cars.

As it stands today, Pujols could lock up more than $20 million annually for about seven years, stay in St. Louis and remain a Musial-like hero for the ages. As Mike Shannon once said, “Everybody in St. Louis, every kid in St. Louis, wanted to be Stan Musial. He was the best.”

I feel sorry for Pujols if it’s not enough for him to be remembered the way Musial is– while making $20 million a year.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Darrell Evans

Claim to fame: Darrell Evans played for the Braves, Giants, and Tigers in his long and productive career. Although a ten year career can be sufficient for Hall of Fame consideration, not many Hall of Famers have had such short careers. A few played 12 years or less; most had careers in the 14 to 18 year range. Evans played 21 seasons, with his later years being some of his best.

Evans was a two-time All-Star, first in 1973 and again in 1983 at age 36. Twice he hit 40 or more home runs; in 1973 he was one of three players in the Braves’ lineup with 40, and in 1985, at age 38, his 40 homers for the Tigers led the American League. Evans is perhaps unique in one sense: His late-career productivity was Hall-worthy, while his early-career numbers could leave him short.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Evans was one-and-done, receiving 1.7 percent of the Baseball Writers Association of America vote in 1995. Since more than 20 years have passed since Evans’ retirement, he can now be considered by the Veterans Committee.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Evans had a very unusual career arc. For most players, productivity peaks around age 28 or 29. Age 30 is typically the doorway to decline. Many a 28-year-old All-Star has found himself riding the bench at age 33, or worse, strolling the golf course as a former major leaguer.

Hall of Famers tend to buck this trend, maintaining a high level of play through their early and mid-30s. However, even for Hall members, the decline from late 20s peak performance is usually evident in their stats. In contrast, Evans had no measurable drop-off in performance after turning 30. Evans’ OBP exceeded .350 every year during his 30s. It wasn’t until his last two seasons, in his 40s, that his numbers began to trail off.

Evans’ list of “similars” on Baseball-Reference.com is headed by Graig Nettles, Dale Murphy, and Dwight Evans – good company all, but not Hall of Fame company.  The lone Hall of Famer on Evans’ list is Eddie Mathews at No. 10. Comparing career numbers, Mathews hit for higher average and with more power than Evans, but he achieved this advantage only early in his career, declining dramatically after 1965 when he was 33. In terms of BA, OBP and SLG, Mathews and Evans have virtually identical numbers from age 31 on, though Evans played almost twice as long after turning 30.

Player Career phase G H HR BA OBP SLG
Darrell Evans Age 22-30 995 829 147 .248 .367 .428
Age 31-42 1692 1394 267 .247 .356 .433
Total 2687 2223 414 .248 .361 .431
Eddie Mathews Age 20-30 1634 1690 399 .282 .384 .543
Age 31-36 757 625 113 .247 .351 .431
Total 2391 2315 512 .271 .376 .509


If Evans’ stats leave him just shy of Cooperstown, let’s compare him to some other not-quite Hall of Famers. Jimmy Wynn, Don Mattingly, and Rocky Colavito have all been examined on this blog in recent months. Each had early-career numbers pointing toward Cooperstown, but quicker and steeper declines after age 30 than is typical for most Hall of Famers. In some cases, the decline is fueled by chronic injuries, as was true for Mattingly. In any event, the resulting failure to pass or even approach milestone numbers of hits and home runs undermines the Hall candidacy of such players.

Listed below are five players who had very strong production early, but who didn’t last very long into their 30s. After age 30, Murphy’s career mirrored Mathews’, which is to say it was half of what Evans’ post-30 career was.  The others below were done by age 35. On average they played about a third as much as Evans after age 30, and with less impact.

Player Career G H HR BA OBP SLG
Dale Murphy Age 20-30 1360 1388 266 .277 .355 .491
Age 31-37 820 723 132 .246 .329 .431
Total 2180 2111 398 .265 .346 .469
Jimmy Wynn Age 21-30 1287 1185 203 .259 .361 .450
Age 31-35 633 480 88 .232 .370 .405
Total 1920 1665 291 .250 .366 .436
Mo Vaughn Age 23-30 1046 1165 230 .304 .394 .542
Age 31-35 466 455 98 .267 .356 .481
Total 1512 1620 328 .293 .383 .523
Don Mattingly Age 21-30 1269 1570 178 .314 .359 .491
Age 31-34 516 583 44 .292 .354 .422
Total 1785 2153 222 .307 .358 .471
Rocky Colavito Age 21-30 1326 1302 302 .272 .363 .515
Age 31-34 515 428 72 .250 .345 .415
Total 1841 1730 374 .266 .359 .489


To put the value of Evans’ post-30 career into perspective, let’s imagine that we can combine the early-career stats of each of the above near-miss candidates with Evans’ late-career stats. The result is a set of hybrid players, each with what would have been a long and Hall-worthy career. While none of these hybrids has a stellar batting average (remember each is half Darrell Evans), all have more than 2500 hits, and all but Mattingly/Evans have 470 or more HR.

I’m not saying that if such players existed, each would automatically be voted in, but the Colavito/Evans chimera for example has career numbers that practically match Reggie Jackson’s, minus the post-season heroics, of course. What I am saying is that if any of these hybrid players existed, they would have been taken very seriously as a Hall candidates and would have earned considerably more votes than any of them did in real life as individual entities.

Player hybrid G H HR BA OBP SLG
Murphy/Evans 3052 2782 533 .261 .355 .460
Wynn/Evans 2979 2579 470 .252 .358 .441
Vaughn/Evans 2738 2559 497 .270 .371 .477
Mattingly/Evans 2961 2964 445 .279 .357 .460
Colavito/Evans 3018 2696 569 .259 .359 .470


Evans might never be able to add the letters HOF when he signs his name. And I would wager that few kids in the sandlots these days have even heard of Evans or dreamed of emulating his career. But this much is clear. Any current-day star in his late 20s who has an eye on making the Hall (David Wright, let’s say) would be well advised to aspire to a Darrell Evans-like second act.

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

Others in this series: Adrian Beltre, Al OliverAlbert Belle, Barry Larkin, Bert Blyleven, Billy Martin, Cecil TravisChipper Jones, Closers, Dan QuisenberryDave ParkerDon Mattingly, Don NewcombeGeorge Steinbrenner, George Van Haltren, Harold Baines, Jack MorrisJoe Carter, Joe Posnanski, John Smoltz, Juan Gonzalez, Keith Hernandez, Ken Caminiti, Larry WalkerMaury WillsMel HarderPete Browning, Phil Cavarretta, Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar, Rocky Colavito, Ron Guidry, Smoky Joe Wood, Steve Garvey, Ted Simmons, Thurman MunsonTim Raines, Will Clark

Killing Santa Claus: Abner Doubleday Did Not Invent Baseball

Editor’s note: Please welcome Maria Rainier, a freelance writer, baseball fan, and the first-ever female to guest post on this Web site.

This is the rude awakening in which you learn that Abner Doubleday, the Santa Claus of baseball, did not invent baseball.

Or, maybe not. Maybe you already know about the Doubleday myth. John Thorn made it clear in an interview on this site last spring that the honor goes to neither Doubleday nor the purported real inventor of baseball, Alexander Cartwright. Have you ever wondered, though, why the Doubleday myth got started in the first place? What made Abner Doubleday so apt for the fame that never should have been his?

The All-American

Doubleday was born in 1819 in a small house on the corner of Washington and Fenwick Street in Ballston Spa, New York. His family wasn’t wealthy; they slept in the attic loft of a house that had one room.

  • At this point, the Doubleday myth already gains popularity, often confused with credibility: he’s an underdog who started at rags and ended—at least as far as undue baseball fame goes—riches.  His hometown had neither furreners nor industry—an all-American beginning.

The family had a long history with the military. Doubleday was actually Doubleday, Jr., since his dad was also named Abner and fought in the Revolutionary War.

  • The Doubleday myth gains more popularity; everyone likes a war hero.

The War Hero

After being sent to Cooperstown to attend a private prepatory high school, Doubleday (Jr.) joined the military tradition himself by entering the United States Military Academy in 1838. He wasn’t exactly at the top of his class, but he managed to make the upper cut by placing 24th in a class of 56.

  • This is another win for baseball lovers.  Everyone wants a hero they can relate to in mediocrity.

Easily the most convincing reason he became an American hero—Santa Claus as John Thorn put it—is the fact that he already was one. Doubleday served as a general in the Civil War for the Union side.

  • Note that the Union side was the winning side, which adds to the rags to riches theory.  Plus, beginning the sticky issue of race in baseball with Abner was a little sticky in itself.

The oft-told and trite tale is that he fired the first shot at Fort Sumter—the first real battle of the war—and made a name for himself at Gettysburg, although Maj. Gen. George Meade didn’t like the him so much and relieved Doubleday, creating everlasting tension between the two of them.

  • Everyone (but Meade) loves a war hero.

The Fame and the Facts

It’s clear now that Doubleday is the perfect candidate for entering the Invented-Baseball-Hall-of-Fame. There is, however, no evidence for this claim, unless you count the testimony of a man decades after 1839 when Doubleday allegedly created the game. You’ll probably want to take into consideration that the guy, along with being a resident of Cooperstown, was convicted of murdering his wife and spent the final days of his life mumbling to himself in an asylum. Otherwise, there is no written evidence from 1839 or the 1840s, from Doubleday himself or any encyclopedia published in 1911, or Doubleday’s New York Times obituary.

How did the myth come about then? Some would say that baseball needed Doubleday to invent baseball. America’s favorite pastime needed an all-American hero to be its father. Baseball had daddy issues, and so resulted in the Mills Commission (organized by Spalding to put an end to the decades-long argument of who was its daddy) asserting, without evidence or apology, that Doubleday had invented the word and the game of baseball.

Thorn wrote an introduction to a Cartwright biography and told this site last year, “I believe that to this day if you could interview all baseball fans, that 60-70 percent of them would still say that Doubleday invented the game. It’s pretty hard to kill Santa Claus.”

Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education, playing with the newly revealed degree calculator and researching what college engineering degrees pay best. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.

Some Baseball Events I’ve Never Experienced

Editor’s note: I think every fan has some version of a baseball bucket list. Here is Doug Bird’s.

I’ve been a baseball fan (actually fanatic would be more accurate), all of my life but living in Canada has made it any easier, until the advent of the Internet and various television packages.

Sure, there are the Blue Jays, a mere six hour drive from my door, but that is in Toronto, a place reviled by the vast majority of Canadians.

Besides, until recently, the Jays have always struck me as a whiney “look at us we won a game; or we lost, and it’s not our fault” collection of prima donnas. I get enough of that from other sources.

There are four events which still remain on my to do baseball list and although time is certainly not running out (knock on my Louisville Slugger), I would like to cross them off my list in the near future.

Spring Training

I’ve never experienced the warmth of a March day while seated blissfully in the stands, watching my favourite players go through the rituals of exhibition baseball.  There is a relaxed ” we are still tied for first place mentality on the field and in the stands, a kind of let’s get reacquainted with each other” experience, or so I’m told.  It would be a chance to get away from the finances and scandals and any of the other distractions which eventually see the light of day during the regular season.  Besides, it would give me a chance to see my Pirates lose and still enjoy the weather.

Cooperstown

The baseball Hall of Fame is nestled in a quiet corner of northern New York state just far enough off the beaten track on my way to Pittsburgh to causes my wife, the driver, to exclaim, “Maybe next time honey, I only have four days off” I’ve shown her the pamphlet, the pictures of the inductee plaques, the interactive exhibitions and the beautiful grounds yet still I have not ventured onto this sacred place.  Not even the induction of our beloved Montreal Expo Andre Dawson was enough to take that right turn. I’d like to visit before it becomes tainted with the likes of Bonds, Clemens et al.

The World Serious

Not a typo. Football fans can talk about their Super Bowl, (really, a championship game named after something you put chips or tacos in?), the endless NHL and NBA playoffs, or any other championship events– baseball is the one. Why do you think they refer to it as the World Serious?

The difficulty in attending one of these hallowed games, officially called the World Series, is the uncertainty of the participants until only days prior. A game could be on the far away west coast, the only slightly closer Southern coast, or the Midwest or Southwest. Why mention New York or Boston as in the event one could even find scalpers tickets or a hotel room or flight for that matter, well, no one pays me that much money? Maybe the Pirates (that should give me time to save up.)

The All-Star Game

At least there is lots of advance warning for this game. Baseball designates the host city at minimum two years in advance, plenty of time for me to plan my all-star weekend adventure. I’d spring for the whole extravaganza, the heck with the mortgage money. I’d want to meet all the players I could, get everything signed and maybe even shake the hand of my childhood heroes (if Hank and Willie managed to be there.) I’d like to catch a baseball from the homerun derby. I’d like to step out onto the field, if only for a second or two. Sit down Mr. McCutchen, I’m buying.

One of these days-one of these days.

Turned Off by Pujols, the Cardinals and $$$

The Albert Pujols-St. Louis Cardinals haggling is a massive turn off. All I need to do is hear “Pujols” or “St. Louis Cardinals,” and I change the channel.

I’m not sure whether Pujols, his agent Dan Lozano, or the Cardinals truly understand what they refer to as “the market.”

Since I worked on Wall Street for nearly 25 years, I do understand it. Markets are not static but are constantly in flux.

Unfortunately for Pujols, in today’s baseball climate, there’s no interest in signing a 31-year-old player to a ten-year deal for nearly $30 million annually. As of today, Pujols’ value is $16 million for the remaining year on his contract. The Cardinals apparently offered more but Pujols prefers to gamble that by 2012, an owner will step up and offer him the money he wants.

Historically (see Jayson Werth, Alex Rodriguez, C.C. Sabathia, Kevin Brown, Ryan Howard etc.), owners have anted up. But there’s a certain group mentality among baseball’s big bosses that salaries and contract terms governing length of service have to be drawn somewhere. Pujols may have the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Other 2012 possibilities include Pujols wrenching his knee running out an Opening Day ground ball and requiring surgery. Or maybe, under the unpleasant atmosphere surrounding his dispute with the Cardinals he could hit .265 with a corresponding drop in home run and RBI production. If either of those scenarios comes true, Pujols value will drop precipitously.

Pujols is disappointingly hung up on being baseball’s highest paid player. But at the salary levels he’s talking about, what realistically does it matter if he earns more than Alex Rodriguez? I’ll make the seemingly strange (until you stop to think about it) argument that there is no practical difference between $20, $25 or $30 million a year. And if it were up to me, I’d rather not have my name mentioned in the same sentence with Rodriguez.

What the fans are left with is the prospect of an extended, season-long reminder that Pujols wants $5 or $10 million more per year than whatever multimillion dollar deal management has offered.

Whether it’s fair or not, an months-long debate about how many millions more Pujols wants in an era of 10 percent American unemployment puts him by definition in a bad light, at least as far as I’m concerned.

Give me Gil Meche any day! Meche left $12 million of his $55 million contract on the table when he retired from the Kansas City Royals during the off season. Plagued by shoulder injuries last year, Meche went 0-5 with a 5.69 ERA. Even with surgery, there was no guarantee that he would pitch in 2011.

As Meche said during his press conference:

My first reaction is I’m not a guy who’s going to sit here and play baseball for the money. I know you hear a lot of athletes say, `It’s not for the money, it’s not for the money.’

Actually, it wasn’t. And hopefully this does show a lot of guys do feel the same as I do. Yeah, I’ve made a lot of money in my career and I know I’m financially good. My kids are good. That’s comforting for me. I’m not a guy who’s going to go and blow money. The money wasn’t ever, ever a factor in my decision.

Do the math on Meche’s deal. He’s earned $43 million from baseball. At age 32 and assuming he lives to 72 but deducting whatever he’s spent since he signed his contract in 2007, he’s still got about $800,000 a year to live on (in retirement!) plus whatever supplemental income he generated before or after his career.

To date, Pujols has made $111 million and is a beloved figure. Pujols may or may not play out his days as a Cardinals; he could or could not keep his iconic status in St. Louis. But whether he signs with the Cardinals or some other money-minting team, there will always be a lingering and bitter aftertaste in fans’ hearts about what’s truly important to Pujols.

Outside Busch Stadium, 10 sculptures of St. Louis ballplayers stand. They represented the best Cardinals of all time and include Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Red Schoendienst and of course Presidential Medal of Freedom winner Stan Musial. Nowhere on their statues is there a mention of how much money they made.

The Great Friday Link Out VII: Stretch

Am I talking about Willie McCovey, the time for Take Me Out to the Ball Game, or something Kevin Garnett did very little of before his workout for the Timberwolves prior to the 1995 NBA Draft?

  • Good news from Bill Miller of The On Deck Circle: Bill will start having his blog content hosted by MLBBlogBuzz.com next Wednesday, February 23. Thus, our series on the best players on bad teams will be wrapping up next week. My entry on Ernie Banks is my last contribution to the series, though I hope to collaborate with Bill again soon. For now, I have another series in the works with another blogger that I’ll announce as it nears launch.
  • Newest addition to the blogroll: Through The Fence Baseball, courtesy of founder Jamie Shoemaker who contacted me Thursday evening. At first glance, it looks like a nice new site with a full staff of writers, and Jamie said they’ve generated immediate momentum. That’s no easy feat.
  • Every baseball fan’s dream (at least I can relate.) The only question has been if this story is true. Apparently it is– Deadspin just got an interview.
  • More favorite obscure ballplayers, courtesy of Arne Christensen.
  • Could a team with an $11 million payroll win 90 games? Meet the all-minimum contract team.
  • Geoff Young offers a fine ESPN.com Sweet Spot post on Robin Yount, a different kind of player.
  • Teenagers who played at least 100 games in a season.
  • The annual SABR convention will be in Long Beach, California from July 6-10. Presentation proposals are due Sunday at midnight. Note to self: Pay membership dues, get proposal together, avoid temptation to save dollars by traveling to the convention by Greyhound from the Bay Area.

The most untouchable baseball records

Editor’s note: I’m pleased to present this article from Rory Paap, a regular contributor here. Rory writes PaapFly.com and also contributes to the Hardball Times. After reading this article, check out his recent post for THT on if Grady Sizemore can save the Cleveland Indians.

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There are quite a few baseball records that are considered untouchable. You can bucket them into three categories: streaks, single-season records, and career records. What I’d like to do here is decide which of these records is the most unbreakable, but I’d like to do it with a twist. Let’s start with career records and you’ll catch on to the twist soon enough.

There are a lot of notable career records that are difficult: Cy Young and 511 wins, Barry Bonds and seven MVP awards, Walter Johnson and 110 shutouts, Pete Rose and 4,256 base hits, Bonds again with 2,558 walks, Bonds again with 688 intentional walks, Sam Crawford with 309 triples, Cy Young with 749 complete games, Ty Cobb with a .367 lifetime batting average, Nolan Ryan’s 5,714 career strikeouts, Nolan Ryan’s seven no-hitters and Rickey Henderson with 1,406 career stolen bases.

Some of these records are unbreakable because they’re impossible, not because they are hard. For example, no player will ever again win 511 games in their career, as Cy Young did. That’s an untouchable record. But if I sit here and tell you that, is it compelling? You’re certainly entitled to your own opinion, but it’s not. Not by a long shot in my book.

Why is that? Well, it’s pretty simple. Pitchers don’t pitch nearly as many games or innings as they used to. It’s nothing like when Young pitched and that became even truer when the trend in baseball went from a four-man to a five-man rotation in the early 1970s. If a pitcher is exceptionally healthy he will make 34 starts in a season. If he was exceptionally healthy and won every start for 15 seasons, he would win 510 games. Difficult? Damn near impossible. I’m eliminating it from contention.

Walter Johnson’s 110 shutouts is an exceedingly impressive record as well, but also exceedingly undoable. With the five-man rotation, modern pitch counts, and specialized bullpens, it’s not a reachable goal. Cy’s complete games record is unfathomable.

How about Bonds’ seven MVPs? That’s difficult and there’s nothing that’s changed that would preclude a player from winning an armful of those. It’s gone off my list. Rose’s hit record stays, and I think Ichiro would have been just the man to challenge it had he not played in Japan prior to coming to the MLB. Both of Bonds’ walk records seem untouchable but each fair game to challenge. I think Sam Crawford’s triples record is challengeable too, not that anyone will ever catch him. Ty Cobb and his .367 career average is ridiculous, but I’ll leave it in. Same with Ryan’s strikeouts and no-hitters as well as Henderson’s stolen bags.

We’re off to a rousing start. But let’s speed up the pace.

There are a bunch of great streaks too: Joe Dimaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, Ted Williams’ 84 straight games reaching base, Vince Coleman stole 50 straight bags without being caught, Johnny Vander Meer’s two consecutive no-hitters, Orel Hershiser’s 59 straight scoreless innings, Carl Hubbell’s 24 straight wins, Don Drysdale’s six consecutive shutouts, Cal Ripken’s 2,632 consecutive starts, Bonds’ four consecutive MVPs, Randy Johnson’s and Greg Maddux’s four consecutive Cy Young awards, Brooks Robinson and Jim Kaat each won 16 straight Gold Glove’s and Eric Gagne once saved 84 games in a row.

It’s time to trim the fat on those. Hubbell’s 24 straight wins, while impressive, is ultimately dependant on offensive support so I’m discarding it from contention. I’m also tossing the 16 Gold Glove streak, considering the voters gave Derek Jeter one last season. I’ve never been big on popularity contests. The rest seem good to me.

In terms of single-season records, I like these best: Bonds’ 73 home runs, Bonds’ 232 walks in a season, Bonds’ 120 intentional walks in a season – maybe I should have made a Bonds category. Henderson stole 130 bases in a season and Jack Chesbro’s won 41 games.

We also have Ichiro’s 262 hits, Earl Webb’s 67 doubles, Chief Wilson’s 36 triples, Hack Wilson’s 191 RBI, Bonds’ 1,422 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS). Matt Kilroy’s record of 520 strikeouts in a season, 1886 appears safe, but the modern record is Ryan’s 373 in 1973. How about Francisco Rodriguez’s 62 saves? Sorry, this is added to the who-gives-a-crap category. Bob Gibson’s modern record of a 1.12 ERA is very impressive.

Of these, we only need to throw out a couple: Chesbro’s 41 wins for the same reasons I junked Young’s 511 and Hubbell’s 24 consecutive as well as the Rodriguez’s 62 saves for reasons I’ve already stated. Also on the wins: even if baseball went back to a four man rotation, the pitcher would have to win every single game he pitched in order to get 41 wins. Sound reasonable? I didn’t think so.

For fun, let’s mix in some unenviable records. You’d hate to show up on this list. For single-season grounded into double plays (GIDP) we have Jim Rice with 36 – Watch out, Billy Butler is on your tail.

We also have strikeouts with the 223 that Mark Reynolds put up – he owns spots one, two and three and might eclipse them all in 2011 as he’s moving to the tougher league, and the AL East at that. How about the single-season wild pitches record? Mark Baldwin can sleep easy with 83. What, it’s not Rick Ankiel’s record?! It’s not the modern record, anyway. Juan Guzman managed a remarkable 26 in 1993. Bravo

It’s time to pick my favorites, which aren’t necessarily the toughest – I’ll pick three per category.

Career: Ryan’s 5,714 strikeouts, Henderson’s 1,406 stolen bases and… a wild card.

Three players hold the record for the most Sabermetric Triple Crowns in a career. Why have I chosen this? Because it’s awesome and I’m not much on the original Triple Crown (batting average, home runs, RBI). I’m using Fungoes’ version, i.e. the highest OBP, total bases (TB) and runs created (RC) in a season. It’s a three-way tie between Rogers Hornsby, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams. Of note is that Williams and Hornsby each won two traditional Triple Crown’s in their five Sabermetric Triple Crown seasons. They’re the only players in history with two.

To put this into context a bit, know that Bonds and Pujols were both completely dominant players in their peaks (Pujols is still technically in his) and each only have one Sabermetric Triple Crown to their name. That being said, Bonds likely would have won a few more were he not so feared; the number of walks he accumulated precluded him from reaching gaudy total base totals.

Streaks: DiMaggio’s 56-game hit streak (obviously), Williams’ underrated record of 84 straight games of reaching base and Ripken’s 2,632 consecutive starts, which still absolutely boggles my mind. Others have tried (Miguel Tejada) and failed. Regrettably, ALS cut the previous record holder’s (Lou Gehrig) streak short.

Single-season: Ichiro’s 262 hits, Bonds’ 73 home runs and Henderson’ 130 stole bases.

What are your favorite records or those you believe are most difficult to challenge?

Any player/Any era: Mike Schmidt

What he did: I read a book last year where Ted Williams ranked the 20 greatest hitters all-time. When I saw Williams included Mike Schmidt, it seemed misguided given Schmidt’s .267 career batting average and 1,883 strikeouts, seventh-highest in baseball history. In addition, Schmidt’s OPS of .9076 is 56th all-time and his OPS+ of 147 is tied for 39th. Schmidt might be the greatest third baseman ever given that his OPS+ and his WAR, 108.3 are tops at the position and he ranks among the best defenders there too, but calling him one of the 20 greatest hitters seems a stretch.

This being said, Schmidt’s OPS+ totals hint he may have been another Hall of Famer who played in the wrong era. The .267 batting clip, while unsightly, can be partly explained by Schmidt playing from 1972 to 1989 where pitchers had a slight edge. Even his 548 home runs are less than what he might have had at a different time. Transported to a point in baseball history where hitters had a clear advantage, Schmidt might have a .300 lifetime batting average and 600 home runs.

Era he might have thrived in: There may be some old school fans who still consider Pie Traynor the best third baseman of all-time, since he hit .320, was one of the first players at his position inducted into the Hall of Fame, and had a distinctive name. (“My great hero in sports, when I was a kid, was Pie Traynor,” sportswriter Jimmy Cannon said in No Cheering in the Press Box. “He played a wonderful third base for the Pittsburgh Pirates and was particularly good against the Giants. I think the name fascinated me. I never heard of a guy called Pie before, except there was a homely girl in our neighborhood who we called Pieface.”)

Traynor’s OPS+ of 107 and WAR of 37.1 rank him far down the list of third basemen, though, and if we substitute Schmidt for Traynor on Pittsburgh from 1920 through 1937, even old-timers couldn’t deny Schmidt as an all-time great bat.

Why: Schmidt would go from a so-so time for hitters to one of the greatest and get to play on an offensive juggernaut to boot, the ’20s and ’30s Pirates who went to the World Series twice and boasted future Hall of Famers in their batting order like the Waner brothers, Max Carey, and Kiki Cuyler. Schmidt could be the lineup’s centerpiece. I ran his numbers through the stat converter on Baseball-Reference.com, and playing for Pittsburgh from 1920 through 1937, he comes out with 603 career homes and a .292 lifetime batting average.

While I set out merely to sub Schmidt for Traynor, giving him credit for the 1936 season Traynor sat out, there’s an odd synchronicity. Schmidt’s actual best seasons coincide in this exercise with peak offensive years in baseball history. Consider Schmidt’s best effort, his strike-shortened 1981 MVP season where he posted career highs in OPS (1.080) and OPS+ (199) to go with 31 home runs and 91 RBI. That season gets used here for 1929, and Schmidt comes out with an almost Ruthian .366 batting average, 56 home runs, 178 RBI, and a 1.236 OPS. The converter shows Schmidt having seven other 40-homer seasons, whereas he had three in real life.

I emailed one of the regulars here yesterday, and he replied, “Might want to rethink the Schmidt hrs. He had surprising speed. In Forbes [Field, where Pittsburgh played], it would have translated into more singles, doubles and triples.” There may be something to my reader’s point, and for what it’s worth, the converter has Schmidt with 2,445 hits, 444 doubles, 60 triples, and 200 steals lifetime. Regardless, it seems to me if we use .267 and 548 home runs as a baseline, Schmidt would only improve in Traynor’s era.

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, Bob Watson, Denny McLain, Dom DiMaggio, Frank Howard, Fritz MaiselGeorge CaseHarmon Killebrew, Harry Walker, Home Run Baker, Ichiro Suzuki, Jack Clark, Jackie Robinson, Jimmy Wynn, Joe DiMaggio, Johnny FrederickJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr., Lefty O’Doul, Michael Jordan, Nate Colbert, Paul Derringer, Pete Rose, Prince Fielder, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Clemente, Sam Thompson, Sandy KoufaxShoeless Joe Jackson, Stan Musial, The Meusel BrothersTy Cobb, Willie Mays

Remembering Chuck Tanner

Pittsburgh Pirates fans have known for months that Chuck Tanner was in poor health and fading fast. We saw him at PNC Park mid-summer at a weekend long celebration for the 1979 World Series championship team. From August 21-23, the Pirates honored Tanner, the players, coaches, families, and the uniform style from that season. Tickets went for $19.79 and the Friday night fans got one of those crazy looking caps that the players wore that season.

Tanner’s eulogies have been overwhelmingly positive. Most describe him as the nicest man in baseball and a sound strategist. Almost apologetically, some commentators made a passing reference to the blackest chapter in Pirates’ history—the cocaine scandal that engulfed the team during the early 1980s while Tanner was its pilot. While the consensus is that if Tanner didn’t know what was going on in the clubhouse, as he swore he didn’t, then he most certainly should have.

My Society for American Baseball Research colleague D. Bruce Brown in his daily trivia email reminded me of one the most amusing footnotes in recent baseball history that involved Tanner. On May 11, 1977 in a game against the hapless Atlanta Braves, Tanner became the only manager to defeat Ted Turner in his single managerial appearance. (Sign up for Brown’s email here. SABR members get extra hints; they’re helpful.)

The Braves, who would lose 101 games that year, were floundering under Dave Bristol’s direction. Turner sent his beleaguered manager on an extended “scouting trip” and replaced him in the dugout. Wearing uniform number 27, Turner watched his hapless Braves lose their seventeenth straight game, 2-1. Years later, Tanner named the Pirates winning pitcher, John Candelaria, as the hurler he would most like to have on the mound in a “must win” situation.

The next day Commissioner Bowie Kuhn and National League president Chub Feeney ruled that no one who owned stock in a club could manage it. Turner immediately declared the commissioner’s decision nonsense and said that it represented instead a vendetta against him. At the time, Turner was unpopular among other owners and with the baseball higher ups for his aggressive 1976 pursuit of free agent Gary Matthews that resulted in a one-year suspension eventually delayed on appeal.

Here are a few other fun facts about Tanner.

Born on Independence Day, Tanner hit a home run on the first major league pitch he ever saw. On Opening Day, April 12, 1955, Tanner pinch hit for Milwaukee Braves’ starter Warren Spahn in the bottom of the eigth inning and homered off the Cincinnati Reds’ Gerry Staley.

Then on July 19 at Forbes Field, Tanner played every inning against the Pirates during Vern Law’s heroic 18-inning start. Batting seventh in the right field slot, Tanner went 2-for-seven with an RBI.

As manager for the Chicago White Sox (1970-1975), the Oakland Athletics (1976), the Pirates (1977-1985) and the Atlanta Braves (1986-1988), Tanner won 1,352 games. A public viewing of Tanner was held Tuesday at the Cunningham Funeral Home in New Castle where he was born in 1929.

Other recent passings: George Crowe, Art Mahan, Gil McDougald, Billy Raimondi

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Harold Baines

Claim to fame: One of the first longtime designated hitters to build some support for Cooperstown, Baines hit .289 lifetime with 2,866 hits and 384 home runs. He might never have been a superstar, much of a defender, or someone I’d seriously consider voting into the Hall of Fame, but with 150 more hits, he’d probably have been a first ballot inductee.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Baines received 4.8 percent of the vote this year from the Baseball Writers Association of America, which will remove him from future ballots. In his four preceding years on the ballot, Baines never got more than about 6 percent of the writers vote.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Here’s an interesting quirk of baseball history. Baseball-Reference.com includes a Bill James-inspired metric called Similarity Scores which show how players compare based on career batting stats. For reasons I’ll explain momentarily, the player Al Kaline ranks most similar to for this metric is Baines.

Does this mean Baines was as good as Kaline, a first-ballot Hall of Famer? No. Kaline has the better lifetime batting average, a higher OPS+ and nearly three times as much WAR. More than that, Similarity Scores aren’t adjusted for era, meaning if Kaline played the second half of his career in the hitter-friendly 1990s or got to DH a lot like Baines, Kaline might have a .315 career batting average and 500 more hits. This says nothing about Kaline’s superior value in the outfield or as a franchise cornerstone of the Detroit Tigers. He earned his spot in Cooperstown.

But it wouldn’t seem outlandish to call Baines a poor man’s Kaline at the plate, and with 150 more hits, he’d already be in the Hall of Fame. Until Rafael Palmeiro this year, no eligible player with 3,000 hits had failed to be a first ballot inductee since 1952. Don’t ask me why the BBWAA assigns such significance to 3,000 hits. It isn’t like this with 300 wins, as Phil Niekro, Gaylord Perry, or Don Sutton know, nor with 500 home runs, which couldn’t get Harmon Killebrew into the Hall of Fame his first three tries. But 3,000 hits has meant first-round induction for, dare I say, lesser greats like Dave Winfield, Eddie Murray, and Carl Yastrzemski.

Meanwhile, Al Oliver, who hit .303 lifetime with 2,743 hits received exactly 20 Hall of Fame votes his only year eligible, 1991. Baines has done markedly better than Oliver in Cooperstown voting for reasons I’m not completely sure of—Oliver has a slightly better WAR, 38.8 and played from 1968 to 1985, with most of his best years in a tougher time for hitters than Baines who played 1980 to 2001. Judging from his hitting stats, Oliver might be one of the more underrated players in baseball history. Neither man was anything less than a liability defensively, though if I had to choose one of them to DH for me, I’d take Oliver, no question.

All of this is not to knock Baines who had many All Star-caliber years, figured in nicely with some playoff teams, and would be a first rate member of a Hall of Very Good. But then, a player or two with 3,000 hits might belong there too.

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

Others in this series: Adrian Beltre, Al OliverAlbert Belle, Barry Larkin, Bert Blyleven, Billy Martin, Cecil TravisChipper Jones, Closers, Dan QuisenberryDave ParkerDon Mattingly, Don NewcombeGeorge Steinbrenner, George Van Haltren, Jack MorrisJoe Carter, Joe Posnanski, John Smoltz, Juan Gonzalez, Keith Hernandez, Ken Caminiti, Larry WalkerMaury WillsMel HarderPete Browning, Phil Cavarretta, Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar, Rocky Colavito, Ron Guidry, Smoky Joe Wood, Steve Garvey, Ted Simmons, Thurman MunsonTim Raines, Will Clark

The 10 most tragic baseball deaths

1. Lou Gehrig: Gehrig’s consecutive games streak ended in May 1939 after he was diagnosed with a terminal disease later named after him. Gehrig was dead in two years, though not before the Yankees honored him with Lou Gehrig Day on July 4, 1939. The image of Gehrig standing before microphones, teammates, and more than 70,000 fans is one of the most moving in baseball history. His words: “Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”

2. Roberto Clemente: The not-too-distant runner up here to Gehrig, Clemente’s death might be most heroic. Months after getting his 3,000th and final hit, Clemente was killed in a New Years Eve 1972 crash of a plane overloaded with relief supplies for earthquake victims. As it did with Gehrig, the Hall of Fame waived its five-year waiting period to immediately induct Clemente.

3. Christy Matthewson: The Hall of Fame pitcher and New York Giants legend died of tuberculosis at 45 in 1925, seven years after his lungs were seared with poison gas in a drill during World War I. Flags flew at half-staff at ballparks around the country after Matthewson’s death, and in 1936, he was the only deceased person among the first five players voted into Cooperstown.

4. Josh Gibson: Considered the black Babe Ruth, Gibson longed to be the first black player in the majors. But as the years passed, Gibson’s drinking worsened, and his physical and mental health deteriorated. He died of a stroke at 35 in January 1947, months after Branch Rickey signed black prospects Jackie Robinson and John Wright for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

5. Ray Chapman: The Cleveland Indians shortstop took a Carl Mays submarine fastball to his temple in August 1920, collapsed after two steps toward first base, and never regained consciousness. He remains the only Major League ballplayer to die in the line of duty.

6. Addie Joss: Joss was an ace Deadball Era pitcher for the Cleveland Indians who died in 1911 at 31 of meningitis. After Joss’s death, ballplayers arranged an All Star game for his widow’s benefit and raised $11,000, an early effort at organizing. Decades later, the Veterans Committee enshrined Joss.

7-8. Thurman Munson, Darryl Kile: Yankee captain Munson died in a plane crash in August 1979 at 32. Kile died in his sleep at the Cardinals team hotel in June 2002, hours before he was to pitch. After each player’s death, the Hall of Fame waived its five-year waiting period, though neither man came close to being enshrined.

9. Lyman Bostock: A promising 27-year-old outfielder for the California Angels and a finalist in the 1977 American League batting race, Bostock was shot to death in September 1978, as he rode in the back seat of a car in Gary, Indiana. Seemingly just in the wrong place at the wrong time, Bostock was shot by the estranged husband of a woman he was sitting next to who he’d met 20 minutes before, hours after a game against the White Sox.

10. Kirby Puckett: During his career, press and fans viewed Puckett as a lovable figure, “the closest thing to a smurf,” as Sports Illustrated noted. That image imploded after Puckett was accused of sexual assault, and while he was later vindicated, the damage was permanent. He ballooned to 300 pounds, developed hypertension, and died of a stroke at 45 in 2006.

(Editor’s note: Links to each player’s obituary on TheDeadBallEra.com are provided, as available.)

Related posts: 10 best pitchers turned position players, 10 best pitching rotations without any Hall of Famers, 10 most durable position players,

For Irv Noren, Timing Was Everything

In baseball, as in all of life, to be in the right place at the right time is a wonderful thing.

So it was with Irv Noren, one of my early Hollywood Stars’ heroes. Generally remembered as a productive if not spectacular outfielder with the New York Yankees, Noren was the Stars’ 1949 Pacific Coast League Most Valuable Player. That year, the Stars’ finished in first place first with a 109-78 (187 games!) while Noren hit .330 with 29 home runs and 130 RBIs. Noren was also MVP of the Texas League in 1948 when he played for the Ft.Worth Panthers.

Noren still couldn’t crack the lineup of his parent team, the Brooklyn Dodgers. Duke Snider, two years younger, had center field sewed up, Carl Furillo was a right field fixture and Gene Hermanski, a proven .290 hitter.

Since the Dodgers had no room for him, Noren’s big league career began with two solid years with the Washington Senators as an outfielder and first baseman. His 1950 stats: .295, 14 HR and 98 RBIs; in 1951, .279, 8 and 86.

Then, good luck struck. In May 1952, the Senators traded Noren along with Tom Upton to the Yankees for Jackie Jensen, Spec Shea, Jerry Snyder and Archie Wilson.

Yankee manager Casey Stengel foretold of Noren, “This fellow is big, smart and has all of the potential.”

Noren donned pinstripes just in time to be part of World Series championship teams in 1952, 1953 and 1956 and the American League title in 1955. For Noren, his trade represented going over night from the bottom of the baseball barrel in Washington to cashing World Series checks.

The trade was a sweet one for the Yankees, too. Not only did Noren provide a solid left handed bat, he platooned at two positions. Stengel juggled Johnny Mize, Joe Collins and Noren at first base. In the outfield, Stengel’s interchangeable players were Hank Bauer, Gene Woodling and Noren.

As recounted in Jane Leavy’s 2010 biography of Mickey Mantle, The Last Boy, Noren also figured in Mantle’s historic 1953 home run out of Griffith Stadium. At batting practice that day, April 17, 1953, Noren told Mantle he might be able to hit a ball out of the park. “I played there two years,” Noren told Leavy. “I knew the ballpark pretty good. The wind was blowing out a little–not a gale. And I always thought he had more power right-handed.”

At the end of the 1956 season, the Yankees traded Noren to the Kansas City Athletics with Mickey McDermott, Tom Morgan, Billy Hunter and three others in exchange for Art Ditmar, Bobby Shantz, Clete Boyer and three minor league prospects.

From 1957 to 1960, Noren played infrequently for the St. Louis Cardinals, the Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers before retiring.

But Noren remained in baseball as a minor league manager and major league coach. While piloting the Hawaii Islanders from 1962-1963, then the Los Angeles Angels AAA affiliate, Noren established a rule that any player who reported sunburned at game time would be fined $50.

Although no longer a Yankee, Noren would have one more taste of World Series money. As a coach for the Oakland Athletics from 1972-1974, Noren cashed three more checks.

Noren played in the 1954 All Star Game and in 1946-1947 was a member of the National Basketball League’s Chicago American Gears where he teamed with the great George Mikan. In 1947, the Gears defeated the Rochester Royals to win the NBL Championship.

Now age 86, Noren lives in Pasadena.

The Great Friday Link Out V: V is for Venable

Another Friday, another round of links to some stuff worth reading:

  • Bill Miller posted the latest installment of the series he and I are doing about good players on bad teams. This week, Bill features Mickey Lolich, the fine Detroit Tigers pitcher who seems a little underrated and forgotten today and will probably be more and more of each as time passes.
  • The following is my kind of post. Arne Christensen is asking people to come up with their Favorite Obscure Baseball Figure of All-Time. As I write this, it’s about 6 a.m. Friday, and I know I’ll spend at least some of my work day thinking of lots of these players, but for now, I’ll go with Ron Necciai, who once recorded 27 strikeouts in a minor league game.
  • Spring training cliche I know we’re all sick of: “He’s in the worst shape of his life!”
  • A friend asked me yesterday who I’d rather the Giants have had at shortstop than Miguel Tejada, Edgar Renteria, or Jose Juan Uribe. Here’s one option they missed.
  • New Hardball Times contributor Rory Paap, whose writing also can be found on this site from time to time, posted something on his own site Thursday evening looking for the cracks in WAR. Keep up all your good work, Rory!
  • Great Moments in Sabremetrics: Potential routine bashing of Murray Chass morphs into an involved discussion about opera

Any player/Any era: Prince Fielder

What he did: I sometimes talk up the late 1930s, an offensive Golden Age for first basemen in the American League when Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Hank Greenberg, Hal Trosky, and Zeke Bonura created perhaps the greatest depth ever at the position. I’ve written about how other lumbering sluggers like Harmon Killebrew and Frank Howard would boost their stats, particularly batting average, playing in the era. Add Prince Fielder to their ranks. A .279 lifetime hitter mostly known for his power, Fielder might hit .330 in a season and challenge for the home run record on the right 1930s team.

Era he might have thrived in: The Boston Red Sox resided in the bottom half of the American League every season from the time Babe Ruth left town in 1920 until the mid-1930s, finishing last nine times in 15 years. Things began to turn around after Tom Yawkey bought the team in 1933 and started buying future Hall of Famers like Lefty Grove, Joe Cronin, and prior to the 1936 season, Foxx. For our purposes, we’ll suspend disbelief about Fielder playing in the majors as a black man prior to 1947 and substitute him for Foxx. Statistically, he’d have a historic season.

Why: I don’t know if anyone could have hit .330 with 40 home runs and 130 RBI in the 1930s but it sometimes seems like it, be it for the majors’ lack of good pitching in those days, a higher average of runs per game, or other factors I’m not aware of. Whatever the case, taking sluggers from less hitter-friendly eras and running their numbers through the stat converter on Baseball-Reference.com can yield some cartoonish results, especially in a notorious hitters enclave like Fenway Park. Fielder has averaged 38 home runs each of his full seasons in the majors, but that’s nothing compared to what he might do decades prior with Boston.

Of his six seasons in the majors to date, Fielder converts best to 1936 for his 2007 and 2009 efforts. For 2007, he’d have more home runs, 58, though his production is best converted for 2009. The converter has the Fielder of 2009 on the 1936 Red Sox with 55 home runs, 181 RBI, and a .346 batting average and 1.161 OPS, which trumps Foxx’s 1936 numbers of 41 home runs, 143 RBI and a .338 batting average and 1.071 OPS. Of course, Foxx rose to hit 50 home runs with 175 RBI and a .349 batting average and 1.166 OPS, so Fielder would have to sustain his production, but it doesn’t seem outlandish to suggest he might have been an upgrade over Foxx.

It’s a shame blacks weren’t allowed in the majors until 1947, and a part of me wonders how ’30s sluggers like Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard might have done on a team like the Red Sox (which was pathetically slow to add black players even after the majors finally integrated.) I can’t help but wonder if black position players missed out on more offensive records by being kept from the majors until after World War II when the game had shifted to favor pitchers. It makes me respect legends like Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Frank Robinson all the more. In a sense, they’re underrated.

I don’t mean to suggest any black player would put up insane numbers in the 1930s (Harold Reynolds would still be Harold Reynolds in any era), and there are plenty of white players like Killebrew or Howard who could have benefited playing in the greatest offensive period in baseball history short of the late 1990s. Still, I have to wonder. Maybe Gibson, who was considered the “Black Babe Ruth” or Leonard, the “Black Lou Gehrig,” could have had Fielder’s projected numbers from 1936, maybe better. We’ll never know.

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, Bob Watson, Denny McLain, Dom DiMaggio, Frank Howard, Fritz MaiselGeorge CaseHarmon Killebrew, Harry Walker, Home Run Baker, Ichiro Suzuki, Jack Clark, Jackie Robinson, Jimmy Wynn, Joe DiMaggio, Johnny FrederickJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr., Lefty O’Doul, Michael Jordan, Nate Colbert, Paul Derringer, Pete Rose, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Clemente, Sam Thompson, Sandy KoufaxShoeless Joe Jackson, Stan Musial, The Meusel BrothersTy Cobb, Willie Mays

To Major League Baseball Owners, Millions Don’t Matter

Everyone baseball fan has his personal favorite of the most outrageous off season, multimillion dollar free agent signing. A close friend, for example, can’t get over the Chicago Cubs inking .196 hitter Carlos Pena to a $10 million, one year contract. While playing for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2010, the 33-year-old Pena struck out 158 times in 484 at bats while also hitting 28 home runs with 84 RBIs.

All I can say is $10 million isn’t what it used to be.

Around Pittsburgh, the consensus is that Jeff Karstens $1.1 million, one-year contract was overly generous given his 2010 stats. Karstens pitched in only 26 games, started 19, finished none, saved none, totaled a mere 122 innings and ended the year with a 3-10 record, a 4.92 ERA and a 1.41 WHIP. Although he rarely escapes the fifth inning, Karstens earned nearly a threefold salary increase.

For me, however, the corker is the New York Yankees’ adding Ardruw Jones to its roster. Putting aside his suspected use of PED’s, Jones is an older than his 33 years veteran whose best seasons are long behind him. In 2008, 2009 and 2010, Jones played one year each for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers and Chicago White Sox. Last year with the White Sox, Jones batted .230 with 19 home runs and 48 RBIs.

I confess that no matter what Jones may accomplish with the Yankees, I’ll never be able to view him positively. On a beautiful 2008 Independence Day at San Francisco’s AT &T Park, I saw Jones take a 0-5 collar. In more than five decades of watching major league baseball, I’ve never seen anyone more over-matched at the plate than Jones was that day.

Playing for the league leading Dodgers, Jones struck out swinging three times in a row and then took a called third strike before finally tapping a weak ground ball to third.

A look at the pitchers who handled Jones with such ease isn’t flattering either: Jonathan Sanchez, Alex Hinshaw and Jack Taschner.

But Jones’ ineptitude didn’t keep the Dodgers from winning 10-7 in a fun back and forth game between the two intrastate rivals. And, of course, any summer afternoon watching baseball at AT&T Park is always a memorable day whether your team wins or not.