Monthly Archives: March 2011

BASEBALL: The Game That Helped Make America

In February, New York University president John Sexton invited me to lecture his undergraduate class, “Baseball as a Road to God,” about the role the sport played in helping immigrants from the early 1900’s assimilate. The subject is one near and dear to my heart. My own Sicilian grandmother was an avid Brooklyn Dodgers fan. As I spoke to the students, I told them my grandmother’s tale as well as the story of how thousands of Pittsburgh immigrants became Pirates fans and eventually Americans.

As part of its Opening Day coverage, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published my column about “Baseball as a Road to God” here.

For more details about the class including an interview with Mr. Sexton and its comprehensive reading list, go here.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Dick Allen

Claim to fame: A seven-time All Star, 1972 American League MVP, and two-time home run champion, Allen may rank as one of the best baseball players not in the Hall of Fame. He’s certainly one of the best hitters of the 1960s not in Cooperstown, his 351 home runs and .292 batting average more a facet of his relatively short career and the fact he played in a celebrated pitcher’s era. One need only look at Allen’s OPS+ of 156, fourth best of any eligible player not enshrined, to know he was something special at the plate. Stats don’t tell the whole story with Allen, though.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Allen exhausted his time 0n the writers ballot in 1997, one of those players who had a cult of support with roughly the same small percentage of people voting for him each year. For staying on the ballot 14 years, Allen never got more than 20 percent of the vote and received less than 10 percent just four times. He can now be considered by the Veterans Committee.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? My quick take is yes, but I’m admittedly somewhat sentimental in these matters. Push come to shove, I probably wouldn’t have any problem enshrining Allen or other fan favorite players who’ve been long left out of Cooperstown like Ron Santo or Gil Hodges. I don’t believe the museum would be much worse statistically for their presence, and they seem like they’d have plaques parents would want their children to see. Isn’t that the point of the Hall of Fame?

Of course, the arguments against Allen (and Santo and Hodges and so many others) aren’t hard to see, either. Allen was horrific defensively, his defensive WAR of -10.6 knocking his overall WAR down to 61.2. I wonder if his defensive woes in contrast to his offensive prowess were part of the impetus for the designated hitter position, which originated in 1973 and featured a veteran Allen as one of the first. He was also finished at 35 in 1977 and a sub-replacement level player his final three seasons. More than that, he has a controversial image and may have been the Albert Belle of his day, another fine hitter who hasn’t come close to Cooperstown.

Bill James called Allen a clubhouse cancer, writing in one of his books that Allen did “more to keep his teams from winning than anybody else who ever played major league baseball.” In The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract in 2001, James called Allen the second-most controversial player in baseball history behind Rogers Hornsby. Teammates and coaches have spoken out in Allen’s defense as a team leader and captain, and even if the allegations they defended were true, Allen wouldn’t be the first jerk in Cooperstown (and probably not the last.)

It’s not always fun to see these kinds of players have their day, but Allen might deserve one.

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

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

So your dad’s a famous baseball player? Good luck with that

In this space Saturday, Joe Guzzardi discussed the troubled life of his former prep school classmate and friend, Joe DiMaggio Jr. The only son of the Yankee legend never came close to his father’s success, bouncing through life, abusing drugs and alcohol, and dying a miserable death in Antioch, California in 1999. One of my friends was homeless in Antioch off and on for a number of years. It’s a bleak place to bottom out, one of the armpits of the San Francisco Bay Area.

DiMaggio Jr. wasn’t unique. Children of baseball Hall of Famers often struggle to compare to their parents, seemingly forever cursed with the expectation their genetics should make greatness easily attainable. It’s not that the kids are failures or bad people or any more mediocre than countless other individuals who get to fall short in obscurity. Children of top ballplayers have tough standards to live up to. If anything, their struggles reinforce the greatness and rarity of their fathers.

“I think there’s a jinx with sons of famous athletes,” Ty Cobb’s son James told sportswriter Ira Berkow in 1969. “None of them ever topped their fathers. Look at Dick Sisler and Big Ed Walsh’s son. They never did make it real big. And I understand Stan Musial’s son was a very good baseball player. But he gave it up.”

Here are a few more famous examples, good and bad:

Mickey Mantle: Mantle built a Hall of Fame career around drinking and carousing and had four sons, all alcoholics. His namesake Mickey Mantle Jr. had a token run in the minor leagues in the 1970s, with one coach remarking in Jane Leavy’s recent Mantle biography, The Last Boy, “He showed skills. Mostly he showed he didn’t play a lot.” Mantle Jr. died of cancer in 2000, five years after his father passed, and today, two of the sons are alive and, at last report, sober.

Ozzie Smith: The son of the St. Louis Cardinals shortstop famous for turning back flips on field must have inherited his father’s showmanship– Nikko Smith took ninth place in the fourth season of American Idol.

Ted Williams: Williams’ only son, John Henry was controversial with his doting care on his father in the final years of his life and wound up in a legal battle with his sister after having Williams frozen following his death in 2002. John Henry himself passed not long after of leukemia in 2004 at 35. It’s worth noting that like Mantle Jr., John Henry also had a brief, unsuccessful baseball career, playing in the minors and independent circuit in 2002 and 2003.

Pete Rose: Like father, like son. Both Roses played in the Reds organization, the younger Rose mostly as a long-tenured minor league player, and both men had legal problems, Rose for tax evasion and his son for dealing steroids to teammates.

Babe Ruth: Ruth and his first wife Helen adopted a daughter, Dorothy in 1921, who was rumored to be the Babe’s biological child with a mistress. Dorothy married twice, raising Arabian horses and three children, and not long before her death in 1989, she came out with a memoir, My Dad, the Babe.

Prognostication Time for Major League Baseball, Part Three

Welcome to part three. It seems likely that a part ad infinitem would be possible with Bud running the show but let’s continue with some more likely scenarios for the 2011 major league baseball season. If you’ve been able to follow thus far, congratulations. As with part two, I am continuing from the point I left of previously.

13.   Chicago Whitesox manager Ozzie Guillen insists that there are too many Latin players and managers in baseball and asks his son to twitter President Obama arguing that Ozzie doesn’t know what he is talking about.  The message arrives censored and therefore blank to a confused CIA operative in the White House who immediately assumes that the twitter has something to do with the movie “The Wizard of Oz”.  Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour is contacted but he is on vacation on the dark side of the moon.  Ozzie later explains that what he really meant to say was that the Cubs will never win and that there are too many Latin players and managers in major league baseball.

14.   The Kansas City Royals continue to stock their farm system with what many scouts have deemed, the best system they have ever seen.  Not wanting to ruin what he has built up over the past few seasons, Royals GM Dayton Moore refuses to promote any of his prospects to the majors, insisting that to do so would disappoint the many thousands of minor league baseball fans throughout the Kansas City organization and down grade their No. 1 ranking with Baseball America.  It would also lessen the chances of high draft picks in the future, potentially weakening a top notch farm system. His trade of Zack Greinke was deemed necessary as Greinke was embarrassing the rest of the less than mediocre Royals pitching staff and his striving to be a major league star simply did not allow him to fit into the Kansas City clubhouse mentality.

15.   The Topps baseball card company are forced to issue a disclaimer concerning the 2011 San Francisco Giants team set.  A staffer at the company mixed up several of the player’s names and statistics with the ZZ Top rock and roll legends card set.  He claimed that with every Giants player now sport a beard and long hair, only manager Bruce Bochy is recognizable. Even then there was some confusion between the clean shaven Bochy and clean shaven ZZ Top drummer Frank Beard. Confusion continued to grow as guitarist Billy Gibbons pitched the ninth inning of a recent home game while San Francisco closer Brian  Wilson sang Sharp Dressed Man instead of the national anthem before the game.

16.   In an act of sympathy for owner Frank McCourt, all Los Angeles Dodger players filed for divorce and gave half ownership of their positions to their wives.  The wives will play innings three, five, seven and nine and will be allowed to wear their husbands’ uniforms and gloves.  Bullpen bbqs are not part of the arrangement and the wives are not obligated to appear on field unless uniforms are spotless and the new flowers on the infield are watered and protected from sliding and/or diving runners and fielders.  There is also to be no spitting or cursing and any wife arguing with an umpire will automatically be deemed winner of said argument. There is still no crying in baseball although manager Don Matingly will be exempt in certain cases.

17.   The Montreal Expos continue their undefeated streak, now stretching from 2006 but because of an odd quirk in the rulebook, have been declared ineligible for post season play each of the past six seasons.  Their Triple A farm club, the Washington Nationals, continue to struggle and Les Expos have yet to promote a single player from the team.  Despite claims by the Toronto Blue Jays, (who have shortened their name to the Rays), Montreal are and always will be Canada’s team.

The Expos also remain undefeated on the tennis courts of old Jarry Parc and are once again accepting bids for a new and functional roof over Stade Olympic.  Team mascot Youppi continues to moonlight as cheerleader for the National Hockey League Montreal Canadians and various heavy metal groups have been assigned the playing of both national anthems before each game.  Metallica front man James Hetfield was heard to complain, “I only know two chords and neither one is in those darn anthems, especially the French chords.”

There you have it – my fearless predictions for the 2011 Major League baseball season.  Not scientific I suppose but sometimes ya gotta go with your gut.

Joe DiMaggio, His Son (My Friend) and Marilyn Monroe

Graham Womack’s review of Jermone Charyn’s new book Joe DiMaggio:The Long Vigil reminded me of a friendship I had with DiMaggio’s only child, his son Joe, Jr.

During the 1960s, young Joe and I were classmates at a New Jersey all-boys preparatory school. Interestingly, DiMaggio never talked about his father. Not until long after we graduated did I learn that Joe and his father had a stained and often hostile relationship.

After DiMaggio divorced his first wife Dorothy Arnold, Joe  (called Joey D. by his family) was sent to several military academies, summer camps and the prep school where I met him. Joe, the mirror image physically of his father, neither spoke of DiMaggio nor touched a baseball bat. Instead, Joe played varsity football. An outstanding athlete, Joe made the All New Jersey team as a center and kicker. But even though Di Maggio lived in nearby Manhattan, he never came to his son’s games or to visit on Parent’s Day.

At the time, none of Joe’s friends fully realized the wisdom of his decision not to play baseball. What chance would he have had of even coming close to his father’s extraordinary success?

Joe entered Yale University but at that point his life, already troubled, unraveled. After a year at Yale, Joe dropped out, returned to his native California, worked menial jobs and then entered the United States Marines. After completing his Marines’ commitment, Joe married a 17-year-old San Diego girl. Their union lasted only a year.

More odd jobs followed before Joe moved to Boston to work for his Uncle Dom. Joe met and married Sue Adams, a divorcee with two daughters. This led to Joe’s happiest days with his father who doted on his stepdaughters.

But Joe felt that he could never totally please his father. Gradually, he fell into drug and alcohol abuse which caused vicious battles with Adams that left her battered and bloody. In 1974, they divorced.

Two years later, Joe was in a serious automobile accident that resulted in the removal of a portion of his brain. The surgery left Joe more emotionally unstable and drug dependent than ever. 

Knowing the short and long-term effects of substance abuse will help you understand better the trouble that a drug addicted friend or loved one is in for without addiction treatment.

Although Joe didn’t visit his father during DiMaggio’s final days battling cancer, he was a pall bearer at the funeral.

Five months after DiMaggio’s death, Joe entered the bleakest, final days of his life. His drug usage escalated, he had periods of homelessness, worked at a junkyard, and had minor scrapes with the police. At age 57, Joe was living in a trailer. On August 6, 1999, Antioch police found Joe’s nearly lifeless body on the street. Despite resuscitation efforts, Joe died shortly after arrival at the Sutter Delta Medical Center. His ashes were scattered at sea.

DiMaggio’s ex-wife Sue summed up Joe’s tortured life: “They threw the man away.”

Joe’s happiest days may have been those that he spent with Marilyn Monroe. One early fall day, just as we all had returned from our summer vacations, Joe told of his stepmother Marilyn making his breakfast and serving it to him.

Usually, when teenagers recount their vacation adventures, gross exaggeration is the rule. But we knew Joe’s story about Monroe was true. How envious we were!

By most accounts, Joe was among the last people to speak to Monroe before she died.

Joe’s few brief and carefree days with Monroe hardly compensate for the decades that DiMaggio ignored him. Even in death, DiMaggio dismissed Joe by leaving him a token sum in his will, the smallest amount of any of his heirs.

Opinions differ about DiMaggio’s character. But what’s clear is that DiMaggio was, at best, an indifferent parent. In the early 1980s, when I lived in Seattle, I got into an elevator at the Washington Athletic Club. DiMaggio was the only other passenger. I extended my hand, introduced myself and told him that I was Joe’s classmate. DiMaggio didn’t utter a word.

DiMaggio was so cold and insensitive to Joe’s filial needs that he denied his son what could have been a productive life and instead helped put him in his early grave.

Any player/Any era: Wally Bunker

What he did: Here’s a name I didn’t know. I began research for this post with an idea: Find a hurler buried on a great team in the Year of the Pitcher, 1968, with the idea that even a good pitcher might be out of options on a team like the Tigers, Cardinals, or Dodgers but might thrive transported to a different era. That led me to Wally Bunker, who was effective when the Baltimore Orioles let him pitch in 1968, going 2-0 with a 2.41 ERA and a 1.028 WHIP, though he was essentially a non-factor and was closer to the end of his career than the beginning. This for someone who was all of 23 in 1968.

Bunker debuted in September 1963 as an 18-year-old just done with his first year in the minors. Known for a sharp sinker, he led the Orioles with 19 wins in 1964 but hurt himself in a late-season game, telling the Baltimore Sun in 2009, “I thought somebody had shot me in the shoulder with a .22 rifle. That was the beginning of the end.” He topped 200 innings just once more and was older than his years by 1968. Baltimore won 91 games, carried a 2.49 ERA, and offered little hope for Bunker. He went to the Kansas City Royals in the expansion draft for 1969 and had one more good year before retiring in 1971 at 26.

Bunker didn’t need an expansion draft. He needed an entirely different time than the one he played in– an era where he could be more ably handled as a young pitcher, afforded better medical care, and allowed to stay in the minors longer. There’s no time like the present, or even close to it, for this kind of thing.

Era he might have thrived in: As with Bob Feller or Sandy Koufax, we’re making Bunker an Atlanta Brave in the early 1990s, where with fellow young hurlers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz he might forge a Hall of Fame career.

Why: Maddux came to Atlanta as a free agent coming off a Cy Young year, though Glavine and Smoltz were very much products of their environments. Say what you will about Glavine having the talent to play hockey or Smoltz being a high-enough regarded prospect to be dealt by the Tigers for veteran Doyle Alexander straight up in 1987, but both Glavine and Smoltz and even Maddux became more successful pitchers as Braves. They likely owe much to what they learned in Atlanta, and one has to wonder if their cases for Cooperstown would be so strong had they played for lesser clubs– or in Bunker’s time.

The 1960s might have produced some awesome pitching numbers, but it was a terrible time to be a pitcher, particularly a young one, when heavy workloads, a longer season, and less-evolved medical care wrecked guys before their time. Koufax is a famous example, Denny McLain less so, and I doubt Bunker is remembered by too many modern fans. There are almost certainly others lost to baseball obscurity. I’m guessing it was a brutally competitive time for pitchers, too, when there was always the knowledge an ERA above 3.00 could mean a pink slip.

Bunker could breathe a little easier in Atlanta, and he’d also probably thrive in its farm system, which has produced more good if not great hurlers including Jason Schmidt, Jason Marquis, and Kevin Millwood. Bunker would have the chance to be something more than a name I only learned in writing this post.

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, Babe Ruth, 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, Matty Alou, Michael Jordan, Nate Colbert, Paul Derringer, Pete Rose, Prince Fielder, Ralph Kiner, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Clemente, Sam Thompson, Sandy KoufaxShoeless Joe Jackson, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, The Meusel BrothersTy Cobb, Willie Mays

Contemplating a Time Out from Baseball

I’m close to walking away from baseball. I’ve done it before and came away none the worse for wear. During the various work stoppages twenty years ago, the 1985 cocaine scandal and the more recent steroid ugliness, I turned my back on baseball completely. I didn’t miss it much. If I’m given the choice between spending three hours watching my hometown Pittsburgh Pirates play the Houston Astros or rereading The Glory of Their Times, I’ll take the book ten times out of ten.

Not that I would completely abandon baseball. Since it deals a lot with Pirates’ history, I’d keep my summer job as a PNC Park tour guide. And I’d continue to take in the local high school game, a surprisingly satisfying substitute for major league baseball. Then, there’s also the College World Series that I always watch where the players actually know how to successfully put down a bunt and throw to the cutoff man. Maybe I’ll coach my neighborhood Little League team.

What’s pushed me to the brink is ESPN’s March 14th Monday night game featuring the Boston Red Sox against the New York Yankees. Judging from the three weekly games that ESPN broadcast last year, I’ve concluded that the network is unaware that 28 other teams, including the World Series champion San Francisco Giants, play baseball, too.

Announcers Bobby Valentine, Sean McDonough, Buster Olney and Orel Hershiser talked almost exclusively about players’ multimillion dollar contracts and how many millions, this one, that one and the other one earn.

How many tens of millions, the broadcasters wondered, will it take to sign Adrian Gonzales to a long term deal? Will the $142 million the Red Sox paid to Carl Crawford put Boston on top of the American League? By how many more millions will Albert Pujols’ new contract exceed the quarter of a billion dollar deal Alex Rodriguez has in his pocket? When Felix Hernandez becomes a free agent, how many hundreds of millions will the Yankees have to shell out to convince him to leave Seattle? Can Derek Jeter find happiness is his 30,000 square foot Florida mansion?

If I were an ESPN producer I’d advise Valentine, et al to cool it with that line of chatter. Not to bum you out but America has 20 million unemployed workers and 50 million without health insurance. I’m sure the baseball fans among them don’t find a rehashing of players’ inflated salaries entertaining.

The story ESPN should tell is how much money the owners squander on totally unproductive players and how their poor judgment drives up your cost to see a game. Why should you or I subsidize the owners’ failures and stupidity by buying tickets?

Cases in point: the New York Mets and its washed up duo, Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo. The Mets will pay Castillo $6 million to buy out the final year of his bloated $24 million deal. And Perez, also released, will set the Mets back $12 million for his final year—$36 million in total since they signed him in 2009 in exchange for the three games he won. Castillo and Perez represent $60 million down the drain. Think about it—$60 million to which a match might as well have been set.

When I go to a major league game, at significant personal expense, I’m sanctioning the owners’ madness and at the same time encouraging more of it. For zero dollars, I can check out The Glory of Their Times from the library, take it with me to the high school game and save the aggravation of watching overpaid, under-skilled, ungrateful players one of whom spent his off-season in a Super Bowl luxury box being hand fed popcorn by bleach-blond Hollywood starlet.

To think—once ballplayers worked in the offseason just like you and me.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Allie Reynolds

Claim to fame: Reynolds won 180 games and made five All Star teams in his 13-year career and helped pitch the New York Yankees to six World Series titles between 1947 and 1953. He’s one of the most prominent, eligible Yankees not in the Hall of Fame, and that might be enough for the Veterans Committee, which has a history of making questionable picks of former Bronx Bombers from Tony Lazzeri to Phil Rizzuto to Joe Gordon.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Reynolds made 13 appearances on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot for Cooperstown between 1956 and 1974, peaking at 33.6 percent of the vote in 1968. He can now be enshrined by the Golden Age sub-portion of the Veterans Committee which considers players who made their greatest contribution between 1947 and 1972.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? For lifetime stats, Reynolds doesn’t come anywhere close to Cooperstown. He made the majors at 25 and even playing through World War II, his career was relatively short. His 180 wins and 29.0 WAR would place him near the bottom of enshrined pitchers, and there are plenty of hurlers with better numbers who haven’t been honored from Tommy John to Rick Reuschel to Luis Tiant and many others.

But that might not matter for the Veterans Committee. If Reynolds had played his entire career where he started, Cleveland, he might have no more of a chance of getting into Cooperstown than Mel Harder, but his image is forever married to his time in pinstripes. And the Hall of Fame isn’t just about stats, it’s about honoring baseball’s lore. Reynolds was a vital member of a storied franchise during one of its best runs, and while I’m not arguing this is enough to merit him a plaque (because it shouldn’t be), I wouldn’t be surprised if he is enshrined sometime in the next ten or 20 years.

Reynolds looks like a logical next Yankee for the Veterans Committee, depending on one’s view of John, Tommy Henrich, or Thurman Munson, among a handful of others. The Veterans Committee hasn’t enshrined anyone since reforming a few years ago, but traditionally has had a slow uptake on tabbing players. Lazzeri was selected in 1991, 52 years after his last game; Gordon went in 59 years after retirement, Rizzuto 38. Having last played in 1954, Reynolds is about at the same point.

Of course, if Reynolds is enshrined, a lot of writers and baseball researchers will bemoan the Hall of Fame once more for disregarding statistical merit. I doubt Cooperstown will care.

All of this is not to knock Reynolds, who accomplished much in his time in the majors. A few months back, in preparing to write one of these columns about John Smoltz, I emailed one of the regulars here. He replied:

How about comparing him to Allie Reynolds, who in a shorter career and more modest numbers was a precursor? Only he was used as both a starter and reliever in some of the same seasons, which might lead you to look into how Casey handled his pitching staffs. Everything you said about Smoltz had been said about Reynolds.

That has to be good for something.

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 Quisenberry, Darrell Evans, Dave ParkerDon Mattingly, Don NewcombeGeorge Steinbrenner, George Van Haltren, Harold Baines, Jack Morris, Jim Edmonds, Joe Carter, Joe Posnanski, John Smoltz, Juan Gonzalez, Keith Hernandez, Ken Caminiti, Larry WalkerMaury WillsMel Harder, Moises Alou, Pete Browning, Phil Cavarretta, Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar, Rocky Colavito, Ron Guidry, Ron Santo, Smoky Joe Wood, Steve Garvey, Ted Simmons, Thurman MunsonTim Raines, Will Clark

BPP Book Club: Joe DiMaggio: The Long Vigil by Jerome Charyn



I was three years old the first time I got a pack of baseball cards, four when I went to my first game, five when I started Little League. I began to read about baseball history a few years later, and for most of my childhood, I idealized the game. I read its stories, saw my favorite players as icons and was mostly unaware of their flaws. I connect a lot of the innocence of my youth to how I felt about baseball, how it played into my relationships with friends and family, how those memories still make me feel today. It’s one reason I love the game.

I still love baseball, though somewhere between the 1994 strike, the subsequent steroid scandal, and my own coming of age, I began to see ballplayers and people in general as human. Today, I know that some of my favorite players from Babe Ruth to Ted Williams to Pete Rose all had their flaws as human beings. And that’s fine. Personally, I find these types of players easier to relate to.

I mention this all because a book debuted on March 8, Joe DiMaggio: The Long Vigil by Jerome Charyn. It’s only the latest work on the Hall of Famer (and not even the only one that came out on March 8, given Kostya Kennedy’s book on DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak) though Charyn takes a new tact, seeking to repair the tattered image of his hero.

Ostensibly, Charyn’s book is a response to Richard Ben Cramer’s 2000 biography, Joe DiMaggio: The Hero’s Life which was controversial in its portrayal of DiMaggio as a cold, calculating loner. Cramer wasn’t the first writer to offer a less-than flattering look back at a player who was lionized if not deified by the press during his career. Gay Talese broke rank with his landmark 1966 feature in Esquire magazine, capturing DiMaggio alone in San Francisco, mourning the death four years prior of ex-wife Marilyn Monroe, and telling a well-wisher and fan, “I’m not great. I’m just a man trying to get along.”

Then there’s David Halberstam’s classic 1989 book on the 1949 American League pennant race between the Yankees and Red Sox, Summer of ’49. Halberstam wrote in an author’s note of being rebuffed by DiMaggio for an interview, saying the only time he reached him on the phone, he “spoke to a very wary former center fielder.” Halberstam continued, “He said he would see me, and thereupon avoided all further entreaties. So be it; if there is a right under the First Amendment to do books such as this, there is also a right not to be interviewed. I’m sorry he didn’t see me; he still remains the most graceful athlete I saw in those impressionable years.”

Like Halberstam, Charyn portrays DiMaggio as a uniquely gifted player, though he does so with more poetic license. I’m not sure if all the literary devices work. The phrase idiot savant is used multiple times to describe DiMaggio the player, as if describing some Rain Main in pinstripes. Charyn also repeatedly refers to DiMaggio as Jolter, only clarifying on his final page that the nickname comes from a poem by famed sportswriter Grantland Rice, An Ode to the Jolter. It got a little grating. Still, Charyn writes gracefully enough to forgive the occasional awkward metaphor, and at 146 pages, the book can be read in a sitting. I found myself drawn in early on.

The book’s title refers to DiMaggio’s long period of mourning after Monroe’s death. Charyn writes of DiMaggio, who had roses sent to Monroe’s grave three times a week for 20 years, as the one person close to Monroe who never tried to use her. He also said DiMaggio was deeply impacted by her death, writing:

Did the Jolter really survive Marilyn Monroe? He lived another thirty-seven years with the trappings of success…. [but] the Big Guy was unconscious half the time, going through the motions without the least spark of fire. It’s no accident that Richard Ben Cramer in his biography of the Jolter skips over the years from 1963 to 1998 with the knowledge that nothing internal happened to the man; the mark of these years on him was as minimal as the diary he would keep, whether he visited the White House or was waiting in an airport lounge. It would get even worse as he went from memorabilia show to memorabilia show that was a peculiar kind of hell; he was a performer in his own living death and never even knew it. He’d been mourning Marilyn all along, in spite of his little flings and fixations on former Miss Americas. He missed Marilyn beyond reason. He couldn’t repair himself.

It’s a bold take, and I’m not sure I go for it. I don’t know if I see DiMaggio as a victim or a tragic figure, but I also don’t fault him for being something short of the image people expected of him or even one he cultivated for himself. Jim Bouton wrote in a follow-up to Ball Four, “Why can’t Mickey Mantle be a hero who has a bit too much to drink from time to time and cries into his glass that he will soon be dead, like his father and his uncle? Why do our heroes have to be so perfect and unflawed?”

They don’t.

Six more things we can count on this baseball season

Last week we revealed six major league baseball events likely to occur sometime during the 2011 season. With the passing of another week, and the regular season that much closer, I give you part two beginning where I left off last week.

7. Carl Crawford refuses to play in Boston home games.

He cites the following reasons: There is no roof on Fenway Park, there are more than 2,000 fans attending each and every game and this funny turf is making his uniform dirty and grass stained.  He attempts to renegotiate his contract to include provisions for dry cleaning and limiting home attendance to 2,000 for each home game. He also wants to be called Mannyland Crawford and insists on a port-o-potty with a full sized vanity and shower being installed in front of the now referred to as the Jolly Green Monster. He, as a way of making peace with management and fans, offers to buy one lucky fan a hot dog each game (does not include condiments).

8. In a sympathetic gesture spanning two major sports, LeBron James, after befriending Zack Greinke, breaks two of his ribs playing a pickup game of baseball.

Greinke takes to wearing a LeBron James/Cleveland Cavalier t-shirt on days he pitches and a Pittsburgh Steeler hat during Brewer home games.  A fan in Cleveland explains to Greinke the significance of wearing a Lebron James/Cavalier t-shirt but Greinke answers that he’s never even been to Miami, let alone played for the Dolphins.  He insists on continuing to wear his Steelers hat explaining that they came in second at the Super Bowl.  Lebron James insists that he is the best player in pickup baseball after which Willie Mays comes out of retirement to challenge him.

9. In a move that owner Tom Ricketts claims is meant to instill a fighting spirit in the Cubs, he fires Mike Quade after three innings of the first regular season game with the Cubs leading 5-0 and appoints Carlos Zambrano and Carlos Silva as co- managers.

Continual fighting in the dugout between both co-managers proves successful as opponents, instead of concentrating on hitting, pitching and fielding, stop to watch the action and allow the Cubs to score at will.  Baseball rules are changed for Cubs games, allowing both Zambrano and Silva to pitch at the same time.  Alphonso Soriano is moved to DH even though that position, in the National League, doesn’t officially exist.  He becomes the first DH to make three errors in one game and is traded to Houston where he becomes their No. 1 catcher.  Zambrano claims his 0-20 record is due to the distraction of the ivy at Wrigley field and insists that his outfield be allowed to stand on Waveland Ave. when he pitches. Silva demotes himself to Triple A but refuses to report.

10. Bud Selig accepts an offer to become Czar of Russia.

He immediately outlines his plan to return Russia to its days of fiefdom where the rich were incredibly so and the poor had nothing.  He cites his revenue sharing plan for major league baseball as an example of how rich ownerships can work together to own everything and plans a major drug testing initiative for local peasants and their families.  He plans to resurrect the statue of the founder of communism, John Lennon, and replaces the Russian national anthem with the founders number one hit, Help in B flat minor. He also insists that various government agencies hire more blacks and grants the FOX network exclusive rights to broadcast state executions.  He insists that everything is fine uttering the immortal words, “Let them eat $10 hot dogs.”

11. Roy Halladay goes 100-0 while the other members of the big four combine for a 0-62 record.

Halladay throws 90 complete games but is forced to pitch left handed during the months of August and September to save wear and tear on his right shoulder. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel reacts angrily to the media who compare him to Dusty Baker in his overuse of certain pitchers.  Manuel exclaims that there is no legitimate comparison as he is not from California.  Manuel goes on to explain that he saw no reason that Halladay couldn’t use both arms as that was what God gave him.  Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said that he was totally unaware of any situation and blamed Jimmy Rollins for not hitting 50 home runs even though Philadelphia won the National League East.

12. After surveying the new Marlins ballpark, owner Jeffery Loria insists that it be moved to downtown Montreal and that a significant portion of Marlins home games be played in Puerto Rico.

He also decides that beginning next season the Marlins will move their Spring Training site to Disneyland in Anaheim so as to be able to better compete with the Atlanta Braves. Andy Petite agrees to a contract with the Marlins but will pitch only on weekends and only for the New York Yankees.

Loria insists that he is now willing to spend money on the team and to prove it offers his players McDonalds food vouchers worth $5, charging players only $10 for each one. He also offers to supply his players with city bus passes for all away games at a cost of only $200,000 each.

Next week, the third and final part.

Why Oral Baseball History Tells a Better Story Than Sabermetrics

Editor’s note: Joe Guzzardi wrote this article, but I agree wholeheartedly. At least for me, the magic of baseball is in its history. Statistics tell only a part of the story.

_______________

I consider myself a middling baseball fan. Outside of the three teams I root for, the San Francisco Giants, the Oakland Athletics and my hometown Pittsburgh Pirates I really couldn’t tell you much about the 27 others. A possible exception would be the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox with which ESPN has a fawning, almost nauseating addiction to.

When pressed, I like to call myself a baseball historian who is much more engrossed in the sport’s rich past and its vital role in American culture than I am in the dry, day to day statistics. I never warmed up to Sabermetrics, and while acknowledging that it has a place, I candidly confess that I never made the slightest attempt to fathom it.

Accordingly, I was encouraged when baseball’s new official historian John Thorn recently admitted that he too finds the stories more compelling than the stats.

Think of it this way. If you and I are visiting on my front porch, which is more entertaining—a debate about linear weights as a measure of batting performance (I’m still not totally sure what that means) or my recounting the time I saw Mickey Mantle hit a 400 foot single? In a game against the Washington Senators, Mantle hit a ball off Chuck Stobbs so hard to center field that it hit the wall like a rocket that Whitey Herzog played it on the bounce before firing the ball to second baseman Pete Runnels.

This is not intended to disparage the creative and important analysis that many of my SABR colleagues have done and continue to do. But my interests lie elsewhere.

I’ll offer two reasons why I haven’t jumped on the Sabermetric bandwagon. First, my head doesn’t work that way. All those stats remind me of my college economics classes—you know, the Dismal Science.

But more importantly, for more than six decades I’ve watched a lot of baseball. I’ve seen teams that are long gone like those in the old Pacific Coast League or the Puerto Rican Winter League. And I’ve seen hundreds of Hall of Fame players who have passed.

You may not have seen them or possibly never heard of them. I like to think that my oral history may spark an interest in you to put the stats aside, at least for a while, to dig into the past.

I can imagine retelling my grandchildren my Mantle story. But I can’t for the life of me picture us sitting around the old hot stove while I reminisce about 2010,  the year Felix Hernandez won the Cy Young Award because he had the American League’s best Sabermetrics.

The Great Friday Link Out XI: On Saturday this week

Many apologies for this week’s link post being late. Here is some stuff worth reading:

  • The series Bill Miller and I are doing on good players for bad teams continues. I wrote the latest installment, on Hall of Fame pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander and the Philadelphia Phillies of the 1910s (link should be active at some point Saturday) and Bill wrote last week about Graig Nettles, who I never realized played a few early years with the Cleveland Indians.
  • Speaking of Bill, he wrote an open letter to controversial, former New York Times writer and current blogger Murray Chass and got a response. The exchange is worth checking out.
  • Something I’ve been meaning to mention: I’ve started doing a podcast. Fellow SABR member Paul Hirsch and I are doing a show each Sunday for Seamheads.com called “Baseball by the Bay.” The show runs 7-7:30 p.m. PST though it can be listened to anytime here. We mostly focus on the Giants and A’s, though we’ll be comparing all-time Bay Area lineups this week and discussing the pending demise of Cal’s baseball program. At some point, we’ll start having guests, too.
  • Joe Posnanski writes about players who went through a season without an intentional walk. Who’d have thought it would include Roger Maris when he hit 61 home runs in 1961 or Alex Rodriguez?
  • Interesting anecdote from a new Babe Ruth biography: Apparently the idea of a designated hitter was proposed in 1930, under the name Ten-Man Baseball, a full 43 years before Ron Blomberg became baseball’s first DH.
  • Standing Tall: Slim Love’s Rise from Bar Room to Big Leagues. I’m pretty much always impressed at the caliber of writing and research from this blogger and his original, quirky, historical topics, speaking as someone who generally aims for that here.

Any player/Any era: Ted Williams

What he did: In 1957, Ted Williams defied logic and baseball history up to his time. At 38, and nearing the end of his storied career, Williams almost had his finest season, hitting .388 with a slugging percentage of .731 and an OPS+ of 233. All three were American League bests, and Williams just missed his career highs from 1941 when he hit .406 with a slugging percentage of .735 and an OPS+ of 234. Williams used a heavier bat in 1957 than he’d wielded as a leaner, younger man and, whether for this or other reasons, he performed in stark contrast to other Hall of Famers. At 38, Babe Ruth was in decline. Hank Greenberg, Jimmie Foxx, and Joe DiMaggio were retired. Lou Gehrig was dead.

Ballplayers in general don’t peak or revitalize at so late an age, though it’s happened more in recent years, perhaps because of steroids. One need only look at Barry Bonds’ run from 2001 to 2004 when he hit 209 home runs with a .349 batting average and his four highest OPS+ scores. Rumors of Bonds’ chemical enhancement aside, I see at least a few parallels between him and Williams, what with their sometimes surly personalities, otherworldly talent, and unusual late career transformations from skinny young ballplayers to bulky sluggers. It makes me wonder how Williams might have fared at Bonds’ home in later seasons, AT&T Park.

Era he might have thrived in: We’re moving Williams to his native California in a time where he’d receive greater medical care, conditioning, and a ballpark seemingly built to let the left-hander pull home runs into the cove beyond the right field fence like no player besides Bonds. Williams would also get the chance to do something no one’s ever done– hit .400 just shy of age 40. Bonds may have been unreal in later seasons, but Williams wouldn’t be far off.

Why: Bonds probably has the edge in power, since he hit a record 73 of his 762 home runs in 2001, though he did it with a .328 batting average, below his career best clip the following year of .370. That’s excellent, of course, though because Williams hit .388 in 1957, a rather ordinary year for hitters, he’d do even better in the translation to 2001. The stat converter has Williams hitting .391 with 41 home runs and 89 RBI. His OPS of 1.269 would trail Bonds circa 2001 at 1.379, though differentiating those scores is like choosing between a Porsche and a Lamborghini.

San Francisco isn’t even the peak option for Williams in 2001. In Fenway Park in Boston, the hitters pinball machine Williams played in all his years in the majors, his 1957 season converts to a .412 batting average with 44 home runs and 101 RBI. Williams would have the opportunity to serve as a designated hitter in the modern American League, getting him out of left field where he didn’t fare much better than Bonds in later years. He’d also probably be an upgrade over Boston’s DH the majority of 2001, Manny Ramirez. His projected stats are certainly far better.

Still, for our purposes, I like San Francisco, and it would be a great challenge for Williams, enough of a fighter to serve in two wars and battle the Boston media in between.

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, Babe Ruth, 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, Matty Alou, Michael Jordan, Nate Colbert, Paul Derringer, Pete Rose, Prince Fielder, Ralph Kiner, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Clemente, Sam Thompson, Sandy KoufaxShoeless Joe Jackson, Stan Musial, The Meusel BrothersTy Cobb, Willie Mays

Ted Williams Remembers His Old San Diego Padres

The Los Angeles that I grew up in during the 1950s was a place so beautiful that I can hardly believe it ever existed.

So few people lived in Los Angeles that it could easily be called a small town. The beaches were unspoiled and empty. Slightly inland, orange grove and eucalyptus trees were everywhere.

Today Los Angeles is ruined, killed by too many people and too much cement.

As beautiful as Los Angeles was back then when my family wanted to vacation in a truly magnificent spot, we went to San Diego.

I’ve always associated the Padres not with the current version but with the San Diego team that played in the old Pacific Coast League and challenged my beloved Hollywood Stars.

Ted Williams was the premier Padre.

In his contribution to a wonderful collection of essays published 1995 by the Journal of San Diego History, Williams shared his recollections about the early days of his Padres’ career from 1936-1937 before he was called up by the Boston Red Sox.

Williams as quoted in the article “This Was Paradise,”

I remember my first at-bat for the Padres. The manager, Frank Shellenback, sent me in to pinch hit and I took three strikes right down the middle. Didn’t even swing. Then he sent me in to pitch one night and I got hit like I was throwing batting practice. But that first time I pitched I also hit — and I hit a double, I pitched two innings, and the next time up I hit a double. And then I was in the lineup. I went over to Lefty O’Doul one day and I said, ‘What do I have to do to be a good hitter?’ He said, ‘Kid, don’t ever let anybody change you.

That 1937 team was a good composite team: young, old, former big league players, good leadership under Frank Shellenback (the nicest man I ever met in baseball). Why we didn’t win it I don’t know. There was no friction. Did we win the playoffs in ’37? (Editor’s note: Yes!)

Lane Field was an old wooden ballpark, nice park for a lefthanded hitter, and the ball carried pretty good. We played a lot of day games. I enjoyed  guys like Herm Pillette (the old pitcher), Howard Craghead, Jimmy Kerr (the catcher), George Myatt, Bobby Doerr . . .

There was no particular pressure on me playing in San Diego. I didn’t know what pressure was. I was nervous–not because I was born there, but because it was a whole new experience playing before crowds, professional baseball. San Diego was the nicest little town in the world. How the hell was I to know it was the nicest town in the world? I’d never been anyplace.

Readers interested in learning more about the Pacific Coast League should sign up for Richard Beverage’s Pacific Coast League Historical Society. Annual membership dues of $15 includes a subscription to the “Potpourri” newsletter. Write to Richard Beverage, PCLHS, 420 Robinson Circle, Placentia, CA 92870 or email him here.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Moises Alou

Claim to fame: A member of perhaps the largest extended family of major leaguers, Moises Alou is not only the son of Felipe and nephew of Matty and Jesus, but also the cousin of pitchers Mel Rojas and Jose Sosa.  Although a lifetime .303 hitter and a six-time All-Star in a lengthy career with seven NL clubs, Alou might be best known for flailing his arms and beseeching the left field umpire that he was denied an opportunity to catch a foul pop-up in the 2003 playoffs – the infamous Bartman incident.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Alou last played in 2008.  His name will first appear on the BBWAA ballot in January of 2014.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Among all players named Alou, his .369 OBP and .516 SLG are tops.  His BA was bettered only slightly by Matty at .307.  Moises hit more homers than his father and two uncles combined, by a wide margin.  Moises of course benefited from playing during the hitter-friendly 90s, while Felipe, Matty, and Jesus played a generation earlier, enduring the pitcher-dominated 60s.  Even era-adjusted, however, most would consider Moises as the best hitting Alou.  But being the best in the family – even a large and distinguished family – does not necessarily open the gates to Cooperstown.

Alou twice finished third in MVP voting, and his career WAR is good, but certainly not stellar, at 38.2.  Alou’s 332 home runs rank 93rd all-time.  That puts him ahead of Hall of Famers Hank Greenberg, Gary Carter, and Al Simmons, but behind Gary Gaetti, Matt Williams, and Joe Carter, none of whom is likely to be headed to the Hall.  Perhaps more impressive, Alou ranks 68th in career slugging percentage, ahead of insiders Willie McCovey, Eddie Mathews, and Harmon Killebrew, but behind outsiders Kevin Mitchell, Hal Trosky, and Mo Vaughan.  What’s more, Alou once led the majors in grounding into double plays, a dubious achievement, although one that never weighed too heavily against Jim Rice.  As a Hall of Fame candidate, Alou falls in the grey area – not clearly in, not necessarily out.

Recently, the case for Jim Edmonds was presented in “Does He Belong in the Hall of Fame?”  Edmonds’ and Alou’s careers spanned approximately the same years, and their batting stats are broadly similar (slight edge to Edmonds).  In the field, however, Alou lacked the defensive sparkle (and appropriately his trophy case lacks the hardware) for which Edmonds is known.  If you’re for Edmonds, you might or might not be for Alou.  If you’re against Edmonds, you’re probably against Alou, too.

As a member of baseball’s class of 2008, Alou will not be the most impressive player on the 2014 ballot, which will be rich with first-timers.  All-time great Greg Maddux is a certain first-ballot inductee who will probably be named by all but the most persnickety of voters.  Jeff Kent might also get in on the first ballot, but if not, he will certainly collect a large number of votes.  So will Tom Glavine, Luis Gonzalez, Mike Mussina, and Frank Thomas.  Worse for Alou, the 2007 class is also strong (Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Kenny Lofton, Mike Piazza and Curt Schilling). Throw in the possibility that in 2014 most of those players (I’m guessing Bonds, Clemens, Lofton, and Schilling) could be holdovers from the 2013 ballot, and it becomes clear that Alou might be feeling the squeeze in 2014.

Alou had a strong enough career that he deserves the consideration and debate that a long tenure on the HOF ballot would provide.  It will be an injustice if he immediately falls below the 5% cutoff due to the misfortune of retiring in the same year as Maddux, Kent, Mussina and others.

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 Quisenberry, Darrell Evans, Dave ParkerDon Mattingly, Don NewcombeGeorge Steinbrenner, George Van Haltren, Harold Baines, Jack Morris, Jim Edmonds, Joe 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, Ron Santo, Smoky Joe Wood, Steve Garvey, Ted Simmons, Thurman MunsonTim Raines, Will Clark

10 things I love about baseball

1. Hot Dogs: Hot Dogs never taste as good as when you eat them at a ball park.

2. Girls: I have noticed that there often a surprising number of good looking girls at ball games.  By the middle innings of a game on a hot summer afternoon, they are often barefoot, scantily clad, and sweaty.  This is where sex and baseball come together, an unbeatable combination.

3. Camaraderie: Sitting in a pub with a ball game on, striking up a conversation with the guy sitting next to you.  You’ve never met before, but you form an instant bond over the fact that you both think Johnny Damon looks like a hairless monkey and throws like a girl.

4. Strategy: Sitting (I do too much sitting) along the third base line, or on my couch at home, explaining to my son why the shortstop is cheating over towards second base with a runner on first.  Or why the sacrifice bunt is for losers.

5. Babe Ruth: Only baseball could have produced the Sultan of Swat.  Hercules, P.T. Barnum and a scruffy, profane street kid all rolled up in one.  If he’d never actually existed, we would have had to pay Studs Terkel big bucks to invent him.

6. Countdown to Opening Day: My kids have the twelve days of Christmas (actually more like 45) to build up the anticipation of their favorite holiday.  My countdown to Opening Day begins as soon as the first snow hits the ground.  Then, as Rogers Hornsby said, I just stare out the window and wait for spring.

7. Baseball Cards: I don’t buy as many as I used to, but I still get the same rush of anticipation every time I open a new pack.  The contents of most packs are pretty standard and predictable (Derek Lowe, Astros Team Checklist, Joe Girardi manager card,) but once in a while, you find a real gem.

8. Baseball Movies: I wait for those hot July summer nights, crack open a beer, and watch The Natural, Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, or whatever baseball movie I’m in the mood for. They’re all more than a little corny (and I don’t think the definitive baseball movie has yet been made) but they help top off the baseball rapture in my soul.

9. Box Scores: I love those little bastards.  They say so much by saying so little.  An entire game reduced to little rows of numbers about the size of a paragraph.  Halladay:  9 IP – 2 H – O ER – 0 BB – 7 K’s.  Just beautiful.

10. Playing Catch: Tossing the ball around, hitting fungoes, watching my kid rope a vicious line drive into the parking lot for a ground rule double.  This is as good as it gets for a middle-aged American male.

Predictions for the 2011 baseball season

1.  Los Angeles Dodger broadcaster Vin Scully will, for the first time in memory, actually talk about the game at hand, foregoing his usual distracting, infuriating and irrelevant digressions about anything and everything. He will also finally be assigned a color commentator, someone who will keep Vin focused and lucid. Vin will now be unable to digress about the use of the number three in ancient Rome or the day mankind first walked upright.

2.  The Texas Rangers will trade Michael Young hoping that their new multi-million dollar third baseman, Adrian Beltre, will play at least 80 games and hit .260 with 10 homeruns and 60 RBI. He won’t. At least not until the final year of his current contract. Michael Young will go on to win a batting title and the “best guy in the clubhouse” award for his new team. Texas will then try and trade for a player who is a good influence, plays hard and hits .300. Someone like Michael Young.

3.  The Pittsburgh Pirates will win 30 games by November 1. Also, Pedro Alvarez will raise his average vs. lefties to .130 and strike out only 300 times.  Pittsburgh, stating their new and sure-to-work philosophy, will fire manager Clint Hurdle saying that he is too outgoing and express a desire to hire a manager who is quiet and unemotional. Ryan Doumit will be the new Pirate shortstop, management citing a lack of offense from that position the previous season. The Pirates will then move to Heinz Field citing winning traditions and fan support.

4.  It will be revealed that Bryce Harper is really 60 years old and has already hit 900 homeruns, his best season being 1969 when he hit 80 homeruns for the Montreal Expos. It is then revealed that this record may be tainted as his consumption of Canadian beer gave him the strength of ten while not increasing his hat or shoe size. It is also revealed that Harper has the same last name as the Canadian prime minister, forcing him to change his name to Bud Selig III. A statue in Bud’s likeness will be erected and displayed in Bryce Canyon the new home of Harper and the Oakland A’s.

5.  The New York Mets will be sold to Albert Pujols who will become the first active player to make $40 million per game and own his own team. Pujols will complain that the Mets players make too much money and will sell every player on the team and play for both the Cardinals and Mets. Bud Selig will declare this change of ownership to be in the best interests of the game but insist that Pujols must bat left handed three times each game. The new Mets owner will then lock himself out rather than sign a new collective bargaining agreement and hire Tim McCarver as his media spokesperson. By day, Pujols, will talk, act, and look more and more like embattled Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi. And play like him, too.

6.  FOX will broadcast a game which lasts under four hours. Also, FOX will broadcast a game which does not feature the Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees. FOX will broadcast a game which will, finally, completely fill the screen with painfully obvious information and which will enable the viewer to see nothing of the actual game. The games themselves will be shortened to two non consecutive innings to allow FOX to feature even more commercials and reveal their exciting new, completely unrelated to baseball programming, all starring Joe Buck as himself.

Slugging Smead Jolley and the San Francisco Seals

I’ll travel anywhere, anytime to debate anyone that no player in organized baseball has ever had four better back-to-back-to-back-to-back offensive seasons than Smead Jolley.

The issue is beyond dispute. Playing for the Pacific Coast League San Francisco Seals from 1926 to 1929, Jolley batted .346, .397, .404, and .387 with 138 homers in the four years. His .397 led the league in hitting in 1927 and his 163 RBIs led the PCL. In 1928, Jolley led in almost every offensive category to win the Triple Crown (.404, 45 homers, and 188 RBIs).

Readers inclined to dismiss Jolley’s Herculean feats as the stuff of watered down minor league pitching should remember that the PCL’s quality was always considered to be just a notch below the bigs.

Over his sixteen year minor league career, Jolley hit .367 and won two additional batting titles with the Texas League’s Corsicana Oilers.

Astonishingly, in 1928 and 1929 Jolley played in 191 and 200 games while batting 765 and 812 times and recording a mind-boggling 309 and 314 hits. Throughout the PCL’s history, very long seasons were common. Since the players were paid by the week and could often earn more in the PCL than in the big leagues, many of them preferred to stay on the West Coast where both the money and the weather were better.

The rap on Jolley was that while he could hit, he couldn’t field worth a lick. Jolley, while acknowledging that his fielding left plenty to be desired, took umbrage at the intensity of the criticism direct at him.

Jolley eventually made his way to the Chicago White Sox and the Boston Red Sox where he hit a solid .305 during his four years from 1930 to 1933. But, in 788 chances with the two Sox teams, Jolley made 44 errors for a .944 fielding average.

In an interesting footnote to his career, Jolley’s last game pitted him against Babe Ruth who, since the Yankees had lost the pennant to the Washington Senators, decided to pitch. Jolley went one-for-five while Ruth hung on for a 6-5 win.

In 2003, the Pacific Coast League Hall of Fame elected Jolley.

According to an excellent essay written by my Society for American Baseball Research colleague Bill Nowlin, after baseball Jolley worked for many years as a house painter for the Alameda (California) Housing Authority. When he died in 1991, Jolley’s ashes were scattered into the Pacific Ocean not far from where he performed his incomparable slugging for the Seals.

The Great Friday Link Out X

  • On a serious note, to anyone who hasn’t seen it, there was an 8.9 earthquake in Japan and tsunami warnings and advisories are in effect for the West Coast. Here is a map of the effected areas.

Baseball articles worth reading:

Any player/Any era: Matty Alou

What he did: The 1960s was bleak for hitters, a decade where pitchers dominated and offensive numbers were at arguably their lowest point since the Deadball Era. One of the great forgotten bats of this time is Matty Alou. His career batting average of .307 won’t get him in Cooperstown, and his OPS+ of 105 rises just above mediocrity, thanks to his limited power and ability to get on-base (he hit 31 home runs lifetime and never walked 50 times in a season.) For a few years, however, Alou approached Roberto Clemente, Pete Rose, and maybe a few others as baseball’s best hitter. Like those men, he might have hit .400 in a different era.

Era he might have thrived in: Alou started off his career as a platoon player for the San Francisco Giants and subsequently did his best work as a Pittsburgh Pirate at vast Forbes Field, which may have suited him as a contact hitter. Thus, we’ll give Alou another large stadium in a far superior offensive age to the one he played in. We’re making him a New York Yankee in 1998. On a team that somehow won 114 games and the World Series with starting left fielder Chad Curtis hitting .243, Alou would make it still better.

Why: Admittedly, many players may have been an upgrade over Curtis in 1998. How he started for the Yankees is beyond me, his WAR of 2.7 being just above replacement level, his OPS+ of 90 the worst of any Yankee starter. Though his team scored 965 runs, Curtis batted in just 56. He also had the worst batting average, slugging percentage, and number of home runs. In baseball history, Curtis has to be one of the worst starters on a great team, though perhaps he offered something that doesn’t come through in stats. I do admire Curtis for being one of the few players to speak out against steroids at the height of their popularity in baseball. He’d be the kind of veteran presence I’d want in my clubhouse.

Alou might not match Curtis’s fielding, as he posted negative defensive WAR rankings ten of his 15 seasons. But his bat would almost certainly be more than enough to compensate. The stat converter on Baseball-Reference.com has Alou’s 1968 season, where he hit .332 in the Year of the Pitcher, translating to a .380 clip for the ’98 Yankees. His 1969 year, where he led the National League with 231 hits, would be good for a record 265 hits on the ’98 Yankees to go with a .362 batting average and 129 runs. He’d be like Ichiro Suzuki minus the glove, and either converted season would easily give him the AL batting title over teammate Bernie Williams, who somehow won it that year hitting .339.

Seeing as Alou had WARs of 5.2 and 4.7 in ’68 and ’69 respectively, the thought here is that he would give the Yankees another 2-3 wins. And he’d probably do more in the playoffs than Curtis, who only played in the ALCS against the Cleveland Indians and went 0-5 over two games. The net result would be the same, of course, with the Yankees still triumphing in the World Series, so maybe this wouldn’t make any major difference to them. But for Alou, who received 1.3 percent of the Hall of Fame vote his only year on the writers ballot in 1980, it could lead to much more.

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, Babe Ruth, 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, Ralph Kiner, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Clemente, Sam Thompson, Sandy KoufaxShoeless Joe Jackson, Stan Musial, The Meusel BrothersTy Cobb, Willie Mays