Three Men on Third: Which One is Out?

The Brooklyn Robins’ Babe Herman was an outstanding hitter but his fielding was, to put it mildly, suspect. Try as he might, Robins’ manager Wilber Robinson could not hide Herman’s defensive liabilities. In 1927, as a first baseman, Herman led the league in errors. Then in 1928 and 1929, he topped the league in errors committed by a right fielder.

Herman’s ineptitude lead teammate Fresco Thompson to comment: “He wore a glove for one reason: because it was a league custom.”

A base running gaffe Herman committed in his rookie year has put him down in history as the only man who doubled into a double play. During an Ebbets Field game on August 15, 1926, with none out and the bases loaded Herman tried to stretch a double off the right field wall into a triple. Chick Fewster, who had been on first, tried to advance to third but that base was already occupied by Dazzy Vance who had started from second base. Vance, caught in a rundown, tried to dash back to third. Since Herman had not watched the play in front of him, the three runners ended up at third base. Third baseman Eddie Taylor tagged all of them to be sure of getting as many outs as possible.

Recounting the incident to the Glory of Their Times author Lawrence Ritter, pitcher Rube Bressler said: “The third baseman didn’t know what to do so he tagged all three of them. And the umpire hesitated trying to decide which of these two guys are out and which one is safe. Rather an unusual situation, doesn’t exactly come up every day and they started arguing about who’s what.”

According to the rules, the slow footed Vance was entitled to the base, so umpire Beans Reardon called Herman and Fewster out.

Scribes pounced on Herman and wrote that for the first time in baseball history, a batter had doubled into a double play. In his own defense, Herman complained that no one congratulated him for driving in the winning run. When Babe got his hit Hank DeBerry was on third, Vance on second and Fewster on first. DeBerry scored.

Long suffering Dodgers fans created a running joke: First fan: “The Dodgers have 3 men on base!” Second fan: “Oh, yeh? Which base?”

Throughout his career, Herman was prone to the most egregious errors on the base paths. On two occasions in 1930— May 30 against the Philadelphia Phillies and September 15 versus the Cincinnati Reds—Herman stopped to watch a home run while running the bases and was passed by the hitter, thereby changing the homer to a single.

Not only was Herman a defensive liability, he was one of baseball’s slowest runners. On September 20, 1931 Herman  was thrown out attempting to steal second base steal a base against the St. Louis Cardinals, even though opposing catcher was 48-year-old Cardinals manager Gabby Street, appearing in his first game (as an emergency substitute) since 1912.

For his various mistakes, pitcher Vance dubbed Herman “the Headless Horseman of Ebbets Field”.

Herman ended his major league career with a .324 batting average, 1818 hits, 181 home runs, 997 RBI, 882 runs, 399 doubles, 110 triples and 94 stolen bases in 1552 games.

Once Again Realignment Rears Its Ugly Head

Okay let’s get this straight.  I’m not against realignment per say.  I just don’t like any Bud Selig inspired or sanctioned plan because I know from past experience that those who run major league baseball have only one motive in mind, money. They also seem to have a desire to make baseball the same as other sports, ignoring the beauty and originality of it.

Playoffs generate lots and lots of money regardless of which sport and the excuses of seeking a competitive balance with as many teams as possible only serve to bring up a National Hockey League type scenario.  The NHL system basically renders the regular season meaningless and sets up a two or three month playoff round(s) which at the final conclusion, render said playoffs meaningless as well.

But lots and lots of cash is generated, especially in those cities where attendance is mediocre at best.   It gives the illusion that all is well and of course allows owners to spend less and less on trying to field a quality team.   There is little reason to strive for a team which plays above the .500 mark.  While having poor quality teams matched up in the playoffs can make for “exciting” games, it only weakens the sport in the long run.

First we had the proposal over the past offseason of floating teams from division to division depending on their won lost record of the previous season.  It was difficult to tell if this was serious or not but surely no one here would want to see the World Series featuring the present day Houston Astros and the Kansas City Royals.  Teams with barely above .500 records have advanced through the playoffs but that is more of a fluke and should not be something which is strived for. Another proposal saw an expansion of the wild card, again watering down the overall quality.

The National Football League does something similar although it achieves this with its’ scheduling. The worst teams from the season past play almost exclusively other less successful teams, allowing for inflated and deceiving records the following season.   Once again, most incentive to produce a quality on field product is removed, further watering down the sport.

Baseball has of late been proposing a system of two 15 team divisions, (one for each league), with the top four or five teams qualifying for the playoffs.  This seems to be a basic extension of the present wild card format, a format which while generating fan interest longer into the season, has the effect of inter division games late in the season being basically meaningless.  One is forced to instead focus on the wild card standings and closely following those teams with a sub or barely .500 record.  As there is no real incentive to finish first, (except for home field advantage for the team with the best overall record), when it is much easier to finish fourth, mediocrity is once more encouraged under the guise of competitiveness.

Ironically, the latest proposal would leave more teams out of the playoff picture earlier than since the introduction of the wild card and would return us to a pre 1969 situation.  It would also set up the season for a battle between the fourth and fifth place teams, leaving little incentive to finish in the top three.   It would bring baseball to a European soccer like situation which no one really understands.

Here is my proposal if we are going to throw traditions out the window.  As we seem to be stuck with interleague play which I admit does work well in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Baltimore, let’s go one step further.

Let’s have one league, (similar to the NFL), and have four divisions.  We could call it North, South, East and West.  Inter divsion play would be the majority and the first two teams in each division would be playoff bound. With the first place team having home field advantage until the World Series.  Next week I’ll get into a detailed discussion of this plan but I think there are distinct advantages to it.

A starting lineup of Beatles songs

C- Love Me Do: The Fab Four’s early hit has the slow, easy consistency characteristic of a veteran backstop, even if the song’s relative brevity at just over two minutes raises some questions of durability. But then, the life of a catcher is riddled with questions and uncertainty. It’s the cost of doing business.

P- Eleanor Rigby: A great pitcher has something that sets him apart, Christy Matthewson with his screwball, Bob Feller with his speed, Greg Maddux with his pinpoint control. When the Beatles released this single off “Revolver” in 1966, they’d done little, if anything, like it. An existential song about loneliness, none of the four members played on it, relying instead on an octet of violin, viola, and cello musicians. The resulting track went to #1 on the UK Singles Chart and signaled John, Paul, George, and Ringo’s shift to more serious work.

1B- Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: Paul’s hit from 1967 was strong enough to anchor an album and reach #1 in four countries. It is my power hitter here, the big bat for a group that was otherwise light for the most part on heavier tracks and produced happy and optimistic-sounding works even in the brooding, creative intensity of later years.

2B- Strawberry Fields Forever, SS- Penny Lane: Countless car trips when I was growing up featured The Beatles 1967-1970 greatest hits anthology so whenever I hear “Strawberry Fields Forever,” I’m reminded of “Penny Lane.” The songs follow each other on the album and forever feed into one another in my mind. For that reason, they are my double play combo.

3B- Revolution: Nike used the Beatles’ anthem for social unrest to controversially create a commercial in 1987, filling it with highlights of the ’60s. For some reason, replaying the song in my head, I’m reminded of different highlights, Baltimore Orioles legend Brooks Robinson making diving catches at third base, in slow motion, in black and white. Don’t ask me why my mind works the way it does.

RF- A Day in the Life: A listener can get lost in the long transition in the middle of this song where the orchestra plays and John Lennon wails. The depths of the outfield were made for this sort of thing.

CF- Something: Perhaps no ballplayer was ever as graceful as Joe DiMaggio. “Something” is the Beatles’ version of the Yankee Clipper, one of two classic songs written about George Harrison’s wife at the time Pattie Boyd (who would inspire “Layla” two years later.) More than 150 artists have covered “Something,” including Frank Sinatra who called it “the greatest love song ever written.”

LF- Rocky Racoon: Someone told me anything by George belongs in left field. I’d have thought that’d be more the domain of Ringo, but I’ll make the leap of faith here.

Other starting lineups: ex-presidents, writers

Forever young: 10 who threw their last pitch before 30

Baseball can be a paradoxical sport. The pitchers with the greatest longevity sometimes hit their strides late, seemingly every generation having its Dazzy Vance or Nolan Ryan or Randy Johnson. And often, the brightest young phenoms flame out early. Here are 10 hurlers who threw their last pitch before age 30, ranked in order of magnitude of collapse:

1. Denny McLain: In 1968, a 24-year-old McLain became the most-recent pitcher to win 30 games, and he followed that in 1969 with another Cy Young season. Within three years, he’d be out of the majors.”How could this have happened?” his SABR biography notes. “McLain claims to have suddenly lost his fastball in 1970, but one couldn’t help but notice that he was putting on ten pounds of fat a year. At the time of his release, he was 29 and looked 45.”

2. Mark Fidrych: At his height, Fidrych was a 21-year-old rookie who talked to the ball on the mound and was nicknamed Big Bird for his awkward, goofy mannerisms, on his way to a 19-9 season with a 2.34 ERA. But throwing 250.1 innings in a debut campaign can take its toll, and Fidrych didn’t manage that the rest of his career combined, retiring four injury-plagued years later.

3. Mark Prior: Of all the men on this list, Prior may be the one who could still pitch, just 30 at this writing. But he hasn’t played in the majors since going 1-6 in 2006, possible overuse by his manager on the Chicago Cubs, Dusty Baker to blame. Certainly, Prior was never the same after Baker’s first year in town, 2003, when the 22-year-old ace went 18-6 with a 2.43 ERA and the Cubs came within one game of the World Series.

4. Herb Score: Early in his career, Score looked like the next Bob Feller, going 36-19 with a 2.68 ERA and 508 strikeouts over his first two seasons with the Cleveland Indians. Score’s fortunes shifted a few months into his third year in the majors when he took a Gil McDougald line drive to the face. Though Score pitched another five seasons, he won just 17 more games after his injury and retired in 1962 at 28.

5. Bugs Raymond: Raymond had seemingly ideal circumstances for his career, joining a dynasty at the height of the Deadball Era. He went 18-12 with a 2.49 ERA in 1909 but drank his way off a World Series-bound New York Giants club two years later and was dead barely a year after that.

6. Gary Nolan: For someone who was done at 29, Nolan offered surprising longevity, his 110 wins lifetime second among these men to McLain’s 131. Five times, Nolan won at least 14 games, and he finished fifth in Cy Young voting in 1972 when he went 15-5 with a 1.99 ERA for a Reds team that went to the World Series. One can only wonder how much longer Nolan would’ve lasted without a debut as a young flamethrower or later, a manager, Sparky Anderson who urged him to pitch through arm pain.

7. Wally Bunker: Bunker was enough of a hit with the Baltimore Orioles early on that the pitching mound in Memorial Stadium was renamed Bunker Hill. He went 19-5 as a 19-year-old rookie in 1964 but developed a sore arm late in the season and was never again as effective, even if he stuck around the majors seven more seasons.

8. Tony Saunders: The Tampa Bay Devil Rays made Saunders the first pick in the 1997 expansion draft, though he pitched just two years for them before his injury-related retirement at 25. Jose Canseco wrote in one of his books that Saunders wore out his arm through excessive steroid use.

9. Dave Nied: The second of three men here selected in expansion drafts (the next guy was as well), Nied came to the Colorado Rockies as their first overall pick in November 1992. But expansion duty in the light air of Denver may have been too much for even a once-heralded Atlanta Braves prospect. Nied lasted parts of four seasons before bowing out in 1996 at 27 with a 17-18 lifetime record and 5.06 ERA.

10. Jay Hook: Hook went 29-62 with a 5.23 ERA in eight mostly-forgettable seasons between 1957 and 1964. He’s notable for winning the first game in New York Mets history, entering the majors as a Bonus Baby years before, and earning the nickname of “Professor” from Mets manager Casey Stengel for attending Northwestern in the offseason.

Any player/Any era: Lefty Grove

What he did: I thought of Grove while reading a Baseball Think Factory discussion on my Gavvy Cravath piece last Thursday. One of the forum members noted that Cravath spent several years in the minors because his club, Minneapolis, refused to sell him. The same thing happened with Grove, who went 25-10 with a 2.56 ERA for Baltimore of the International League in 1921 but didn’t make the majors until four years later when he was 25. “It will forever be debated how many major-league games Grove would have won if he hadn’t spent five seasons with the Orioles,” his SABR biography notes. I’m happy to begin that debate anew.

Era he might have thrived in: Grove would benefit from an era where he could make the majors in his early 20s and not burn out in his mid-30s through overuse, as was the case for him. He might thrive on the current San Francisco Giants who play in the pitcher-friendly AT&T Park and whose coaching staff has done good work thus far keeping a staff of bright, young hurlers healthy. With a full career, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to suggest Grove could add 50-100 wins to the 300 he got lifetime.

Why: First off, Grove wouldn’t be held back by Jack Dunn, the Baltimore owner who clutched onto his star so long before finally selling him to the Philadelphia Athletics for $100,600 (Dunn at least sold a 19-year-old Babe Ruth to the Boston Red Sox a decade before.) Growing up in recent decades, Grove would also probably start playing baseball much sooner than 17. Whether that would lead to him being drafted today out of high school or college, Grove would have far better chances as a prospect.

The thought here is that if a 21-year-old Grove could dominate the International League, a circuit just below the majors in its day, he’d be in the show not much later in this era. This could hold especially true on the Giants, where Tim Lincecum debuted at 22, Matt Cain at 20, Jonathan Sanchez at 23, and Madison Bumgarner at 20. Granted, Bumgarner has struggled mightily this season, and Sanchez and Cain have had their ups and downs through their careers, Lincecum as well to a lesser extent, but all have had success with San Francisco. Grove could, too.

Grove had certain things going for him when he played that would serve him well today. He’d probably still have the competitive streak that spurred him to destroy lockers (though never with his pitching hand, as David Halberstam noted in Summer of ’49.) Also, a reader told me awhile back that Grove was one of the first pitchers to throw from a full-body windup, which makes him one of the few classic hurlers I’m willing to project in contemporary times. I’m guessing almost anyone else who pitched before World War II would get rocked in the majors today.

Would Grove lose some things going from the time he played to the present? Sure. He’d miss out on spending his prime seasons with the Philadelphia Athletics of the late 1920s and early ’30s, one of baseball’s all-time best clubs. It’s also unlikely he’d get close to 300 innings or 50 appearances in a season, with 240 innings and 35 starts the standard in baseball today. Still, that might work wonders for his longevity. Seeing as Grove overcame a dead arm in his mid-30s and pitched until he was 41, going 15-4 with an American League-best 2.54 ERA at 39, one can only guess how much longer he might last today.

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, Carl Mays, Charles Victory Faust, Denny McLain, Dom DiMaggio, Eddie Lopat, Frank Howard, Fritz Maisel, Gavvy Cravath, George Case, George Weiss, Harmon Killebrew, Harry Walker, Home Run Baker, Honus Wagner, Ichiro Suzuki, Jack Clark, Jackie Robinson, Jimmy Wynn, Joe DiMaggio, Joe Posnanski, Johnny Antonelli, Johnny FrederickJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr., Lefty O’Doul, Matty Alou, Michael Jordan, Monte Irvin, Nate Colbert, Paul Derringer, Pete Rose, Prince Fielder, Ralph Kiner, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Clemente, Rogers Hornsby, Sam Thompson, Sandy KoufaxShoeless Joe Jackson, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, The Meusel BrothersTy Cobb, Wally Bunker, Willie Mays

How Buster Posey Became a Catcher (Will He Catch Again?)

I’ve watched the Scott Cousins-Buster Posey collision dozens of times. My conclusion: if it’s a clean baseball play, it shouldn’t be.

On Tuesday, the Philadelphia Phillies’ Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt told ESPN’s Mike and Mike that in his opinion Cousins had a clear path to home plate and should have taken it. But, said Schmidt, since sliding is a “lost art,” Cousins barreled into Posey and may have ended the young star’s career.

But did Posey also make the wrong choice when as a Florida State Seminole he switched positions to become a catcher? As a testimony to his versatility, Posey at one time or another at Florida State played all nine positions. In a single game on May 12, 2008 against Savannah State Posey not only played all the field positions but pitched the last inning and struck out the only two batters he faced.

As a freshman in 2006, Posey started at shortstop, hit .346 and won a spot on the Louisville Slugger All American Freshman team. The following year, the Seminoles needed a catcher so associate head coach Jamey Shoupe approached Posey who readily agreed.

According to sources close to the Florida State baseball program, Posey spent the next few months in a catcher’s crouch. Not only did Posey watch television and read textbooks while bent at the knees, he studied Ivan Rodriguez, Jorge Posada and Joe Mauer’s defensive techniques.

After just one season of playing the position, Posey was a finalist for the Johnny Bench Award, awarded to the best catcher in college baseball. In 2008, as a junior, he hit .463 with 26 home runs and 93 RBIs, won the Johnny Bench Award and was named the Collegiate Baseball Player of the Year. The same year Posey won the coveted Dick Howser Trophy, and the Golden Spikes Award given to the best player in amateur baseball.

By all accounts, Posey is not only a great player but also an outstanding young man. FSU fans once serenaded Posey with this tune:

Bus-ter Pose-ee, he’ll hit a home run/Bus-ter Pose-ee, he’ll throw you out/Bus-ter Pose-ee, he’ll strike you out too!

Posey, out for the year, says he wants to return to catching in 2012.

But everything depends on how Posey’s physical rehab progresses. But however this season ends, whether you’re a San Francisco Giants’ fan or not, the Cousins-Posey incident has cast a dark shadow over the game

Knowing that baseball greats like Schmidt think Posey’s injury was avoidable makes coping with its consequences all the harder.

The Good, the Bad and the …So Far

Editor’s note: Due to technical difficulties, Doug Bird’s Tuesday post is going up a day later than usual this week.


With apologies to spaghetti westerns everywhere, let’s look at the first two months of the 2011 major league baseball season and see some of what and who went right, what and who went wrong and what and who went really wrong . Maybe the title of this week’s column should really be surprises, disappointments and disgusting.

The Good

Cleveland Indians: Although they have started the expected slide, the Cleveland Indians proved that defense and pitching (in that order) are what wins ballgames more often than not.  Having two of your best players back and hitting (Grady Sizemore and Travis Haffner) doesn’t hurt either.  The acquisition of Orlando Cabrera in the winter gave the team a genuine winning player with intangibles which defy his statistical performance.  Almost everywhere Cabrera has played has turned that team into a winner.  Astrubel Cabrera (Cabrera to Cabrera on double plays sure is fun to say and write) has been performing like the player scouts have always said he could be and the young pitching has been solid until it ran into the Boston Red Sox recently.

Tampa Bay Rays: That the Tampa Bay Rays are winning as much as they have been and especially after their horrid start proves that, as Yogi Berra once stated, “90% of this game is half mental”.  Or Joe Maddon.  Maddon has always managed this team emphasizing the importance of very solid fundamental play, no panicking and Evan Longoria. Maddon seems to have a quiet confidence in all of his players and adheres strictly to everyone being equally important.  Half of his team are multi-positional players and defensive minded and his starters strike almost everyone out.  Who says you can’t lose half your roster and still be in the hunt for a playoff spot?  Not me anymore.

Arizona Diamondbacks: They still strike out way too much and don’t like to walk but first year official manager Kirk Gibson has instilled this team with a football type mentality.  Gibson has insisted on intensity every play and every pitch and his players refusing to accept a loss. It sure helps that the totally revamped bullpen has been lights out with come back finally from injury closer J.J. Putz securing the back end.

Even once super prospect Sean Burroughs has gotten into the action if only as a reserve player.  Pittsburgh Pirate castoff Zach Duke pitched well in his first start of the season last week and hit a three run homerun.  Shades of Tampa Bay efficiency?

Honorable Mention: Seattle Mariners, Pittsburgh Pirates, Florida Marlins

The Bad

Chicago White Sox: Ozzie Guillen was quiet until a couple of days ago despite the fact that this year so far the team can’t pitch, hit or remember how to play the game.  That all changed after a loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.  The post game meet and greet with the press turned into an Ozzie rant and rave with more “bleeps” than anything.  Not his best work but it was nice to see him finding his groove once again.

Adam Dunn is on pace for 20 homeruns and a .230 batting average and Alex Rios has turned into a player whose only virtue seems to be a strong throwing arm.  If it wasn’t for converted shortstop Sergio Santos, the bullpen would be a complete disaster and John Danks is 0-8. At least Paul Konerko is hitting.

Chicago Cubs: The city by Lake Michigan isn’t having a very good 2011 baseball season.  I still think hiring Mike Quade as manager was the right decision but even he can’t motivate Aramis Ramirez, (two homeruns thus far) and Carlos Pena.  Soriano has continued to make any fly ball to left an adventure and the strangest sight of all, empty seats in Wrigley.  Cub pitching has been only okay but although the Cubs would like to trade (give away) Carlos Zambrano, Rick Dempster no one will touch them except maybe the New York Yankees in September. With their large payroll and poor farm system (why is Josh Vitters still in Double A anyway?) the World champion drought will well into the future.

Minnesota Twins: Is anyone else having trouble getting used to seeing the Twins play poor fundamental baseball and their pitching allow football type scores? I didn’t think so.  Of course injuries have really hurt the club with Joe Mauer hurt again, Justin Morneau still recovering from the concussion he suffered almost one year ago and Joe Nathan hoping his repaired arm can finally heal and allow him rediscover his fastball.

But the signing of Japanese league star Tsuyoshi Nishioka has proven to be a major mistake notwithstanding his injury, the fragility of Francisco Liriano  and Delmon Young having an awful season, the Twins might be in big trouble not only this season but for the foreseeable future.

Dishonorable Mention: New York Mets, Los Angeles Dodgers

Being in the right place at right time

A few weeks ago, a reader emailed with a question: Was there any player whose spot in the Hall of Fame was so dependent on the team he played on as Roberto Clemente? The Brooklyn Dodgers signed Clemente as an 18-year-old free agent in 1952, though he went to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Rule 5 draft two years later. Clemente struggled his first several years in Pittsburgh, before blossoming into a perennial All Star and batting champ in the 1960s. The rest is history.

My reader wrote of Clemente:

He lacked power and lost time due to many nagging injuries that on another club would have made him an ideal candidate for a backup player or a trip to the minors.

Had he stayed with the Dodgers, he would not have been able to break into their starting lineup and might well have gone to either the Mets or Colts in the expansion draft.
With any of the [other second-division teams he could have started for as a young player], his playing time certainly would have been curtailed and limited. He would probably have spent some time back in the minors, or been traded around the league a few times before becoming a well traveled journeyman.
All things considered, with any other team besides the Pirates, not only does he lose about three or four more seasons in the minors and maybe one or two more as a part time player, but there’s absolutely no way he reaches 3000 hits and becomes the Roberto Clemente we now know.
His career, perhaps more than any other shows just how dependent a ballplayer is on so many factors that are all beyond his control.

I agree. So much about success in baseball and life in general seems to hinge on being in the right place at the right time. It’s not to say hard work and perseverance don’t matter as well, but baseball history is filled with players who soared high with the help of luck and happenstance.

Here are 10 such men:

1. Joe Sewell: A lot came out of the death of Cleveland Indians shortstop Ray Chapman in 1920 including, arguably, Sewell’s Hall of Fame career. A 21-year-old Sewell made his debut September 10, 1920, less than a month after Chapman was killed by a pitched ball. While he’d done nothing special his only year in the minors, Sewell proceeded to bat .329 the rest of the season as Cleveland won the World Series. He played another 10 years with the Indians, hitting above .300 eight times, famous for his miniscule number of strikeouts each year.

2. Chuck Klein: A number of hitters posted gaudy numbers in the Philadelphia Phillies’ ballpark in the early part of the 20th century, the Baker Bowl. Klein may have earned his spot in the Hall of Fame because of it. Consider that in 581 games lifetime at the Baker Bowl, Klein batted .395 with 164 home runs and 594 RBI. In 1172 games elsewhere, he hit .277 with 136 home runs and 607 RBI.

3. Yogi Berra: The Hall of Fame catcher was regarded highly enough that Branch Rickey wanted to sign him to the Dodgers in the early 1940s. The Yankees won out on Berra, though, and his arrival in New York in 1946, after he served in World War II, coincided with the final seasons of another great catcher, Bill Dickey. Dickey mentored Berra through the ’46 season, and Berra progressed enough that the following year, the Yankees traded away former starter, Aaron Robinson. Berra later won three MVP awards, and Bill James ranks him as the greatest catcher all-time.

4. Sandy Koufax: Koufax signed with the Dodgers as a Bonus Baby in 1954, and his first several seasons, he struggled to keep his ERA under 4.00 and his winning percentage above .500, just another young, impossibly hard-throwing southpaw. He considered quitting after 1960 but thought better of it, and in spring training in 1961, catcher Norm Sherry offered sage advice. “Take something off the ball and let ’em hit it,” Sherry told Koufax. “Nobody’s going to swing the way you’re throwing now.” Koufax went 129-47 the rest of his career, winning three Cy Young awards and an MVP.

5. Hank Aaron: My reader offered former home run king Aaron as another example. “This skinny, 20-year-old converted second baseman gets his shot because Bobby Thomson breaks his ankle in an exhibition game [in 1954],” my reader wrote. “No broken ankle, probably no rookie season and the 13 home runs that eventually lead to breaking the record. Without it, he may have spent a year or two either in the minors or as a backup outfielder. Think of the implications to all the records he wouldn’t have been able to set.”

6. George Foster: The early 1970s were bleak years to be a San Francisco Giant, with the club experiencing a near-two-decade slump following the departure of Willie Mays. Foster debuted with the Giants in 1969 and played parts of three years in San Francisco. He could have been limited by those years, another Bobby Bonds or Gary Matthews or Jack Clark, though one of the worst trades in baseball history sent Foster to greener pastures. In exchange for two forgotten players, Foster went to the Cincinnati Reds in 1971, and by the end of the decade, he’d be a power-hitting MVP for the Big Red Machine.

7. Ron LeFlore: For LeFlore, the right place at the right time was prison. Doing a 5-15-year stretch for armed robbery at the State Prison of Southern Michigan, LeFlore began playing on the baseball team. One of his fellow inmates knew Detroit Tigers manager Billy Martin, and after scouting LeFlore, Martin got him paroled in 1973 on a unique work-release program. LeFlore made the majors in 1974 as a 26-year-old rookie and played nine seasons ultimately. In baseball as in life, LeFlore distinguished himself for stealing, swiping 455 bases. Being incarcerated or meeting Billy Martin never paid so many dividends.

8. Jay Buhner: Getting traded from the New York Yankees to the Seattle Mariners early in his career made Buhner a starter and brought him to a home ballpark, the Kingdome that boosted his hitting numbers. Superstar teammate Ken Griffey Jr.’s broken wrist in 1995 elevated Buhner again. Hitting 40 home runs and driving in over 100 runs for the first time, Buhner helped fill the void and lead Seattle to the American League Championship Series. He remained a force his next two seasons.

9. Eddie Perez: How does a catcher make the majors at 27 and stay despite hitting in the low .200s? By being one of the preferred backstops of Greg Maddux. In his years with the Braves, Maddux generally opted to not be caught by regular starter Javy Lopez, the kind of exception made for a Cy Young hurler. Perez was Maddux’s primary battery mate from 1996 through 1999, and he played 11 seasons, ultimately.

10. Mike Piazza: Being the son of a childhood friend of Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda had its perks, including the chance to be drafted by Los Angeles in the 62nd round in 1988. With the draft maxing out at 50 rounds today and Lasorda retired since 1996, there’s less chance Piazza would make the show, let alone become an elite catcher.

Double the fun: The Two Lives of Bo Belinsky

During Bo Belinsky’s final two years in baseball, his skills were totally shot. In eight games with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1969 and one with the Cincinnati Reds in 1970 his record was 0-3 with a 4.50 ERA. But in 1962 when he first burst on the scene in Los Angeles with the original Angels, Belinsky looked like he would dominate the American League for years to come.

Belinsky won his first five starts including a May 5 no-hitter against the Baltimore Orioles. Then on May 20, in the second game of a Fenway Park doubleheader, Belinsky reached what was to be his career peak.

Against the Boston, Belinsky pitched a complete game, 2-hitter to dominate the Red Sox, 1-0. For the rest of 1962, the bottom fell out as Belinsky posted an unimpressive 4-10. Then, in the seven following seasons between 1963 and 1970, he was never better than mediocre—and rarely even that.

Off the field, Belinsky dated “B” list Hollywood starlets, drank heavily and made the headlines more often than Angels management liked. The final straw for the Angels came Belinsky started a hotel room fight with elderly Los Angeles Times sportswriter Braven Dyer. The Angels immediately suspended Belinsky, then traded him to the Philadelphia Phillies where opposing batters proved to him that he was washed up. The consensus around the Major Leagues was that Belinsky had totally wasted his considerable talent.

Although his reputation during his playing days was one of a heavy drinking, barroom brawling playboy, toward the end of his life, Belinsky had sobered up and become a born again Christian. In 1973, veteran sportswriter Maury Allen wrote a biography of Belinsky, Bo: Pitching and Wooing, with the uncensored cooperation of Bo Belinsky, in 1973.

Belinsky had come to terms with his lost opportunities.

As he told Allen:

“I came to the Angels as a kid who thought he had been pushed around by life, by minor league baseball. I was selfish and immature in a lot of ways and I tried to cover that up. I went from a major league ballplayer to hanging onto a brown bag under the bridge, but I had my moments and I have my memories. If I had the attitude about life then that I have now, I’d have done a lot of things differently. But you make your rules and you play by them. I knew the bills would come due eventually, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to cover them.”

In 2001, Belinsky died after a long struggle against bladder cancer.

“Double the fun” is a Friday series here that examines one famous doubleheader each week.

Any player/Any era: Gavvy Cravath

What he did: Gavvy Cravath may be something of a forgotten man today, and I’ve confused him with Gabby Hartnett and Gabby Street before. Mostly, Cravath can be remembered as a name that shows up again and again on the National League home run leader boards of the Deadball Era. His 24 homers in 1915 was, to that time, a big league record. But he was slow in the field and played just seven full seasons in the majors. One of my baseball books suggests Cravath was born 55 years too soon, that he could have played into his 40s had the designated hitter position existed in his day. That’s an interesting thought, which I’m happy to expand on here.

Era he might have thrived in: The DH position debuted in 1973 when the New York Yankees made Ron Blomberg baseball’s first full-time hitter. Seeing as Cravath was born in 1881, moving his birth date up 55 years would seem insufficient to extend his career much or boost his Hall of Fame case. He’d perhaps be little more than a glorified version of another slow-moving slugger Frank Howard, who was born in 1936 and got just one season at the end of his career to DH. But if Cravath had been born in say, 1951, he might have been baseball’s first superstar DH.

Why: Cravath’s problem wasn’t that he couldn’t stick in the big leagues once he finally had a starting position. It’s that it took him until he was 31 to get it.

A native of Escondido, California, Cravath began playing in the Pacific Coast League and was 27 when he debuted with the Boston Red Sox in 1908. But he couldn’t penetrate Boston’s vaunted outfield of Harry Hooper, Tris Speaker, and Duffy Lewis, one of baseball’s greatest, and Cravath bounced to a few other American League clubs before returning to the minors. When Cravath finally earned a starting spot with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1912, he quickly made up for lost time and took advantage of his cozy home park, the Baker Bowl, leading the National League in home runs six of the next eight seasons.

Cravath’s 119 home runs were a record when he retired at the dawn of the Live Ball Era in 1920, even if Babe Ruth quickly set this aside. But in the modern era, Cravath could make the majors as a full-time DH in his early 20s, last 15 or 20 seasons, and maybe hit 400-500 home runs. I’m guessing his 1915 season alone, when he clubbed 24 homers, unheard of for those days, might be good for 50 today. And seeing as Cravath played until he was 40, when few lasted that long, I wonder if he’d have even greater durability with modern medicine. The man exuded strength, becoming a no-nonsense judge after baseball. Even his name sounds tough.

Granted, playing in recent decades, Cravath wouldn’t have the 279-foot right field limits of his old stomping grounds, the Baker Bowl, which closed in 1938. Still, as a right-handed hitter with the ability to go to the opposite field, Cravath might thrive in old Yankee Stadium. He’d certainly trump Blomberg who, even with the chance to DH starting at 24, had 52 home runs lifetime and played his final game at 30.

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, Carl Mays, Charles Victory Faust, Denny McLain, Dom DiMaggio, Eddie Lopat, Frank Howard, Fritz MaiselGeorge Case, George Weiss, Harmon Killebrew, Harry Walker, Home Run Baker, Honus Wagner, Ichiro Suzuki, Jack Clark, Jackie Robinson, Jimmy Wynn, Joe DiMaggio, Joe Posnanski, Johnny Antonelli, Johnny FrederickJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr., Lefty O’Doul, Matty Alou, Michael Jordan, Monte Irvin, Nate Colbert, Paul Derringer, Pete Rose, Prince Fielder, Ralph Kiner, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Clemente, Rogers Hornsby, Sam Thompson, Sandy KoufaxShoeless Joe Jackson, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, The Meusel BrothersTy Cobb, Wally Bunker, Willie Mays