Monthly Archives: September 2011

Nig Clarke Goes 8 for 8 with 8 Home Runs

Editor’s Note: Joe Guzzardi’s Friday series “Double the Fun” has ended. It will return next baseball season
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I’m not impressed!

Sure, Prince Fielder hit three titanic home runs Tuesday night off soon-to-be former Pittsburgh Pirates starter Ross Ohlendorf. That still leaves Fielder five behind Jay Justin “Nig” Clarke who, on June 15, 1902, belted eight round trippers for the Corsicana Oil Citys as they hammered their Texas League rival Texarakana Casketmakers, 51-3. Since runs batted in were not an official statistic in the early 20th Century, historians can only estimate that Clarke drove in between 16 and 20 runs.

To this day, the final score is in dispute. Telegraph operators, not believing their eyes, reported the score as 5-3 and changed Clarke’s “8” homers to 3. As recently as 1965, the Dallas Morning-News uncovered evidence that Corsicana manager and first baseman Mike O’Connor had inflated the totals.

According to the original newspaper account: “The official scorer lost his head, but the foxy manager of the Oil City boys has discovered a tabulated record which goes as the official figures. He realizes the benefits in swelling batting averages …” Nevertheless, in an interview late in his life, Clarke recalled his 8 epic home runs “as if they were yesterday.”

Naturally, the left- handed hitting Clarke benefited from the 210 foot right field fence. Still, assuming each of Clarke’s homers went at least 250 feet, by the end of that June afternoon his balls had travelled 2,000 feet. I estimate the aggregate distance of Fielder’s 3 blasts at 1,100 feet. I should add that if the roof at Miller Park had been open, one of them would still be in orbit.

During the 2 hour and 10 minute game, the Oil Citys collected 59 base hits that included 20 homers. But before you totally dismiss Clarke’s historic day, keep in mind that the Casketmakers didn’t hit a single round-tripper.

Unfortunately for Clarke, his major league career was less spectacular. In a fifteen year career with the Detroit Tigers, Cleveland Naps, St. Louis Browns, Philadelphia Phillies and Pittsburgh Pirates, Clarke only hit 9 homers. Clarke did however hit .358 in 1906.

Clarke’s big league years included one wonderful game. On October 2, 1908 Clarke caught Addie Joss’ perfect game, at that time only the fourth in baseball history. Clarke had a well-deserved reputation as an outstanding defensive catcher from baseball’s harshest critic, Ty Cobb.

After Clarke caught his last game for the Pirates, he returned to the minor leagues where he hit .266 and played until he turned 42.

Any player/Any era: Billy Beane

What he did: This was originally going to be a column about Branch Rickey. With the premier of Moneyball in theaters last week, I figured it might be interesting to see how Rickey would do in Beane’s place as general manager for the Oakland Athletics. If ever there was an executive who succeeded with limited resources, it was Rickey, who invented the farm system in St. Louis and later made perennial contenders out of also-rans in Brooklyn. He didn’t fare as well at the last stop of his career in Pittsburgh, though his shrewd move plucking Roberto Clemente from the Dodger minors kept the Pirates relevant long after Rickey left town. Rickey might make a good subject here at some point, though for our purposes this week, it dawned on me that the Mahatma and Beane might help each other.

There’s a scene early in the book version of Moneyball where a young Beane sprints against a couple other top prospects in the 1980 draft, his speed and other suite of skills tantalizing enough for the New York Mets to make him a first-round pick. Beane didn’t amount to much as a player, though, and the scene mainly serves to show his disdain for valuing young prospects specifically for raw talent. But Beane might have been a good project for Rickey, who valued speed perhaps as much as any other skill and who resolved early on that if he lacked the money to sign established players, he’d simply develop his own. His systems produced Stan Musial, Johnny Mize, and Joe Medwick, among others, and I only wonder what fellow outfielder Beane might have done for him.

Era he might have thrived in: We’ll place Beane on the Gashouse Gang St. Louis Cardinals of the 1930s which Medwick was an integral member of, Mize joined at the tail end, and Musial just missed. With his speed and brash personality, Beane would have fit right in and been in a better situation than he was with the Mets.

Why: Certainly, the Mets of the 1980s produced a huge number of talented young players: Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, Lenny Dykstra, Kevin Mitchell, Rick Aguilera, Kevin Tapani, and Gregg Jefferies all come to mind, and perhaps New York of those years was what St. Louis was half a century earlier. But for all the successes, Beane was a noted failure in his development, being pushed too early, ultimately hitting just .219 lifetime, and playing his last game in the majors at 27. With the Cardinals, Beane might not even be in the show at that age, and if he was, it’d only be because he was absolutely ready to go and be an asset to St. Louis. Rickey liked to keep a good veteran or two around on his bush league teams to help the young players. It’s why guys like Harry Walker took so long to make the big leagues.

So Beane would have a better chance at properly developing into a good all-around player for the Cardinals. And if he stuck with the route he’s gone in real life, becoming a scout shortly after quitting playing and eventually matriculating to the front office, Beane would be learning from the organization of arguably the greatest executive baseball has ever known. I can only wonder about what Rickey might have been able to teach Beane and what the meeting of the minds could have been like for two men devoted to innovation and exploiting baseball’s inefficiencies. True, Beane might not be played in any movie these days by Brad Pitt, a bizarre, wonderful fluke for the sabermetric community if there ever was one. But Beane could wind up with just as worthy of a legacy, if not better.

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 PujolsBabe RuthBad News Rockies,Barry BondsBilly MartinBob CaruthersBob FellerBob Watson,Bobby VeachCarl MaysCharles Victory FaustChris von der Ahe,Denny McLainDom DiMaggioEddie LopatFrank HowardFritz MaiselGavvy CravathGeorge CaseGeorge WeissHarmon KillebrewHarry WalkerHome Run BakerHonus Wagner, Hugh CaseyIchiro SuzukiJack ClarkJackie Robinson, Jim Abbott, Jimmy WynnJoe DiMaggioJoe PosnanskiJohnny AntonelliJohnny FrederickJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr.Lefty GroveLefty O’DoulMajor League (1989 film),Matty AlouMichael JordanMonte IrvinNate ColbertPaul DerringerPete RosePrince FielderRalph KinerRick AnkielRickey Henderson,Roberto ClementeRogers HornsbySam CrawfordSam Thompson,Sandy KoufaxSatchel PaigeShoeless Joe JacksonStan MusialTed WilliamsThe Meusel BrothersTy CobbVada PinsonWally Bunker, Will Clark, Willie Mays

Jack Sanford: “A Damn Good Buick”

These are dark days for San Francisco Giants fans. Since August, they have had a growing sense of dread that 2011 just wasn’t going to be another miracle year. Missing from their late season roster are not only the high profile Buster Posey, Freddie Sanchez and Brian Wilson but also others who played important roles last year like Nate Schierholtz and Jeremy Affeldt.

As I watched Tim Lincecum Sunday in his final outing, I was reminded of Jack Sanford another bulldog Giants’ pitcher. Although Sanford was the Giants’ losing pitcher in the 1962 seventh game against the New York Yankees, he was one of the best of his era.

Sanford, a right-hander, also pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies, the California Angels and the Kansas City Athletics in his 12-year major career during which he posted a 137-101 record with a 3.69 earned run average.

In his 1957 Rookie of the Year season with the Phillies, Sanford notched a 19-8 record with a league leading 188 strike outs. But Sanford suffered a sophomore jinx and went 10-13 in 1958. Then a post-season trade sent Sanford to San Francisco for pitcher Ruben Gomez and catcher Valmy Thomas in what turned out to be a great deal for the Giants and Sanford.

Sanford pitched seven solid years for the Giants and had his best year in 1962 when he went 24-8, winning 16 straight games and leading the Giants to their first pennant in San Francisco. The Giants beat the Dodgers in a best-of-three playoff series.

During the World Series, Sanford pitched three games against the Yankees whose roster included Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle. Sanford went 1-2 with a 1.93 ERA. He pitched a three-hit 2-0 shutout in Game 2 and struck out 10 in a 5-3 loss in Game 5.

Game 7 was one of the greatest pitching duels in World Series history. While Ralph Terry carried a perfect game into the sixth inning and a two-hit shutout into the ninth, Sanford was almost as effective. He gave up seven hits in seven innings, the only run coming on a 6-4-3 double play in the fifth inning when Tony Kubek grounded to Jose Pagan to Chuck Hiller to Willie McCovey. For Terry, who won 23 games, his masterpiece redeemed him personally for the 1960 gopher ball he served up to the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Bill Mazeroski.

In a play that longtime Giants have indelibly etched in their memories, McCovey lined out to second baseman Bobby Richardson to end the game with runners stranded on second and third.

Sanford, who pitched more than 200 innings in each of his first five seasons with San Francisco and topped the National League with 42 starts in 1963, suffered a shoulder injury in 1964 that limited him to 18 games. In 1965, the Giants traded Sanford to the California Angels. Moved to the bullpen, Sanford recorded a league-high 12 wins in relief in 1966.

An excellent hitting pitcher, Sanford went all out on the base paths. “It seemed like he hit a triple in about five games one year, and every time, (reliever) Stu Miller got ready to come in,” retired San Francisco Chronicle baseball writer Bob Stevens once said. “He knew Sanford would be exhausted.”

When Sanford, a notoriously tough competitor, lost a game beat reporters never approached him.

Stevens came up with the classic line that compared Sanford to an automobile.

Here’s the whole quote:

Sanford didn’t get a lot of credit because he wasn’t a classic-looking pitcher. He was a bulky guy who would be a small-size right tackle on the football team. He wasn’t delicate. He was out there to throw the baseball and he did it well. He wasn’t afraid to brush back a hitter. He was an old-school pitcher. He wasn’t a Cadillac but he was a damn good Buick.

Undeserving Hall of Famers

Editor’s note: Please welcome Alex Putterman to the site. At 17, Alex is the youngest person to ever post here, though that wouldn’t be apparent from his fine writing. Alex tackles a topic a few others have suggested to me in the past but I’ve shied away from writing about. I’ve devoted a lot of space to the best players not in the Hall of Fame. Today, Alex takes on another question: Who are the worst?

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The National Baseball Hall of Fame has always prided itself on exclusivity. Enshrinement in Cooperstown is considered the most prestigious honor a ballplayer can attain, an assurance of his permanent standing among the all-time greats. To be a Hall of Famer is to claim the same distinction as Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson and all the greatest baseball players.

Sharing in that honor, however, are a whole cast of undeserving and under-qualified others. I took to sorting through the 221 players (excluding Negro Leaguers) currently honored in Cooperstown and was unnerved by the inconsistency and injustice of so many Hall of Fame selections. Earl Averill? Rabbit Maranville? Ray Schalk? These so-called “greats” make Tim Raines looks like Willie Mays.

Guided by Wins Above Replacement (WAR), as calculated by baseball-reference.com, I created two categories of unqualified Hall of Famers:

  1. Those who are unquestionably undeserving
  2. Those whose merit is uncertain but worth discussing.

Having seen few of these guys play, I relied primarily on statistics to analyze their qualifications. OPS+ and ERA+ are very helpful in reconciling era and ballpark differences, and WAR gives a great general idea of a player’s worth. I also considered the given player’s level of dominance over his peers, looking favorably upon impressive peaks and giving credit for leading the league in important categories and contending for major awards.

I’ll further explain specific cases as we go on, but first, here’s list one, the players who I resolutely believe do not deserve a spot in Cooperstown, with career WAR totals included for reference:

  • Hughie Jennings- 46.4
  • Roger Bresnahan- 41.6
  • Tommy McCarthy- 19.0
  •  Joe Tinker- 49.2
  • Clark Griffith- 52.8
  •  Johnny Evers- 48.4
  • Jack Chesbro- 32.5
  • Frank Chance- 49.5
  • Herb Pennock- 38
  • Dizzy Dean- 41.8
  • Chief Bender- 41.9
  • Rabbit Maranville- 38.2
  • Ray Schalk- 22.6
  • Eppa Rixey- 48.4
  • Heinie Manush- 44.1
  • Burleigh Grimes- 42.8
  • Lloyd Waner- 24.3
  • Waite Hoyt- 45.1
  • Jesse Haines- 30.5
  • Earle Combs- 43.7
  • Rube Marquard- 24.2
  • Harry Hooper- 52.5
  • Chick Hafey- 29.5
  • Dave Bancroft- 46.4
  • Ross Youngs- 36.2
  • Lefty Gomez- 38.2
  • George Kelly- 24.3
  • Jim Bottomley- 32.4
  • Earl Averill- 45
  • Freddie Lindstrom- 29.2
  • Hack Wilson- 39.1
  • Chuck Klein- 39.2
  • Travis Jackson- 43.3
  • George Kell- 33.6
  • Rick Ferrell- 22.9
  • Catfish Hunter- 32.5
  • Red Schoendienst- 40.4
  • Phil Rizzuto- 30.8
  • Vic Willis- 50.4
  • Rollie Fingers- 24.3
  • Tony Perez- 50.5
  • Bill Mazeroski- 26.9
  • Bruce Sutter- 24.3
  • Goose Gossage- 39.5
  • Jim Rice- 45.1

Various factors have led to unjust Hall of Fame inductions. Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers and Frank Chance were solid players; both anecdotal and statistical evidence suggests all were excellent defenders at their positions. But each of this trio owes his Cooperstown plaque to the famous 1910 poem describing their double-play combination. None of the three owns a WAR above 50 and none of the three ever led his league in any Triple Crown category (Chance’s 1905 on-base percentage crown is the only slash-line title among the three of them).

Bill Mazeroski has deservedly enjoyed recognition for his walk-off home run to end the 1960 World Series, but his 26.9 WAR suggest he was far from Hall-worthy (Raul Mondesi, for context, compiled a career WAR of 27.2). Despite being a fine defensive second baseman, Maz was no offensive star, posting a career OPS+ of only 83. Phil Rizzuto, another well-remembered middle infielder, posted similarly meager offensive stats, and his induction too seems questionable.

Dizzy Dean was, for three years, among the most dominant starters in the National League, but his prime was short-lived and his career on the whole not Hall-caliber. Dean isn’t the only player to make the Hall of Fame on the basis of short-term success. Chuck Klein, Jim Rice and Catfish Hunter are other big names whose lack of production before and after their short peaks make them unworthy HOF inductees. And Hack Wilson’s historic 191 RBI in 1930 belie his extreme lack of longevity; Wilson played only 1,348 career games and almost his entire career’s productivity came from one four-year stretch.

Several players owe their Cooperstown plaques to friends in high places. As chairman of the Hall of Fame’s Committee on Baseball Veterans, Hall of Fame second baseman Frankie Frisch successfully lobbied for the induction of a handful of undeserving former teammates, namely Jesse Haines, Dave Bancroft, Chick Hafey, Rube Marquard, Ross Youngs and George Kelly, all of whom occupy a spot on my list of undeniably under-qualified Hall of Famers. Put together, the career WAR of these six, 191.4, is only slightly higher than that of Babe Ruth alone.

Rollie Fingers, Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage are among the few on my list of unworthy Hall of Famers whom some baseball people would consider legitimate inductees. To me, however, a closer pitching 100 innings a season, as these three did, can rarely impact a team more than a starting pitcher who hurls 250 innings per year. The trio’s respective WARs (an identical 24.3 for Fingers and Sutter and 39.5 for Gossage) back up my assumptions of a closer’s limited value. The guy pitching the ninth inning may be important, but he’s not more important than the guy who pitched the first seven.

The next list should be more debatable than the last, intended as thought-provoking rather than conclusive. These are the guys whose Hall of Fame inductions may not be travesties but whose resumes are nonetheless iffy, career WARs again included:

  • King Kelly- 47.5
  • Hugh Duffy- 49.6
  • Clark Griffith- 52.8
  • Pie Traynor- 37.1
  • Max Carey- 50.6
  •  Edd Roush- 46.5
  • Sam Rice- 51.1
  • Red Faber- 51.3
  • Kiki Cuyler- 49.6
  • Stan Coveleski- 48.5
  • Lou Boudreau- 56
  •  Joe Kelley- 55.5
  • Sam Thompson- 46.7
  • Ralph Kiner- 45.9
  • Bob Lemon- 51
  • Joe Sewell- 48.4
  • Amos Rusie- 62.1
  • Addie Joss- 37.9
  • Luis Aparicio- 49.9
  • Hoyt Wilhelm- 37.9
  • Lou Brock- 39.1
  • Ernie Lombardi- 39
  • Bobby Doerr- 47.7
  • Tony Lazzeri- 48.3
  • Hal Newhouser- 57.5
  • Nellie Fox- 44.4
  • Orlando Cepeda- 46.8
  • Kirby Puckett- 44.8
  • Dennis Eckersley- 58.3

Every once in a while a career WAR total seems completely counterintuitive. This list features both players whose WAR is surprisingly high and players whose WAR is surprisingly low. Amos Rusie is statistically one of the most baffling players in Cooperstown. Rusie, both standout pitcher and mediocre outfielder in the late 19th century, was alternately impressive and underwhelming throughout a ten-season career on the mound. So how does his WAR stand at a respectable 62.1? I’m not entirely sure. Evaluating pre-modern era players with advanced stats (or any stats for that matter) can get confusing, and Amos Rusie’s career represents the difficulty in drawing conclusions about 19th century stars, a recurring complication in assessing Hall of Fame worthiness.

The two most surprising WAR numbers came from a pair of players highly regarded during and after their careers. Lou Brock is 2nd all-time in stolen bases, a member of the 3,000 hit club and a 1st-ballot Hall of Famer. Pie Traynor was, in 1969, chosen as the third baseman on baseball’s “Centennial Team” and in 1999 named the 70th best player of all-time by Sporting News. Yet both Brock and Traynor have WARs in the 30s and are, if you trust advanced statistics, unqualified for distinction in Cooperstown. Closer inspection reveals that Brock’s times caught stealing diminish the value of his stolen bases, that Traynor rarely walked, that neither had much power, and that both lose points for defense in the WAR formula. While those who saw and were impressed by Brock and Traynor deserve some benefit of the doubt, it’s hard to completely ignore the modern statistical evidence that appears to, in this case, contradict popular opinion.

Addie Joss and Kirby Puckett are interesting cases. Both were terrific players, had careers shortened by disease (meningitis for Joss, glaucoma for Puckett), finished with numbers short of typical Hall standards and were enshrined anyway. Voters were forced to consider whether to grant these stars a pass for their short careers given the extenuating medical circumstances. They did, opting not to punish Puckett and Joss for abbreviated careers.

On the other end of the career-length spectrum is Dennis Eckersley and his 24-year stint in the bigs. Eck is most remembered as a star closer, but his time in the rotation actually produced significantly more wins above replacement than did his closing years. We’ve already addressed the argument against closers in Cooperstown (side note: Hoyt Wilhelm is another tricky case because relievers in his time had very different roles than modern-day closers), and Eck wasn’t a Hall of Fame-caliber starter, but the combination of 12 years of a starter’s production and the longevity allowed by low inning-totals in the bullpen give him a WAR of 58.3, right in the company of borderline Hall of Famers.

I’ve only addressed a few players on these lists, but hopefully I have, through examples, conveyed the type of thinking I applied to determining the merits of each Hall of Famer. Consensus is near impossible with this sort of analysis, so I’m sure many will disagree with some of my categorizations, but I’m satisfied with having sorted through Cooperstown and, in my mind if not in reality, having narrowed the Hall of Fame to those truly deserving.

Baseball Present: All Roads Lead to Philadelphia

Sadly the 2011 baseball season is winding down but hey, the playoffs are set to begin very shortly and so it is time for the annual playoff prediction notwithstanding the fact that two spots are still up for grabs. I’ll go out on a limb and predict the final two spots and then who the ultimate winner will be. Of course I’m not putting any money on it which I’ve always held to be a wise thing to do considering the anything can happen today normality which is major league baseball.

The Boston Red Sox are fading fast and having to use Tim Wakefield to start games sure isn’t helping any. I’m pulling for Tampa Bay to get the wild card spot but logic tells me that Boston will survive. Despite their pitching problems, they are simply too talented not to get in. Tampa Bay are running out of games and have to face the New York Yankees in their final three. Even thought the Yankees have clinched the division, they have memories of Tampa Bay beating them and would like a little revenge. They can worry about the RedSox later, if and when.

St. Louis are chasing Atlanta and simply don’t have the pitching or the real Albert Pujols. Baseball is all about pitching and Atlanta have enough to capture the wild card. St. Louis are running out of games and need to hope Atlanta stumble again. Tony LaRussa has over managed the Cardinals lately and Fredi Gonzalez has just like his guys play. There have been too many off field distractions for St. Louis this season with Pujols and LaRussa rumored to be leaving, Gonzalez has replaced a legend and handled the pitching staff, (overused the relievers a bit), to get Atlanta here.

So I’m guessing Boston and Atlanta get in as the wildcard.

I’m also guessing that no one will be able to defeat Philadelphia. The starting four are simply too good and too experienced in big games. The trade for Hunter Pence rejuvenated this team and gave the offense the lift it needed. Jimmy Rollins is cocky in big games and how do you defeat Roy Halladay more than once, if at all? That is the simple math of it all. In order to defeat the Phillies, a team will have to win three games against Halladay, Lee, Coles and Oswalt and in the same series. The next series that number moves up to four games. The going gets tougher.

Who will play Philadelphia in the World Series? Does it really matter?

The New York Yankees are the only team which could defeat Philadelphia. On paper even that matchup doesn’t seem fair as the Yankee pitching is very suspect after C.C. Sabathia. But the Yankees have that mystic legendary quality about them even if they seem to be nothing but a bunch of hired guns supporting home grown talent such as Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano. But the Yankee ghosts of teams past seem to haunt even the new Yankee Stadium and distracting those ghosts can get in the way of getting those 27 outs. The Yankees are still the team which grinds it out, slow down every big game and doesn’t allow mistakes to go unpunished.

There is no other American League team which can stand up to the Philadelphia Phillies. Texas have the World Series experience and Boston certainly have proven to be ring worthy. Detroit have only Justin Verlander who can’t start every game and all of the games will be do or die against good teams. There are no breathers or easy series against weaker teams in the playoffs. The three and four starters simply can’t matchup against Philadelphia.

Philly can put up a number one starter each and every game and no other team can match that. This is a pitching staff built for the playoffs and built to win.

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This blog primarily focuses on baseball history, but every Monday, Doug Bird writes “Baseball Present” on the current state of the game.

Double The Fun: Johnny Podres, Better Than You Think

Editor’s note: “Any player/Any era” will be up by this evening.
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The 1961 Los Angeles Dodgers’ pennant hopes came to a crashing end on August 16 when they lost both ends of a rare Wednesday evening double dip to the Cincinnati Reds, 6-0 and 8-0.

The defeats were bitter for the Dodgers who had entered the season as favorites based on their roster that included Frank Howard, Maury Wills, Junior Gilliam, the Davis brothers Tommy and Will and Gil Hodges. The mound core included Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale.

But in 1961, the future Hall of Famer hurlers weren’t as effective as one of the great (Brooklyn) Dodgers heroes of all time—Johnny Podres. Koufax and Drysdale had average seasons (for them) of 18-13, 3.52 ERA and 13-10, 3.69. Podres, although he absorbed the second game loss, racked up a 18-5, 3.74 ERA and led the league in winning percentage.

The problem, anticipated by some analysts in their preseason evaluations, was that except for Podres the Dodgers’ stars were past their prime. The Dodgers ended the season 4 games behind the Reds. Coincidentally, the Dodgers dropped both ends of two doubleheaders against Cincinnati—there are the four games.

Podres, who most casual fans associate with his dramatic seventh game 2-0 shutout of the New York Yankees in the 1955 World Series, in reality had a long and productive mound career. Only 23 when he bested the Yankees in the third and seventh games, Podres was the first winner of the Sport Magazine World Series MVP Award which was a red, two-seater Corvette. Sports Illustrated also named Podres its Sportsman of the Year.

During his 15-year career, Podres won 148 games, struck out 1,435, had an 3.64 ERA and threw 24 shutouts in 440 games. Podres saved his best for the World Series. After losing his first decision to the Yankees in 1953, Podres won four straight over the Yankees and Chicago White Sox during the next decade while allowing only 29 hits in 38-1/3 innings with a 2.11 ERA.

After retiring, Podres served as the pitching coach for 13 years for the Boston Red Sox, Minnesota Twins and Philadelphia Phillies. Frank Viola and Curt Schilling credit Podres with their success.

Podres said former manager Charlie Dressen taught him how to throw the change up that made him into a winning pitcher.

Recalled Podres:

Dressen spent months with me teaching me a change up. He told me ‘Throw a fastball. Then just as you release the ball—Zip! Pull down the shade.’


Dressen explained that the downward motion takes speed off the pitch while at the same takes increases the ball’s rotation.

Armed with that information Podres not only dominated the Yankees but also won the newly transplanted Los Angeles Dodgers’ first game on the road against the hated San Francisco Giants (actually the second game the Dodgers played) and started and won Dodgers’ first home game.

Along his way, Podres met and worked with every Dodger hurler from Dazzy Vance to Pedro Martinez and passed along his change up mastery to any of them who would listen.
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“Double the fun” is a Friday feature here that looks at one notable doubleheader in baseball history each week.

Pondering the Pirates

Mercifully, the Pirates 2011 baseball seasons have only a handful of games remaining. I wrote “seasons” because the Pirates have had two distinct halves. For the first 100 games, the Pirates went 53-47 and for a couple of weeks were either in or flirting with first place. Pittsburgh was in a state of baseball induced euphoria. Pirates’ games were sold out; Pirates’ tee shirts and caps were the wardrobe of choice for town locals.

At the All Star Game, the Pirates sent three players, triple its obligatory single representative. Center fielder Andrew McCutchen, starting pitcher Kevin Correia who had notched a league leading 11 wins and lights out closer Joel Hanrahan.

Since the midseason classic, McCutchen is hitting about .200 while Correia, after winning one more game, went on the 60 day disabled list and was lost for the season. As for Hanrahan, there simply weren’t many more save opportunities. Since July 20, the Pirates are 17-46.

The post-All Star Game Pirates are as awful as last year’s 105 game losing Bucco squad. What started out so hopefully in April and May has crashed and burned beyond recognition. Even the most devoted fans can’t bear to watch.

As of Tuesday, the last two games the Pirates played were a dismal Sunday affair in Los Angeles that the team lost 15-1 and a 1-0 defeat in Arizona when Diamondbacks’ ace Ian Kennedy limited the Pirates to two hits while striking out 13.

Speaking of strike outs (which I wish I wasn’t), if watching batters whiff with frightening frequency is your thing, you should become a Pirates fan. Since the ASG, the Pirates have struck out more than any team in baseball; before the break they ranked seventh.

I’ve saved the worst for last. Nothing is more deflating than to see Pedro Alvarez come to the plate. In 2008, Alvarez was the second player chosen in the Major League Baseball Draft and signed a $6.3 million bonus. Last September Alvarez seemed to be on his way when he finished the season by winning the NL Rookie of the Month Award, hitting .311 and leading all Major League rookies with 26 RBIs in his final 27 games.

This year Alvarez, who bounced back and forth between the Pirates and AAA Indianapolis has been, to be kind, a complete bust. As of September 20 Alvarez, in 214 at bats is hitting .189 with 3 home runs and 15 RBIs. Alvarez strikes out about once per every 3 times at the plate. Of the five essential baseball tools—hit for average, hit for power, run, field and throw—Alvarez can only throw, assuming he fields the ball cleanly.

No one really knows what to make of Alvarez. According to some, he’s a tireless worker determined to forge a Hall of Fame career. To others, he’s a surly underachiever. The best thing about Alvarez is that he’s 24 and may yet have a future, although I wouldn’t bet on it.

The 2011 Pirates—so magnificent in the spring and so ugly in late summer– remind me of Alfred Lord Tennyson:

Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.


But what does Tennyson know? After all, he was never a Pirates fan.

An interview with Dan Szymborski

With Moneyball due in theaters this week, I figured it might be a good time to interview Dan Szymborski, who voted in the project here last December on the 50 best players not in the Hall of Fame and is something of a sabermetric writer about the Internet. Szymborski is the Editor-In-Chief of BaseballThinkFactory.org, and his writing can be found both there and on ESPN.com. In addition, he is the inventor of ZiPS (Szymborski Projection System) which predicts how teams will do each year.

I had a chance to call Szymborski at his home on the East Coast on Saturday morning, and we talked for almost an hour. Highlights of our conversation are as follows:

With everything that you do with baseball research, is it still fun? At this point, is it work? What’s your attitude towards it these days?

Szymborski: It’s still a lot of fun. As a little kid, I wanted to be a pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles, like most little kids want to play for their favorite team. Once it became obvious that they don’t need 70 MPH fastball pitchers, it [became] one of my favorite hobbies. There’s always going to be an instance where sometimes it feels like work and you don’t feel like writing something right then. But you get over it because it’s a lot more fun than what you could be doing otherwise.

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How long ago did you come up with ZiPS?

Szymborski: The genesis of it was there’s a [person] who contributes to Baseball Think Factory named Chris Dial, and in the late ’90s, they were talking about how someone could make a projection system that’s very basic and get most of the way there, in a way kind of a primordial version of Marcel which is a tabulator.

Before 2002, I was thinking maybe I should try my hand at a projection system. At that time, Voros McCracken’s DIPS research was fairly new, so I wanted to [align my idea.] That’s why I made it rhyme with DIPS, and the Z stands for Szymborski, the second letter of my name. I mean, it’s just a little side thing that started. Then I decided to do hitter projections, because it seemed kind of stupid to do because there were not hitter projections. And then over time, as computers got faster, I could do more things. Over time, it became a pretty complex system… I’m pretty happy with how it’s worked out.

Do you think you have another ZiPS idea in you or do you think that’s going to be your big thing?

Szymborski: I dunno. I always kind of think of myself more as a writer than a statistics developer, but I have more ideas how to use it. I continually refine my aging models and long-term projections and the different things I can do with it. I certainly hope there are other ideas in me, but I don’t have those ideas yet. Hopefully they will develop over the next few years.

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Let’s talk a little Moneyball. Movie’s coming out. Are you intending to see it in the theater?

Szymborski: I’ll probably see it. I’m kind of a cheapskate and don’t usually go to the theater very often, but it doesn’t seem like there’s going to be any other sabermetric movies coming out of this kind, ever, so I’m probably going to see it. I don’t know if I’m going to go on the premier day, the first day, but I’ll probably go see it.

If you were to be mentioned in the movie, who’s the actor you think that you’d want to play you?

Szymborski: Well, of course, anyone would prefer to be played by Brad Pitt, but that would kind of be unrealistic. Jonah Hill, while not appropriate for Paul DePodesta probably is closer to how I look, so I’ll take Jonah’s fictional character and move him over to me.

It’s amazing that a sabermetric movie got made. It just kind of boggles the imagination.

Szymborski: I know. I know Keith Law wasn’t too thrilled with it, but my stance on it is: This is it. This is the sabermetric movie. There’s not going to be another one, so even if it’s not completely faithful, if there’s dramatic license and all that, this is a sabermetrics movie, so we might as well enjoy it. It’s not like they’re going to have The Bill James Story or any of these guys. I mean, they’re great guys, but none of us are going to have movies except for this. And essentially, one of the most notorious/famous users of statistics, Billy Beane, I mean he’s played by Brad Pitt, in a movie, about sabermetrics. This is it guys.

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How long have you been a SABR member for? I see you’re about 33. Have you been a member for, what, maybe 10 years?

Szymborski: I’m on and off. When I’m not going to the conventions, sometimes I forget my dues (Editor’s note: Joe Posnanski mentioned this same issue when I interviewed him.) So I’ve been on and off since 2003, actually.

I was into sabermetrics for a long time. Of course, SABR and sabermetrics are two very different things, but I’ve been into sabermetrics for a long time. When I was a little kid, I kept baseball statistics. I didn’t really figure out how batting average worked until I was about six. Before that, when I was five, I thought it was the average of the averages, which doesn’t make much sense in retrospect, but of course I was five. My grandfather bought me the Bill James Abstracts that I was old enough to read– I mean I couldn’t read the ones in 1981, obviously– and the Elias Baseball Analysts. I’ve been into baseball stats for a long time.

I have great support for SABR. Of course, a lot of that is historical research, which is very different. There’s potentially kind of a bit of grumpiness on some SABR members that that name has meant statistics, and it’s a lot more than that.

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I was mentioning to one of my readers that I was going to be interviewing you, and he was wondering if there’s actually a way you could eventually be able to not just come and predict how teams would do for seasons, but if you could go so far as to predict individual plays and probability of what’ll happen during games. Do you ever think about that kind of thing?

Szymborski: Well, it’d certainly help for gambling purposes, but I think that game-by-game developments are so volatile in nature that you really can’t predict them…. like, ‘I predict Jeff Francoeur to go 1-4 or 2-4 or 3-4 or 0-4, and there’d be high probabilities of all of that happening.’ Perhaps someone smarter than me could figure that out.

I dunno. I still think of myself more as a writer and a lot of the things I think about developing this for and increasing it is to further writing interesting articles about it. I do a lot of work with ESPN, and a lot of times, they’ll give me a problem, that I have something to resolve with the projection system, and then it’s fun to figure out how to do it. Like, when someone asks, ‘What are the odds of so-and-so hitting 600 home runs?’ Then, that’s the kind of thing I like to build into DIPS and refine.

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Does it ever feel weird to go from being just kind of a young 20-something blogger to now, someone who’s writing for ESPN?

Szymborski: I’ve been writing for them now a year and a half, I mean I’ve written a couple hundred things for them and had two magazine previews. I just figure, ‘This is just the weirdest damn thing ever that I’m writing for ESPN,’ because it’s never something I actually envisioned in any way happening. I didn’t major in journalism, I majored in economics. But I have a great deal of fun writing, and maybe if I’d expected to become a writer, I probably would’ve studied different classes.

It’s a real thrill to be known, and there’s kind of an ego thing about writing. I don’t write for money, but there is kind of an ego trip because when you’re writing something, you kind of have a person’s complete attention. Writing’s a thrill for me, and I’m very happy with the way things work out.

Do you still have a day job or is this what you do for a living?

Szymborski: This is pretty much what I do for a living now. I’ve worked as a private investor for myself for a long time. I made money in college, I was day trading, I was 19, and I was clearing $60,000 a year at the time. That was a lot of money for a college kid, so I’ve always kept doing that. I mean, day trading’s kind of dead because the big houses have pretty much algorithmed their way into that, but I still do a lot of swing trading, which is mid-term trading, and I still do a lot of the commodities. I probably still have to, but it’s fun. In a lot of ways, it’s like baseball but with stocks, equities, and commodities.

No kidding, I wouldn’t have guessed you were a stockbroker… my only conception of day trading is that guy back, like, 10 years ago who killed his family or something. That’s pretty random. I just remember the media reports.

Szymborski: There’s plenty of baseball players who’ve killed their families.

That is true, you’ve got your Donnie Moores [who wounded his wife before committing suicide.]

Szymborski: The one I love is the Len Koenecke story of the baseball player that got drunk on a plane and tried to fight the pilot and the pilot killed him with a fire extinguisher.

Totally, I know the story you’re talking about. That’s so weird because it’s like 1935, so it was the really early days of commercial flight. You almost wonder if the same thing could happen these days.

Szymborski: They probably wouldn’t even let him on the plane at this point. The TSA would boot the crap out of him.

Yeah, he’s pretty intoxicated. I mean, and it’s funny, if you go through baseball history, you get a lot of stories like that. You get Ed Delahanty.

That’s always a fun sabermetric joke, ‘His career was fine until that. He really fell off a cliff.’

Other interviews: Joe Posnanski, Rob Neyer, Josh Wilker, John Thorn, Hank Greenwald

In Biblical Times

It all began with David vs. Goliath.  It continued this weekend in Fenway Park, Boston.  David came into town to face the might Goliath in a mismatch of the poor farm boy and bemouth, the haves and have nots, of a team which spends hundreds of millions and can attract almost any free agent they desire, opposed by a team which doesn’t make as much as Boston’s’ infield, has little to no fan interest, and doesn’t have a chance.  Everyone knows this, everyone except it would seem, the Tampa Bay Rays.

Tampa Bay wins with no margin for error.  Their pitching must be solid every game and their defense has to make all the plays.  They don’t win games as a rule out homering the opposition.  They have to be as perfect as possible to have even a chance.

Tampa Bay lost their entire bullpen and All Star left fielder Carl Crawford over the past offseason.  They have Evan Longoria and no other star position players.  They shouldn’t have any hope of making the playoffs given their low budget and the fact that they play in the nastiest division in baseball.  Not only do they have to contend with the Boston Red Sox machine, but also those true beasts of baseball, season after season, the New York Yankees.

The Boston Red Sox, like the New York Yankees, can address any need they might have or that might come up during the season, simply by opening their check book.  They have made some signings in the past which didn’t work out but can shrug them off and sign another star.  With such a large margin for error, life is much easier.

But teams such as Tampa Bay should have no business contending, especially in the AL East.  That they have done so for the past three seasons is all the more remarkable.

One factor which, ironically, has helped Tampa Bay, is their season after season of mediocrity.  This enabled them to have high draft choices and many of them.  There is no other means of survival for Tampa Bay as their indifferent fan base and lack of salary at the big league level.

Boston, though, because of their recent success, has not had this “luxury”.  Although their farm system has been productive, the opportunity to draft future stars has not often been there.  They must draft with an eye to filling holes in their minor league system and/or using their young players as trade material for any holes needing filling at the big league level.

As has been proven over the years, draft picks, more often than not, do not make an impact at the major league level.  Tampa Bay in past seasons had to draft and sign as many players as possible, hoping that through sheer numbers, a star will emerge.  Their scouting must be perfect.  There is no room for error.

Both teams have excellent managers.  Both have different styles, possible based on their personnel.  I’m certain John Madden would love to sit back and wait for the big homerun.  I’m certain Terry Francona would be perfectly capable of playing little ball.

Joe Maddon has a team which isn’t expected to compete, even with their success over the past three seasons.  He makes them believe that they will win.  He doesn’t believe he is David.  He believes he is Goliath.  If Maddon loses a star player, he replaces him with three average players.  He knows how to take advantage of what a player can give him and doesn’t use him in a situation he will likely fail.

Terry Francona must juggle veterans with their egos.  He must know when to sooth and when to scold.  He must make his team dig a little harder when a star is injured. He must let his players work out a slump and stick with them despite the cries from the press.

Two completely different teams who are, on paper, far apart in ability and potential.  A series like this weekend’s makes baseball watching in September worthwhile.  After all, who would have bet on David but those who had lost all hope or the eternal optimist throwing his last gold coin down on the table?

Interview ETA

As anyone who’s been waiting on content for a day may have surmised, my interview that was scheduled for Thursday got pushed back. I just did it now, and it went well. I have a few things I need to do, but I anticipate the interview should be up sometime this afternoon or evening.

Any player/Any era: Jim Abbott

What he did: Abbott might be the best player without four full limbs ever to play in the majors. Others have accomplished this feat, including Pete Gray, the St. Louis Browns’ one-armed outfielder in 1945 and Bert Shepard, a one-legged POW who pitched 5.1 innings for the Washington Senators in August that year. Abbott’s interesting, though, for having a 10-season career in peacetime, going 18-11 with a 2.89 ERA for the California Angels in 1991 at his best and hurling a no-hitter two years later. I suspect if Abbott had played during World War II, when the talent-depleted majors welcomed those who couldn’t serve, the one-armed man would have fared ever greater.

Era he might have thrived in: In real life, Abbott parlayed college heroics at the University of Michigan and a gold medal turn for the US baseball team in the 1988 Summer Olympics into a 1989 debut at 21 for the Angels. This might suggest a Bob Feller-like entrance into the majors of the late 1930s, assuming teams of that era wouldn’t be scared off by Abbott’s stump right forearm. Given that the big leagues were pretty hard-up for pitching in those days, it might not be an issue. Regardless, Abbott’s services would be needed after Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

Why: Admittedly, World War II wasn’t like World I for baseball, when the sport was ruled a non-essential industry and a number of stars saw combat, Grover Cleveland Alexander returning shell-shocked and former New York Giants captain Eddie Grant dying in France. All the same, a significant number of ballplayers served in the Second World War from Ted Williams to Joe DiMaggio to Hank Greenberg. Feller even completed a decorated tour of duty on a battleship in the South Pacific, running laps on-deck in between Japanese air attacks to stay in shape.

What remained in the majors was a motley sight, and teams did the best they could to remain competitive. The Cincinnati Reds started 15-year-old Joe Nuxhall in 1944, the St. Louis Cardinals held open tryouts with their farm system decimated, and Bill Veeck supposedly talked of buying the Philadelphia Phillies and filling the roster with Negro League stars before his plans were scuttled by Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Approaching the 1945 World Series, Chicago sportswriter Warren Brown was asked if he thought the Cubs or the Detroit Tigers would win, to which he replied, “I don’t think either of them can.”

The stage would have been primed for someone like Abbott, whose arm would almost certainly have made him 4-F for draft registration status and exempt from military service (men with this classification as well as a cadre of aging stars like Jimmie Foxx, Paul Waner, and Carl Hubbell kept baseball going during World War II.) In a wartime majors that boasted plenty of starting pitchers with names virtually unrecognizable today, I’m guessing Abbott would have outshined the likes of Ted Wilks, Monk Dubiel, and Nels Potter. On a good club, Abbott would likely have more wins than he managed during his career, and regardless, I imagine he’d put up gaudier non-team-dependent statistics.

Would Abbott have a better legacy? I don’t know. Gray and Shepard seem to mostly exist in baseball history as oddities, men who made their mark in unusual circumstances. But strong stats trump all, and assuming Abbott had them, I doubt he’d just be some punchline.

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 PujolsBabe RuthBad News Rockies,Barry BondsBilly MartinBob CaruthersBob FellerBob Watson,Bobby VeachCarl MaysCharles Victory FaustChris von der Ahe,Denny McLainDom DiMaggioEddie LopatFrank HowardFritz MaiselGavvy CravathGeorge CaseGeorge WeissHarmon KillebrewHarry WalkerHome Run BakerHonus Wagner, Hugh CaseyIchiro SuzukiJack ClarkJackie RobinsonJimmy WynnJoe DiMaggioJoe PosnanskiJohnny AntonelliJohnny FrederickJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr.Lefty GroveLefty O’DoulMajor League (1989 film),Matty AlouMichael JordanMonte IrvinNate ColbertPaul DerringerPete RosePrince FielderRalph KinerRick AnkielRickey Henderson,Roberto ClementeRogers HornsbySam CrawfordSam Thompson,Sandy KoufaxSatchel PaigeShoeless Joe JacksonStan MusialTed WilliamsThe Meusel BrothersTy CobbVada PinsonWally Bunker, Will Clark, Willie Mays

Koufax Throws 205 Pitches, Wins in 13 Innings

Almost exactly 50 years ago, Sandy Koufax pitched the last Dodgers game played in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. On September 20, 1961 Koufax bested the Chicago Cubs, with its lineup that included three future Hall of Famers (Richie Ashburn, Billy Williams and Ernie Banks), 3-2. The three Cubs went a collective two for 15.

During the 13 inning game Koufax, who didn’t allow a hit after the eighth inning, struck out 15 batters. According to pioneer baseball statistician Alan Roth, Koufax, threw 205 pitches.

The pitch count debate has been covered exhaustively both here, on other baseball sites, and by experts far more knowledgeable than me. Still, every time I read examples like the Koufax game and compare it to today, I scratch my head.

The mystery is compounded if your favorite team is, like my Pittsburgh Pirates, pitching-challenged.

When the season began, the Pirates announced its five man starting rotation: Paul Maholm, Kevin Correia, Craig Morton, Jeff Karstens and James McDonald.

About a month ago, Maholm and Correia’s seasons ended. They went on the disabled list with arm ailments. Morton and Karstens avoided the DL but skipped starts to preserve their tired arms. Only McDonald has survived the year. In 29 starts, however, he averages a mere 5 plus innings per outing.

Ross Ohlendorf, who went on the DL in April with shoulder problems, was called up from the minors to fill in for Maholm. In three starts, his ERA is 8.03. The line from Ohlendorf’s last outing: 2 IP, 10 H, 6 ER.

Today’s pitcher has conditioning coaches, skilled trainers, better facilities, video breakdown of each pitch and dieticians to monitor their calorie intake. But, despite it all, too many pitchers can’t get out of the fifth inning. Sure there are exceptions like the Phillies Roy Halladay and the Yankees CC Sabathia. But the majority of them fall into the same underperforming category as the Pirates pitchers. They struggle to get to the elusive, six inning “quality start” level.

On Tuesday night, Karstens made his first start since August 27. One of his broadcast booth buddies asked Pirates pitching great and color commentator Steve Blass if he was ever worn out by September. Blass said he always looked forward to ending strong. To Blass, September represented a chance to “pick up two or three more wins.” As far as he could remember, Blass said, he “never had arm fatigue.”

Anatomy hasn’t changed since Koufax, Robin Roberts, Warren Spahn and numerous other Hall of Fame pitchers routinely ranked up 300 innings a year. So what’s the explanation?

Beats me. I’ve posed a question without offering an answer or even suggesting a solution—unfair for a journalist to do. The easiest may be just to realize that baseball today is an altogether different game than it was decades ago—and, much less of one.

10 baseball people I’d like to interview

Roger Kahn: I’ve had good luck interviewing baseball writers for this site, with me getting to talk to Joe Posnanski, Rob Neyer, and Josh Wilker among others. Kahn’s another big name, most known perhaps for The Boys of Summer, but interesting in other respects as well. Besides embarking on an ill-fated autobiography project with Pete Rose years ago and being present when former Los Angeles Dodgers executive Al Campanis said on national television that blacks lacked the capabilities to manage, Kahn wrote beautifully about the 1987 suicide of his son.

Michael Lewis: I met the “Moneyball” author once or twice when I was covering Triple-A baseball in 2004, and more recently, one of my friends was a nanny for his family. I asked my friend awhile back to put me in contact with Lewis, and I may ask again at some point.

Will Clark: My all-time favorite player.

Jim Bouton: After the latest update to Ball Four was released last year, I contemplated making a trip from Northern California to see Bouton speak near Los Angeles. My car died shortly thereafter so it’s probably good I abandoned my plans.

Murray Chass: Sure he’s the Lord Voldemort of the baseball blogosphere, his Web site an emphatic “Fuck you” to the rest of us, though that’s part of the reason I’m interested in talking to Chass and listening to what he has to say. I’d like to understand where the former New York Times baseball columnist comes from, if he’s operating from resentment and entitlement, or if something else is fueling his fires.

Bill James: If Chass is Voldemort, I suppose James is Aldus Dumbledore, a beloved figure of the baseball research world. While I admit I haven’t read James’ Abstracts, and I consider myself more of a historian than a researcher or sabrmetrician, I’d still love a chance to pick James’ brain. I’m waiting on my owl.

Sean Forman: Forman runs Baseball-Reference.com, and I wanted to get him to vote in my project last year on the 50 greatest players not in the Hall of Fame. Forman didn’t get to my email in time to take part, though he wrote back after, wishing me well in writing career.

Bob Uecker: Honestly, I don’t know if I’d rather interview Uecker or the character he played in the Major League films, announcer Harry Doyle, though I’m guessing it would be entertaining either way. And as I learned from talking to former San Francisco Giants announcer Hank Greenwald, broadcasters can be awesome interviews, able to talk at length and speak without the “umms” and “ahs” that plague us ordinary folk.

Rickey Henderson: Gotta love a player who might do his interview in the third person.

Roger Angell: Angell has provided beautiful baseball essays to The New Yorker for years, and at a week shy of his 91st birthday as of this writing, he’s the oldest man on this list. Still, he wouldn’t be the oldest person I’ve interviewed, and some of the 90-plus-year-olds I’ve talked to like Sacramento Solons owner Fred David and Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Art Mahan have been awesome experiences.

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All this being said, I have an interview scheduled for Thursday afternoon with someone not on this list. He’s a well-known baseball name in his own right and has been a supporter of this site. The interview should also be somewhat timely. Stay tuned….

Baseball as a Necessary Distraction

We, as human beings, are always trying, at least subconsciously, to avoid thinking about the end of our days. Yesterday was the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, a grim and terrible reminder of just how fragile and fleeting our existence here on earth really is. More times than not, it’s simply a matter of good luck or bad and any second could be our last. That’s why we all need distractions. If we thought about our collective fates, suicide might become a viable option. We all need something to hang onto.

For many of us, sports, and more specifically baseball, is that distraction. How else could one explain our passion? It is, after all, only a game which makes a lucky few millionaires and set for life. Sure we all complain about salaries and rightly proclaim that no one is worth that much money. We often complain about ticket prices, concession prices and paying $12 for parking. But we still go to the games.

We often live and die with our team and if they win it all, we feel as if we have won something as well. When our team plays poorly we vow to stay at home instead and watch something else, anything else. But we still go to the games and each spring brings new hope however ridiculous.

We argue over statistics and which player is better and many of us read the disgusting details of the sport’s cheaters. We argue over who should or should not be in the Hall of Fame and who should be the MVP and CY Young winners each season.

The season seems to zip by and the offseason seems to last forever. Then suddenly that first pitch of spring training has arrived life begins to make sense once again. There is nothing to compare to opening day and the World Series is often more like the world serious.

Each of us remember where we were on that terrible day ten years ago and even for those of us who did not lose a loved one or a dear friend, the terror we felt changed our lives forever. The horrors of parts of the world beyond our borders knocked loudly and suddenly on our door, a door which before we could leave unlocked and still feel safe in our beds at night. Life seemed to stop and nothing made any sense. Nowhere felt safe.

Even baseball stopped. It had to. We couldn’t at that moment live with our distraction. Baseball seemed pointless and useless and it seemed disrespectful to care about a game when so many had lost their lives. Discussing who was better or how we had lost a game had lost all meaning. It seemed more trivial than at any other time in our lives.

I thought back to what our fathers and mothers and their fathers and mothers might have been thinking during the Second World War when death could come at any moment and often did. Yet the president at the time insisted that baseball continue. He realized that people needed something to cheer about, something to distract them. They needed something else to think about and talk about.

But baseball did come back after a brief respite. It didn’t seem as important as it once had but it gave us all something to hold onto, something which gradually let us believe that despite the 9/11 attacks, those responsible couldn’t take away our way of life and our feeling of well being. Life would indeed continue even with the changes we were forced to make. The sun would come up the next day and the enormous sacrifices made by those who perished that day would never be forgotten. We just wouldn’t think about them each and every day. But we wouldn’t forget them either amidst our distractions and passions. They were and are, after all, part of who we are.

Double The Fun: Herb Score Wraps Up His Outstanding Rookie of the Year Season

By the time Herb Score took the mound on September 24, 1955 to face the Tigers in the night cap of a doubleheader in Detroit, the Cleveland Indians season was over. The defending American League champions finished second, 3 games behind the hated New York Yankees. But Rookie of the Year Score, who along with the Yankees “Bullet” Bob Turley was one of the eras great power pitchers, dominated the Tigers. That afternoon, Score notched his 16th victory with a masterful 8-2 victory. Score’s pitching line: 9 IP, 7H, 0 ER, 2 BB and 9Ks.  The Indians swept the doubleheader by taking the night cap, 7-0 Score finished his year with a 16-10 record, a 2.85 ERA and 245 strike outs. The following year Score was even better: 20-9, 2.53 with 263 strike outs. To the delight of manager and former catcher Al Lopez, Score reduced his walks from 154 to 129 and his hits per nine-inning ratio to 5.85.

When Score was at the peak of his too brief career, Boston Red Sox  owner Tom Yawkey offered the Indians $1 million cash for the fire balling lefty. At the time, that was an unheard of sum to be paid to a baseball player—or for that matter, anyone else. The Indians turned Yawkey down cold.

After Score’s sensational 1955 season his career took a bad turn. In an infamous incident, a line drive off the Yankees’ Gil McDougald’s bat struck Score’s eye. Then during Score’s comeback effort, he injured his arm. During the next five seasons with the Indians and the Chicago White Sox, Score won only 19 games.

In an interview years after he retired, Score said:

The last couple of years I pitched, I was terrible. I just couldn’t put it all together anymore. I went back to the minor leagues for a while and tried it there. Some people asked me why I went back to the minor leagues; they felt I was humiliating myself. But I never felt humiliated. There was no disgrace in what I was doing. The disgrace would have been in not trying.


After retiring Score became an Indians’ broadcaster and announced Cleveland’s radio and television games for nearly 30 years. In 1998, while driving to Florida after being inducted into the Broadcasters Hall of Fame, Score was severely injured in a head on collision with a tractor trailer and spent more than a month in intensive care. But Score recovered in time to throw out the Indians’ Opening Day pitch in 1999.

In 2008 Score, after a long illness, died at his home in Rocky River, Ohio.This Sports Illustrated cover is how I remember him.
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“Double the fun” is a Friday feature here that looks at one notable doubleheader in baseball history each week.

Any player/Any era: Will Clark

What he did: Anyone who reads this site regularly may know that Will the Thrill is my all-time favorite player. I grew up in Sacramento, and Clark was it for my San Francisco Giants when I was about six. Clark’s star began to fade a few years later, and the sweet-swinging first baseman left San Francisco following the 1993 season, but I still get nostalgic thinking of him. I think of one of the best hitters of the late 1980s and early ’90s, likened to Roy Hobbs when he came up. I think of a fierce competitor who wore the black under his eyes like war paint. Detractors have dubbed Clark a “cackling douche” and racist, though I think I could have done worse in the hero department. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s an eventual Veterans Committee selection to the Hall of Fame, though in an earlier era, this might have come sooner.

Era he might have thrived in: Clark was a career .303 hitter playing from 1986 to 2000. Had he played in the 1930s, a Golden Age for first basemen in the American League, I suspect Clark might have hit .325 lifetime and earned his spot in Cooperstown decades ago.

Why: Hall of Fame and other awards selection has become a sophisticated art in baseball in recent years with the evolution of sabrmetrics. In the early days of Cooperstown, though, it was all about simple statistics and positive image. Clark would have offered this in abundance in the 1930s. If he wouldn’t have been a writers pick for the Hall of Fame, that would only have been because the  ballot was glutted with future honorees in the early years after Cooperstown opened in 1939. Even Hank Greenberg needed nine tries with voters to earn his plaque.

Having his career peak in the greatest time for hitters in baseball history, there’s no telling what Clark might have done. Seeing as he inspired comparisons to Ted Williams as a young player for that left-handed swing, I’d be curious to see if he could hit .400 in a season. In real life, Clark peaked at .333 in 1989 when he and Kevin Mitchell led the Giants to the World Series. Running those stats through the Baseball-Reference converter for the 1936 Boston Red Sox, Clark would hit .400 batting average with 29 home runs, 165 RBI, and an OPS of 1.136. Throw in a few more years even close to that, and there’s no way Clark would miss Cooperstown. At worst, he’d be Chuck Klein who had astonishing numbers in the Baker Bowl of the ’20s and ’30s and hit maybe .270 elsewhere, needing until 1980 for the Veterans Committee to sort it out.

It’s worth noting, too, that the things that may have diminished Clark’s star in his day would be non-factors in an earlier era. There’d be no Deadspin for the Jeff Pearlmans of sports media to unload. And Clark’s racial views, while perhaps unenlightened, wouldn’t raise any eyebrows in the 1930s, particularly for him being a Louisiana native. All this and more suggests Clark may have been a man born about 60 years too late.

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 PujolsBabe RuthBad News Rockies,Barry BondsBilly MartinBob CaruthersBob FellerBob Watson,Bobby VeachCarl MaysCharles Victory FaustChris von der Ahe,Denny McLainDom DiMaggioEddie LopatFrank HowardFritz MaiselGavvy CravathGeorge CaseGeorge WeissHarmon KillebrewHarry WalkerHome Run BakerHonus Wagner, Hugh CaseyIchiro SuzukiJack ClarkJackie RobinsonJimmy WynnJoe DiMaggioJoe PosnanskiJohnny AntonelliJohnny FrederickJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr.Lefty GroveLefty O’DoulMajor League (1989 film),Matty AlouMichael JordanMonte IrvinNate ColbertPaul DerringerPete RosePrince FielderRalph KinerRick AnkielRickey Henderson,Roberto ClementeRogers HornsbySam CrawfordSam Thompson,Sandy KoufaxSatchel PaigeShoeless Joe JacksonStan MusialTed WilliamsThe Meusel BrothersTy CobbVada PinsonWally Bunker,Willie Mays

Steve Blass, the Laudromat and the Golf Course

Around Pittsburgh, Steve Blass is beloved. Blass pitched two complete games for the Pirates in the 1971 World Series win over the Baltimore Orioles.  His second win shut the O’s down in thefinal seventh game, 2-1.

The Pirates signed Blass in 1960 straight out of his Connecticut high school. Blass was a Cleveland Indians fan, Herb Score his hero. But when the Pirates offered more money than the Indians, Blass didn’t hesitate. Blass has worked for the Pirates—and the Pirates alone—ever since. Only Tommy Lasorda has worked longer consecutively for a single team; Lasorda is now in his sixth decade with the Dodgers.

Blass does the color broadcasts at Pirates’ home games and does spot appearances promoting the Pirates on the local television channel. And it was during one of those spots that Blass told my favorite baseball off the field story.

After the Pirates signed Blass, he was sent to Kingsport, Tennessee in the Class D Appalachian League. Blass had never been away from home before and experienced all the readjustment problems young rookies do.

By the end of his first week, Blass was out of clean clothes. So he went to the laundromat where he found himself somewhat confused as to the proper procedure. The first thing Blass did in preparation was to inventory his dirty clothes: five t-shirts, five pairs of drawers and five pairs of socks.

Blass figured that 15 items would require 15 individual boxes of soap. So he loaded his laundry into the washer, added the soap (all 15 boxes) and put his quarter in. In virtually no time, as Blass recalled, the entire laundromat filled with bubbles and he was beating a hasty retreat before any of the other patrons could link him to the incident. From then on, Blass sent his laundry home each week where Steve’s mother dutifully washed and folded his clothes before sending them back to Tennessee.

As much as Steve enjoys telling his laudromat story, he has another that he likes even more—and it’s not even indirectly related to baseball.

In 2009, Steve recorded two holes in one during a single round of golf. According to his broadcast booth buddies Bob Walk, Greg Brown and Tim Navarrette, everyone Steve knows learned about his incredible feat within minutes after the second ball fell into the hole.

I hope the confusion is all mine

When it comes to female film stars of the 1970s, I have never been able to keep Karen Allen and Karen Black straight. I know that they don’t look especially alike, and they are more than ten years apart in age, but their shared first name has established a mental block for me, and I can never remember which is which. I could tell you now, but only because I just did the Google search. My clarity, however, is certain to be short-lived. Ten minutes after I log off, I might be able to tell you that one appeared in Animal House and Raiders of the Lost Ark and the other in Five Easy Pieces and The Great Gatsby, but I won’t be able to recall which Karen is which.

It’s similar with some ball players. If you mention any of the many hundreds of major leaguers who played from the late 1960s to the early ’80s, there’s a fair chance that an image of the player would come immediately to my mind, thanks to my card collecting and general obsession with baseball in those days. I might even be able to produce a few bare facts, such as position, team and whether the player was a righty or lefty. Naturally, there are some players I simply don’t remember at all, but much worse, there are certain pairs of players around whom my memory has become irretrievably tangled. Maybe they were teammates, or have similar names, or played similar roles. Or maybe they have nothing that connects them other than my confusion. And as with Allen and Black, it doesn’t matter how often I look them up in baseball-reference. Ten minutes later I can no longer tell them apart.

Welcome to the mental shortcomings that are my world. Here are some players that I just can’t seem to keep straight. I hope that the readers of this blog do not share my fate.

Vic Davalillo and Jose Cardenal: Both were good-hitting outfielders. The two were teammates twice, first in Cleveland and later in St. Louis. Just don’t ask me which one was traded for Jimmie Hall and which for Vada Pinson, because I could only guess.

Jim Spencer and Don Mincher: Both were lumbering first basemen cut from the Boog Powell mold. Several years different in age, they were teammates briefly, one succeeding the other for the California Angels. My confusion of these two is further fueled by the fact that both later played for the Oakland A’s, although not at the same time.

Jim Price and Jim French: Both were backup catchers in the late 60s. One played very little because, as a teammate of Bill Freehan, he stood little chance of cracking Detroit’s starting lineup. The other played somewhat more often, not because he was any better, but because the Washington Senators lacked an All-Star backstop. One was a Triple Crown contender, sort of. The racehorse of the same name was one of the chief rivals of Canonero II in 1971.

Von Joshua and Von Hayes: They share an uncommon first name, and each also has something in common with Greg Gross, which is apparently enough to confuse me. One was a teammate of Gross on the Phillies, while the other was the Dodgers’ equivalent of Greg Gross, a utility outfielder and pinch hitter. But which Von is which – it’s a 50-50 proposition in my mind.

Greg Goossen and Mike Cubbage: This one makes perhaps the least sense. Their names don’t sound alike. If you squint, the last names look a bit similar, but then lots of things look alike through squinting eyes. You would have to squint really hard to see any similarity in their playing careers. One was an infielder for the Rangers and Twins in the 70s, the other a catcher and first baseman for the Mets in the 60s and the target of a famous Casey Stengel quip. Earlier this year, when I saw Goossen’s name on the obituary page, I had to pause and think hard: New York catcher or Minnesota third baseman?

Jack Hamilton and Jack Fisher: Along with Steve Hamilton and Eddie Fisher, these two are half of what could be a foursome of 1960s pitching confusion, but somehow the other two are crystal clear in my mind. Steve Hamilton was the lanky ex-basketballer who threw the famed “folly floater” for the Yankees. Eddie Fisher was the mid-60s closer for the Chicago White Sox when closing meant taking the ball in the middle innings and going the distance. Given the possibilities, I feel pretty good that it’s only the two members of this quartet named Jack that I find confusing. Both pitched for multiple teams, including the Mets, and one had the distinction of being a 24-game loser for New York. But ask me which one was on the mound for the Angels and delivered the pitch that all but ended Tony Conigliaro’s career, and mentally I’m tossing a coin.

Joe Pignatano and Jim Pagliaroni:  Both were catchers, although by the time I became baseball-conscious in the mid-60s, one had moved on to coaching, where he remained for more than two decades. I do not recall having had any confusion over these two when I was a youngster. It was only later, with the emergence of Mike Pagliarulo, that they became hopelessly twisted in my mind.

The Babe and I

Apart from the all too rare video clips of George Herman “Babe” Ruth, I never had the opportunity to see the greatest of them all play.  What a sight that must have been watching the man who looked like a company three pitch softball player dominate his era both on the mound early in his career and later in the batters box, doing things no one else could match and no one else had ever done.

I interviewed many players during my two seasons covering Triple-A baseball and one beautiful summer evening when the home team were losing badly and the game was still in the early stages we began discussing what it must have been like to interview the Babe.  What would it be like to visit him in that diamond in the sky and get his thoughts on
baseball in the 21st century?

I wonder…..

Babe, you’re looking good these days.

Babe:  Well there’s not much to do here you know.  The old timers and me play everyday but no doubleheaders.  That’s one reason they call it baseball heaven.  Those twin bills on hot days were tough and I didn’t get paid anymore for playing both ends ya know.   We only get wine to drink and the women don’t seem as much fun as down there.

Doubleheaders are pretty much a thing of the past nowadays.

Babe:  That’s good.  Guys these days have it so easy compared to them days.  They’re all makin’ more money than the President and they get that free month in Florida or Arizona in March.  Everyone gets a raise every year and half of ‘em miss games with hang nails!

Well it’s a much more demanding game today with all the travel and night games all the relief specialists.  The press is always scrutinizing every pitch and television sets the 162-game schedule and the playoffs get longer every year it seems.

Babe: They have way too many teams. Too many games too.  Where do they find time to play golf?  Half of those guys wouldn’t even be in the bigs in my day.  Too many playoffs too.  In my day you had to finish first or you didn’t make that World Series dough.  We needed that extra money you know, not like today.  I tried watching a game the other day but it didn’t start until 4 PM and it lasted pretty near four hours with all those commercials.  What is all that junk they try and sell you anyway? I already know that beer is good for you and I own a car.  And the broads like ‘em both so what else do you need?

What are your thoughts on the steroid era and performance enhancing drugs in general?

Babe: I didn’t need that stuff.  Gimme a few beers, some champagne and as many hot dogs as I could buy during the game and I was ready to play. I mean, I needed that stuff cause I didn’t get to sleep ’til what the boss used to call the wee hours. Ping Bodie said he didn’t room with me, he roomed with my suitcase. Management was always yakking at me for something, either getting in shape or getting my rest or chasing too many women or drinking too much. Hey, I had to do somethin’ between games.

Do you think the home run stats of Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez et al should count?

Babe: I don’t know about that et al guy but the only two fellas I’ve seen near good as me would be Aaron and Mays. I played against that Josh Gibson fella a couple of times too and he was might good I’ll tell ya.  I play against them up here and they’re still pretty good.  That Satchel Paige guy I can’t seem to hit at all.  He throws that funny stuff. You know, I hit 715 and that a’int bad. That seemed like plenty at the time.  I can’t speak for those fellas you mentioned.

If you were the commissioner of baseball today what changes or improvements would you make?

Babe: I’d treat the ex players a lot better.  A lot of us were broke when we left the game and a lot of us weren’t offered nuthin’ when we left. I wanted to manage but they said I didn’t have enough experience. Heck, I played enough years, what more experience did I need?  There wasn’t nuthin’ for me after baseball.  What was I gonna do?  Become a bank teller?  I didn’t have no education and baseball was all I knew how to do.  I built Yankee Stadium at least that’s what they said.  That weren’t nuthin!  I wouldn’t pay those rookies all that money either. Let them earn it.  They gotta learn their place.  And stop trying to make baseball like every other sport.  It’s different, that’s what makes it still the greatest game there is.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Babe: Well, I’d like to but the guys are hollerin’ for me to come play ball so I better go.  Tell that Selig guy to stop messin’ around with the game. Tell my fans I miss ‘em.

___________________

With that the Babe left me sitting and wondering what it must have been like to see him play. I sure wish I knew.